Second (and Sixth) Class Citizens

As we’ve mentioned a few times on the blog now, Angie and I spend two days every week working with students in our two parish primary schools. In theory, these school days are pretty uninteresting in their lack of variation. On Tuesdays, we go to the national school and visit both second classes and the sixth class to talk about the sacraments they’re preparing for. On Wednesday, we repeat the process at our other school, St. Clare’s. We’ll review what the kids have been learning in religion, we’ll practice prayers with them, we’ll open the floor for questions about communion or confirmation or mass – more or less boring, right?

Wrong.

Have you allowed large groups of seven- and/or eleven-year-olds ask you questions lately? Because it is a startlingly entertaining thing to do.

Now, nothing can top the question I received on my first visit to Ireland in 2012, when a kid in a primary school class raised her hand in the middle of a Q&A with some Folk Choir students about America and asked, “What’s your favorite mountain range?” No question I will ever be asked, up to and including “will you marry me,” will bring me more joy than that delightfully random query. But, dear readers, our primary school kids are trying hard to compete with it.

The questions these children ask us in class – and, for that matter, the answers they give when we ask them questions – can largely be divided into four categories. The first is age-appropriate, good questions. Those are great in terms of our actual goals as volunteers with the kids, but they’re not that interesting to blog about.

Much more interesting are the far-above-grade level questions and answers. Certainly, as I don’t have much experience working with kids, it’s likely that I underestimate how much they know and understand. Sometimes, though, one of our eight-yea-olds will answer a question I think most thirty-year-olds couldn’t manage. Before we did our Padre Pio lesson back in September, I could maybe, if I really racked my brain, remember that the nail marks that some saints develop on their hands and feet mirroring those of Jesus’ injuries on the cross are called stigmata. Maybe. When we asked our second class if anyone knew what those marks were called, a kid answered so smugly that it seemed everyone on earth learns stigmata in a kindergarten vocab test. My favorite high-level answer from this week was “adobo.” What does an adobo have to do with church? Well, nothing at all – but when you ask a second class what the reader’s podium is called in church and only tell them “it’s a short word,” you don’t generally expect them to come that close to “ambo” (a word I think I learned in high school). These kids know their stuff. And, of course, they don’t shy away from the way-too-big-to-answer questions either: “Why can’t women be priests?” “Why can’t priests get married?” “How did God come into existence?” Talk to me in a decade, kids.

The third category of kiddie input is liturgically on-topic but just slightly off the mark. Way more often than is normal, kids want to know the exact details of the recipe for hosts. Kids want to know exactly how many minutes Jesus spent on the cross. Relevant! Kind of! But probably not worth asking the number of times they do. By far my favorite, though, is when they ask what would otherwise be good questions, but with major flaws in their wording. The best example? “Who are those colored kids on the altar at mass?” After asking the kid to explain what he meant a few times, we eventually figured out what he meant: “Who are those kids that sit up on the altar in bright red robes?” These are the altar servers. If you didn’t know what an altar server was or why they have to wear fancy, colored robes, this would be a perfectly appropriate question – a great one, really! With a slight, second-grader shift in the order of the words, though, it crashes and burns spectacularly. So close, kids. But so, so far.

And then there’s the final type of question, and those that come closest to rivaling the ol’ mountain range – the contributions that are totally irrelevant. Angie and Sarah ask what the kids can tell us about how religion class has been going. Kid immediately answers, “It’s my birthday tomorrow!” …Okay! Angie and Sarah ask who’s got more questions about communion. Kid raises his hand. “So you’re form America, right?” Well, yes, which could lead to an interesting question about whether we do things the same way at home as they do here. What’s the follow-up question? “Have you been to Dunkin Donuts?”

Sigh.

Our days in the school may not be the most interesting part of our week every time, but they are always entertaining!