September 06, 2010

little Nixons...

The other day while I was teaching something strange happened. I kept having the strangest sense of deju vu while I was teaching my youngest class. I couldn’t peg it down though, it just kept happening and I have no idea why. It wasn’t until I was already teaching my next class that I had my ‘aha’ moment. My grade 2s were tiny adorable politicians, okay politicians aren’t adorable, but my kids were acting very similar to them. I pegged a couple reasons why.

English is their second language. Politicians never seem to speak the same language as most people, sure they get elected but they always seem to be talking down. Although better politicians, as well as the better kids, have a better grasp on the language and seem to relate this ability better than others. These kids that relate better to others are my favourites, like little Obamas they are great orators. The kids don’t possess this vocal ability still attempt to act like mini JFKs, most of the time they fail. Instead they come off like little Nixons flashing the V sign in the face of troubled English. Danny (right) is the epitomy of this example, he flashes V numerous times during class. These kids are cute, and more often than not it works.

Canned phrases or responses. This is the MOST important tool for any politician. Politicians have their canned responses to certain hot topic issues. My kids (as trained by your truly) have perfected canned responses to test questions, and other key topics outlined by the trusty curriculum. Although my kids are not dealing with issues such as denuclearization, key topics such as Where is the mother in the house? The mother is in the kitchen (actual example from my textbook, I’m not being sexist), represents an equally challenging topic for the kids. I find it most rewarding when the kids stitch together several canned responses and you get an answer that makes no sense, ie…the mother is in the..the chicken is red.

Answering questions with questions. Politicians are great at this; kids in general are great at this. Politicians will politely ask for questions to be rephrased, until he/she understands and then they will often rattle off a canned response. My kids haven’t learned the same etiquette rules so they scream “what? WHat? I DON’t know”. I’m left rephrasing questions again and again and again, until I ask it exactly they way they recognize it. Only then will I get an eagerly generated canned response. In both cases I’m left frustrated, for two reasons, first it was probably the answer I wanted 5 minutes ago, or second it wasn’t the answer I wanted at all (segway to my next point).

Answering questions with the wrong answers (deliberately). When faced with a question you don’t want to answer there is this classic political maneuver. Don’t answer it, and give a different response. This is often a question that you really want the answer to (unlike frivolous what is your name type questions), most of the time politicians and my little nixons know what you want, and aren’t willing to give it to you. My kids love doing this, especially Matt (right: blue shirt)
Sean: Matt what colour is it?
Sean: No Matt, what COLOUR is it?
Matt: the.. colour... is... WINDOOWW!
My only reprieve happens when I answer the question for them, then they have all the plausible deniability in the world.

No response to key issues. This is similar to a previous point although instead of screaming “I DON’t know”, my kids look like baseball pitchers and try to shake off the question. Politicians have mastered this skill; one resigned from office, others provide great sound bytes for the Daily Show. Politicians can usually do this while keeping a straight face; my kids attempt one, they usually epically fail and stare at you like a deer in the headlights. I hate it the most when I know my kids know what I’m asking them. This usually happens when I asked them why they did something bad. My little Nixons pretend not to have the faintest idea what I’m saying; the only response is a whimpered ‘huh’ accompanied by doe eyes.

In the end I love this class, canned responses or not. I was their introduction to the alphabet. Cat and mat were alien words six months ago. In fact they still are, those words don’t usually fit into the canned responses I’ve programmed into their little minds. I guess there is also a great analogy that these kids are simply robots, is it strange that the same analogy is used for politicians?

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