With as much time as I spend in the classroom, I expect that I would hear the word “given” as often as I remember hearing it while growing up. Maybe the word is out of circulation. It’s also possible that I used it in those grades that were advanced from those I teach.

The lesson is that the concept of a “given” is entirely unknown to elementary school students and maybe their parents. It used to be a given that you would go to school each day in clean clothes, with hair combed, shoes tied, and homework completed. No matter what grade or age, those were all givens to me.

It appears that these aren’t givens any more. Yes, I realize that we are still in the midst of a pandemic where many have lost their jobs and are living on meager amounts of money. But it’s commonplace for me to experience kids with dirty hair that is entirely messy. Either I tie a student’s shoes or observe them untied, every day. You might be tempted to say, “Oh, that’s just kids,” but I’m talking about a frequent lack of attention to basic givens. And based on the brand names of the clothing they wear and the cars I see in the parking lots, these are most likely not poor families.

This makes more sense when you compare this type of preparation (or non-preparation) to a little boy I’ll call Caleb. From the first time I saw him, he was perfectly groomed and dressed, with an attitude to match. Each time he needed my input or assistance, he would proudly approach and show what he had done. His smile burned through his face mask and his eyes were brilliant from the knowledge that he was treasured. If I never teach another child, Caleb will always be the one who made all of my teaching years worthwhile. Apparently, his parents were familiar with what was important to the school experience.

Ten feet away were two students who consistently made enough noise to disturb the rest of the class. One of them had to tap his marker repeatedly and sing to himself until I had to ask him to stop. Being quiet and inobtrusive was a given in my life, along with not pushing or shoving.

One of these days, I’m going to ask my students if they know a definition of given that doesn’t relate to the word give. They may know about “understood” or “assumed.” Until then, I’ll wonder if given pertains to higher math and philosophy or it’s just gotten to be unfashionable. Shalom.

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