sitting on the edge of the sandbox, biting my tongue

September 13, 2011

Comparative Writing Exercises

Filed under: education — Tags: , , — edge of the sandbox @ 4:31 pm

Recently my in-laws sent us a homework assignment DH did in his parochial school when he was 8 years old.  I don’t know why my in-laws saved this particular paper, or if they purposely saved it at all — DH speculates that the papers got stuck somewhere between the cushions and emerged a quarter century later.   For some reason, my in-laws thought it was charming.  We didn’t.

DH was assigned to make something titled A Book of Me.  Its cover was to be graced with a self-portrait.  Inside, he had to finish sentences such as “The best thing about me is ____”, “My favorite book is ____”, “The person I’d like to meet most is ___” and “One thing I’d like to change about myself is ____”.

DH, of course, gave smart Alec answers; something that he now finds a bit embarrassing.  He says an 8-year-old is no longer that cute, and somebody should have put him in his place.  I agree, but I also have to note that smart Alec responses are a perfectly understandable reaction to the kind of assignment where a student is simultaneously asked to brag and to reveal something embarrassing.  A Book of Me explains a lot of unpleasant things about American culture from Jerry Springer to Dreams from My Father.

It made me think about the writing class I had in the former Soviet Union.  One popular type of an exercise was to copy sentences from our textbooks filling in missing letters and punctuation marks.  Often times the the sentences were selected from classics — Chekhov, Tolstoy, Turgenev.  We learned what a good sentence looked like in our native tongue, and perhaps even recognized the books.

Soviet education was far from perfect.  Some of the problems we had were the exact opposite of the ones created by the Self-Esteem movement in America.  Our sadistic teachers berated students in front of the whole class, for instance.  There was a lot of unabashed propaganda in our schoolbooks.  But, maybe if students are introduced to Dostoyevsky and Turgenev, propaganda is not going to have that much of an effect.

I suspect not so long ago that American education was similarly classics-centered.  Unfortunately, my husband and his generation mostly got bland sentences and narcissism, and my children will probably get more of the same.



  1. “A Book of Me explains a lot of unpleasant things about American culture from Jerry Springer to Dreams from My Father.”

    Ouch! The truth hurts!

    Comment by Conservatives on Fire — September 14, 2011 @ 6:41 am

  2. Yeah, I thought my education was devoid of real substance, until I sent my kids into school to find it had gotten worse.

    But on the other hand, academic levels are pushed higher at younger ages, did you see this Insty link?

    I sure noticed the higher expectations on my older son when he started school, but that was in the UK at “reception,” and so I chalked it up to cultural difference. Now I see that the expectations are higher here in the US, too. Shoot, we weren’t even expected to know the alphabet when we started kindergarten.

    I’m not saying this is all good or all bad, but it’s . . . hard to unravel the puzzle sometimes. On the one hand, school is full of fluffy garbage. But at the same time, kids are expected to master things considered above their ability level not long ago.

    oh, and good for you, breaking that DVD. Die bunny, die!

    Comment by nooneofanyimport — September 14, 2011 @ 11:38 am

  3. Sounds like good material for bullies for those “sensitive” enough to answer honestly or be embarrassed by parents later in life. My mother often mocks me (in a sort of funny way) about my “pathetic little letters” I sent home from my first sleep away camp.

    I wish now I’d never written them but funny to re-read as an adult.

    Comment by Harrison — September 14, 2011 @ 9:47 pm

  4. Linda,
    One thing I noticed is that American students do fairly well in the beginning, but they fall back by middle and high school. Why is that?
    We played unsupervised on the playground when we were 5 y/o. Well, there always was a babushka or two sitting on the bench nearby, and a few young moms, maybe, but our parents didn’t watch us. That was the norm. We were on orders to never leave the playground, and we didn’t.

    If you plan on becoming a parent, re-read this letter once you have kids, it will feel totally different. I know it sounds cliche, but there is a reason certain cliches exist.

    Comment by edge of the sandbox — September 14, 2011 @ 10:11 pm

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