In the past six months, I’ve learned more about being a first grader than I have since I was a first grader. Part of each of my days is spent in first grade, learning to read and do addition and subtraction. Part of each day is spent in third grade as well, learning to read a little better and do multiplication and division.
There are a lot more parents, like me, in first grade this year than there were in the 1973-74 academic year. As I recall, it used to be mostly little kids, but now parents are having to figure out how to use all the many online tools that make the remote learning elementary school go. Fortunately, we all have a six or seven-year-old nearby to help us.
It’s kind of a vicious cycle, but in order that we don’t get too frustrated, we call it a symbiotic relationship: Big Man wants help with his homework; before I can begin to help him, he must teach me how to use the online platform that jealously guards this day’s homework inside its electronic labyrinth.
It can be taxing, but we’re getting through it together. Our two heads combined are enough to graduate one of us from first grade. I just hope it’s the one still full of potential.
Along the way, we’ve have had some adventures and met some characters. One of the noteworthy entities I’ve met in electronic first grade is the Puzzled Penguin. The Puzzled Penguin shows up occasionally on one of the arithmetic applications.
I first met the Puzzled Penguin when Big Man and I encountered a math problem that went something like this:
The Puzzled Penguin thinks 7 + 5 = 10 + 3. Is he correct?
Before I had even finished reading the problem, Big Man announced with certainty: “Nope, he’s wrong!”
I was amazed at the speed of his calculation. “Wow! How’d you do that addition so fast?”
“I didn’t add anything.”
“Then how do you know he’s wrong.”
“Easy. The Puzzled Penguin’s always wrong.”
“But why is he wrong?”
Big Man shrugged. “Because he’s dumb?”
“I mean why is he wrong in this case?”
“Because he’s still dumb?”
I put the screen squarely in front of him. “Okay. Do the math and tell me why he’s wrong.”
He gave me an exasperated look. “I already told you the answer. Because the Puzzled Penguin is always wrong.”
As he was speaking, Buster entered the room. “Oh, the Puzzled Penguin,” Buster mused. “I remember him. That dumb bird is always wrong.”
The only thing we learned about arithmetic that day is that penguins are consistent.