GREAT MOMENTS IN EDUCATION08/01/2023 ● By Rick Epstein
It was the kindergarten teacher. Spurred by visions of her weeping and humiliated child, Betsy rushed to the rescue.
When she arrived, she found Sally wearing a pair of trousers that looked like hand-me-downs from an extraterrestrial. They were tight and short on her legs and blossomed in baggy folds around her butt and abdomen. Sally had taken a jacket, stuck her legs down the sleeves and then zipped it up. “Hi, Mommy!” she said gaily, “How do you like the pants I invented?”
When life gives Sally lemons, she trades them for limes and makes mojitos.
One day in first grade, her teacher asked, “OK, Sally, what have you brought for Show and Tell?”
Sally went out into the hall, took her little sister by the hand, hauled her to the front of the room and said, “This is Wendy. She is 3. I made her with magical powders.”
Little Wendy smiled, pleased with the attention. She didn’t mind being exhibited like a sideshow freak. The orthodox succession of dolls and souvenirs had been broken by the presentation of a living child, and the kids stared in amazement. Sally was triumphant; she had turned her pesty little sister into an object of wonder.
Sally’s big moments tend to be victories of the spirit, rather than of the intellect. Multiplication and cursive writing don’t come to her as naturally as showmanship and courage.
When Sally was in second grade, the boys formed a club called Boy Attack, whose sole purpose was to pursue screaming girls all over the playground. One day at recess, Sally climbed up on the monkey bars and addressed the second-grade girls: “Are you sick of being chased around? We have to fight back! Who wants to join Girl Attack?”
The enthusiastic girls all but brandished machetes and pitchforks. “Let’s get ’em!” she yelled and slid theatrically down the pole to join her troops. Inside of two minutes her avenging Amazons had turned a degrading sport into a spirited game.
Now Sally is about to enter third grade and it’s hard to guess what she’ll be adding to her resume this year.
Last week I got a box of my grade-school stuff down from the attic, hoping to put a fine edge onto her readiness for the new school year with the idea that we have a family tradition of achievement and erudition. “My dirt collection!” I exclaimed, pulling out two pill bottles filled with soil and labeled “MINN.” and “WYO.” “See, Sally? I had dirt from each of 20 or 30 states all bottled like this and it won a prize. Here’s the award certificate.” I pulled out a half-sheet of white paper.
Sally was impressed with the bottles of dirt, but not the certificate. “Dad,” she said, “This paper is blank except for your name.”
The mimeograph ink had faded completely out. “Well, trust me,” I said, “It used to say: First Prize, Ben Franklin Elementary School Hobby Show. Hey, look! Here’s my dinosaur report!”
“Dad,” she said, “this is about brontosauruses.”
“Right,” I said. “‘Brontosaurus: The Gentle Giant.’ Take a look at those drawings of them eating bushes and fighting with T-rex. I must’ve spent two days tracing pictures and paraphrasing stuff out of the encyclopedia for this report.”
“Dad,” said Sally, “There’s no such thing as the brontosaurus.”
“Not now,” I said.
My wife intervened. “Not ever,” she said. “The guy who discovered the brontosaurus had mixed up the bones of two different kinds of dinosaurs and thought it was a new kind. I guess they discovered the mistake right after you wrote your report.”
“I should have been informed!” I said. Sally and Betsy looked away. I regarded my blank certificate and my obsolete dinosaur report. My greatest academic achievements had been as ephemeral as a vial of Oklahoma dust emptied into a strong wind.
But you know, my own feeble scholastic efforts are mere prologue to Sally’s education. And she’s doing pretty well. If she puts a little extra effort into her arithmetic and penmanship this year, she can realize my full potential.