Slice of Life: A Bad English Assignment Gone Nerdy

It’s Tuesday! Time for Slice of Life hosted by Two Writing Teachers Blog. Thank you Anna, Beth, Betsy, Dana, Stacey and Tara, for this space 11454297503_e27946e4ff_hto share our thoughts and our lives. Join in, share your slice of life and read more slices here.

Our family is busy and seldom together at mealtime. We understand and fend for ourselves, foraging for left overs.  The weekdays slip by.

Last Sunday night we planned a family dinner.

For many reasons, we ended up at a local Italian restaurant/sports bar. It’s one of those places where no matter where you sit you see three televisions. I don’t care or know much about football, but I was instantly memorized along with everyone else; cheering, wincing and commenting on the games. I guess that could be an acceptable family dinner if we were viewing the same game, even the same commercial. But we can’t; we all see different screens.

At some point someone, perhaps the waitress, breaks the spell and my daughter starts a conversation.

I hate it when a teacher asks for our opinion and then grades it as if there was a right answer.

Apparently, her high school English teacher asked students to write the connotation, good or bad, of certain words. The example she gave was skinny and thin and goes on to say:

He may think skinny has a bad connotation, but I’d love to be called skinny. How can he consider my connotation, my opinion wrong. How can he grade that!

She has an excellent point. First, there is a serious cultural literacy gap between a forty-something male and a sixteen-year old female with regards to the word skinny. And secondly, the idea of simply grading this kind of thinking as correct or incorrect struck me as lacking in imagination and in the belief of students’ ability to consider and debate ideas.

My son, English major cum laude, takes this complaint as an invitation to launch into a discussion about the origins of English words. “You know,” he says, “the source of the word often dictates the connotation of the word.” He goes on to talk about how there are so many words for the same thing in English because of the many languages that have contributed to English.

With this, we all jump at the challenge of naming synonyms, considering their connotations and origin: cathedral/church, swine/pig, affordable/cheap, intelligent/smart, lady/woman, feline/cat, child/kid. The televisions have lost their power.

Food is served and we talk, reconnect. Every now and then, another synonym pair pops up.

We leave the restaurant, still trying to think of words with the same meaning, discussing connotations and origin.

Who would think a badly constructed English assignment could have such a silver nerdy lining.