Friday, November 18, 2005

On Advice from Dear Abby

Okay, I'll admit, I occasionally read Advice from Dear Abby. And, today's first letter sort of tossed my mind into a tangle I experienced more frequently a decade or more ago.

The letter was from a zookeeper who got into a twist about adults who make stuff up to tell the kids, rather than admit they don't have a clue. Both the zookeeper and Abby (well, Jeanne Phillips, actually) said that the parents should learn to say those three little words men find so hard to say (thank you, Red Green!): "I DON'T KNOW". It was also suggested that they say, "I don't know, but I'll help you get the answer". The point made was, and I quote from Abby, "learning is more fun when it's a shared endeavor."

Well, from my experience as a substitute teacher and in my years working with schoolkids at Colonial Williamsburg, the best response is, "what a great question! Let's find out the answer together." It's not only about shared learning experiences, but about showing kids that they aren't expected to reach a point where they have to know everything, or they're failing at life.

My parents and my older brother always intimidated me as I was growing up. By the time I had a clue what school was, Dad had earned his PhD, so I sort of assumed he knew everything there was to know about the universe, Mom knew everything there was to know about people, and my brother was a know-it-all. Trying to catch up to them was futile. After all, they were (and still are) geniuses, and my IQ score was... umm... a bit lower. Why should I knock myself out to keep going, when I'd never catch up? The whole concept was too scary, like trying to ride with Lance Armstrong, only your vehicle is a Big Wheel.

Okay, my test scores still put me in Mensa, if I'd wanted to spend the money to join a bunch of other smarty-pantses, but, compared to the rest of my family, I'm Densa. Which is kind of my point. They had a head start on me, and I am never going to catch up with any of them. However, I've learned a few things through my own irreproducible methods (owee owee owee!). These older people in my life have enjoyed learning for the sake of learning, and it finally sank in, after I'd wasted nearly twenty years resenting their superiority, that I could do the same, and without competing. It's not a race. It's a baseball game. Life is in the outfield, Experience is pitching, we've filled the bases, there's only one out, and I'm also at bat.

I don't feel like bunting.

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