A Lesson in Logic

Work Text:

They had to wait a minute while Ms. Okafor and Jona went to get two extra chairs. "David's been in this school how many years?" Moishe grumbled. "You'd think they'd know by now how many parents he has."

Vered took the existing chair without asking. Her ankles had been acting up. "And you think they'd know to expect all of us to show up at parent-teacher conferences," she said, pulling out her knitting. "Since we always do."

"At least they put us on the ground floor this year," Ben said. Vered scooted her chair up against the wall so Ben could wheel right up next to her. That left just enough room for the two folding chairs that Ms. Okafor carried in.

Jona followed her, empty-handed, and shrugged. "She wouldn't let me help," they said.

Jona and Moishe took their seats and Ms. Okafor settled in behind her desk, clearly not quite sure which of them to look at. She settled for Vered, who projected an air of motherly competence that generally led people to assume she was in charge. "Thanks for coming in, all of you," she began. "It's wonderful that David has such engaged parents."

"With a report card like this, of course we all came in," Moishe said, waving the offending document. "What is this, a B-minus in math? A C in social studies? My son loves history."

"He's certainly a very diligent student," Ms. Okafor said. "But he causes some trouble in the classroom. He asks a great many questions."

"Of course he asks questions!" Moishe said. "That's what students do! That's how they learn!" Ben nudged him and he settled back in his chair, huffing and crossing his arms.

"He asks questions that no one can answer because we don't know enough about the private lives of historical figures," Ms. Okafor said. "And frankly, they're distractions. As a public school, we're required to teach a certain amount of material each semester. We can't interrupt every single unit because your son is questioning the societal underpinnings of mathematical logic problems."

"Because your logic problems don't reflect reality," Vered said. "David showed me one of the worksheets. 'Marci has 36 candies to share with 3 friends. How many will each friend get?' Of course it depends on whether Marci's friends want candy, whether one of them is allergic to that kind of candy, and so forth. There's simply not enough information on there to let the child draw a reasonable conclusion."

Jona leaned forward. "We understand that you need to teach to the test."

"We really don't like that expression," Ms. Okafor said.

"But it's not inaccurate, is it," they said. "And we get that. But you need to understand that David is not deliberately being disruptive or breaking the rules, and should not be penalized for asking questions rather than making the same basic assumptions that the other students and the textbooks are making. When you grow up in a family like ours, you learn very quickly that—"

"When you make an assumption, you make an ass out of you and -mption," Ben supplied helpfully.

"Something like that," Vered said, giving him a stern look. He grinned back at her, unabashed.

"You can't assume someone's pronouns from their name," Jona went on. "You can't assume that a married person has only one spouse. You can't even assume that your friends want candy. You have to ask. We believe very strongly in the value of inquiry—not only its educational value but its moral value. We want our son to grow up not assuming that a girl wants to be kissed, for example."

"Which is fantastic," Ms. Okafor said with apparent sincerity, "but it brings me to another concern. David became quite upset the other day when it was time to come in from recess, and when Ms. Martin took his hand to bring him inside, he said that, quote, he had a right to bodily autonomy and she had better get her hands off him, unquote."

Jona, Vered, and Moishe looked at Ben. "Yeah, that was me," he said. "We were talking about what to do if an adult touches you in a way you don't like. I possibly should have gone into the distinction between different kinds of 'don't like.'"

"We'll talk to him about needing to defer to authority in certain specific matters," Vered said. "Though I certainly hope no one tried to tell him that he doesn't have a right to bodily autonomy."

"I believe Ms. Martin ended up bribing him with a sparkly eraser," Ms. Okafor said. "She's very resourceful."

Jona beamed. "That's my boy."

Moishe glanced at his watch. "I know we don't have a lot of time," he said, "so I just want to be clear. If David's disrupting class, fine, tell him he shouldn't disrupt the class. But don't shut him down for asking a question. Tell him you'll have question time after class. Leave space on the worksheet where he can write out his assumptions about what's happening in the logic problem, so you can see his work and know that one of Marci's friends didn't get candy because she's on the Atkins diet."

"Or write better logic problems," Vered said.

"Sure," Moishe said. "But trust me, our son is not the one who's having trouble with logic. Nothing teaches you reasoning skills like having to convince four parents and two siblings that your argument is correct. We got reasoning skills up the wazoo in our house. Listen to David instead of marking him down and maybe you'll learn a thing or two."

"I'll certainly consider that," Ms. Okafor said. "I'm afraid we're out of time and I need to meet with the next set of parents. Thanks for coming in."

Vered shoved her knitting in her bag and hustled Moishe out before he could say anything else. Jona carefully folded up the extra chairs and left them stacked against the wall. Ben giggled quietly until they'd made it outside and let the door swing shut behind them, at which point the giggles became guffaws. "The look on her face!" he gasped. "Moishe, you outdid yourself."

"No one gives my child a C for asking questions," Moishe said.

"If you were any more of a helicopter parent, you could help forecast the weather," Jona said as Vered unlocked the minivan.

Moishe helped Ben in, folded his chair up, and stashed it in the back. "So maybe then the weather forecast would be better," he said.

"Making it rain teachers' tears doesn't count," Vered said. "Buckle up and let's go home."