Yesterday I was walking a couple of students through an exercise that had them providing a proper noun to go with a common noun. For those of you too far removed from your grade school grammar lessons, common nouns are the general nouns that refer to a type of thing and the proper nouns are the proper names of things. For example, a common noun is "house" while a proper noun is "White House". Most of the readers of this blog (at least the ones who comment) have spent time working in journalism and those last few sentences were pretty much a waste of their time. You'll understand later why I didn't just assume the knowledge was there for the rest of you, though.
One of the common nouns the students were given was "country". One girl asked me, "What's an example of a country?" I responded, "What country do you live in?"
The transcript of the interaction follows.
"No, that's the county we live in. What's the country?"
"No that's a state. Georgia's one of the 50 states that make up our country. What's the name of the country."
"I don't know."
This class had been doing a lot of debating of the virtues and vices of Obama and McCain, so I thought that might trigger the crack in the wall of what I assumed was a brain fart.
"Ok, Barack Obama and John McCain are running for president of the ..."
"I don't know."
This is when one of the other students finally breaks in and says, "It's the United States, you big dummy." Of course then the kids who knew or were at least able to pretend they knew start laughing and making fun of the poor girl. Before I'm able to jump in and settle the class down another girl jumps in to the first girl's defense.
"I didn't know it either, so shut up."
That didn't really help.
True, this is a remedial class, but none of the kids are considered to be in need of special education. Some of them have legitimate problems, but I had previously considered both of these students to be among the brighter bulbs in the class. They still carry the highest averages in the class and tend to have the least trouble picking up new concepts or putting their thoughts into writing. They were really just that oblivious that this information had never found a nest in their brains.
These are the people who grow up and get interviewed by reporters when a natural disaster strikes the rural South.