Tonawanda News

June 30, 2013

CRIB NOTES: Educating the little astronauts and mathematicians of tomorrow

The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — When it comes to the food at Taco Bell, there are innumerable questions one can ask. 

“Do chalupas and gorditas really exist in Mexico?”

“Will this much nacho cheese just coagulate into a blood-stopping barrier in my arteries?”

“How does ‘beef’ get to be this color?”

But the question Penny recently asked me about the eatery was one I was not prepared to answer. We were discussing where to eat one day. I hadn’t even brought up Taco Bell, but she’d seemingly had something on her mind about the place for a while, judging by the urgency with which she blurted out her inquisition:

“Daddy, is Taco Bell a compound word?”

I was able to answer easily enough. But the fact that Penny — who just finished kindergarten — not only knows what a compound word is but is able to cognate that the name of a restaurant might be one (it’s not, in this case) floored me.

The memories I have of kindergarten involve tying my shoes, successfully pulling my pants back up after peeing and trying not to kick another kid upside the head when swinging. There was a focus on basic life skills, but academics weren’t exactly at the forefront of the curriculum.

That’s certainly not the case anymore. Penny spent a good portion of this past year bringing back reading and math homework (she already knows what division is!). She’s already a pro at using the computer (thankfully my generation is already tech-proficient, but if I get stuck I know who can help me).

Forget tying her shoes. Penny is about ready to take on state capitals.

I’d like to take the credit for passing down some truly fantastic genes. But I can’t. I mean, I DID create two wonderful-looking and brilliant children. But I did not create the standards to which they have to live up in the classroom. Nor did I get them to meeting them.

She’s about where I remember being after second grade in terms of academic development (and Rigby, who just finished twice-weekly pre-school and has one more year of pre-school left, can do simple addition and count fairly high). I can already tell she will be far better prepared for life after school than I was. 

So, on the one hand, this makes me thrilled. Our kids are being pushed in ways we weren’t. I suppose that’s true of every succeeding generation, but we need to challenge our children. If we’re too easy on them, they’ll never compete with the students in Asia and Europe whom we’re always told are outperforming us.

But that, in turn, leads to the other part of this equation. If our kindergartners can do division — and remember, all you finger-counting adults, that such skills aren’t owned by all of us who are of age — what in the heck are they doing over in Japan that makes us look so dumb? Are their first-graders actually astronauts? Are their second-graders the ones designing the PlayStation 4?

I obviously lack the intellectual capacity to say. In any case, they continue to push. So we must do the same.

When Rigby expresses a desire to become an astronaut, I need to point out the constellations and detail the solar system (stupid astronomers, removing Pluto as a planet).

When Penny has a geography question, I need to start teaching her how to read a world map and locate where we live.

I, apparently, will need to learn advanced HTML and quantum physics in order to help them with their homework by the sixth grade.

In the interim, I have to be ready to satisfy all of their intellectual inquiries (good thing I carry a phone equipped with a web browser). Even now in summer, the learning process needs to continue. All those other countries skip extended breaks, for the most part, so until and unless we do the same the difference will have to come from home.

Contact Paul Lane at