The grandparents offered classes on the Bill of Rights, game theory, number patterns, presidential history, anthropology, law and conversational Polish. Some were bona fide experts and others were just folks who’d read a lot of books. There was no screening of candidates. No syllabuses. No reading lists. Just: Can you start tomorrow?
I had my doubts.
We all know that moment when a grandparent offers some unsolicited advice — “Well, in my day …” — and almost instantly the kids’ eyes glaze over. When the first class started, on the Bill of Rights, I was kind of holding my breath.
The teacher, my father, began a discussion of Feiner vs. New York, the classic 1951 Supreme Court case involving freedom of speech. He laid out the facts. There was a guy, Feiner, who started making a speech on a street corner denouncing President Harry Truman. People got angry. A fight almost broke out. “So,” my dad said, “should this guy be allowed to make his speech, even if it provokes a violent reaction?”
There was a long, awkward pause — you know, that Zoom thing, when no one knows who is supposed to speak — and then, all at once, a spirited debate broke out. Everyone had an opinion.
The next class, on number patterns, went over just as well. Afterward, my kids told me excitedly, “For next class we need two different types of paper towels, so we can compare them for an experiment!” Truth be told, we have only one type of paper towel — which I really ought to be auctioning on eBay right now — but that was beside the point. The kids were into it. They were learning and, just as important, they were being reminded that Damn, Grandpa knows some stuff.