How do you know that?

How do you know that?
Yesterday was my last tutoring session for the school year. I was helping an 11th grader write an essay on whether the Vietnam War was a just war. We were discussing the domino theory, which she knew about, and the fact that Laos and Cambodia had gone communist as well as Vietnam. “What about India?” she said.

I was impressed that she knew India was a potential domino and that she cared. I explained that India was a democracy, and was struggling with Hindu nationalism.

“How do you know all that?” she asked.

I told her I read newspapers, magazines and the Internet. She seemed impressed by that too.

Later, I suggested a way to write a topic sentence arguing that stopping communism wasn’t worth the suffering the war had caused. (We’d googled the casualty figures.) The girl looked at the sentence with awe. “Wow, you really know grammar!” she said. “I never know what to do with those things.” She was pointing to the colon.

I tried to explain how to use colons and semicolons, but I didn’t do a very good job. It comes too naturally to me. Finally, I told her to read a lot and pay attention to the punctuation and sentence construction. And, when in doubt, write two sentences.

I’ve spent most of the past month trying to help kids graph quadratic equations, which I don’t really know how to do. It’s nice to be competent, for once. I may be weak on my parabolas, but I wield a mean colon.

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