*If you don’t know what this idiom means, you can find a definition here
I made my children cry this week.
It was about their homeschool assignments, which I thought were both interesting and completely age-appropriate: E had to do one page of two-digit addition drills, while the older three had an assignment of my own device.
They were working on a language arts unit about metaphors, similes, analogies, and allusions; so I gave them a page of sentences that contained allusions to Ancient Greece (the subject of our current unit study) and instructed them to identify the allusion, briefly explain the background story, and rewrite the sentence with no allusion so as to maintain its meaning.
Here’s an example:
She definitely has the Midas touch.
First I would have expected the kids to figure out that Midas touch was the allusion. Next they needed to get online and google “midas touch” or “midas touch ancient greece” or even “what is midas touch an allusion to?” and write a sentence that said something like It’s alluding to King Midas: everything he touched turned to gold. And finally, I would have wanted to see them rewrite the sentence to say Everything she does is a success.
(We won’t go into the fact that Midas’s golden touch ended up being a curse, not a blessing. Any English-language allusions to it conveniently ignore the end of that story.)
I thought it was a neat assignment; so did Mr. December and my mom. The kids thought it was too hard. Oddly enough, the web searches were the most difficult part for them. They seemed to be completely lost when it came to finding the information.
I was baffled. Aren’t they the internet generation? When I was their age I was using card catalogues and encyclopedias to find information. When I got to university we had online indices but the search terms had to be maddeningly specific. Nowadays you can type in a question in colloquial English, misspell half the words, and Google will still give you relevant results. How hard is it, really?
I stuck to my guns as they railed against the injustice of the assignment. K groused, “Nobody says this! You never hear people walking down the street going, ‘Yeah, man, that was a sisyphean task!’“
“I certainly hope you don’t think my goal for you is to be able to speak and write English like the average person on the street,” I sniffed haughtily.
She was not amused.
The next day the kids were still not happy with the assignment, but tears had given way to resignation. R asked me to help her sift through the search results; N went and worked on his own; K finally admitted, “I did it, but not really. I guess I’ll go do it again.” I was pleasantly surprised.
What have we learned here? I hope the kids have learned that they can type a question in plain English into the search bar and get reasonably close results; that sometimes you have to refine your search terms a few times; and that Google’s “People also ask” feature can be very helpful in finding the answer you’re looking for. As for me, I’ve learned that our kids can and do respond well to challenging work and high academic standards.
But man, some days educating these kids feels like a sisyphean task.