Dear Dave

Friday 12 September 2008


Dear Dave,

I stopped asking my dad for help with homework when I was nine. I was struggling to come to terms with basic algebra and I got him to solve an equation for me. As I said, I was nine, so it couldn't have been too tough. Nevertheless, when the teacher marked my jotter, that particular answer came back with a big, red cross next to it.

I wasn't impressed. All dads should be able to do Primary 5 level maths. It's the law.

The failure set me to thinking: if he couldn't manage that, what else was he capable of getting wrong? It occurred to me that he might not be able to decline French verbs properly or be able to put the apostrophe in the correct place when referring to the possessions of multiple princesses.

This was a shocking possibility which I couldn't face and I kept my homework to myself after that day. Maybe I thought I might as well make my own mistakes or maybe I simply didn't want to know that he was fallible. Either way, one mistake and I gave up on him...

I was hoping - indeed expecting - to do better myself, aiding the children with their learning until at least secondary school. To my dismay, Fraser's homework has blind-sided me three times already this academic year and we've had merely a fortnight of term.

He's only eight.

It started with the very first piece of written work after the holidays - he had to name the seven continents. I was pretty sure I could do this until I discovered one of them began with 'O'. That's not one of the seven continents I learnt at school. In fact, I was taught there were FIVE continents.

I was forced to consult Wikipedia.

Apparently, Antarctica has had a promotion, America has been divided and no one can quite agree what to call the part of the world that's mainly Australia. I was taught to call it Australasia, some people call it Oceania and, technically, it should really be Australasia & Oceania. We put down Oceania because that seemed to be the answer Fraser's teacher was looking for.

Then we had to name a country on each continent. This went fine until we got to Antarctica again...

The next lot of homework was about weather. Fraser had to watch a weather forecast and draw some of the symbols used and explain them. This didn't go so well either. I found a weather forecast for us to watch but it showed computer generated rain moving over a 3D map of the UK. There were no symbols.


I had to call up a weather map using the interactive digital on the TV.

Now he's brought a reading book home that contains a number of Greek myths. The first page we had to read included the names Acrisius, Danaƫ, Polydectes and Seriphos. I could pronounce Perseus at least but we then had a bizarre argument over how to say Medusa. Considering the page only had about 150 words on it in total, it was rather heavy going.

All else being equal, I'd teach him my patented method of dealing with this kind of problem. Having once had to read chapter 8 of the book of Ezra* out in church, I know that being able to pronounce unfamiliar words correctly isn't as important as speaking them loudly and confidently and without batting an eyelid. Sound like you know what you're talking about and people will normally nod and smile and go along with you. (NB It doesn't just work with names - this technique applies in a surprisingly large number of fields...)

He's less likely to get away with it at school, however, since there it's the teacher's job to be loud, confident and unblinking. This being the case, I tried hard to come up with plausible pronunciations. All I can do is hope for the best.

What's he going to present me with next week? I've survived the homework challenges so far but the situation isn't looking good. That's twice I've been saved by technology my own father didn't have and once I've had to rely on crossing my fingers. I think it's the princesses' dresses but what am I going to do when he starts learning French?

I'm in trouble here. It may not be long before I'm abandoned as a lost cause...

Oh, and to top it all, I'm supposed to be helping my fifteen-year-old nephew Ned with his Standard Grade maths next week.

I suspect I need to do some revision...

Yours in a woman's world,


* Verse 4 is my favourite. It doesn't start so bad... Ezra the scribe stood on a high wooden platform built for the occasion. (...but then gets quickly out of hand.) Beside him on his right stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, (Oh, come on!) Uriah, Hilkiah and Maaseiah; (Phew! Thank goodness that's over.) and on his left (Uh-oh...) were Pedaiah, Mishael, ('re kidding...) Malkijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, (!??!!!) Zechariah and Meshullam. (And breathe... Survived. Could have been worse, I suppose - it's not as if a whole load of Levites called things like Sherebiah and Shabbethai are going to turn up as well in another couple of verses and... ... ... Oh, for goodness sake...)


Anonymous said...

they forgot a continent... next time - I suppose when next kid gets to same class - don't forget to include Jan Mayen, which is technically its own continent. The country thereupon is [a very little part of] Norway.

That'll get the teacher back...

DadsDinner said...

My kids already have a rather strong tendency to correct authority figures that's going to get us all into trouble one of these days. ('Don't be silly, officer, I'm not hiding stuff under my hat... I hid it under my brother's hat!')

Hang on. Maybe this whole thing is the teacher getting back at me...

Anonymous said...

I haven't stumbled yet. Seeing as the Kid is only in 1st grade, I'm hoping to manage a couple more years. We'll see. Thank god for google.

DadsDinner said...

The potential pit-falls are more basic in 1st Grade - like putting the wrong stuff in their lunch, forgetting to collect them from school or referring to them by their blog name while talking to their teacher. (All situations to be avoided, believe me...)