TENDER YEARS’ INVESTMENT

I was standing with my son (a first-grader at elementary school in those days) at the bus-stop. Trying to make himself heard, Bogdan raised his head and asked in a loud voice: “Dad, which mark is better – a ‘four’ or a ‘three’?” It should be noted that some thirty years ago our schools used a 5-point mark scale to assess pupils’ knowledge. The top mark was a “five” and a “two” was a non-pass given for the knowledge next to zero. The mark “one” was of emotional nature and was given by a teacher who was angry at the pupil’s laziness, stubbornness, etc. Having only started attending school, my son might have found it difficult to orientate himself in that system of evaluation. When I heard the question, I thought that the bus-stop was probably not the best place to explain the intricacies of the marking system, so I played it down and said with the poker face: “A ‘three” is better, son. If you get a “three” you can easily erase the upper part of the digit and turn the mark into a “five.” Things will be more difficult if you are given a “four.”

There was an outburst of laughter around us. I had overlooked the fact that other people at the bus-stop had also heard the son’s question and, naturally, they had been waiting for the dad’s answer.

With the years gone by, now my son has got a PhD degree from a university in Britain. And it’s not because he turned one mark into another (of course, it was unthinkable in our family). A reason might be that, when a child, he was able to ask unexpected questions to which his Dad could give fun-loaded replies.

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