February 11, 2005

Is Our Childs Learninj?

Every now and again I drop by Joanne Jacobs' place to catch up on all the latest in education news. So how are the stoodints of Cedarcrest High School in Duvall, Washington coming along these days? Not well. And the most horrifying part about it is that their parents, far from smacking them upside the head with a lead pipe, are helping them tank.

This got me remembering a thoroughly preposterous episode from my own days back in 1982 at good ol' Winston Churchill High School in San Antonio. One of the high points of Junior English, at least from the students' perspective, was a project to be done in connection with the reading of Thoreau's Walden and which I swear I am not making up. The instructions were to procure a paper grocery bag. On one side, one was supposed to paste pictures of things that made one happy. On the other side, one was supposed to paste pictures of things that made one sad. And one was supposed to put something very special to oneself inside the bag. Then one was supposed to give a presentation to the class explaining one's choices.

This was an advanced English class, mind you.

As was the case every year, the kids worked like slaves on this project. And many of them were excited about making their presentations.

I, on the other hand, absolutely refused the assignment. It was, I believe, the only time in my entire academic career that I did so. When my turn came to give my presentation, I calmly stood up and announced that I didn't have one. When asked by the teacher why not, I launched into something of a rant about how idiotic the whole business was and how I thought the purpose of an English class - particularly an advanced one - was to hone reading and writing skills. I also used the opportunity to briefly give my opinion of Mr. Henry David Thoreau, who I thought (and still think) to be nothing more than what P.J. O'Rourke called him - a sanctimonious beatnik.

When I had finished explaining myself, the room was a sea of stunned bewilderment, as if I'd just cold-cocked Mother Theresa. The teacher eyed me for a minute, said, "Well I'm sorry you feel that way," and gave me an F. (Fortunately, my average was high enough that I could take the hit and still get an A- for the semester.)

Lest you think the entire class was like this, we did also do a full-blown research paper that year. Mine was on Gatsby as Tragic Hero, as I recollect. A couple of friends and I also got together and did a bogus paper entitled "A Marxist Reading of Green Eggs and Ham - Theodore Geisel and the Communist Manifesto". Our poor teacher hadn't the faintest idea what to make of it.

Posted by Robert at February 11, 2005 05:12 PM

I wish I had known you in high school. Hilarious.

My own advanced English class involved an assignment where we were to write our own versions of Hell in the spirit of Dante's Inferno. My locale of choice was McDonald's with all of Ronald's pals as the cast of characters.

Now that was some fine literature.

Posted by: jen at February 11, 2005 05:21 PM

Do you still have a copy? You should post it!

I was an unloveable geek in high school - as numerous people pointed out.

Posted by: Robert the LB at February 11, 2005 05:26 PM

More than ever, I'm convinced we were separated at birth, Robert.

In high school, I invented a fictional source for a 20 page term paper I wrote on Charles Dickens from a Soviet writer whoe seminal work, "Charles Dickens: Writer of the Proletariat" was footnoted no fewer than five times in my paper.

The quotes from him were straight Marxist gibberish -- my Soviet writer maintaining that the writings of Dickens ("his authentic portrayal of life among the proletariat") were a profound influence on the Karl Marx when the latter lived in London.

Fooled everyone. I revealed the hoax to my English teacher after my graduation. She actually had enough of a sense of humor to laugh about it.

Posted by: The Colossus at February 11, 2005 05:56 PM

I don't think I do. I've moved so many times since high school. Plus I still have unpacked boxes of crap from the recent move. I'll have to do a little hunting.

I also wrote a great how-to paper in junior high - How To Stop Up a Toilet. With accompanying artwork as well, because you know, you have to have the step by step pictures in a good how-to.

Posted by: jen at February 11, 2005 08:33 PM

Heheh. I, too, was cut from the same cloth.

I refused to turn in a rough draft of all eight book reports she required of her students. She cut my grade by 30 points each time. My overall was high enough to get by with it, but my stalwart resistence to rought drafts made her crazy.

Posted by: Rae at February 11, 2005 09:29 PM

Henry David Thoreau - a sanctimonious beatnik and a moocher, too. which makes him a hypocrite in Walden "I did it all by myself with my own sweat and blood on my friend's borrowed property" Pond.

Posted by: tee bee at February 12, 2005 03:39 PM

In 1962 (yes, they taught English back then), I was in Junior English. The teacher was new, from North Carolina and had a very pronounced southern accent. She desparately tried to cover it up, ending up with a mish-mash of NC and NJ that was practically impossible to understand.

We had to do book reviews every week. Not book reports, book reviews, ala NYTimes. And every week she handed out liberal D's and F's to the class, insisting we knew NOTHING about writing book reviews properly. One of my classmates father actually wrote reviews for the NYT, so he volunteered to write one for his son to turn in. It got an "F" with suitable sarcasm about how crappy it was. One week later it was published, unchanged, in the NYT, under the father's name. She was furious.

At finals time she put this sentence in for us to diagram, "The man drank himself to death." Most of us saw "to death" as a prepositional adverb modifying "drank" but she marked that wrong and insisted it was an infinitive used as the object of the sentence. We challenged that, but she was unmoved. We forwarded the sentence to the head of the English department at Columbia University and got a unanimous departmental opinion that we were right and she was wrong. We posted the telegram on the school students' bulletin board (no website, remember?) and when she saw it she tore it down. We had a copy, so we put it back up and complained to the principal, who allowed it to stay.

Fun, eh?

Posted by: Jen's Dad at February 12, 2005 04:21 PM
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