The Other I

February 24, 2011

Getting it wrong might be right

Filed under: Teaching,The Younger Generation — theotheri @ 5:02 pm

I have a brother.  Actually, I have five brothers but anyone who knows my family will know immediately which brother I am describing.

I think almost until the day Dad died, Tom was at war with him.  Even as a child, he was objecting, disagreeing.  If I was the over-socialized good daughter, he was my dark side.  Despite absolute parental prohibitions, he hitch-hiked rides from the age of six, learned swear words I didn’t understand, and probably made up sins out of sheer spite when we were taken to church to confess our sins each Saturday.

He’s in his seventies with a grown family of his own now.  Nonetheless it took him a long time to let go of his anger.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s justified or not, he told me the other day.  It destroys you either way.

He also told me a wonderful story.  He is tutoring one day a week at a local school where the kids mostly have pretty rough lives.  Their fathers are often in prison, their role models often do not suggest to them possibilities that go beyond a successful criminal career.  They are angry, they are aggressive, they are physical.  And my brother understands them.

Last Tuesday a young boy – I will call him Joe – with whom he has been working on learning long division came into the room sullen and uncooperative.  “I can’t do these f’…g things,” he said.  

So Tom started to show him how.  The thing is that there is a new method for doing long division that is different from the one we were taught more than half a century ago.  And Tom did it wrong.

“Oh, here, this is how you do it,” said Joe.  And showed him what he was supposed to do.

I understood where he was coming from, Tom told me.  Tom’s not getting it right meant Joe wasn’t going to be criticized and humiliated by some superior adult.  Tom may have proceeded to exaggerate his confusion just a little, but Joe kept working with him.

When he got to the bottom of the page, he looked in triumphant defiance at Tom and said “See, I told you I could do it.”


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