Perhaps one of the fondest memories of a school year is the particular way children view the world.
Elementary students are taught about their world starting from the inside out. They learn about friends and family, then move on to communities and even states. Patriotic holidays get them on the road to an increased understanding of their country.
That’s why the subject is called Social Studies. In later years the terms history, civics, government, and politics are used.
One of the most challenging events in teaching is reciting The Pledge. I stand in different places in the room so I can encourage respect, and on this particular day, so I can find out what I need to reteach. Each child voices his or her own interpretation of the words, trying valiantly to fit them into some of their own logic and experience.
On this day the child I stood by said “one nation, individual”. Maybe I shouldn’t tell you about the day a student said “with puberty and justice for all.” His parents must have been talking about his older siblings.
Young children don’t always appreciate the difference between local and far-off events. One child mentioned his grandma was going to Galveston. Another chimed in, “Don’t go there. It’s not safe. They have that silly little war there.” Afghanistan is on the same shelf in the brain as Galvestson.
Every February in Texas we prepare for Rodeo Day (formerly tied in with Fat Hog Day) by studying cowboys, horses, and all things rural. We had been doing this for several days, and oneboy was showing off his newly developed vocabulary.
He commented knowingly, “That’s made from pure brahide.” I wasn’t sure whether it was rawhide from a regular cow or from a brahma. . . especially when the next day a child came in proclaiming his whole family saw a brainless bull down the street! There was a herd of brahma cows at the end of the road.
I’ve heard it said that education is worth more than the finest jewel. One class knew that when they were studying globes and maps. A student was quick to share what she knew, “A globe is a sapphire.” I had been taught it was a sphere. You never know where their ideas come from; maybe her mom had a sphere-shaped sapphire ring . . .
Educators nowadays include multicultural studies across the curriculum. Several days after I read the wonderful Chinese tale Tikki Tikki Tembo to the class, the glowing memory of having fun with the words, and the class echoing and chiming in on the rhythm and sounds remained in the air.
Since I always leave books I read to the class handy in case students want to reread them, I was gratified to see a student enjoying reading the book aloud. I paused to listen and caught her words, “My most horrible mother” and made a mental note to read it to the class again, stressing “My most honorable mother” a little more clearly.
One day we were working with maps of house plans. Kids gathered around a table to see the big sheets better. Several were spurting out names of various labels on the map. One guy saw the compound word masterbath mispronouncing it just a bit, to the teacher’s astonishment. He grabbed his mouth and said, “Isn’t that a bad word?!”
The study of history starts early in school. One second grader taught us that Orville and Wilbur Riot flew the first airplane. Teaching is like peeling onions: you peel off one layer (vocabulary) and you laugh till you cry. Then you peel off another layer (homonym words which sound similar) and you cry again, wondering how you can ever untangle all the possible misconceptions.
Needless to say, we learned the last name was Wright, experiencing all the possible spellings, but deciding to go with the right one, then we learned what a riot was (an easier thing to teach kids to eat in the lunchroom).
Everyone loves learning about the Oregon Trail, but one young scholar taught us of the Arrogance Trail. A wise little lady corrected him by saying, “Origin Trail” which was partially right since it was the origin of much American history?!
Then there was that deadly day when I asked students to think about what they would ask a famous person if they could go back into the past. Without skipping a beat a young man replied, “How he got killed” since I had just explained the birth and death dates shown in biographical summaries of presidents we studied last week.
Maybe tomorrow we’ll talk tombstones and make it clear when and how the year of one’s death is added to those summaries.
I think I need an after school snack. This day has been the death of me!
Copyright by Hildra Tague. Obtain permission for use online or in print.