Thursday, May 10, 2007

Flash Card Anxiety

Wonderwood Academy, like so many other prestigious campuses across the country, has its share of challenges. Our admission standards, for example, are so restrictive that we have only a total of two (count 'em!) students. This may have something to do with the fact that they were the only ones who'd ever applied, but we prefer to think of it as maintaining high standards for our student body.

We are so exclusive that there aren't even any tests required for admission. We simply know which students qualify under our rigorous and exhaustive searches, and they magically appear in our classroom, ready to learn. At least it looks like magic when we finally get their collective attention in the morning and roust them out of their comfortable dorm room beds.

Still, as I say, even with all this exclusivity which should, at a minimum, qualify us for millions of government dollars in aid, we do have our little challenges.

Math, for example.

One of the most rigorous of our rigorous standards is that each child share many genes with one or more of the Academy directors. The original idea had been that our students would only possess the better genes that the directors contribute. In practice, however, a few of the less desirable ones have slipped through our tight security net. In this case, our students have inherited their father's math genes.

You might think, what with their father being a programmer in real life and all, that the girls might have an advantage there. But no; unfortunately they seem to have inherited Daddy's lazy math genes. The ones where they could probably figure it all out any ol' time they wanted to, if it weren't for, you know, all those rules and stuff. And memorization. And flash cards.

Ah, yes. The flash cards.

Mrs. Woody whipped out the flash cards today to general moanings and groanings from our suddenly rebellious (but exclusive!) student body. Truth to tell, to hear Mrs. Woody's account, they sounded downright mutinous. I remember this phenomenon. Back in the Dark Ages, when Woody was in elementary school, Woody was often kept after class (always, it seemed, on those beautiful, sunny days when my friends would likely want to take a ball and bat over to the field next door) because he refused to understand that each bundle of pencils on the worksheet just automatically represented 10 pencils. Instead, Woody insisted that each bundle needed to be counted. Pattern recognition was not Woody's long suit in elementary school. Thus it took Woody about four hours longer than the rest of the class to complete most math assignments.

Even today, years later, if you ask Woody a direct math-related question you can actually see Woody's brain throbbing at the temples while he tries to figure it all out in his head. And now I'm a programmer. My employer is in for some real surprises somewhere down the road.

The Woodyettes, however, probably won't suffer quite as much as Woody did in school. For one thing, they have a much better teacher than I ever had. Mrs. Woody is the kind of teacher I wished I'd had throughout my entire school career. (She's also cuter than any other teacher I ever had, but I think my math skills prevented me from noticing that fact until it was nearly too late.) Also, the girls are arguably brighter than their Dad. Once they learn something, it tends to stay learned. Oh, they may suffer from a little confidence drop if they haven't drilled something in a couple of weeks, but once they get the hang of it again they simply plow through.

As always, focus is really the enemy here. Jelly, as I've mentioned before, has more focus issues than her little sister. This can create situations where Doodle seems to be smarter than her sister (from Jelly's perspective, mind you) simply because she was more focused when Mommy asked a particular question. This cuts to the heart of Jelly's older-competitive-sibling spirit and causes her to have frowny moments.

But it's not all bad news. Jelly's focus is improving every month. Nowadays if she's having focus issues, it's generally because we've left her to her own devices for a tad too long before trying to rein her in for another lesson. Once she's into full-blown fantasyland play, it's hard to get her out of it.

Doodle's primary weakness is endurance rather than focus. She just gets tired faster. It's kind of a funny contrast, actually; Doodle is a much faster eater than Jelly, but Jelly can be finished with a task quicker than her younger sister. (Then they gloat at each other, which causes things that I'll save for another post.)

So I apologize now to my daughters for inheriting my math genes. The good news is that they'll both probably exceed their Dad's abilities by the time they graduate. Until then, we'll just have to deal with Flash Card Anxiety. It's not fun, but they need it.

Probably I do, too.

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