W. Bruce Cameron: When I was in high school, I was one of those naturally brilliant students who didn’t feel the need to study or pass the test. I thought that the classes I was taking were irrelevant to my lifelong ambition to avoid taking hard classes, so I applied myself to academics only when I became interested in the subject – and the only subject that interested me was My Dad Is Going To Kill Me If I Flunk.
This makes me the perfect tutor for my son: Parents are best at their most hypocritical. So I stop him on his way out the door to hang with his friends because he’s “finished studying for his history exam.”
“Wait, let’s review,” I tell him. “Who chopped down a cherry tree when he was a boy?”
“You’ve got to be kidding me.”
“So you give up?”
“Well, not George Washington,” he replies.
“That’s exactly the wrong answer. If you had said ‘not Abe Lincoln,’ you would have been correct.”
“No, that whole ‘I cannot tell a lie’ thing is actually a myth. Our teacher said it was created to prove a point, which is that Washington was honest,” my son responds. “But it never really happened.”
“No,” I say fondly, “it was Abe who was honest, not Washington. I assume you’ve heard of ‘honest Abe’?”
“So George Washington was dishonest?”
I frown. “He was . . . well, let’s just say he wasn’t as honest as Abe Lincoln.” I brighten. “That must be why Washington is on the 1, and Lincoln is on the 5!”
“So Lincoln was five times more honest than Washington?”
“Exactly,” I say smugly.
“And Jackson was 20 times more honest?”
I pause. “Jesse Jackson?”
“No, Andrew Jackson.”
“Never heard of him.”
“How can you help me study if you don’t even know who Andrew Jackson is?”
“It’s called the Socratic method,” I explain archly.
“Andrew Jackson was our seventh president. Listen, I have to go.”
“Seventh?” I regard him shrewdly. “Are you sure?”
“That’s your final answer?”
“Yes!” he shouts.
“OK. You got that one right. So one wrong, one right. Next question: Who lived in the original 15 colonies?”
“Thirteen. There were 13 colonies.”
“Whatever. That’s not important.”
“Yes it is! It’s one of the questions on the test: ‘Discuss the economies of the original 13 colonies.’ ”
“OK, but my point is, who lived there?”
“Who lived there? You mean, in the colonies?” He looks baffled.
“It’s tough. I’ll give you a hint. It rhymes with botanists.”
“Botanists? . . . You mean colonists?
That’s a crazy question! And colonist doesn’t rhyme with botanist.”
“I was an English major. I think I would know what rhymes with what,” I inform him tartly. “And how can it be a crazy question who lived in the colonies? Without the colonists, the colonies would have just been a bunch of empty buildings.”
“Without the colonists, there wouldn’t have been any buildings at all!” he yells.
“OK, Dad? I think maybe you’re giving me brain damage.”
“History is hard,” I agree, “which is why these drills are so important. Some of these questions may seem too advanced for you, but it is important to learn the causes of the Revolutionary War so we can avoid having it happen again. That’s why we say, ‘Those who do not study history are doomed to repeat it until they pass.’ ”
“If I study it your way, they’re going to send me back to the third grade.”
“If you study it your way, your teacher is going to send home another note saying that you flunked and that you should have listened to your father.”
“Flunked? I’m going to ace it.
“This is so lame,” my son storms as he stomps from the room to study, determined to show me what an idiot I am. I figure he’ll probably spend a few extra hours hitting the books just to prove I’m wrong.
I may not know much about Andrew Jackson, hero of the Battle of New Orleans, but I do know a lot about my son.
Write to Bruce at [email protected]