My oldest son, Hank, allegedly graduated from Kindergarten this week. This is incredible news for our family, and certainly seems worthy of the public adulation forthcoming.
Let’s be clear: We’re not celebrating Hank’s educational achievements, because neither his mom nor I currently hold proper certifications in the discipline of teaching. For all we know, our son may have digressed over the past 11 weeks.
What we know, with certainty, is that his teacher sent us the sweetest, most personalized little email each week throughout this wretchedness known as distant learning.
“Per district guidelines,” the note begins. Any time you start a sentence with “Per,” you know what follows will melt the heart.
“Per district guidelines, your child earned ‘Demonstrated Progress’ in all subject areas (Math, Writing, Science, Social Studies, and Reading).
Now, for every parent who has received such high commendations over the past couple of months, let me ask a very poignant question: Who are you more proud of? Your child, who has performed some sort of functioning brain activity? Or yourself, who has successfully proven you can juggle the intricacies of staying sane, printing worksheets and clicking video chat links?
Be honest. You know the answer. Kids will always figure it out. Parents, on the other hand, need the self-aggrandizing moments we’re experiencing now.
Here’s what we’ve all learned: Nothing, and I mean nothing, is more humbling than educating our children. Just when we adults think we have it figured out, along come our squirmy children intent on proving we don’t.
Case in point: Despite your likely assumptions, I’m actually a trained journalist and writer. Not only did I receive a communications degree in college, I also earned a creative writing minor, which turned out to be as useful as a boat in the desert.
When our family learned we would spearhead Hank’s education for the remainder of the year, you can imagine that I gladly accepted the challenge of teaching him to read and write. It seemed to fit my daily profession and I presumed Hank would enter first grade as a prolific purveyor of prose. “You see son, that’s what you call alliteration. Throw that on your classmates next year.”
And that’s the sort of pride will get a person in trouble. About mid-way through the at-home semester, shortly after a fiery exchange between teacher and pupil, my boy looked at me and said, “Dad, English makes no sense.”
Welcome, my friends, to the world of homonyms, those beastly words that ruin the credibility of our language.
In case you don’t remember (come on, English professors don’t remember this stuff), a homonym is defined as two or more words that share the same spelling, or same pronunciation – maybe even both – but have completely different meanings.
So, when I tell my son to read this specific book, right after he has read the other two, he’s supposed to know that the first “read” was pronounced REED, and the second “read” was pronounced RED.
Immediately after, I’d hand Hank a spelling worksheet, and he’d spell it REED.
“Why is that wrong, Dad?” he’d ask.
“You’ll figure it out one day,” was my stock answer.
And homonyms are just the start. Within them, you’ve got a cluster full of mindless confusion, which crippled my teaching credentials.
Homophones are two or more words with the same pronunciation, different spellings and different meanings. Think one-won, or meet-meat.
Homographs have the same spellings, different meanings and it’s anybody’s guess if they sound the same. Think bass (deep voice) and bass (fish); lead (go first) and lead (metal); produce (create) and produce (fresh edible stuff).
And we’re not done yet. Heteronyms are spelled the same but are always pronounced differently or, as one teaching aid told me, “they are homographs which are not homophones.” Right.
Some obvious examples of heteronyms would include close (near) and close (shut), or minute (time) and minute (small).
What I’m still trying to decipher is how we, as a society, have made it this far. At what point did we learn that we’d moderate a discussion between two moderate candidates? Who helped us figure out the pronunciation difference when we wound a bandage around the wound on our leg? And who in creation can figure out the difference between there, their and they’re.
Actually, on that last example, I’d argue 73 percent of the English writing population still has not resolved the conundrum.
If it’s hard enough to read our language, imagine how much fun I’ve had trying to explain to my poor son that four is a number, for is a preposition (sometimes a conjunction – what?) and fore is what you scream after dad hits a golf shot.
In one particular assignment, in which Hank was to write a story about something he did outside, our son said he wanted to write about lizurds in the yard. When I explained that it’s spelled lizard, not lizurd, he promptly told me it’s not pronounced lizARd. And, of course, he’s correct.
So to all you parents out there who learned, this week, that your child allegedly has been promoted to the next grade level, let’s just stop with all the air fist-bumps. The only thing we’ve proven, at least in our home, is that Mom & Dad Elementary School will never be accredited.
Our son needs to be in a classroom. With kids. With saintly teachers. Fast.