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Educating the School in Return
February 13, 2010 - 4:59pm


Starbuck, who’s seven, wanted to know the rest of the lyrics to the sea chantey “What Do You Do With A Drunken Sailor,” which I’m assuming he heard on Muppet Treasure Island. Verses ring truer in some versions online than in others, especially those with inventive and nautically-plausible ways of punishing the sailor: “Put him in the bilge and make him drink it”; “Tie him to the taffrail when she's yard-arm under”; and “Soak him in [whale?] oil ‘til he sprouts some flippers….”

Wolfie, who’s four, was interested too if only because Starbuck was. As I drove Wolfie to school yesterday he wanted to know what was being implied in the punishment, “Throw him in bed with the captain’s daughter….” I had to think about that myself, and my mind spun like a windlass with possibilities. I just said the captain wouldn’t like it.

“And the captain would slice,” he said, waving an imaginary broadsword.

That seemed astonishingly perceptive for four, but I was afraid to know what he thought the captain would slice.

Luckily he can’t remember lyrics too well, because when I walked him through the doors of the Montessori, he was loudly singing the benign chorus instead: “Weigh-hey, and up she rises; weigh-hey, and up she rises….”

It could be worse, I know. My mom, who taught elementary school, used to tell stories about kids repeating things their parents were saying at home. One big fourth-grader with a buzz cut used to bounce in his seat in her classroom and sing gleefully, “Red-hot mama in a panty girdle….”


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