Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Why having a medievalist father won't necessarily assist you in your social studies homework

by J J Cohen

Tangible benefits accrue when your dad is scholar of the Middle Ages.

You might become inordinately drawn to sports involving swordplay, for example. Or you might author modern versions of medieval romances. You could create medieval-themed toys. Or enjoy languishing like a princess. All in all you will be well equipped for lifelong participation in Society for Creative Anachronism events (see illustration, dating from Februray 2002; my son Alex will kill me when he sees it here).

But when it comes to practical things, like excelling on minor social studies quizzes, your medievalist dad is likely to be of less use. Alex has a test today on definitions of medieval terms. You would think that I'd be of the greatest use possible when it comes to getting the facts straight, but alas our conversation went something like this:

Me:  Define vassalage.
Alex:  Vassalage is the state of owing ...
Me:  WRONG. A vassalage is a drinking utensil, such as a wine vassalage. It can also be a synonym for a boat or ship.
Alex: Isn't that a vessel?
Me:  Who has the PhD in this room? Define serf.
Alex: A serf is someone bound to the land who --
Me:  WRONG. Serf is what you do on the waves in Hawaii. Don't they teach you anything in school?
Alex:  I seriously doubt knights went to Hawaii. They would also sink in their chainmail if they tried to ride waves.
Me:  I think you underestimate how transnational the European Middle Ages were. They also owned armored Speedos for just such aquatic sport occasions. Define fealty.
Alex: Fealty is sworn loyalty to a --
Me:  Again, WRONG. Fealty is what happens to bread that is left out for too long, as in: "Are you sure you want to eat that slice? It looks kind of fealty."
Alex:  I think I can study for this quiz by myself, dad. Thanks.

[x-posted to Future Lost Archive]


Beth Human said...

You know, if you could get him on board with you, you might be able to mess with his teacher's head and induce a nervous breakdown. I mean, imagine having a kid challenge a quiz based on what his dad - and internationally known scholar on the subject - says is true. It could be all kinds of fun.

Also, if he hasn't read Calvin and Hobbes yet, he clearly needs to. It might help him cope!

Anonymous said...

Sadly, Beth, it don't always work like that. My own son (when he was about 12) was out-voted by the entire class (including its teacher) when he tried to argue that the Romans came before the Vikings. And this at a school in the city of York.

i said...

This post resonates with me. My father is a mechanical engineer and was a prof. of engineering for fifteen years in Romania.

Asking him for help with my high school physics homework was the worst. He basically told me the textbook and what the teacher told me was wrong. Now, he may well have been right (after all, he made satellites go into space using the math, whereas my physics teacher barely managed to communicate with us), but it did not help me do the problem sets one bit.

Anyway, he made up for it when I was in grad school and occasionally wondering if I should take on some time-consuming activity or if I should focus on my dissertation.

Matt said...

Last year, when my son's 6th grade class was getting a unit on Greek mythology, I tried to transform some empty drive time with my guy into a discussion of Greek myth. No sooner had the phrase left my lips than my son cut me off, telling me very firmly: "If you mention 'Greek myth' again I will stab my eyes out right here in the car." I stopped,of course. And, to this day, I'm really grateful to be alive.

Calder Stembel said...

This post made my day.

Shouldn't all career choices be weighed according to usefulness in K-12 class projects?

My parents had the foresight to be architects. Extremely useful when 50% of all K-12 projects involve dioramas, models, drawings, and posters. Ziggurat made out of Legos? Check. Cross-sectional model of a Roman city house? Check. Book report cover illustration? Check.