Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Week 15: The Third Rail

Today, in the middle of a multiplication lesson, some words printed on the cover of Billy’s notebook catch his eye. They are taken from a passage in the bible, Philippians 4:8: "Think about all you can praise God for."

The words seem to call out to him. He stops paying attention to me, deciding that now is as good a time as any to practice his reading comprehension. Proceeding staccato like, he reads each word aloud, leading with his fingers.
“Think...uh-bowt….all…you…can…praise…gaw—” He pulls his finger back, recoiling in disgust. The rhythm is broken. 

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

“That’s Christian. That’s for Christians. I’m not Christian.”
A sharp hiss cuts the air. (Did it come from me, or his mom?) I feel my heart palpitating. The Accenture instincts are kicking in: we call this the red zone—the forbiddingly red third rail of client relationships.

His mother is in the kitchen, within earshot, preparing a refreshing couscous salad that has always been the highlight of my afternoon tutoring sessions. I consider what might happen if this dialog were to continue: she might stop feeding me; she might feed me poison; she might bury me up to my neck in the hot desert sand and throw jagged rocks at my face. Instinct can sometime breed irrational fear.

But I want this so bad. I bite my lip; heart racing, I reach for the rail. Instinct can sometimes breed irrational courage.
“Billy, what does ‘x-squared plus y-squared equals one’ mean?”

He furrows his brow in thought. “It’s math language for circle.”

“Right. How else can we say circle? What other languages do we know?” I draw a picture of a circle on a blank sheet of scratch paper and then, next to it, ask him to spell out “circle” in English and "yuvaruj" in Turkish. As a final touch, I add the Chinese character and the mathematical equation for circle. 

“These are all different ways of saying the same thing, just in different languages.” I explain. “It’s the same with the word ‘God’. It doesn’t (or at least it shouldn’t) matter whether you say ‘God’, like in the Christian Bible, or ‘Allah’, like in the Muslim Qu’ran. They are just two different ways of saying the exact same thing.”

“How do you say it in math?” Billy asks.

"That's a good question." I giggle.  


  1. a fine father yee shall make.

  2. I think I'm content just being a teacher: more kids, less responsibility.