Wednesday, April 25, 2007

A Learning Experience

Today I went on a field trip with the fourth grade, and I learned many things. Not only that Mission Dolores (or Mission of the Lady of Sorrows) is the oldest continually operational building in San Francisco, though I did learn that. Or that Mary, mother of Jesus, is the lady of sorrows. Seven of them, to be precise, all having to do with her son. She was, after all, a Jewish mother.

I was reminded of how cool Catholic iconography is, when we sat in the 1,400 seat Basillica, next door to the actual Mission. And that, when the chips are down, I think old cemetaries are pretty cool. So cool, in fact, that I have to refer to them as "boneyards."

But that was not all.

I learned that today's schoolbuses have seatbelts, and that you cannot pull away from school until everyone has their seatbelt fastened. They also have much taller seats, making it much more difficult to harass the kid sitting in front of you. Overall, they seem much nicer than they were when I was a kid, or even when I was teaching high school.

My Jawa is still young enough to get excited when he sees me at school, which is nice.

The learning began almost immediately, and came directly on the heels of my first educational moment of the day. We drove a 6th grader to school this morning, as a favor to someone who plays basketball with Sandra Bullock. Halfway through the ride, I heard faint rap music coming from somewhere. 6th graders, I quickly learned, sometimes listen to their iPods on the way to school.

But that was just the beginning. After almost five years of dealing with this class of kids as their basketball coach or the Jawa's dad, I got to take my annual survey of where they are, socially. I found out who are the nice girls and who are the mean girls, and which girls will go quickly to the mini-tantrum when things don't go their way. And I learned that there are girls who are perfectly nice, but are ignored by the nice girls and ostracized by the mean girls, so they have to sit alone on the steps and make it look like everything is okay.

I learned that there are mean girls pretending to be nice girls.

I learned that when the Shaman goes fetal, the best thing to do is "give him some space."

I learned that all of the crazy boys seem to have had no trouble finding each other. Even crazy boys new to the school have quickly found their peers. And that something as simple as a found pair of eyeglasses can cause hours of entertainment and trouble. And that though there are perhaps a half-dozen crazy boys, one is head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to being clever and funny. And being sweaty, then shoving his hair up to maximum height.

And that some boys that I had no idea were crazy are. So crazy that they will take leave of their adult-friendly persona to eat a lemon cough drop that they've found lying on the sidewalk, and then later eat a blade of grass, before returning to their more controlled, sports-obsessed modus operandi.

I learned that there are some boys whose parents should know who they've been hanging out with, because it's not a good idea for them to hang out with these people. And that plenty of my parental peers have no idea (or refuse to acknowledge) how their kids behave when they're not around. And that kids think they know when there're no adults around, so they can practice swearing and talking about killing stuff.

I learned that my child's teacher, like me, prefers wearing a worn baseball cap to not wearing one. And that he is not afraid to go down the slide when encouraged by his class. And that his teaching assistant, though Jewish, did actually go to Mass while at Santa Clara, my alma mater, but only on Saturday night, "before partying."

I found that the other teaching assistant was a very interesting guy, who carries a sports bag that indicates he played some sport at Stanford, which, in my world, is very impressive.

I learned that the Jawa's ex-girlfriend is trying to mend fences, even if that means skipping the mass "capture the flag" game going on in favor of joining him on the jungle gym. I also learned that one of our (S. Bullock and I) favorite girl basketball players plans to become a lawyer, which comes as absolutely no surprise to either of us. And that one of the stars of our basketball team "doesn't like playgrounds."

I learned that all of the "kindness committee" training in the world will not teach your child to clean up after him or herself. Nor will including non-disposable Tupperware in their lunches. Some kids more than others.

There is a boy in 4th grade whom, I predict, will eventually carry the "Animal House"-inspired nickname "Bluto." But he will surprise everyone by being incredibly well-read. And eventually, he, too, will have his heart broken by one of the mean girls. Or the wannabe mean girls. It makes little difference.

I learned that the other 4th grade teacher really likes to emphasize the second syllable of "cafe," suggesting that she spent a semester in Europe during college.

I found that, not surprisingly but still a little unsettlingly, 4th graders from a Jewish Day School know absolutely nothing about Catholicism, Christianity, Saints or Jesus Christ himself. Most of them were upset by the Crucifix. "Why's he up there?" more than one of them asked. Our docent, Al Lopez (not THAT Al Lopez, baseball fans), was very patient, and seemed to be doctoring his presentation. He reminded us several times that Jesus was a Jew, that The Last Supper was a Seder. As our Indie Rock-looking teacher left the Basillica (inexplicably, he had jury duty), he whispered to me, "If he starts giving them communion, get them out of here." Fortunately, it never came to that.

I learned that most kids love dogs, but as much as they love dogs, they hate it when the dogs' owners lay down a blanket in the park and start making out. This will send them running in terror, shouting, "THEY'RE MAKING OUT! GROSSSSS!" If you respond by saying, "What's gross? Are they hippies?" They will give you a blank look, is if you've just spoken to them in Latin.

Everyone should go on a field trip. Even people who are neither parents nor teachers. It's good for the soul, and even better for those who want to know what goes on when their backs are turned.


Anonymous the hammer said...

To those of us that can relate to this entry, this was good reading. Thanks for brightening up my Mon morning.

Btw, according to Shaman, he was just thinking. While I wasn't there to witness it myself, "fetal" would be the 2006 basketball season. This sounds more like "pensive".

8:54 AM  
Blogger zelda said...

A few things:

•I remember leading a field trip last year on which you were one of the chaperones and distinctly a) having to ask you to be quiet while I was giving the directions about bus safety and seatbelts b) you rolling your eyes at me after that when you thought I was not looking your way.

•Reading this was hilarious if only to try and guess which ones of these former students of mine you were describing. Some of them I think I've got figured out but others are hard to peg based on your hints.

•You sell her short by assuming she did study abroad as an undergrad. She actually used to live in Italy.

•I myself was one of the nice girls sitting on the steps.

•This is small potatoes compared to the overnight trip coming up. I used to teach 4th Grade, remember? So I know.

•IndieRock claimed jury duty? I've lied to get out of field trips but come on, he could have thought of something way better than that. I am disappointed and will speak with him.

•Making out is gross for sure if it involves lying down on the lawn in Dolores Park. Have you seen what people do on that grass? Seriously.

9:31 PM  
Anonymous IndieRockLookingGuy said...

Lefty - Thank you; I lauged, I cried.

Some of the kids identities I couldn't figure out (who's Bluto?). I have heard about the cough drop incident.

Actually, the seatbelts are new to me too - between us, the bus driver says kids are not required to wear them; "Cafe" and I prefer having the kids strapped down.

JS teacher and I sat them down the next day and had kids draw a "venn" diagram to compare and contrast Christianity and Judaism. Results were as sophisticated as "monotheistic" and "Abrahamic" to "Hanukah and Christmas both have presents". One kid asked incredulously, "What do bunnies and chocolate eggs have to do with the death of Jesus?"

10:32 PM  
Blogger zelda said...


A) Is "Abrahamic" a word you use in Fourth Grade?! If yes, I have six weeks left and miles to go before I sleep as far as vocabulary instruction is concerned. Not even Wordly Wise covers "Abrahamic" as far as I know.

B) I'd have imagined your Quaker heritage would prepare you to answer questions like chocolate eggs vs. death of Jesus, no?

9:11 PM  
Blogger Lefty said...

I don't know about chocolate eggs, but how did the joke go?

The teacher asks three children about Easter. Patrick, the first one, says, "That is when Christ was born." "No," says the teacher, "but that is close."

"I know," says the second, a girl named Becky, "Easter is when the Pilgrims landed in America and gave thanks!"

"Sorry," says the teacher. Finally, she turns to Avram, the last student, and asks him. "Avram," she says, "do you know the meaning of Easter?"

"Certainly," he says. "Easter celebrates the resurrection of Christ. He rose from his grave."

"Excellent," says the proud teacher.

"And then," adds the beaming Avram, "he saw his shadow and we had winter for six more weeks!"

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