Sunday, October 22, 2006

The answer is 18

But how did she get there? No one knows. Every week Ellie, my fourth grader, brings home her Friday folder. It contains the self-directed, student corrected worksheets her class completes during the week. I get to sign off whether I'm satisfied or if I have concerns. It's not hard stuff and it seems like the only thing she is actually tested on each week is spelling. This week there was one particular word problem with one answer crossed out and the number 18 written in its place without any work showing. When it took me more than a minute to check her answer, it occurred to me that she didn’t know how to reach the answer on her own and she must have copied it from a friend. My heart sank. It was déjà vu all over again. I hated math too and by the time I had my last math class in 10th grade, I was just completely faking it and cheating off Wesley Silotti during the tests. I was so immature I didn’t even recognize the ethical issues I was facing and creating. All I knew is that I had to get through that year, not torpedo my grade point average and no way did I even come close to understanding the amount of work that was really necessary for me to understand trigonometry because everything else non-scientific and non-numerical came so easily to me. But I was such a good student, right? I could justify whatever it was going to take to get me past the last math barrier with my GPA in tact even though I so cavalierly sacrificed my ethics because at 15 years old I had no concept of ethics to sacrifice. But I do now and I want to let my kids in on it before they make some stupid choices that they don’t even see as choices.

When I confronted her with my suspicion, she knew she was had. She was so ashamed and she cried and cried. So it happened as I suspected; Ellie copied from Katie because she had no idea how to solve the problem herself but didn’t want to feel like the only one who couldn’t figure it out. Even after I worked through the problem with her several times, she still did not understand why the answer was 18. I completely understand her frustration. Word problems made me cry on a regular basis. We talked and talked about the importance of asking for help, not guessing, not copying from her friends. I tried to stress the importance of not pretending to understand just because everyone else seemed to understand. I hope she believes me that leaving a blank is so much better than making up an answer or cadging one from a friend. How do you set the moral compass? How do you make them believe that you would really, really rather see the blank and know what they don’t know? How do you make them not grow up to cheat off Wesley Silotti? I truly do understand what motivated her to copy from Katie. Some day I’ll tell her about 10th grade trigonometry and my spineless justification regarding the integrity of my “permanent record.” I probably overworked the incident, but I just want her to comprehend the difference between right and wrong and if she decides to cheat, at least she will know that she picked wrong and it was her choice to make.

Parenting: a lot like 10th grade trigonometry. Where is Wesley Silotti when you need him?


Anonymous said...


Makes me shudder to even recall math from high school and college. Ugh. Only time I ever felt truly stupid.

My head, even now, even with maturity and distance, a Master's degree and the respect and admiration of my teenagers (OK, that last one's a snort-fest)...begins to spin and I sort of...what was I saying?

Where is Wesley Silotti? If that's not rhetorical, Google him. Maybe he'd love to hear from you. Maybe he used to copy off your English papers. Who knows?

(from Iowa)

Amy said...

Hi Marji -

Poor Ellie. It's so hard when tenderhearted kids get caught with that sort of thing. You just know they're beating themselves up over it, too.

Sarah had been "forgetting" to bring homework home from time to time. It was much worse last year than this year. She has since realized that mommies and teachers have e-mail and actually can CONTACT each other, so much for that whole "ignore it and it will go away" plan. Sarah also cried some big fat tears over that... she really wants to please and do everything right, and knows she shouldn't tell lies - even lies of omission - but also really would rather not do her homework. :)

So you hug them, tell them every day is a fresh, new day, and that they can try again the right way.

Best to you and your girls -

Gamma Jean said...

Marji - I actually liked math tho I wasn't terribly good at it. There was always that problem about there being only ONE right answer, yes?

But I *hated* story problems. Wish I knew why. I think because they're stupid. Now, if the problem had to do with popcorn where she and Nora started with 3 cups of popcorn each, and she ate half a cup in 5 minutes and Nora ate half a cup in 30 minutes, how long would it take before she had to start begging Nora for some of HER popcorn? - maybe it would make some darn sense! I mean, there'd be some REASON to figure it out. I just never did care how long it took that second train to get to Ponca City or whereever dumb it was going!!!

Poor Ellie - she's such a moral child to begin with. She knew what she was doing wasn't right, she just didn't know how to deal with it. And the whole "not looking dumb" thing is a big one. If it were me, I'd tell her about Wesley Silotti right away - if only to help her understand that Mom - who knows EVERYTHING and can do ANYTHING - ain't now and wasn't never perfect. Sometimes that's a big relief to kids.

Besides, Wes may be head of some big by now and serve as an example of why it's not a bad idea to figure out math on your own...

Gen and Eleanor and Sarah's Gamma Jean