Thursday, February 2, 2012

Well-Rounded Education (Babble)

My daughters both get homework packets from school.  Mona gets one every Thursday and it is due the following Thursday.  The packet usually contains some reading and some math, and sometimes it’s specifically tailored toward whatever she needs more practice with at a particular moment (extra pages of subtraction work thrown in, for instance).

The nice part about this system is you can spread out the assignments however you like, maybe a little each day or all the reading first, etc.  But Mona is an intense sort of child and she insists on doing all of the homework packet the day she brings it home.  This is often biting off more than she can chew and puts us in the odd position of pleading with our daughter to stop doing homework and please just go play for a while and relax while she grits her teeth clutches her pencil more tightly.  In any case, it’s not hard to get Mona to do her homework, it’s just hard for us not to all get too stressed out as she’s doing it.

Aden, on the other hand, gets a homework packet every Friday.  There are twelve packets in a grading period.  They are due the day before report cards come out.  Ideally she should be doing them a little each day and finishing each packet over the course of a week.  We used to have a system where she had to sit at the kitchen table when she got home from school and finish some homework before she could use her computer or watch TV.  Then several weeks ago she insisted that she was finding time during school hours to work on her packets.  She didn’t need to bring them home.  She’d rather work on them at school with the resources they have there.  Sure.  Ian and I didn’t quite buy that, but we’ve also passed fourth grade already so this is her deal.

Well, strangely (by which I mean unsurprisingly) enough during the four day weekend before all of Aden’s homework packets were due, she pulled five of them out of her backpack and asked for help.  It was a long weekend, and not just because of the banking holidays the public school system had invented on either end of it.

I was sick in bed the whole time, and Aden spent long hours sprawled out on top of my covers scribbling at her lap desk and asking for definitions of words like ‘prescription’ and ‘dictator.’  As silly as it was for her to be cramming in so much work at the end of the grading period, it was fun having Aden on the bed working away.  She’s nice company even when she drives us crazy.

Being sick in bed for me usually involves movie and TV marathons on my laptop.  (I have now seen nearly every episode of Law and Order Criminal Intent, as well as Downton Abbey and some random classic films such as Breakfast at Tiffany’s.)  At one point as Aden was catching up on some math I decided to pull up the recent Star Trek movie.

I am a pretty hopeless Star Trek nerd.  I like to watch things on my computer at work as I rehair bows or clean violins, so over the past several months I re-watched every old episode of Voyager, and am currently into season two of Deep Space Nine (ah the 90’s design aesthetic and stirrup pants!).  I can tell you my favorite Picard episodes, talk about the Q Continuum for too long, and am still bothered that Data’s makeup looked so weird in the movies compared to the television series.  Curling up with my husband to watch anything Star Trek makes me happy.

Aden, of course, asked what I was watching.

“The newest Star Trek movie,” I said.  Then realizing how little our entertainment preferences overlap I asked, “Do you know Star Trek?”

Aden replied, “I know Chewbacca.”


How did I raise a daughter for ten years in my house who doesn’t know the difference between Star Trek and Star Wars?

I’m not pretending this is important information.  I know it’s silly.  But there is such a thing as cultural literacy and it’s good to have a sense of what other people may be interested in out in the world even if it’s not something you pursue yourself.  I don’t care about sports, but I had my grandma explain the rules of football to me when I enrolled at The Ohio State University and I even attended a couple of Buckeye games.  Not my thing, but I still thought it was a good idea to have a sense of what so many other people around me seemed to care so much about.  It helped me to understand those people better.  Now, I’m not saying knowing the difference between a Bajoran and an Andorian will necessarily help my daughter relate to many people, but it will at least help her talk to her own parents.  I had let down my child in her science fiction education!

I told her to put her pencil away and come sit where she could see the screen better.  I explained this one guy was playing a very young Kirk, and that our friend Kirk back in Michigan picked out his name when he moved to this country based on that character.  I showed her which guy was Spock, and explained Vulcans have pointy ears and prize logic.  I told her about how her Uncle Barrett once played Spock in one of our New Year’s Eve events where we all acted out a Star Trek play and Spock got to do a tragic death scene.  I pointed out how expendable people on away missions were usually in red shirts.  (She was worried about the red shirts but I told her lots of people die on Star Trek and the red shirts are people we don’t know and don’t get attached to, which, oddly, she accepted.)  I explained the name of the ship they were on was the Enterprise, and that enough real people who care about space travel love Star Trek that one of the NASA space shuttles was called Enterprise, too.

I warned Aden before scenes that could be too scary and knew when to tell her to shut her eyes.  She thought Scotty was funny.  I explained as many inside jokes as I could, and tried to get her to understand that the time line of this story was in an alternate universe.  That Star Trek was wacky like that, so even though it was sad the planet Vulcan was destroyed it was just fine in a different reality.  She stayed up well past bedtime and watched the whole thing.  Then I pulled up an episode of the original series and showed her William Shatner as Captain Kirk, and Leonard Nimoy has Mr Spock, etc.

Before sending her off to bed I told Aden I will watch any Star Trek with her anytime she likes.  She smiled and said that would be fun.  She was probably just being nice.
It’s so funny the things we assume our children will know just because we do.  My poor father who spent so many years teaching other people’s children to speak French completely forgot to teach it to my brothers and me.  I asked him for some key phrases after I graduated from college and was heading off to Europe with Ian to backpack around for a month, and dad looked perplexed.

“But you speak French!” he said.

“No, I speak Spanish.  Remember when I lived in Mexico?”

My brothers, home from college that summer, happened to be sitting in the dining room and he looked at them and said, “Well, you both speak French, don’t you?”

Arno looked up and said, “No, dad, Japanese.”  Barrett replied, “German.”

I’ve never seen my dad look so dumbfounded.  He’d neglected to teach us French while we were under his roof and we’d grown up and gone off and it was too late!  I suppose in the hectic day to day life of a parent we always figure there will be time tomorrow.  Then a lifetime slips by.

Is it important that my kids learn that Jedis and Klingons don’t mix (other than at Comicon)?  Probably not.  But I’m going to teach them anyway.  Because it’s something I know, and by knowing I know it my kids will know me a bit better.  It means a lot to me that I know my mom loves old black and white horror films, can make her own paper, and cries at certain commercials.  Whenever I see a reference to The Incredible Shrinking Man or Day of the Triffids it makes me nostalgic for the Saturday afternoons growing up when my mom would work on the laundry with Sir Graves Ghastly hosting horror films on TV while my brothers and I played all over the house.  Those details spell home.  I’m not altogether sure what details my own kids are absorbing.

But we haven’t completely failed Aden in her science fiction education.  She knows what a Dalek is and would probably call a British police box a TARDIS if she ever saw one.  And she does know Chewbacca.  There’s still some time before she grows up and leaves us to share with her my favorite books and maybe even teach her how to sharpen a block plane.  I think her dad would like to teach her to ski.  As ridiculous as it sounds, realizing Aden’s lack of Star Trek exposure has me thinking more critically about what are the things I would be sad not to have shared before she’s no longer a regular member of our household anymore.

What do I want her to know about me that I want to be the one to tell her?  We’re starting small, with red shirts and snickerdoodles, but it’s a serious question.  What do I teach before it all slips by?  Where shall we boldly go where no one has gone before?  (And how many infinitives shall we split on the way?)

UPDATE (Oct 2015): I have since been corrected that my brother, Arno, speaks fairly good French, and Barrett knows a bit as well, so it is only I who managed not to pick up any of that language growing up.  (I don't think I'm misremembering that scene, though, but I suspect it my brothers were really teasing.)

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