Viewpoint: The wisdom of the young

November 1, 2011 

Last spring, my sweet fifth- and sixth-grade class wrote touching and heartfelt letters to send me off into my golden years. Anticipating my impending retirement, they thanked me for helping them to understand mean, median and mode, and for teaching about the olden days. One boy wrote that I was a brave and wizened lady with a good sense of humor. Wizened? I knew that, but I didn’t realize he did.

Another letter mentioned that I was smart, funny, helpful and, oh by the way, mean at times. Of course I was mean at times, it was a fifth/sixth grade class! He followed up with the parenthetical phrase, “We are all mean at times, but that’s how life works.” I think in retirement I’ll be less mean. But you never know.

One of my favorite comments came from a young man who wished me a happy time at old-people camp. I liked that. To think of the next phase of life as a kind of summer camp for geezers. I hope, of course, that old-people camp will be a long gig and that I will be able to hike around the lake a bit before I have to spend all of my time in the craft shack.

Old-people camp should last a while, but let’s face it, it may not; so we all want to maximize our enjoyment while we can. Consequently, I’ve come up with a philosophy for answering questions at camp from pesky people of the medical persuasion and family members who think they fall into that category. It’s called the “Round-Up/Round-Down Way of Living.”

We all know that there are certain things that need a positive spin and some things that don’t. For example, the following is a short list of things to round up if asked.

How many hours a week do you spend doing the following: exercising, reading Tolstoy, consuming broccoli, playing word games, flossing and applying sunscreen? These are definitely round-up items and, for convenience’s sake, I would round them all up to nine.

Conversely, when asked about number of ounces of cabernet drunk, episodes of “Desperate Housewives” watched, shoes purchased, Facebook “Likes,” pairs of pants that don’t fit anymore, and bags of Cheetos consumed, I’m sure it’s obvious that these all fit into the round-down category.

This category has the additional advantage of the “Less Than Nine Rule,” whereby anything under nine rounds to zero. It’s all about mean, median and mode in some way, I’m sure. But I digress ...

There were a few additional classroom letter comments I’d like to mention. One scholar opined, “You are sophisticated but fun.” Ohhh yaah. I absolutely loved that. I always believed I possessed a certain savoir-faire, but there it was in print, penned by one of my own. I can’t help but think that this quality will take me a long way at old people camp. All of the less cultivated will be clamoring to sit next to me at the craft shack while I paint the second coat of glaze on my salt and pepper shakers. I just hope we don’t have to put on a skit. I was never good at that.

But finally, the touching, pedagogical coup de grace: “You have taught us so much throughout the year, not only adding and subtracting fractions and spelling; you’ve also taught us how to be better students and better people.” Be still, my heart. I know you can Google the fractions, but I’m not so sure about the last part.

In closing, I’d like to say to all of my now older and wiser fifth- and sixth-graders, I will miss you. But at long last, my husband and I will set off on our quixotic quest for old-people camp. We’ll try to stay brave and not be mean to anyone along the way. And, I’ll try to look sophisticated in my socks and sandals. On the road — two average, wizened old people, enriched and blessed by the wisdom of 11-year-olds.

Arroyo Grande resident Suzanne Davis taught in San Luis Obispo County for 27 years.

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