Wednesday, May 1, 2013

The Treachery of Fish: Ceci n'est pas un Bowfin

When I was an 11-yr-old 7th*-grader, I dutifully followed teacher instructions. When the science teacher said, "in case of a fire drill, blow out your Bunsen burners and go outside," I thought, "why blow them out instead of turning them off?," but I figured the teacher knew more than I did so I didn't say anything. When the fire drill rolled around, I blew out my Bunsen burner and went outside, where I was so disturbed by the thought of gas piping into the science room that I talked to a classmate about it. She told the teacher, and he went inside and shut off the gas, and we all survived and neither the science room nor the school blew up. 

I write this because a generation later, my own beloved 11-yr-old has apparently inherited my need to unquestioningly obey authority figures. This  came up last night when he had to answer a question about what kind of scales a bowfin has. He looked up the technical term online, and I asked him if that matched what he had seen on the fish his group had dissected last week in Science class.

"Well, no; I mean, I don't know, because we dissected a perch."

--"A perch? I thought you were writing about a bowfin."

"I am. The bowfin didn't come in on time, so Mr. G. put me in the perch group. But he said they're basically the same fish, so I should still do the bowfin."

--"But you didn't dissect a bowfin, you dissected a perch."

"I know!" He rolled his eyes at my cluelessness. "But Mr. G. said I should do the bowfin anyway."

Ceci n'est pas un perch
We went back and forth like this for a while. Eventually I appealed to the power of the grading rubric: "Look, how are you supposed to write a Conclusion Section about what you learned dissecting a bowfin if all of your data is about a perch?" Thus was born a compromise: answer the bowfin questions, but ask them about the perch.

Ceci n'est pas non plus un perch
On the bright side, this boy of mine, when he saw my collection of Dover books, picked up The Odyssey and asked, "ooh, is this for me? Did you know The Odyssey is the second oldest known story in western civilization, after The Iliad?"

Ceci n'est pas un bowfin. Ceci sont deux perches.
 *7th and 8th grades were combined in my high school; we were called "subfreshmen."

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