Podcast 020: A Teaching Opportunity

In This Episode: A teacher gives sixth-graders an “inappropriate” quiz, and how that loops into an “inappropriate” military stunt from last week’s issue, and another segment of No Longer Weird.

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Show Notes

  • The “inappropriate” quiz, shown here, is — as of the publication of this episode — still available from iSLcollective.com.
(Do you really need to see it larger?)
  • The military story from last week isn’t online, but involved the U.S. Navy being left red-faced by the antics of a NAS Whidbey Island warplane pilot having a little too much fun with his …uh… joystick, as shown in the photo.
  • No Longer Weird: People making movies or videos with toy guns, and of course the police show up thinking there’s a real robbery in progress. (Example)

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Randy: Welcome to Uncommon Sense, the Podcast companion to the ThisIsTrue.com newsletter with the mission to promote more thinking in the world. I’m Randy Cassingham…

Kit: And I’m Kit Cassingham.

Randy: This week we’re discussing a story from issue 1224 of the newsletter, which will be included on the show Page at thisistrue.com/podcast20.

The story is called “Antisocial”, and it’s about a quiz given to sixth-graders at Woodson Middle School in Hopewell, Va. It asked students to answer questions like, “What do you call a married man’s girlfriend?” and “What do you call the younger boyfriend of a much older woman?” The expected answers: “mistress” and “boy toy.” Sure enough, parents took to social media to complain about the assignment. Superintendent Melody Hackney says the unidentified teacher “downloaded this worksheet from the Internet,” but declined to say what action would be taken, since “this matter has become a personnel issue.” I’ll bet! Tara Sample, the mother of a sixth-grader who was given the worksheet, said, “I was thinking maybe it’s a young teacher that’s inexperienced, but no…she’s an older woman [who] has been teaching for years.” And my tagline on the story was that this so-called older teacher apparently has made an uncomfortable discovery about her husband.

So the quiz — and you can see this in the picture of the quiz, which I’ll put on the Show Page — is from the web site ISLcollective.com, which is the Internet Second Language Collective, which they say is “an international community of more than a million ESL/EFL language teachers sharing self-made language teaching materials.” The quiz, which is still available on that web site, is called a “Family Quiz” because—

Kit: (Bursts out laughing)

Randy: No, it’s legitimate! — because it talks about family relationships, such as this question: “What do you call the son of your uncle?”, and of course the correct answer is, “Cousin.” It’s only the last four questions that are, shall we say, provocative. Would you like to hear those questions?

Kit: Yes — maybe I’ll learn something!

Randy: You might. “What do you call it when a married person has a relationship with someone else?”

Kit: Fun!

Randy: You’re close. It’s an “affair.”

Kit: Oh.

Randy: “What do you call a married man’s girlfriend?”

Kit: Betty.

Randy: In this particular instance, maybe, but the correct answer for the quiz is “mistress.”

Kit: Oh, OK.

Randy: “What do you call the much younger boyfriend of an older woman?”

Kit: Cousin.

Randy: “Boy toy.” I’d like to talk to you about your family relationships.

Kit: Actually it’s not mine; I was thinking about another friend.

Randy: And the last one is, “What do you call the much younger and beautiful wife of an older, wealthy man?”

Kit: I guess I can’t guess “Betty” again.

Randy: No, that’s a “trophy wife.” And you know, you don’t have to be wealthy to have a trophy wife.

Kit: No. You have one.

Randy: Yeah! So the teacher who uploaded the quiz put it on the site in December 2011, and described it this way:

[It’s a] Quiz with 20 ‘family’ questions , suitable for most students (and for anyone who likes quizzes really). There is a mix of easy and more difficult questions. Should they prove too easy, just make it a bit harder by using your imagination – e.g. use the answer in a correct sentence. Also, use common sense and edit or change the questions that could be inappropriate for younger learners (or in your culture). That is the joy of having an editable Word document!

So the site itself has this information attached to this particular quiz: “This downloadable teaching material is a great resource for high school students and adults at Elementary (A1) and Pre-intermediate (A2) level.” by which I assume they mean English levels for ESL students. There is an answer key on the site, and I was able to confirm that the suggested answers for this quiz do match what was reported in the story. But again, the site does say the quiz is intended for high school students to adults, not sixth-graders.

Kit: I still don’t see where those last four questions are appropriate— or relevant, to high school kids.

Randy: We’ll get to that.

Kit: I mean, I understand it’s helpful for adults to know what they’re doing. But kids don’t need to know that.

Randy: Right. The teacher who uploaded it is Philip Roeland, an English teacher currently living and working in Thailand. In his site profile, he says, “My worksheets mainly focus on speaking activities because I think conversation is the most important skill for communication.” He says his teaching philosophy is “Learning (as well as teaching) should be a mix of working hard and having fun.” Well he sure is having fun! He declined to provide a birthdate, so it’s unclear how old he is, but in his supplied photo he looks fairly young, maybe in his 30s or so. I’ll note that his supplied answer for question 19 was not actually boy toy, but rather toy boy. He is from Thailand after all.

Also, the site shows the number of times each item has been downloaded. A lot of Mr. Roeland’s items have a few hundred downloads, but the site says the “Family Quiz” has been downloaded — get this — 22,735 times.

Kit: Popular exam!

Randy: Yeah!

Kit: So what class is this quiz for? Or at least what was it used for in this case?

Randy: That’s a good question. I didn’t actually mention that in the story. The little girl, Faith Sample, says she got the quiz from her Family and Consumer Science class. Consumer Science. I don’t—

Kit: They teach them how to shop?

Randy: I guess. And if they do, good for them, because kids probably don’t know much about that.

Kit: Well, if they teach effectively. I thought maybe it was a Social Sciences class, and I’m going “Well, OK, those kinds of questions might make sense in Social Studies.”

Randy: Yeah, well, “Family and Consumer Science” so yeah, I guess you’re learning what is a cousin, what is an aunt, what is an uncle. What that has to do with consumerism, I don’t know, but there you go.

Kit: Maybe it’s like putting music and art together in a class. Maybe it’s two very different topics covered in one class with one teacher.

Randy: Apparently.

Kit: But it does make sense.

Randy: So the site also allows other teachers to post thank-yous and comments, and this one has a lot of them — more than 700 comments, such as this one from “tommizner” in 2013: “I am not going to thank you author, and I will not use this lesson to teach my class, why in the world would I want to teach my students about cheating and lovers and boy toys? This page is rubbish and will not be used by me. There is enough negativity in this world and even though I teach adults, I refuse to teach them this kind of nonsense!”

Kit: But they deserve to know what their brothers… what their fathers… whatever!

Randy: “There is enough negativity in the world” so he’s going to add more!

Kit: Well that’s what it feels like, doesn’t it?

Randy: But Philip replied to him. He says, “Please remember that this worksheet may not be appropriate to teach to younger students and can be adapted to your own needs. No need to rant about it like a zealot, as tommizner did in his comment 🙂 :p”.

But my favorite is a comment from last year. Teacher “dkaymore” posted, “I love this, their are”— and she spelled that t-h-e-i-r — “their are traditional family words, then some fun new age relationship terms, great for my adult students.” I find it amazing to think that adults trying to learn English will be able speak at all with a teacher who can’t even spell simple words.

Kit: You’ve missed the point: she speaks in her classes, not writes.

Randy: Maybe so, but she’s giving them written tests.

Kit: But how much fun! That would be a fun class to take. She probably is also teaching them swear words which is very appropriate. We all learn swear words in foreign language.

Randy: We do. Even when I took American Sign Language, I did a year of that in college, and that was one of the first things that (yes!) I asked the teacher. And yes, she did answer the questions.

Kit: Appropriately. Did she show you the answers?

Randy: Yes, and then I showed you!

Kit: Yes I know you did! Of course, my Sign Language teacher taught me some of that too.

Randy: Now, I totally understand why parents wouldn’t really want their 11-year-olds to be exposed to these topics in class. I completely agree the teacher was out of line. But — and you knew there would be a but — this immediately reminded me of a story in last week’s issue about the U.S. Navy pilot who used his carrier aircraft to trace a giant dick in the sky over a small town in cental Washington. While I didn’t include this tidbit in my write-up of that story, sure enough, some parent whined that they didn’t like this phallic shape in the sky because “what if the children ask what it is?”

Kit: Well, if kids ask what it is, you answer them.

Randy: And you know, what that means to me is, parents have no freaking imagination. No one has to say “Well, you know, son? I think that looks like an erect sex organ!” I mean really: how about “Well, son, it looks like the pilot is looping around through the sky, doesn’t it?” Or, if you’d rather gather some information, how about “I’m not sure, what do you think it looks like?” or “Well, I think that cloud over there looks like a bunny rabbit!”

Kit: So change the subject, rather than let the kid work on it, or tell them the truth?

Randy: Hey! Just use some imagination if you don’t want to answer the question. Just because kids ask what it is doesn’t mean you have to have “the talk” with them right there and then.

Kit: Oh, I don’t know that’s “the talk,” but that’s OK.

Randy: But that’s what parents seem to be afraid of.

Kit: Every parent has their own style of how to deal with their kids on any topic, but especially….

Randy: Yeah, absolutely. But that’s what I’m saying: you don’t have to have that talk right then and there because they said “What’s that in the sky?” I mean, that’s just a stupid reaction. That’s not thinking about it.

Kit: Ah, now you’ve hit the nail on the head. That’s not critical thinking at all; that’s reactionary.

Randy: Absolutely. Because you know what: the kids either know what it is, or they don’t. If they do, then it’s a teaching opportunity: “Do you think that’s a grown-up thing to do with your military jet? Do you think that pilot might get into trouble? What do you think they’ll do to them?” — that sort of thing. And if you can teach them that yes, little boys should have grown out of that phase by the time they were about 5? And if the military pilot didn’t, then what does that say about him? Turn it back on the person who did it.

Kit: Though I know a lot of adult men who didn’t get out of that phase. They just don’t have fighter jets to play with.

Randy: And she’s not speaking about me, thank you!

Kit: No I’m not.

Randy: Good. So to loop back — see what I did there? — to the teacher in Virginia, while I again agree this is inappropriate for an elementary school teacher to bring into class, the little girl, according to the picture of the quiz that I obtained, the little girl did get all the answers right! So maybe kids don’t need to be protected quite as much as parents think. They’re horrified to think that their kid might have sex at 16 …just like they did.

Kit: I don’t think they’re worried about the 16 anymore….

Randy: Yeah, I might be getting old, but….

Kit: Showing your age?

Randy: Yep.

Kit: Boy toy!

Randy: So before we go, I still have a backlog of items for No Longer Weird. This week I’ll add to the list: People making movies or videos with toy guns, and of course the police show up thinking there’s a real robbery in progress. The story I found recently was from WRTV in Indianapolis. In Crawfordsville, which is about 30 miles northwest of Indianapolis, they were making a movie just two blocks from the police station, and someone called police to say they saw a man with a gun, and wearing a mask, go into the back door at a brewery.

Police surrounded the back of the brewery, and probably the front too, but they saw a man coming out the back, [and] ordered him to drop the gun. He turned around to see what was going on, and sure enough the cops started shooting.

Kit: Oh no!

Randy: Lucky for him, they were bad shots, and he wasn’t injured. “Indiana State Police determined that Montgomery County Production was filming at the bar,” the news report says, “but neither the production company nor the bar had notified police or nearby businesses that the filming would be taking place.” The gun was a prop. The cops’ guns were not. And if people making films and videos would just think about things a little, they’d realize the natural chain of events that will happen if a witness sees a masked man with a gun go into a business.

Kit: You know that reminds me of a news event in Boulder — oh man, it was easily 30 years ago. Probably more. A cameraman — just a citizen — with a tripod and camera was taking pictures of downtown Boulder, throughout the day. But it was at the dusk hour that it raised alarm because “he was carrying a gun.”

Randy: Yeah.

Kit: Tripod/camera… gun? No mask. Just this poor guy. SWAT team was brought out.

Randy: In Colorado it’s actually legal to carry a gun in public.

Kit: Was it 30 years ago, too?

Randy: I think so.

Kit: OK. Well, Boulder citizens weren’t accustomed to it, but it sure added some excitement.

Randy: I certainly don’t blame anybody for calling the cops if they really thought it was a gun, or the cops for responding to a call like that.

Kit: Sure: once the call comes in, the cops have got to respond. I didn’t know tripods looked that much like guns. Even big guns.

Randy: I don’t think they do myself, but…

Kit: Oh well.

Randy: …a lot of people don’t actually know what guns actually look like.

Kit: We get back to reactionism. I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry …but!

Randy: But!

Have a story to tell about weird videos that bring the police, or inappropriate quizzes for your kids?

Kit: Inappropriate language lessons?

Randy: …let us know on the Show Page, at thisistrue.com/podcast20. If you’re enjoying these podcasts, it would be really helpful if you’d post a rating and maybe a review through whatever service you’re listening on. I’m Randy Cassingham…

Kit: And I’m Kit Cassingham.

Randy: And we’ll talk at you later.

[Easter Egg]

3 thoughts on “Podcast 020: A Teaching Opportunity

  1. In the UK I have always heard the expression as “toy boy” and it seems to me to make more sense that way.

    Thinking back to events and conversations (from context) at primary school (less than 12 years old), I and my friends where familiar with that and other such terms as “sugar daddy”, “mistress”, “a bit on the side” etc. We regarded them as slightly amusing rather than rude, and I can remember seeing them in newspapers and magazines when I started to read those at 12+, and hearing them used without self-consciousness in conversation. This was in the 1940’s, perhaps standards were influenced by the many ex-servicemen around.

    However, I know my children would have recognised these expressions with no difficulty when they were about 6-7 years, and I have no doubt my present great grandchildren (about that age now) would do so also.

    There seems to be a cultural difference and I was a bit baffled when I first read the story and wondered “So what? What is wrong with that?”

    I enjoyed the podcast, thanks.

    Well, Frank, we Yanks are a bit schizophrenic about sex. On the one hand, we use it to sell everything — beer, cars, toothpaste, and damn near everything in between — yet cling to the fiction of a polite society where children are completely innocent until their wedding nights, when they’re supposed to know everything by osmosis because we can’t even consider letting them learn about their bodies in school (gawd ferbid!) Adults need to chill, and remember what they knew at that age …just like your children and great-grands! -rc

  2. Kids today know more at 16 than I did… or maybe I was just sheltered. A friend’s 16 year-old twin daughters have BOTH become mothers in the last 6 months. I can’t say I recall anyone “back in the day” who had a similar experience, but as I say, maybe I was just sheltered.

    I don’t know how old you might be, but as a wee lad growing up in Southern California in the 60s, I remember my parents’ “Ain’t it awful?” talk about girls getting pregnant in town — even though they tried to shelter me from it. It goes back to the beginning of time…. -rc

  3. You mention the navy pilots who drew a giant cock and balls in the sky. My sister was about 12 when she saw her first cock and balls picture. She thought it was a really cool picture of a rocket taking off and proceeded to decorate all of her school exercise books with it!

    I hope she looks back on that with a good sense of humor. 🙂 -rc

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