Notes from my knapsack 3-27-14
Reading lists, and knowing lists
Up at the high school, the OGTs, the Ohio graduation tests, have rumbled through the lives of sophomores.
Here at Sycamore Lodge, it would appear the Lad has little or nothing to fear about being barred from graduation in 2016 by Gov. Kasich or any other functionary. It sounds like he passed them all, with relatively little anxiety or concern.
For some, these tests can be terrifying gate-keepers to the future. Not just to those who struggle to pass the material, but for those who find standard testing itself to be a challenge. Some have knowledge, but are challenged to communicate that knowledge in a timed setting, or are brought to the edge of soul-clutching paralysis by fill-in-the-bubble or short essay exercises.
We don't have those concerns, and I'm entirely optimistic about the OGT part of my son's education.
But I'm haunted by an exchange between a father and son in the latter's sophomore year, one I read the first time while I was in about that grade, and a spectre that's back to trouble me some forty years later.
Robert Heinlein, writing in 1957, had his youthful narrator of "Have Space Suit, Will Travel" recount a conversation his dad had with him, which I repeat from the point where Kip realizes that his father is not as thrilled with his education as he'd assumed.
"What's a dangling participle?"
I didn't answer. He went on, "Why did Van Buren fail of re-election? How do you extract the cube root of eighty-seven?"
Van Buren had been a president; that was all I remembered. But I could answer the other one. "If you want a cube root, you look in a table in the back of the book."
Actually, I thought then and still believe that it's a good sign Kip knows Van Buren was a president. And today, khanacademy.org can give you a much better way to understand how to extract cube roots (it has to do with factorization, which is all I remember these days). (It's 4.431, btw.)
The point of Heinlein's little aside in an otherwise fun as well as fact-filled narrative (seriously, you should read the book; it's marketed as a juvenile, or what's called today YA literature, but ignore that and read it for enjoyment and education at any age) is that you should not, as a parent, abdicate your responsibility for not only whether or not your child is doing their homework, but you also have a positive obligation to keep up with what they are learning, and whether that's enough for you.
The bad news for the Lad, and for not a few young people in this neck of the woods, is that no matter how good the Granville Exempted Village Schools are, parents can and should want their kids to learn even more.
Once upon a time, we talked about reading lists, and I've committed that particular sin myself in print. Even if the idea of a "Western canon" is out of date (debatable, but plausible), there are still books one should have a working knowledge of.
But I find myself, as we approach college trips and thoughts about majors, and more to the point, life on one's own, thinking about a "knowing list." What do I want my son to know before he launches out into the world without Mom and Dad close at hand?
How to change a tire, natch; why people from India don't (for the most part) eat cows, yes; what's the deal with Van Buren…. Maybe. We'll see.
I'm starting to compile for these last few years before graduation a "knowing list." Would you mind if I run it past you all? Thanks in advance for your feedback.
Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and pastor in Licking County; tell him what you think high school grads should know at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @Knapsack on Twitter.