Like Grandfather, Like Grandson

My eighth grader, typically an A student, received a C- on his notecards for a research paper on World War Two. He reads a lot and loves history, so his knowledge about the subject before the unit was already fairly impressive. The teacher said he hadn’t followed the instructions regarding the sources to be used. He relied too heavily on a single source, which might lead to bias.

True. A good lesson for my son…. maybe.

I read the 75+ notecards, which were full and demonstrated knowledge of the topic, but he did rely heavily on one source – a rather long book that most of his classmates wouldn’t have bothered to muddle through. He had more than double the number of notecards required (or matched by most of his classmates). Had he completely erased this book from the project, he would have still had enough other sources, notecards, and information.

Hmmm.

But after days of stewing on his behalf, I remembered a story my father told me. It involved another history lesson and a teacher whose name he remembers even now.

My Dad, according to the tale, was taking a high school essay exam for a class that covered the American Revolution to Teddy Roosevelt. The final essay was to list any books (and the authors) he had read that addressed that timeframe. Excited to share, he went straight to that essay, and was so absorbed in making his list that he barely had time to complete the rest of the test.

He listed 57 books and their authors.

Like my son and his C-, if you’re a rule-follower, his grandfather should have bombed the test. But his teacher, the one whose name stays with him now that he is a grandfather, was so tickled to have a student that passionate about reading and history, that he upped his grade to a B.

When I first heard that story, as a girl who was very good at following directions, I remember thinking, “what kind of ding-dong does that?”

My father. My son.

And even though the “ding-dong question” still hangs in the air, I love that they are both so passionate about books and history.

Another lesson: history, at least in families, repeats itself.

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The Last Hours Before the Deadline

One night in high school, my Dad stayed up all night with me while I drafted a research paper for school. I do not remember which paper it was or why I was so late getting to it. I wrote in my barely legible longhand, passed him a finished page, and then he typed it for me on his IBM Selectric typewriter. We worked in the basement to make sure the typing didn’t wake up my mom or sisters. I am sure I cried at least once.

It was my first and only all-nighter. I felt so sick the next day that I pledged never to put off big projects again.

And today, I am paying the universe back for my father’s good deed and late night support about thirty years ago.

With my seventh grader sitting at the computer moaning about not having enough sources or ideas for how to expand 30 notecards to the required 40 – and making no progress for at least an hour – I couldn’t help myself. We spread out his 30 somewhat repetitive notecards on my bed and put them in order, looking for holes in the story.

Then, I asked questions.

“You always make things so much harder than they need to be!” he responded. Still, he Googled the answers, and turned them into more notecards. I reminded him of other sources he could use.

“You are stressing me out!”

Another notecard.

I told him to find a good quote in the book he is reading. Another card until he had 50. He renumbered them, still spread across the bed, then bound out the door after his brothers, already enjoying their snow day.

It banged shut on my “but you still have to do the outline!”

Just giving what I owe the universe, and hoping it’s done before midnight.