(Possibly Untrue) Things I’ve Taught the Girl I Tutor

Once a week I spend three hours talking about science and American history with a fifth grade girl who moved here about a year ago from Korea. Her English is awesome, but because she didn’t grow up celebrating the 4th of July or dressing up like historically inaccurate pilgrims her take on US history is often a little bit different. Of course, my own idiosyncrasies are only warping her further.

1. Mangroves are the MOST important part of nature

That's right, more important than ducks

Unless you grew up in Florida or some other, very specific coastal regions, you probably don’t know what a mangrove is, which is shocking because I’m pretty sure they were all we studied in 4th grade. That, and how to write a five paragraph essay. Usually about saving the mangroves. They are the only tree that grows in salt water and their elaborate root systems are a great place for tiny fish to hide from bigger fish and for things to lay eggs. People wanting more beach real estate has threatened their existence in a lot of areas, including the part of Florida where I grew up, which might explain why 4th grade was obsessed with brainwashing us into saving them.

Seriously, I knew everything about mangroves in fourth grade. We read about all the animals that depend on them, we learned how to identify the different kinds and their parts, we took field trips just to look at them. “Mangroves,” fourth grade taught me, “are an ESSENTIAL part of life.”

Then I moved away from Florida, and have remained unaffected by mangroves ever since. But when North Carolina schools started studying ecosystems and biomes, I brought in all these library books to tutoring about mangroves because, thanks to fourth grade, THEY ARE THE ONLY ECOSYSTEM I KNOW.

Yeah, I said it, Temperate Deciduous Forest. What are gonna do about it?

2. Teddy Roosevelt: World’s Greatest Human
Teddy Roosevelt is not only my favorite president (sorry, James K. Polk, it’s true), but also the person from history I would most like to meet. In fact, the only reason I’m doing the librarian thing is because my actual dream, solving time traveling mysteries with TR, proved totally unfeasible.

TR would be like a more badass version of Inspector Gadget, I would be Penny, and Dr. Claw would be played by a bionic Thomas Edison. Brain would be replaced by an actual floating brain.

I think it’s because, unlike all modern politicians ever, he didn’t feel the need to conceal his entire personality behind a cardboard cutout designed to be boring enough to offend no one. Teddy Roosevelt knew what he liked, and it was exploring the wilderness, digging canals, and big game hunting. And if you didn’t like it, tough, because he was going to do it anyway. Also, this one time he got shot during one of his speeches and just kept going. This may be the only fact the girl I tutor will remember about US history, which is fine since it’s THE BEST ONE.

3. Americans love catchphrases
Currently we’re learning about the American Revolution, mostly from a book called King George: What was his problem? by Steven Sheinkin. The great thing about this book is that it concentrates on the characters and tells amusing anecdotes rather than trying to cover fifty years of history in two pages. It also tries to tell readers the truth about historical figures and quotes that the author assume you’ve already heard. Except if you grew up in Korea, you know George Washington just as “that guy on the money” and have never heard “The British Are Coming!” to advertise UK imports. So a lot of these little stories just strike her as really weird.

In fact, her main impression of Paul Revere was that he was kind of a jerk. After seeing something like this map in her book and realizing that there were at least two other riders out warning people, she decided that Paul Revere was “just taking all the credit”. I tried to lay the blame on Longfellow, but she was adamant.

“Give me liberty or give me death” (Patrick Henry) and “I regret that I have but one life to lose for my country” (Nathan Hale) were both similarly unimpressive because, with fifth grade practicality she noted that, no matter what Britain was trying to pull, “I would rather be alive.” About the only one we could both agree was pretty awesome is privateer John Paul Jones shouting at a British captain demanding his ruined ship’s surrender “I have not yet begun to fight!” We both agreed that was pretty awesome.

On a side note, she has apparently been here long enough to see America as “the good guys” in most things (except for the treatment of Native Americans which she decided was “really mean”). However, unlike a lot of her classmates who grew up here, she also feels sorry for the British whenever they lose.

4. Bottled Water: it may KILL you
It was pretty much an accident that the day we were studying renewable resources and water conservation was the same day I’d read a blog post about the bottled water documentary Tapped. This was the day that I tried to convince the girl I tutor that it was not mortally unsafe to drink tap water, or “sink water” as she calls it. Basically, she thought I was crazy and started looking at me like I might drop dead in front of her from my many years of ingesting this deadly liquid.

Me: I have a metal water bottle I fill up every day in the sink.
Her: Don’t you have water fountains at school?
Me: What kind of water do you think is in those? It’s the same as tap water.
Her: (horrified gasp)

Then, because it was fresh in my mind, I told her about the lack of standards in bottled water and how some of it is just regular tap water, but in bottle form. She looked suspiciously at the bottle of water next to her and said, “I’m never drinking again.”

Luckily, that was three weeks ago and she doesn’t appear to have died of dehydration yet, so I don’t seem to have done any lasting damage.

Bonus Tutoring Story
Yesterday we were talking about the tundra and came upon a picture of polar bears. This conversation happened:

Her: Polar bears need to live where it’s cold.
Me: Yep.
Her: But they’re endangered because the cold places are warming up.
Me: Also yes.
Her: Why don’t we just shave them? Then they could be okay where it’s warmer.
Me: Are you a polar bearologist? Best idea ever!!!!

Then I told her how polar bear skin is actually black underneath their white fur and she decided against a great polar bear shaving because they would end up looking “too weird”.

One response to “(Possibly Untrue) Things I’ve Taught the Girl I Tutor”

  1. Brian says:

    This is so amazing. The kid you’re tutoring sounds like the coolest kid ever.

    Also, you do know TR is my favorite person too, right? One of my hobbies is collecting TR stories. Like, one January TR forced his entire cabinet to go skinny-dipping with him in the Potomac River. Or, once in North Dakota some rustler stole his stuff so TR put on his sheriff badge, chased the guy down, and hauled him to the nearest jail like 5 days’ riding away. Or, in 1902 England and Germany became allies and planned to invade Venezuela, but then TR put a giant navy in the way and told them he was declaring war in 24 hours, so they went back to Europe. Monroe Doctrine IN DA HOUUSE!

    But yeah the getting shot thing is probably No 1.

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