#124 – Mean Ends

Today I pondered the age-old question: do the ends justify the means? I hope so, since it looks like I achieved my assigned task despite unconventional methods.

This being Tuesday, I had my weekly mentoring session with Ernie. For the first time, his teacher approached me with a request: “Richard, would you help Ernie with his schoolwork today?”

The query caught me by surprise, since I’m not accustomed to an adult asking me for assistance educating a child. Usually, the scenario runs the other way, with a mother ordering me not to teach her kid anything at all. I’ve never pictured myself as an educator either; and I admittedly felt dubious I could successfully tutor the average child, never mind a borderline psychopath like Ernie.

Notwithstanding my misgivings, I told his teacher I’d help as best I could. She in turn said math was the issue; specifically, addition, subtraction and rounding values.

Initially, I thought the task hopeless. I posed what I believed were three simple trial questions, to get a feel for Ernie’s difficulties: 37 + 64 = _____; 34 – 16 = _____; and 22 rounded to the nearest tens = _____.  He answered 91, 22, and 2, respectively: all wrong. 

My efforts to explain where he’d erred hit a brick wall. After ten minutes of fruitless coaching, both of us grew frustrated. Ernie started whining, complaining he was bored. He wanted to quit the schooling and play a game instead. Since I felt the same by then, I decided to humor him. I asked him what he’d like to play, and he said “Aliens against Predators.”

That’s what prompted my last ditch teaching effort and its somewhat unconventional means. I posed three new sample questions, but this time in terms to which I knew the kid would relate. The first example was typical of them all:

Alien babies jump down the throats of 624 predators. The babies tunnel into the predators’ stomachs and claw their way through the predators’ guts. Then the babies tear open the predators’ stomachs and burst out of their bodies, killing all the predators. But before they die, 128 of the predators manage to grab the alien babies coming out of them and rip their heads off. How many dead predators and alien babies are there in total?

Ernie answered each of my grotesque questions correctly. He seemed excited at his success too. Indeed, he said he couldn’t wait to tell his teacher how he’d done. I sure hope she’s the type who thinks the ends justify the means.

Math — How many alien babies just tore out of someone’s guts?

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