Dear Jack: For the 2nd Year in a Row Now, You Received the Certificate of Excellence in Mathematics Award

7 years, 6 months.

A year ago for the 2016-2017 school year, out of all the other students in your class, your teacher chose you for the Certificate of Excellence in Mathematics Award. And a year later, as you finished up 1st grade, you won the same award again; this time for the 2017-2018 school year!

I find this quite impressive. Only one student per class can win this award- and you’ve won it both times since you’ve been in school.

Yeah, this is amazing, actually.

It’s interesting because my brain doesn’t work that way. I am horrible at math. I got my college degree in English, by default; as doing so required the least number of math courses possible.

I am so happy for you. You have so much potential. You have many options for a career.

Something I’ve mentioned over the past couple of years is my understanding that I have a very smart boy for a son. I realize I am responsible for guiding you in this talent you have.

I am totally aware that the next decade ahead will determine your decisions for college; as well as your career goals. I take this very seriously.

At the same time, I also place a high value on you getting to be a kid. It’s important to me that you have a well-balanced childhood.

It’s that perfect mix of doing your best in your academics as well as your social development.

As your father, I am responsible for help training a future man. I’m taking all that my own dad taught me, and combining it with what I’ve additionally learned from my own manhood so far.

And from there, I add all that information on top of your own interests and talents, to build on top of your own identity.

My son, the math whiz. I am so proud.

Love,

Daddy

Dear Jack: You Received the Certificate of Excellence in Mathematics Award for Your Kindergarten Class

6 and a half years.

Dear Jack,

For weeks, Mommy and I had been curious to know the details, as to why your teacher had texted Mommy and me that you would be presented with a special award in front of your school.

I tried to imagine which unique award you might have earned from your Kindergarten teacher. Naturally, I assumed it was either for your creative artwork, your effortless reading skills, or your ability to positively communicate and get along with your classmates.

You were the first student in your class to receive the Student of Month award from your teacher, back in September, so I figured it might have something to do with good behavior.

But instead, last Thursday, Mommy and I pleased to see you walk up in front of your entire elementary school and receive the Certificate of Excellence in Mathematics from your principal. What this means is that out of your entire Kindergarten class, you are the most skilled at Math.

Obviously, I’m very proud. I am so proud.

Yet honestly, I can’t be too surprised. I’ve been saying for months now, how you are able to count, add, and subtract numbers that I wasn’t able to until 2nd or 3rd grade.

I just figured that the entire Kindergarten curriculum had advanced a few grades, since 30 years ago when I was in Kindergarten myself.

And while I’m sure that’s the case, I now must fully accept that you are exceptionally advanced when it comes to your math skills. Your teacher recognized this to the point that you specifically were the one she chose.

The irony here is that the very reason I ended up getting my college degree in English is because I was so bad at math.

I don’t know I ended with a junior math whiz for a son, but I’m glad I did!

Love,

Daddy

Major Nerds and Super Geeks: We Become Specialists in What We are Naturally Good At and Love to Do Anyway

In order to be cool these days, you have to embrace your inner dork.

By a college student’s junior year at a large university, there is no denying what he or she is majoring in.  Because by that point, there are certain undeniable quirks which have been weaved into the way they speak, how they spend their free time, or most importantly, who their friends are.  So when I chose the term “Major Nerds” as part of the title for this, it’s a play on words with a dual meaning like the classic TV show “Family Matters”.  It seemed to me that while in I was in college, a student became a nerd or a geek for whatever their college major was.

For me, the easiest ones to spot were the drama majors.  When a drama major walked into a room, they basically sang everything they said.  Their private conversations were never private; instead, everyone else in the room was an audience member for their traveling play production.  Of course they were also some of the most sincere and friendliest I knew in college.  Or were they just acting?  I guess I’ll never know.

I earned my degree from Liberty University, the largest Christian university in the world.  So it’s no surprise that in addition to every typical degree you could think of, they had a few peculiar options as well.  In particular, I’m thinking about the Worship majors.  These were the students planning a career in leading worship music at large churches… I guess.  Because every time you saw them, they were carrying a guitar playing “Shout to the Lord”, somewhat successfully drawing in a crowd of people singing along.

And if they weren’t doing that, they were inviting people to their “Night of Praise”: As part of their graduation requirements, the Worship majors had to entice an audience to come to a worship service in which the Worship major ran the thing.  For me, it was the most random thing someone could major in at our college.  I just couldn’t understand why a person would be willing to limit or brand themselves with such a specific degree.

What if after a few years of leading worship at a church, they decide they’d rather work in a bank?  And during the job interview, the employer says to them, “So, I see you have a college degree in… worship?”  And too, it’s just a weird concept to me that a person has to learn to worship God or lead others in worshipping God.  It makes sense, but also, like I told my friend James Campbell, whom I recently lost contact with because he evidently “quit” facebook: “Is that really something that you have to be taught?  Isn’t that comparable to having to take a class on ‘how to make love’?”

Then again, I’m not the one who feels I was called by God to work in the ministry.  So of course I can’t relate.  As for me, as if it wasn’t blatantly obvious, I was an English major.  To caricature us, I would say we were a strange hybrid: Decently liberal and very artistic on the inside, yet pretty conservative and sophisticated on the outside.  In other words, baby Literature professors in training.

Our heads were in the clouds, yet our feet were on the ground.  We were trained to dissect and diagram every situation into literary components; we were the Grammar Police to our dorm mates (see I am the Human Spell Check).  We were the only students who actually enjoyed writing papers.  In fact, I didn’t start out as an English major- I became one my junior year when I realized that if I enjoyed writing term papers, and all my friends came to me to proofread theirs, that maybe I should stop looking at some big dream of a career and just to what came easy to begin with.

And though those last two paragraphs about English majors were written in past tense, I can’t say that any of those characteristics about me have changed, simply because I graduated.  In fact, they’ve only increased in intensity.  In my office, I’m still the guy people come to when they need a letter written or an important e-mail proofread.  Obviously, I still enjoy writing- you know, hence the website and everything.

And really, that’s the way it works.  Most people end up majoring in whatever comes most natural for them anyway, for however they are wired.  Is it true that Finance and Accounting majors love working with numbers?  Sure, but it also comes easier for them then it would for me.  We all still like being challenged in our particular field.  When we can succeed in the difficult tasks of our specialty, it furthers us in becoming a locally recognized expert, equipped with knowledge and experience that impresses and possibly intimidates those who in different fields than we are.

I can tell you why the “k” in knife is silent and I can spell any word correctly without thinking about it, but I can’t do numbers.  I can’t do science.  Nor am I a computer whiz.  There are so many things I’m not good at and that I know little to nothing about.  But when it comes to the English language, literature, creative writing, and any kind of written communication in general, I’m your guy.  In other words, I was an English major nerd.  And always will be.

I use the word “nerd”, but I could say “expert”, or “go-to-guy”, or “whiz”, or even “buff”.  It’s all the same.  We all like to be good at something.  And when we can, we like to THE person for our niche.  Which often means we all have a bit of quirkiness attached to us.  Everyone’s at least a little weird.   Even the people we think who are the most normal.

I am the Human Spell Check

Bring me your misspelled words and incomplete sentences.

In school, I never studied for spelling tests (at least I never needed to) and I always got a “104” (perfect score plus I got the “challenge words” right as well).  The English language, as random and pieced-together as it is, has always made sense to me.  I wasn’t too bothered with the fact that the word “know” has a silent “k” (originally it was pronounced).  Nor was I ever really annoyed with the “I before E except after C” rule.

Somehow I’ve made sense out of the consistent inconsistency of our junkyard Spumoni language, borrowed mainly from our European ancestors- and also surprisingly from Yiddish, the universal language of the Jews, being that there are almost exactly the same number of Jews living in America as there are in Israel; accordingly, the United States has the 2nd highest Jewish population in the world.  Examples of adopted Yiddish words – bagel, klutz, schlub, schmooze, schmuck, shtick, schnozzle, tush, schlong.

And I’m convinced that my love of words has a lot to do with why I don’t really have a Southern accent, despite only living in the South (AL, FL, VA, TN).  Because I know how words are supposed to sound.  It’s not “ahss”, it’s “ice”.  It’s not “Toeyohduh”, it’s “Toyota”.  To speak in any distinct accent would be to stray from the standard American way of speaking.  I’m overaware of the way I pronounce words- only in rare occasions does a hint of Alabama come out of me.

I am the person in any given room who people ask, “How do you spell ‘initiate’”?  Then immediately, the word pops up in a translucent white font outlined in black, in my head.  I am that guy.  That can always save the day in times of a spelling crisis.  In college, I was the guy that all my dorm mates would bring their papers to for me to correct them the night before they were due.  And not only was it fun for me, but I took pride it doing it.

The downside of being a human spell check: I’m horrible at math and science.

The irony of writing about being a human spell check: I misspelled the word “spell check” in the title for this post by combining two words as one.  The real spell check caught it for me.

For a similar post by a similar but different writer, read http://stuffwhitepeoplelike.com/2008/05/12/99-grammar/.