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updated: 5/14/2014 5:03 PM

Father passes along joy of learning ... somehow

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By Kent McDill

You hear the stories all the time, that education in the United States is slipping, that we are falling behind other developed countries in the world in the education of our children.

There may be places where that is the case, but it is not the situation in the school district my children attend.

I am regularly amazed by what my kids are studying in school, and I am often overwhelmed when my children ask for some assistance and I am incapable of helping them.

Full disclosure: I was a good student. I loved learning. American history, English, geography and math were my favorite subjects. I couldn't get science, and don't even ask about art class, because it's a touchy subject. But I really enjoyed going to school and enjoyed going to class. When I had a teacher that was fully engaged in the topic, I was just as involved.

Which is why I am just stunned when my high schoolers come home and tell me the topics they are working on in school. The three of them that are still at home will actually have intellectual discussions on some subject, usually history or English, and I have NO IDEA what they are talking about.

Kyle, our freshman, is studying a significant moment in Eastern European history in his world history class. He is using the names of regimes and periods that I have never heard, and he is discussing them in detail.

The truth of the matter is, I'm jealous.

Math, which was one of my best subjects in school, became impossible for me to help with when the kids were still in GRADE SCHOOL! It was not just method, either. It was actual math subjects that were beyond my ken.

Is it possible I knew that stuff and just forgot it?

I have that thought all the time about the kids. The material they have been espousing since middle school on topics of history and great books and science … will they remember any of it when they become fully adult? I really wish there was some way to shellac their brains so that stuff gets retained.

I also really hate that I can't help them with their homework. I liked being the answer man, and I lost that role a long time ago. Now I'm the fix-it man as in, "Dad, the Internet's not working, can you fix it?"

One pleasure I have had that started in middle school revolved around English. The kids have all read some of my favorite books from the past and talking to them about those has been a blast.

"Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens is a particular favorite of mine, and my son Dan loved it, but Kyle hated it. Haley, our oldest, said it was depressing, which it was, but it really mattered to me. Getting to discuss it with the kids matters to me as well.

I wonder whether the kids are disappointed that I don't know stuff, or think it is funny that they know more than I do? Is that why they don't listen to me when I tell them to make their bed, because I'm a moron?

There is one aspect of this topic that is most important: education matters to my kids. They enjoy learning, every one of them. How that happened, I don't know. I can't take credit for it, because if I did something to foster it, I don't know what it was.

Now that Haley is in college, and the twins are ready to go next fall, I have become a little more helpful. There are adult topics related to finances and daily planning and getting things done that my kids did not learn in school. In those cases, they don't act like the bratty know-it-alls they have been for the past decade. They need me again.

It's not as much fun as when I was teaching them how to read, or tie their shoes, but it is something.

• Kent McDill is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Janice, have four children, Haley, Dan, Lindsey and Kyle.