2005-09-29 / Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Funnier than fiction
By Sam Bari

You can’t beat a system you can’t understand

Whenever children and adolescents open their mouths, there is a good chance that something will come out that will have you in stitches. That was made evident in the 1950s television show hosted by Art Linkletter called “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” A few years later, Bill Cosby and the Cosby Kids again proved that a lucrative career could be made from conversing with kids and quoting them.

Over the years, I’ve collected an archive of kiddy quotations and miscommunications from adolescents and other little people. Sometimes we can learn from the logic of their illogic, whether we want to admit it or not. For instance, if it wasn’t for kids in Sunday school, we’d never know that Joan of Arc was Noah’s wife. Or, that Solomon had 300 wives and 700 porcupines. This is hardly information that we can take lightly. To the short set, it is very serious stuff.

Whenever I meet schoolteachers, I ask about the best quotes from their students, and they are more than happy to comply. Like the Jamestown high school history teacher who told her class that during WWII, the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki respectively. One of her 14-year-old students shot his hand up and asked, “Why were we so polite about it? We were bombing them, weren’t we?”

However, that was mild compared an essay that “Egypt was inhabited by mummies who wrote in hydraulics.” And let’s not forget about the student who painted a vivid picture of the first Olympic games. Apparently, the Greeks ran races, jumped, hurled the biscuits, and threw the java.

Then there was the high school freshman who gave us a literature lesson. “The greatest writer of the Renaissance was William Shakespeare,” he began. “He was born in the year 1564, supposedly on his birthday. He never made much money and is famous only because of his plays. He wrote tragedies, comedies, and hysterectomies, all in Islamic pentameter.”

I wonder if that student was related to Yogi Berra. You know, the retired New York Yankee catcher who thinks money is the same as cash.

We can all relate to an incident or two in our formative years when we were attempting to hone our communication skills. I remember learning to read phonetically. I thought an orangutan was an orange utan until I was almost 10 years old.

Before I was old enough to go to school, my friend Pookie Grossberg (yes, he’s a real person) asked me why every story his mother and father told him began with “Once a pony time.” He didn’t understand what horses had to do with a story about tugboats. I didn’t know. The question was beyond our realms of comprehension.

Without a doubt, the best quotes seem to come from children who are eager to demonstrate their academic skills. Most of these quotes are generated in classrooms and are told by teachers who should be canonized for their ability to practice self-control and not fall all over themselves laughing.

Can you imagine being the English teacher who kept a straight face when her student said: “The word trousers is an uncommon noun because it is singular at the top and plural at the bottom”?

Don’t you feel sorry for the teacher who endured: “Syntax is all the money collected at the church from sinners”?

And you must have compassion for the Sunday school teacher whose student thought the seventh commandment was: “Thou shalt not admit adultery.” Many people in responsible political positions can relate to that one.

However, when you think about the last few examples, it is difficult to dispute that these statements could make sense to a child. If you understand that, then you understand how we have come to live in a system that we just cannot possibly understand.

If you have a quote from your children, grandchildren, students or someone you know that you want to share, e-mail us at news@jamestownpress.com, or mail it to: The Jamestown Press, 42 Narragansett Ave., Jamestown, RI 02835. We’ll read them all and publish the best ones in this column. Be sure to include your name, address and telephone number.

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