Three emails inspired this week’s column. About a week ago, an email sent to me riffed on the U.S. educational system. The author, who will not be identified in order to protect the stupid, bemoaned that our system fails students because certain skills aren’t being taught. Among those on the list were these ten: cursive writing; how to save money, invest, and create a budget; how to buy a high-ticket item; how taxes work; how to be an entrepreneur; common courtesy; how to handle a job interview; stress management; first aid; and home repair/car maintenance.
Most of the sixty or so items on the list I found laughable. Some brought back memories. As was the case with many of you, I came of age in an educational system that had required shop classes. While I didn’t take the automotive class (where I would have learned basic ownership maintenance, at the very least), I did opt for classes in printing (where, among other things, we learned typesetting and how to make paper) and electrical. Of the rest in the above list the only ones I would agree with are cursive writing and how taxes work, both of which I learned in school (how taxes work was covered in at least two history classes). Call me old-fashioned, but I believe parents should be teaching common courtesy—certainly, and at the very least, by example—as well as personal financial skills. Classes in how to buy a high-ticket item? Really?
Another email from a different sender came the day after the first, this one stating other things schools should be teaching. I won’t relate the entire list, or even much of it, but I have to say that teaching forgiveness, how to put yourself first, that life is short, the proper way to do laundry, and how to have a sense of humor (no, I’m not making up these subjects) better darn well be taught at home, perhaps some in conjunction with a formal faith-based program or 4H or Scouting, etc. You get the idea. But as for the entry of having school curricula also teach how to have a sense of humor, I remembered: almost all of my teachers did teach a sense of humor, if informally. At one time or another, and regardless of the subject, teachers would find ways to inject humor into presenting lessons on serious subjects.
As an example, I distinctly recall a math teacher giving us mathematical modeling problems (e.g., “If a train leaves Boston at 2 a.m. going 60 miles per hour, and an elephant is skipping sideways in the opposite direction at four miles an hour …”) and one student unable to grasp the process asking in total exasperation, “When will knowing these ever be useful in my life?” The teacher, looking somber, said that was a very good question and that there was a very good answer. With a sympathetic look and in all sincerity she replied, “The knowledge will come in handy if you ever want a high school diploma.” Almost everyone cracked up.
After finishing the second email I started feeling badly for teachers for the usual reasons: they’re overworked, undersupplied, and almost universally underappreciated. Just a few years ago, so-called adults were clamoring for a reduction in humanities-based subjects in favor of the sciences and math because (allegedly) we were behind the world in those areas. Now there’s this cry for school curricula to include shoelace knot-tying (again, I’m not kidding). Frankly, I was getting angry until I received the third email.
This one, which was so stupid it just had to be true, was a list of demands made by parents, which had supposedly been gleaned from teachers’ notes. I have to show you just some of the demands that really caught my fancy:
“Could you please text me first thing every morning that my child has PE so I can remind her to bring in her PE clothes? Thank you so much!”
“Please stop writing on the board with your left hand. It is confusing all of the right-handed kids.”
“Could you please prepare a hot cup of tea for my son each morning when he arrives at school?”
“Do NOT send any books home! My child will not read at home, kids read at school and they don’t need to at home.”
“My son lost part of his finger in an accident at home. I have it in a ziplock in the freezer and wanted to see if he could bring it to school for show and tell?”
“Would you be interested in making my son’s lunch every day? I’m so busy with work and you don’t have any children. I can pay you $2 per meal, so you could make an extra $40/month!”
“I need you to help calm down my son when he gets worked up. He likes to be rubbed down with lotion.”
“Sweetheart, I pay your salary. My son will bring in whatever he damn well pleases, even if it’s an inflatable pool whale.”
“Please make sure that my son’s homework is completed before I pick him up from school. I’m tired when I get home and I don’t feel like helping him.”
“You should not penalize my son for plagiarizing his science fair project because I did that part, so it’s my fault.”
“Would you be willing to learn the harmonica to play for my daughter to keep her happy?”
“I have a great idea for you! Why don’t you send voice messages every day saying, ‘It’s homework time, do your work now!’ in a happy voice? This would be so much fun!”
“Could you come into school during winter break to help my son make up all the missing assignments from your class?”
“Can you email me your lesson plans every morning so I know what you’ll be doing? I used to be a teacher, so I’ll give you feedback and helpful tips.”
“Please send me the questions and answers to next week’s test so I can quiz my son this weekend.”
“I demand that you postpone the test on Friday. My son has basketball practice and a baseball game the night before.”
“Why do you teach old history? You should only teach new history. My son gets easily bored with old stuff.”
“Are you available to torture my child during weekends?” (A follow-up email noted the correction to “tutor” from “torture.”)
“It is important that you cut my son’s lunch into small pieces and then put ONLY one piece at a time in his mouth.”
“Please tell my son that there are cameras in the restroom, so he’ll think I know if he wipes or not.”
I know that some of you are or were teachers. If this list upset any of you, I sincerely apologize. If it means anything, I ran the list past someone I know who has taught and was assured the list was likely legitimate—and pathetically funny. There may not be another profession where it is more important to have a sense of humor than teaching.
This week’s Street Advertising Smile: