Monday, February 16, 2009

Shucking oysters, mucking words

Saturday I gathered oysters with my nephew.

We had to plan around the tides and the sunset. (Got to grab them before sunset, but low tide was not until sixish.) He carefully measured each one before throwing it into bucket, and he decided when we had enough to eat.

Yesterday, I shucked them, rolled them in cornmeal, flour, a little salt and a handful of spices, and the two of us ate them. They were good, and tasted even better knowing he had harvested them.

Last night we reviewed his vocabulary words. He is required to memorize them for his weekly quiz.

According to someone in his school district, the antonym for "enclose" is "omit" and the synonym for "prison" is "cell." The synonym for "jagged" is "rugged." While I can see the path taken to get to these words, none are quite right.

One particularly troubling pair was "uneasy" for "worry"--different parts of speech.

So we sat around the table firing words at the boy, everyone (including him) knowing that we were memorizing not-quite-correct language for the sake of passing a quiz. Someone joked that he was being prepared for life in a cubicle.

Maybe he was.

I hope when he tells tales of Uncle Muncle to his grandkids, he remembers the oysters and not the mind-numbing idiocy of memorizing carelessly put together vocabulary lists.

We are teachers. We must do a better job.

Oysters on a Cape May jetty taken by Leslie. It was a Sunday, so we didn't eat take any.


Anonymous said...

My god. If his English teacher has tenure, I want to find out how difficult it would be to get him/her fired. That's intraposterous.

lucychili said...

Once upon a time I got a bad mark for a poem in school. It included a pride of lions and the teacher did not know it was
a collective noun.
I did learn something from the moment.
it was perhaps something more tactical than literary. =)

doyle said...

Dear Clay,

It's a bad situation, intraposterous indeed!

What do you tell a child? Memorize crap? Stand up for yourself and pay a price for a teacher's ignorance?

He's 9 years old. He's learning a lesson as lucychili did below.

Dear lucychili,

Our daughter had a similar episode--she wrote a dream sequence, deliberately scrambling tenses to build the dreamlike feeling.

The teacher knew her well enough to know she could write (she had one a statewide contest earlier that year), but refused to believe she deliberately altered tenses. (It was a creative writing assignment.)

Even a trip to the office on our broomsticks didn't help--the principal wasn't any brighter than the teacher, and stuck by her side,

I still think the benefits of public school far outweigh the downside, but teachers acting arrogantly ignorant do not help pass school budgets.

Anonymous said...

Ah! That's why I hate synonyms while teaching vocabulary!!! English has so many wonderful words in it precisely because each word has a specific meaning. I get the value and idea behind the use of synonyms in teaching vocabulary, but that mess you described goes beyond awful. I had a colleague once who insisted there was a synonym for estuary. There isn't; not really.

The oyster adventure, however, sounds pleasant and delicious.

Anonymous said...

I'm about to go back to class, but...My students complain when we don't do stuff like this. "Reynolds why can't we just memorize these words or notes and then take a test?" We refer to it as mental vomit. I read this line somewhere once and these moments always make me think of it.
"I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand."
-CJ Reynolds

doyle said...

Dear mz. w,

I love the word "estuary",and I agree, can't think of a word that quite captures it.

(Estuaries are paradise....)

Dear CJ,

I think a lot of my kids feel threatened or exposed when asked to think.

It's bad enough when we ask our kids to jump through hoops for marginal gain--it borders on criminal when we ask them to memorize false nonsense just because a teacher doesn't have the brains or the cojones to face her ignorance.

Anonymous said...

This reminds me of two things:

1) vocabulary on the SAT and other tests as dictated by the Evil Testing Service -- perhaps his teacher has an affiliation with them?

2) something one of my teachers once told me, many moons ago: You will always, no matter how bad they are, be able to learn something from every teacher you have. In this case, as is obvious to us, the lesson is not about vocabulary.

Btw, @Clay, I am smiling smugly at your comment.

Unknown said...

I had a similar dialogue with my seventh hour yesterday. Many of them struggle as writers, not because they do not understand synonyms and antonyms but because they take it literally. They need a nice dose of Wiggestein, really and then they can feel the nuance of language and fall in love with the creativity of composing meaning with words.