Sunday, November 22, 2009


I don't mean to make this a blog where I continually make fun of my students. But then, I don't think of it as "making fun"—just a kind of fond laughing at their foibles. Parents can laugh at their kids, right? So, so can teachers, right? It's not like I play "warp the kid" like a certain godfather of mine used to do.

And when someone fills out a vocabulary card like this...well, it probably means I didn't explain what I wanted very clearly. Excerpt:
Word: Treacle.
What I think it means: kind.
Sentence where I found it: They lived on treacle.
What it actually means: A kind of molasses.
A new sentence using this word: I am a kind molasses.
Coincidentally, "a kind molasses" is exactly how I would describe this girl, based on her classroom demeanor. Except when she's a mean molasses.

Friday, November 20, 2009

The Slar Wowne

On a Latin test I recently graded, one of the sentences to be translated was:

Cornelia ancillam, nomine Syram, observat.

The correct translation would be "Cornelia watches a slave woman, named Syra." It's a pretty cool sentence—since Latin is highly inflected, we know what the direct object is way before we know what the verb is. Neat.

Some of them thought it was neat, too, or anyway were suitably baffled ("Did they just wait around for the verb, or what?"). One of them, though, translated the sentence as follows:

Cornia waches the slar wowne.

I loved this. Why did I love it? Of all the possible reasons she wrote it, none are good:

(1) She thought she was writing "slave woman."
(2) She had no idea what she was writing.
(3) She's not aware that writing is meant to convey ideas, but knows that I am going to pester her until she makes some marks.

I don't know what the world looks like to someone who can't read. I can't remember when words weren't one of the most important parts of me. I know there are a lot of functional illiterates in the world. I also know that it's not unusual for someone to get to sixth grade with their mind being a pile of mush. But I can't imagine it, because I am luckier than they are.

I asked the my 6th grade literature class recently to name their favorite story—something that wasn't just exciting, but was magical, mysterious, something that they believed might stay with them their entire lives.

Most of them named Zombieland.

Well, I'm a dope. It's the typical grownup mistake (I'm a grownup, kind of): take the thoughts that you formulated about your childhood fifteen years later, and assume that eleven-year-olds are thinking them right now.

But, really?? They can't mean Zombieland occupies the same space in their heads as The Phantom Tollboth and Matilda and Harold and the Purple Crayon did, and do, in mine. Can they? Do they have anything to fill that space? I'm not saying I never watched or read crap, but I watched and read stuff besides crap, too. I'm pretty sure their heads are filled mostly with crap.

And how am I going to convince them that they'll be so much richer—you know, like me—if they fill that space with the stuff I am always going on about? How do I get them to stop calling Lewis Carroll's Alice a whiny weirdo who talks to herself and cries too much? (Well, they're kind of right.)

I'm not really sure. But part of what made me love the slar wowne was the unintentional irony, coming as it did from the pencil of an Alice-mocker: to my ears, the phrase doesn't sound like sub-English but like middle-English; or even better, it's something Lewis Carroll could have thought of, like a mome rath.

So, anyway, I thought it would make a good name for a blog.