No Shit, Sherlock: The Case of the Cultural Literacy Conundrum

Mamacita says:  Sometimes, teachers assume that their students have a background in cultural literacy when in fact they do not.  And sometimes, helping a student make and understand a connection between one thing and another, makes it all worthwhile.    Sometimes, teachers do not agree on what is worthwhile and what is not.

Sherlock HolmesA few years ago, my sixth graders were getting ready to read a Sherlock Holmes short story: The Adventure of the Speckled Band, to be specific, which is my favorite Sherlock Holmes story.

About ten seconds into my enthusiastic introduction to the story, I realized that my students had never in all their lives even HEARD of Sherlock Holmes.  They will never be able to make that claim again, however.  I assure you.

Speckled Band, snake in the bed

Every night, the snake climbed down the rope and crawled around on Julia’s bed.

Speckled Band, ending

Dr. Roylott’s scheme to have the snake kill his stepdaughter backfired. . . .

We read the story and most of the students agreed that it was pretty cool.  Snakes.  Poisonous snakes.  Big ones.  Gypsies camping in the yard.  A cheetah and a baboon wandering free.  A huge powerful man given to fits of violence.  A bed, nailed to the floor.  Bending the iron rod.  Holmes, bending it back.  We discussed the physics of the iron rod; all the students, young as they were, knew that bending the rod in the first place required strength, and that bending it BACK required even more.  Holmes’ powers of observation fascinated the kids. Weird noises in the night.  Strange coincidences that even an 11-year-old thought off-kilter.  A bell-pull that pulled no bell.  Shared inheritances.  Screams in the night.  What’s not to love?  Before they left my room, I recommended other Holmes stories, and the bell rang, and they left my room.  I sat there hoping the unit had gone as well for THEM as it did for me.

I knew it had been a good unit when I overheard a group of boys talking about it in the hallway.

“Now I know what it really means when somebody says ‘No shit, Sherlock!'”

No, I did not stop short, drag the student to the office and demand that he be punished for saying ‘shit.’  The P.E. teacher who also overheard the boys wanted to, but I asserted myself, which didn’t often happen because I am pretty much of a wuss in spite of my big talkin’ ways, and anyway, I do not believe in jumping on kids when their conversation was not directed towards me.  Eavesdroppers often hear negative things, and if they would mind their own business, it wouldn’t be such a big deal.  (I am not referring to inappropriate remarks specifically aimed at a non-invited listener with the intent of upsetting, insulting, or otherwise involving said uninvited listener, mind you; I am talking about private conversations that happen to be overheard and sometimes taken personally when no personal involvement is intended.)

holmes hits the snake

Holmes driving the snake back up the rope and into the next room….

I figured that we were eavesdropping on those boys, and that whatever they said to each other in their supposed privacy (unless it was about bombs or threats or clues about who TP’d the restroom or whispers of abuse, etc.) was their business, not ours. Kids deserve some respect.

The other teacher walked off in a huff, carefully, so the corncob wouldn’t fall out.  I smiled at the boys and said, “That’s right, guys.”

Knowledge is power.  Education is all about connections.  And that, as far as I was concerned, was a legitimate connection.

Too many people take too many things far too seriously these days.  It takes our attention away from REALLY serious things, and THAT, my dear readers, is why so many important things are circling the drain while others, not nearly as important or serious, are getting so much attention.

Taking offense at someone else’s private conversation?  Please.

Let’s all try to use our brains a little more, and our sense of context a little more, and our “I’m offended” a little less.  There are too many genuinely important issues out there; we must not allow ourselves to be influenced by, let alone offended by, an overheard conversation not even intended for the eavesdropper’s ear.

I do not want to live to see the Kardashians win.

Were these eleven-year-old boys having an inappropriate conversation?  I don’t think they were.  I think they were having quite the intellectual discussion, truth be told.

Was the PE teacher overreacting in her zeal to have the boys rounded up, branded, and sent out to the North Forty to do penance?

No shit, Sherlock.


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