The Archive is Alive: Even Stupid Has a Purpose

Time for another recycled post! This one is courtesy of January 2011. Enjoy!

stupid question comicWhen I was teaching, I used to tell my students there was no such thing as a stupid question. Let’s be honest. There are stupid questions. But I could never say that to my students, lest I get an angry phone call from some parent about how I had forever damaged the delicate psyche of her daughter, who obviously Continue reading “The Archive is Alive: Even Stupid Has a Purpose”

Incoming Text: You’re Being Stupid

your ecards stupid people bad decisions

As soon as I saw this on Facebook a few weeks ago, I knew it was ripe with possibilities for a blog post.

Stupidity is one of the great common denominators among us. Even intelligent people sometimes make stupid decisions, and every single one of us has asked or been asked a stupid question at least once in our lifetime. And we have all been guilty of making stupid judgement calls by doing something we know we shouldn’t. In most of these cases, I would venture to relabel the offenses as “human nature.”

But there are things that are just plain stupid. And for the life of me, I can’t understand how some people fail to either get it through their skulls or heed what they know is the right thing to do…or realize they are not above the consequences.

Cut to me in my car with both kids in the backseat, stopped at a light. Pan over to the lady in the enormous SUV next to me, texting on her phone. Some of you already know I am not a fan of texting in any of its forms, so I definitely do not consider this the best time to be sending a message. But surely she will stop when the light turns green. Given the subject of this post, I doubt I need to reveal which decision she made. The stupid one. So now, I’m driving with the two most precious things in the world to me next to someone with zero hands on the wheel, zero eyes on the road, in a car big enough to give our four-door sedan a snowball’s chance in hell should a collision occur.

But I’m sure whatever it was she was texting was super important. Lol…winky face.

Snookie and Star Wars: Teaching Our Kids to Be Culturally Literate

A few days ago, on the morning of May 4th to be exact, Grace emerged from her bedroom and greeted me with the phrase, “May the fourth be with you.” I must have looked at her a little strangely because she followed with the explanation, “It’s from this movie called Star Wars, in case you didn’t know.”


My first instinct was to say sarcastically, “Thanks. Of course I know that’s a play off of Star Wars…EVERYONE knows that.” But then I realized why I must have looked at her strangely in the first place: because SHE wouldn’t know that phrase was a play off of Star Wars. She is a seven-year-old little girl who has never seen the movie, so she obviously learned “May the fourth be with you” from someone at school. And since she didn’t know why it was a cleverly funny phrase, she assumed I wouldn’t know either.

I think sometimes we parents take for granted that our kids know about things that seem obvious to us, things that are part of our everyday social fabric. It is something called cultural literacy, a body of general and collective knowledge that we expect everyone to be familiar with. Like Star Wars, for example. One would assume that at the mention of that movie, every person within listening distance would know what was being discussed. But we are not born knowing this stuff, and part of our job as parents is to raise kids who have a good fundamental literacy of our culture…which means yes, we do have to answer all those seemingly endless stupid questions that flow from their mouths in a steady current of mind-numbing frequency. Thankfully, our exasperated answers are really helping to build our children’s ties to society’s collective knowledge so they are less likely to always be that person figuratively just climbing out from under a rock.

When I was in college I read the book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know by E.D. Hirsch, Jr.  In it, Hirsch takes the position that children are not learning what they need in order to become culturally literate members of society, and he also includes what he believes are necessary pieces of information that every American should know. It is no secret that many believe Americans are getting “dumber” with each new generation. Jay Leno has his popular “Jaywalking” bit that proves the average American can struggle with information that SHOULD be a no-brainer. I am not so sure that we are really dumber than we used to be, but I would argue that what is considered to be “common knowledge” has been changing.

And it changes quickly. What seems to be something everyone in a certain age set knows can be completely unknown to another age set, even just a few years younger. As a new teacher, I figured I had an advantage in being able to identify with the culture of my high school students who were sometimes less than ten years younger than me. I would often compare literary characters to celebrities in modern culture to make things more relevant. This usually worked, but there were a few occasions where what I thought would be hysterical and helpful just fell completely flat.

“Like sands through the hourglass…”

Like the time I spent hours creating a lesson plan where I compared each of the Greek gods and goddesses to characters on “Days of Our Lives” (mythology really WAS the first soap opera), only to find out that pretty much none of my students had ever watched the show. WHAT???? Didn’t they grow up with the afternoon drama of Bo and Hope as the background soundtrack as they played Barbies and their moms ironed clothes? Didn’t they try to arrange their high school class schedules so they had last period free and could watch “Days” in the senior lounge like I did? No, apparently they did not. And then there was the time I thought I was SO funny when I recreated the last act of Julius

My attempt at humor with the final act of Julius Caesar

Caesar as a movie storyboard to help my students keep all the events of the final battle straight. After listing out the “starring” cast of characters from the play, I playfully added “and DON KNOTTS as The Messenger.” Funny, right? Except that none of my students knew who Don Knotts was. Part of me wanted to tell them to watch some “Nick at Night” for homework. As far as I was concerned, that was a failure of cultural literacy.

But I guess that begs the question is cultural literacy a static concept? Obviously, it can’t be. As time marches on, there are more people, events, concepts, books, movies, etc. that inspire and change our culture, and therefore should become part of our common literacy. But once something is considered part of our collective knowledge, must it always maintain that status for future generations? Snookie has certainly become a person of reference known to the masses, but if the average person on Jaywalking in the year 2112 fails to know who the orange-tinted guidette on “Jersey Shore” is (or what a “guidette” is for that matter), should the American public be appalled? I am going to say no on that one. I would argue that there are two types of cultural literacy: generational (to which Ms. Snookie would belong) and trans-generational (to which George Washington would belong).

Considering that the “may the fourth be with you” joke has clearly amused a new young generation of fans, I’m guessing Star Wars has safely retained its spot in trans-generational cultural literacy. But I’m wondering, what will remain common knowledge to my children’s generation?  What will fall by the wayside? And I’m interested to know what YOU think should be taught to today’s children to ensure a society of a culturally literate public. As Linda Richman of Coffee Talk used to say: I’ll give you a topic. Cultural Literacy. It’s both cultural and literate. Discuss… 

Even Stupid Has a Purpose

stupid question comicWhen I was teaching, I used to tell my students there was no such thing as a stupid question. But let’s be honest. There are stupid questions. But I could never say that to my students, lest I get an angry phone call from some parent about how I had forever damaged the delicate psyche of her daughter, who obviously had no concern for my delicate psyche when she slept through my class and told me that reading Twain was a boring waste of time. Just to be clear, this probably would have been the same parent who told me that she did not pay good tuition money for her daughter to get a “C” in my class. Well, maybe you should chat with your daughter about that, Mrs. I-Prove-I’m-A-Good-Parent-By-Bullying-People-Into-Giving-My-Child-What-She-Wants. Because I’m guessing that grade had a little bit more to do with the fact that she finds Twain a boring waste of time and less about my teaching skills.

But I digress. And I am starting to worry that it is not so healthy to harbor such bitterness after being out of the classroom for six years now.

So let me get back to the real reason for this post: stupid questions. Lately (and by lately I mean the past four years since Grace has been able to hold a conversation) I have been feeling as though a good 45% of my day is spent fielding questions from my kids. And considering the rest of my average day is spent in a combination of doing laundry, washing dishes, picking up the same revolving clutter, driving in my car, and tripping over my dog whose only real talent is knowing the absolute worst place to lay down, all with the frequent background noise of PBS Kids, these questions frankly annoy the crud out of me most of the time. Because they are stupid.

I know, I know. I am being harsh. Certainly the teacher in me can appreciate the honest curiosity in my kids. An inquisitive mind is a highly valued characteristic which most parents wish for their children. It is one of those things you hear moms on the playground boasting about: “Dakota is just so curious about the world. The other day he was completely enthralled with knowing all about how caterpillars turn into butterflies.” But that is just code for the reality that little Dakota drove his mom to the edge of insanity by asking a barrage crazy inquiries like “Does the caterpillar poop out the butterfly?” and “Can a caterpillar turn into a Power Ranger?” along with loosely related questions such as “If I turned into a monster would l still need to take a bath?”

Sometimes curiosity kills the cat…or the very last thread of patience the cat was playing with.

So what, do you ask, are the specific question marks that have been pestering me so much that I felt compelled to “blog it out?” Here are the ones that make the most frequent appearances:

Michael is heavy into the what’s this? phase. But he has categories. There is the what’s this? when he genuinely does not know what something is. The answer is usually followed by “but what’s this?”…in reference to the EXACT SAME THING he just asked about, which means he apparently did not like my first answer. I have learned not to simply give him the same answer a second time. That just ends up in a vicious cycle of “what’s this – it’s a can opener – but what’s this? – it’s a can opener – but what’s this – it’s a can open-oh for the love of all that is holy and sane! IT’S A THING THAT OPENS CANS!”

Then there is the what’s this? he asks even though he knows what it actually is. I think he does this because, even at the age of three-and-a-half, he enjoys feeling as if he knows better than his mother:

“What’s this?”

“You know what that is buddy. It’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex.”

“No, mom. It’s a T-Rex.”

Oh. Well, excuse me.

There is also a subcategory of this particular what’s this? where he asks the question about what he THINKS he knows the answer to:

“What’s this?”

“It’s a mango.”

“No, it’s an apple.”

“No, it’s a mango buddy.”

“I think it’s an apple.”

“Fine. It’s an apple.”

I’ll have to remember this particular habit of his when he is in high school, and I am tempted to threaten his teacher with the statement I’m not paying all this tuition for him to be getting a “C” in Biology. Because he likely earned that “C” by insisting a chromosome was actually a Cheeto.

You would think my three-and-a-half-year-old would corner the market on annoying questions, but Grace may just have him beat. Her six-year-old mind has obviously been grappling with intense moral questions. I know this because on an almost daily basis I am treated to a host of “Would you rather (fill in the blank) or kill me?” questions.

Would you rather be blind or kill me? Would you rather shoot a police officer or kill me? Would you rather break our car or kill me? Would you rather pick up a crumb or kill me? 

I kid you not; these are all questions that came out of her mouth. After entertaining her for about two or three of these, I always look at her and say, “Grace, the answer will always be whatever is NOT killing you.” Although one time I did catch her off guard by answering that I’d rather kill her than eat her brother’s boogers in hopes it would stop the questions. No luck. She didn’t believe me.

The last question that really gets my goat is one both of my children just LOVE to ask me, in the car, usually in traffic or other perilous driving conditions : What’s this song about? I can usually satisfy Michael with a simple answer like “love” or “dancing.” Though sometimes he will start with, “What’s love?” in which case you can refer to the previous paragraphs. But Grace’s relentless inquiries make me realize that even the songs I think are rather innocuous are about subjects I would rather not discuss with my six-year-old on the way to her Catholic school.

“Mom, what’s this song about?”


“But she says it’s a bad romance. That’s not very nice. Why does she say that?”

“Um, I don’t know. Lady GaGa wears meat for a dress. Why would you expect her songs to make sense? Hey, I bet you can’t find ten yellow cars.”

Are all these questions stupid? No. I realize it is just one of the vehicles my children are using to navigate through the world. And I guess on the positive side, they are looking to ME for the answers, not someone else…because when they look to me, I can control the answers. So despite how annoying the constant questioning is, I better keep providing answers so they do not go looking elsewhere when the questions become more hard-hitting.  Maybe reassuring Grace day after day after day…after day…that I would rather do anything else in the world but kill her will help her realize that I would do anything for her, and that she can turn to me when she has questions she can not answer.

So bring on the questions, you little rugrats. Even the stupid ones. If having the answers to the stupid questions convinces them later on that I will have the answers to the tough questions, then I did something right. The right thing isn’t always easy, and the easy thing isn’t always right.

So what does a good mom do? Well, that’s a stupid question.

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