Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Literally Puzzled

I had always imagined that when I finally did have children that they would inherit from me my thirst for useless knowledge. I do have three children now, and two of them are at an age where we can finally bond in a way that the whole family (minus poor little Annie) can enjoy.
We play Trivial Pursuit.

The trivial pusuit that I played as a child was rich with questions that people who grew up in the 60s and 70s would be able to answer. Nowadays, there are several new versions to appeal to a variety of crowds, including children. We play Trivial Pusuit Family Edition which includes two decks of questions: one for adults, one for children. This prevents adults from answering questions about Elmo, and children from scratching their heads as they ponder world economics.

I guess the easiest way to explain a childs education is to compare it to a gigantic 3000 piece puzzle. Its such a massive endeavour, but you know it must be done. You start off by building the edges, a solid border in which all the other pieces will reside. Then you pick a section of the puzzle and start building. Occasionally, you'll switch off to another section, either from boredom or because a few pieces look obvious where they go. It really helps if more than one person contributes time and effort into the puzzle. Ultimately, the picture starts to take shape, and you fill in the gaps until you finally get the whole thing. Thus is an education. Unfortunately, some children's puzzle don't have as many pieces, and others give up and never finish it, throwing it into the closet and playing video games instead. These children end up serving you Big Macs and piercing their face several times.

The puzzle metaphor proved itself to me this week during a game of Trivial Pursuit with my children. My oldest was asked a question from the kid's deck that had the word "beverage" in it. She had an odd look on her face. "Whats a beverage?" she asked. I was stunned. She's 9, and hasn't learned what a beverage is. I explained it, then went on a rant in regards to the schooling system and how obvious stuff is taken for granted.

On my next turn, I was asked by my lovely wife, "Who was the famous American poet who's name began with Edward Estlin." I responded quickly, "E. E. Cummings." Being an English/Literature buff, I found this to be an easy question. My daughter interjects, "I know him, E. E. Cummings was an author who never capitalizes any letters in his writings. We studied about him in school."

She was correct.

I recall my studies of American Poets being predominately in high school, not fourth grade. How is it that my 9 year old daughter doesn't have the vocabulary skills to know what "beverage" means, but knows all about the inner workings and orthology of early 20th century writers? The Trivial Pursuit card added insult to the injury by not having his name capitalized. It read "e.e. cummings."

I guess the lesson here is to have a little patience with my childrens' knowledge base. As their puzzle gets built, there are going to be big chunks missing that seem more important than others. But overall, as long as we all keep adding pieces, we'll eventually see the bigger picture.

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