Saturday, August 25, 2012

Out of the Mouths of Babes: A Tale of Economic Woe

I started teaching again this week, and the required vocabulary word "dismayed" came up in a short story some third-graders and I read aloud yesterday.   The protagonist, an absentminded kid forever losing things--books, house keys, caps, gloves, notebooks--and thus a habitue' of lost and founds, was "dismayed" to find that some shifty classmates had submerged his book report in an aquarium minutes before it was due.   I tried, like a good teacher, to get them to define the word from context clues, but I got answers like, "He wants to kill them," or "It means fish ate the paper." 

"Let me tell you a story kind of like that where I ended up 'dismayed,'  I said.  "I was spending the night in a friend's backyard last summer--"

"Why were you doing that, teacher?"

"I like to look up at the stars."  Actually I'd been kicked out of the Mission my second night there because a paperwork error had misidentified me as a chronic dormitory litterbug.  

"Don't interrupt.  Anyway, I forgot about my friend's new black Labrador puppy,  and I left my backpack and cell phone and wallet sitting on a table next to the air mattress.   In the morning, I found the puppy had chewed my backpack to tatters, cracked my cell phone into three pieces, and had torn apart my leather wallet with about 50 dollars in it."

"It ate the money?"

"Tore it up into little pieces and slobbered all over everything then jumped on me when I woke up and got my t-shirt muddy.  So I when I saw all this stuff I'd lost I was dismayed.  What was I feeling?"

"You wanted to kill the dog!"

"You should have called the dog catcher!"

"I'd call the police."

"Why didn't you just go to the store and get change for your fifty dollars?  That's what my Mom does."  This from a smug little girl named Sierra.

I heard a pounding noise in my head.  A wall was fast approaching.  I had to swerve away.  (Earlier today I'd had a similar feeling during math and Bear Logic, which involved basic reasoning problems involving different colored bears running races: Me: "If the red bear comes in second, and the yellow bear doesn't win the race, what does the blue bear do?" Kids:  "He ate too much honey and fell asleep!"  Me: "How can we use Bear Logic in real life?"  Kids:  "If you go camping and meet some bears you can tell them what to do.")

"Look," I continued,  "the fifty dollars was gone!   Haven't you ever lost some money that you really needed? It was everything I had and I couldn't even call anybody to ask for help.  It chewed up my bus pass!  I was totally stranded because my friend had already gone to work!"

"Why didn't you drive your car?"

"Let's stick to the fifty dollars.  I was dismayed.  I was sad.  I was angry.  I was surprised and shocked.  I felt like crying and I'm a grown-up.  That's dismayed.  Who's ever been dismayed here?"  Hands shot up.

Now a curious phenomenon started bubbling that you usually want to clamp a lid on right away, but lately I've been letting things like this reach a roiling boil for the anthropological value and absurdity.  A classroom of thirty kids can be seized by a kind of mass hysteria that makes them more fluent liars than usual if they get focused on just the right thing--and the idea of losing fifty dollars was a perfect kick start.  Listen in:

"I lost a fifty dollar bill once."

"How'd it happen?  Were you dismayed?"

"A burglar took it." 

"A burglar, eh? Most inconvenient.  How did you feel?"

"Mad and sad."

The reaction gathered speed . . .kids glanced at each other, eyes rolled sideways and upwards, bodies squirmed with the cost of juvenile mendacity . . .

--"I had fifty dollars that I won at the fair but my cat ate it."

--"I was in the park playing with my cousins and I had a fifty dollar bill and it fell down a hole.  I think squirrels got it."

--"I saw a fifty dollar bill on the ground once, and bent over to pick it up but the wind blew it away way up into a tree."

--"I had a fifty dollar bill to buy some ice cream but my baby sister flushed it down the toilet."

--"I was at a picnic with my family and some leaf cutter ants chopped up my fifty dollar bill."

--"I got a fifty dollar bill from the tooth fairy because I had a whole bunch of teeth under my pillow but then Chucky stole it."

--"A Killer Klown from outer space stole my fifty dollars."

--"Freddy Kruger stole my fifty dollar bill."

--"A monkey at the zoo grabbed my fifty dollar bill and wiped his butt with it."

Roars.  At this point I interrupted.  "So how did you all feel when you lost your fifty dollar bills?"

"I was sad."

"It was jacked-up."

One last time.  I leaned over the kids, sitting on the carpet in front of me.  "If you lose money that you really, really need, what's a word we learned today?  You felt Di. . .Dii. . .Diii. . .? Starts with the fourth letter of the alphabet? Diiiii . . ."

Sierra, the girl who'd earlier advised me on economic recovery, threw her hands up in the air and shrieked, "DELIGHTED!"

And somehow she was right.

No comments:

Post a Comment