Friday, October 28, 2016

Polygons of Wellness

       I was looking through my old English papers and discovered a persuasive essay I wrote in seventh grade. I had gotten sick of health class with Mr. B (how lucky I was to have him for two years) right around the same time we got this assignment (which was supposed to be specific to problems at school), so I essentially wrote a blog post a year before starting my blog. I never got any feedback on this essay, nor did the decision-making lessons we had to suffer through change, which greatly disappointed me. Anyway, I'm submitting it exactly as I wrote it in seventh grade, with the exception of the school name.

                Seventh-Grade Health: Decision Making
    In seventh-grade health class at [School], several of the lessons, particularly those in the decision-making unit, are presented in a rather manipulative manner. Seventh-graders learn about the “health triangle”, which represents the three aspects of health: physical health, mental/emotional health, and social health. When these categories are listed out loud, it sounds like four different categories (mental and emotional being separate rather then blended into one as intended), so I think it would be more logical to present a “health quadrangle”. However, the geometric shape used to represent “overall wellness” is not a very pressing concern; the lessons in the decision-making unit take up significantly more time in the early stages of the quarter of health than the polygon of wellness.
    Students are given an acronym, H.E.L.P., to use as a guide when making decisions. H.E.L.P. stands for “healthful, ethical, legal, and parental approval”, all of which were to be taken into consideration when making a decision. To exercise the use of this acronym, the class was divided into groups and given scenarios in which they wrote out their decision after listing each step of H.E.L.P., but the scenarios themselves were manipulative. In one, students had to decide whether to let a friend copy answers for a test, and the scenario specified that if their friend failed the test, their parents would not permit them to go on the class trip. I believe the purpose of this was to make the decision harder, so the students would have something else influencing their decision, but it seemed a rather feeble attempt. Kindergartners through second-graders might be swayed by the possibility of their friend not attending the class trip, but middle-schoolers would be able to see right away what they were meant to choose. The scenario clearly gives away what the “best decision” is in advance. Anyone can see what they are meant to choose, and so they will choose that one and then go through the steps of H.E.L.P., rather than using the guide to help them make the decision. And it is possible that some students would, if it came to such a thing in reality, cheat to help their friends, but they certainly would not reveal that in front of their teacher and classmates; rather, they would keep it a secret and just go along with the intended answer. Each of the scenarios followed this pattern of having what is generally accepted as “the best decision” made clear right off the bat. It does not exercise the students’ decision-making skills so much as their skills in doing what they are told is right.
    Since neither the teachers nor the students will really get anything out of such a clearly manipulated exercise, it is a waste of time and energy on both parts. And forty-five wasted minutes a day is a lot of time that could be used more beneficially.
    A similar situation was one of the warm-ups in the health packet about an unfortunate girl named Victoria who is having trouble in math, roughly copied below:
    Victoria is having trouble in math. When her teacher announces a pop quiz, Victoria begins to panic but her friend says, “Don’t worry. You can copy off my test.” Put a check next to the things that will help Victoria make a good decision, and an X by the ones that will not.

Victoria should consider whether her parents would approve of cheating.
Victoria should consider whether it is ethical to cheat on a quiz.
Victoria should focus on the fact that a bad grade on the quiz will lower her score in class.

    The one Victoria was not supposed to think about was the one about her class average. This seems rather one-sided - yes, H.E.L.P. does make some good points when it comes to “evaluating a decision”, but it is not the sole basis of good decisions. After all, everyone has been making thousands of decisions by the time they enter seventh grade, and they haven’t gotten killed or ended up in juvenile hall by then, because they have enough students to actually form multiple health classes, so we can safely assume that not all good decisions are made by H.E.L.P.
    A more efficient use of time and method of teaching would be to use less general scenarios, ones students will not have been prepared for and will not have a clear idea of how to answer. This might compel them to actually use the guide to help them decide, as it was meant to be used, rather than just using it to “justify their answer” (another common phrase). It would probably also be appropriate to emphasize that H.E.L.P. is just a guide in making decisions, nothing more, and students are still capable of making good decisions without it.
    If teachers wanted to continue using the originally prepared scenarios, they could specify that they are simply warm-ups where the decision is already clear so students can get a general idea of how H.E.L.P. is meant to work, and then move on to a couple of more original scenarios.
    In conclusion, I believe students are being underestimated and manipulated when it comes to the decision-making unit of seventh-grade health, and time should be used more appropriately and beneficially to solve this education problem at [School].

Monday, October 17, 2016

Top Twenty Unnecessary, Ironic, Mean, or Just Plain Stupid Things Teachers Have Said

Well, apart from the countless ones I already listed in past blog posts.

1. When my geometry teacher solved a problem for us on the board, his head was in the way, completely obscuring his work. Valeria, the girl who sat behind me, commented (albeit louder than necessary), “I can’t see the work because Mr. F’s big head is in the way.” Mr. F promptly retorted, equally unnecessarily, “You need to shut your big mouth. It’s only holding you back.” I think it was meant to be clever…?
2. Erica, who sits next to me in geometry, rolled up the sleeve of her T-shirt to get a better look at a freckle. In doing so, she exposed her shoulder (scandalous!), which was slightly paler than the rest of her arm. Mr. F walked by at the same moment, glanced at her arm, and commented, “You need more color.”
3. Mr. F informed us we had a test today. The whole class protested they had heard nothing of a test, and Valeria took a survey, asking everyone in the class to raise their hand if they knew the test was today. Not a soul raised their hand, so she clarified, "I'm assuming this means no one knew there was a test?" Nobody protested.
"No, you guys knew," replied Mr. F, with his trademark Aw-look-at-you-cute-students-thinking-you're-actually-smart look.
"If you're gonna give us a quiz," chimed in a girl named Lily, "at least admit it's a pop quiz. No one knew!"
"I told you it was gonna be this week," he informed us, "so you guys knew."
4. Mr. F asked us how many of us were interested in law, then announced, "Well, here's where you get to start using courtroom stuff. In a courtroom, you have to use evidence to prove your answer." (Wow, that's so original! No teachers have ever asked us to prove our answer before!)
Erica, who had taken student court with me last year, objected, "Well, technically you don't have to prove it, you just have to convince the jury."
"Eh," he replied intelligently, waving his hand at her and moving on.
5. "We don't have time for questions."
6. From every lunchroom facilitator ever: “You guys are in [insert number] grade. It shouldn’t take you this long to quiet down. You’re supposed to be setting an example for the younger kids.”
7. Mr. B, assigning in-class research on feminine hygiene to a class of seventh-graders: “I know you guys are mature enough to handle this without giggling.”
8. The child-loathing sadist Ms. A, my seventh-grade algebra teacher, had a particular student who was retaking algebra and had been in her class the previous year, which was how he solved everything so quickly: he had already had the lessons. When she told us about the new part of the curriculum, which hadn’t been used last year, he quietly said, “Oh.” In the trend of antagonistic, unpleasant math teachers (I’ve had a number of them…), she unnecessarily snapped, “Yeah, Allen. So maybe you should quit messing with your calculator and pay attention.”
9. Whenever anyone asked her a question about a topic we'd already covered, Ms. A would snap, "There is absolutely no reason you should be having trouble with this. We've been over this in class already. Are you having trouble with this?"
And she wonders why no one comes in for lunch help...
10. When my algebra class was in the media center registering for eighth-grade classes, my guidance counselor wandered over and saw me pick algebra for eighth-grade math instead of geometry. I was retaking it, because I'd gotten a B, two C's, and an E, and didn't want that on my college applications. "So you're gonna want to pick geometry," she told me.
I shook my head. "I'm retaking algebra because I wasn't satisfied with my grades." I expected some sort of surprised pleasure, because I had actually opted to retake the most painful class ever because I knew I could do better, cared about my grades, and was thinking ahead to what colleges would want. This is the epitome of school-counseling recommendations.
Instead, she looked horrified. "Are you sure your parents are gonna be okay with that?" she asked.
 "Yeah," I assured her, holding up the page of courses I intended to take with my mom's signature on the bottom. "She signed off on it."
Mrs. F called Ms. A over and said, in a grim, grave voice, "We have a student here retaking algebra - and the parent's signed off on it."
Hypocrisy is alive and well in the school system, everyone!
11. At the beginning of the year, when Ms. A was explaining her homework chart, an elaborate system she had concocted that gave increasingly large, sugary rewards to the kids who finished all of theirs: “It’s lots of fun to have the kids who didn’t do all their homework watch you eating your ice cream without them.”
12. [Put a poster on the wall of Ms. A’s room reading You are valuable. Don’t let anyone make you believe differently.]
13. [Put cowardly on the list of adverbs on the wall.]
14. For an activity on Chasing Vermeer: the sentence Enjoy the packet of Pentomino's. (This from a professional reading teacher.)
15. From an English teacher: "The idea is to say as much as possible using the least amount of words possible."
16. Also from an English teacher: “Use sentence frames! You guys aren’t ready to write your own sentences.” (Note: My generation cannot be blamed for the inevitable cessation of new fiction.)
17. Admittedly, I've heard this secondhand, and never actually met the teacher in question, but my sister shared an anecdote of an art substitute who detailed the rules and then snapped, "It is so rude to raise your hand while I'm talking! If you have your hand up, it is covering your ear, so then you obviously can't hear me talk." I find this quite believable, sadly (see #20).
18. This is also secondhand: apparently, one of my friends had a Spanish teacher who asserted that one shouldn't date unless one is planning to marry the person they're dating.
19. A girl from my book club gave me an account of the time she wrote 42 on her paper, and her teacher insisted she erase it because the teacher "knew about you kids and your 420 reference to drugs." She protested that it was just the answer to life, the universe, and everything, but the teacher remained certain she was trying to sneak a marijuana reference in under her radar.
20. An English substitute I had when I was in sixth grade was explaining the rules to our class when she suddenly yelled, “Why are you raising your hand?! That’s so disrespectful!”
I swiveled in my seat to look, and there was Tommy, protesting, “I had a question!”
“Why would you raise your hand when I’m talking?” she demanded again. “Do your other teachers stand for this?”
“Um, yeah,” he muttered.
“Oh, I don’t think they do, young man,” she informed him coldly.

If anyone has any other anecdotes of unnecessary, ironic, mean, or stupid things they've heard teachers say, please leave them in the comments section. If I get enough, I'll compile another list.

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Saga of Mrs. S: Fourth Grade

    The MSA’s (Maryland State Assessments) were given every year to Maryland 3rd-8th graders in math and language arts, with science MSA’s for the 5th-graders and the 8th-graders. They are now replaced with the PARCC’s. I had to take the MSA through my sixth-grade year.

    When I was in third grade, no one cared. They took the test. They turned it in. That was the beginning and the end of it.

    Well, not quite. Everyone who took the MSA got a special Cougar Paw. This was my elementary school’s version of the typical school currency, which consists of a piece of paper reading Thank you for being respectful, responsible, and ready to learn with a picture of the school mascot. There are usually special ones for spirit days. They can generally be traded for a lame prize like showing up briefly on the morning announcements, or just swapped for some piece of made-in-China plastic junk. In my middle school, they were called merits, but were essentially the same thing. I’ve been to four schools, and three of them had some form or another of these. The one that didn’t was a preschool.

    These special Cougar Paws were entered into a drawing, and they’d pick a couple winners. This girl from my class, Ariela, actually won one of the prizes, and got to eat ice cream at lunch with two friends of her choice.

    In front of the rest of the third grade.

    But that was the worst of it. Therefore, I had no way of knowing that in fourth grade, the school would explode into a frenzy of test-taking panic.

    Ironically, the only ones who cared were the ones not actually taking the test.

    I first met Mrs. S when I wanted to run for SGA at the beginning of fourth grade. She was the head of the SGA, along with our counselor. She seemed like a very nice teacher at the time. And then they started the test prep.

    After my third-grade year, my elementary school decided it would be excellent preparation to have two practice MSA’s every year, for every grade. I wouldn’t have minded this - I tend to enjoy school-wide testing, because it’s an enjoyable break from normal classroom schedules and usually results in a great deal of reading time. But the MSA, being so very important to the future of America’s youth, required absolute security. No books. No drawing paper. I couldn’t even bring my water bottle, because of course, that would give me the opportunity to print a copy of the test answers, dissolve them in my water bottle, then, with the discreet addition of a top-secret chemical, magically implant the knowledge in my brain as I drank the water.

    These new rules changed everything. No longer were the tests a pleasant vacation from the boring schedule, they were five hours a day, two to four days, and now three times a year instead of just one, of boring testing time. What merit was there to filling out these stupid bubbles? I wondered. I used to pity those poor teachers who could only comprehend this bizarre method of determining our intelligence. Now I loathed them. There was no enjoyment whatsoever, I concluded, in taking thirty-five minutes to answer these useless questions if we had to sit and check our answers for the other eighty-five. So why would the teachers make us suffer through this any more than necessary?

    While I was seething about this offense, they were still scheming. And apparently, their master plan was to make us suffer through a month (if I remember correctly) of group test prep.

    For fourth and fifth grade, I was in a split-level class, with both fourth-graders and fifth-graders. And there on our schedule, with all the cute little illustrated strips of plastic reading Lunch and Math and Dismissal, were the big ugly new strips with MSA READING and MSA MATH in red and blue letters. From 11:45 am to 12:30 pm, I stayed with the rest of the fourth-graders in my class at a separate classroom and plowed (or rather inched) through a packet of reading comprehension or math problems.

    Nearly every day.

    Honestly, I cannot remember if it replaced our specials (art, music, PE, etc). It might have. I know we had them the same time we took our specials, but they might have just moved them to the  earlier mornings. But I hated it. Every day, I saw those new strips of plastic polluting my cheerful little kid-world schedule. And I had to actually suffer through this for forty-five minutes a day.

    For those of you who have read the Origami Yoda books, this was what FunTime was like. I swear, revisiting my elementary school calls up memories of McQuarrie. (For those of you who haven’t read the Origami Yoda books, you should, especially if you have kids. They may look lame at first glance, but they depict middle school very well and are quite entertaining. The ones with the test prep insanity are The Surprise Attack of Jabba the Puppett and Princess Labelmaker to the Rescue. Tom Angleberger, kids’ section of most public libraries. Trust me. Check one out.)

    First, Mrs. S would read the passage. Slowly. And we all had to follow along as she read. Slowly. And then we had to follow along some more as she worked through each and every question.


    “‘What was the most likely reason Joey did this? Do you think it’s A, he was trying to make a good impression on Mr. Smith, B, he didn’t like Fifi, C, he believes dogs should be treated like people, or D, he was lazy?’” Long pause. “What do you think? Mary?”

    “Um, C?”

    “C, he believes dogs should be treated like people? Hmm, I don’t know…let’s go back and reread this part of the text together.” [Long, slow reading of two paragraphs of text.] “So, do you think it’s C, or could it maybe be something else?” Another pause. “Johnny? Do you think the correct answer is C?”


    “What is it?”

    “I don’t know.”

    “Well, let’s look at this part again: ‘Joey was worried Fifi might make a mess on Mr. Smith’s lawn, and then he might be blamed for it.’” Yet another pause while I plaintively wonder what I did in my past life that was so much worse than murder that this was the hell I was sent to for it. “So what do you think, Johnny?”


    “Yes, it’s A. Can you tell me why it’s A, Johnny?”

    “Um…because he doesn’t want to get in trouble if Fifi poops on Mr. Smith’s lawn?”

    “Yes. He didn’t want Mr. Smith’s lawn to be ruined. Does everyone understand?” Nodding. Chorus of halfhearted yeses. “Brittany? Do you understand?”


    “Yes? You understand why it’s A?”


    “Okay. Now let’s look together at the next question. Wait - has everyone circled A?” Glances at our test papers. “Eowyn, we haven’t gotten there yet. The rest of us are still on page three.”

    I sullenly turn back six pages.

    “Okay. ‘Why did Mr. Smith give Joey twenty more dollars than he asked for?’”

    I would always work through the packet myself. I would read the excerpts about ten times faster than Mrs. S, read the questions, circle the answers right then and there, and move on. It would take me ten minutes, at most, to complete the packet. The way Mrs. S taught it, it took all forty-five excruciating minutes, and we usually didn't even finish in those forty-five.

    One time, I managed to finish the packet under her radar. She would always notice that I had gotten ahead and tell me I had to follow along with everybody else, so I would wait until her attention drifted away to stealthily turn back to where I was and continue the test. Sometimes she caught me up to three or four times per session, but what was she going to do with my continued disobedience? Send me to the office? I figured any punishment she would devise would probably end up merciful in comparison to staying there, so what did I have to lose? At this point, there were still about fifteen minutes left before our souls would be released, so I reread one of the less uninteresting passages to pass the time. At one point, I absently looked up to discover that the table was quiet.

    “What do you think?” Mrs. S asked, as if it was the second time she was asking it. I glanced down at my paper, hoping she wouldn’t notice my silent rebellion.

    “Let’s take another look at the story,” she said when there was no response. As she began to re-reread whatever loathsome passage we were being questioned on now, I relaxed and tuned back in to the story. I was reading through it to try to find each letter of the alphabet in turn, from A to Z, which is a trick I still use today to save my mind from the boredom when teachers make me follow along while someone’s reading aloud. (Actually, I’ve developed a new version, in which you skip over any letter that has a Scrabble value of 8 or higher - makes it a lot easier - but that doesn’t matter.)

    It didn’t occur to me until later that maybe she had been asking me the question, whatever the heck it was, and had mistaken my silence for lack of understanding, and I, engrossed in my one-page story, simply hadn’t heard.

    To this day, I wonder if she had been asking me. It doesn’t really matter any more, but I still wonder.

    Finally, FINALLY, the last day of the MSA prep came, and I was silently rejoicing. Sure, the first forty of the forty-five minutes would be the typical torture, but it was the last day. It felt like the Friday of the longest week ever.

    I endured the pain. I ignored the raw screaming of my soul as it slowly suffered. I was getting out of this hell, darn it, and that was cause enough for celebration.

    Finally, Mrs. S told us she had a special treat for us for doing so well.

    Food, I thought grudgingly. The teachers at my elementary school distributed nothing but food and Cougar Paws. And I was sensitive to food coloring - apparently everyone was, but I was the only one with a mother who knew about it, and thus wasn’t supposed to eat anything with artificial colors, aka school-delivered anything. I had to politely decline, and the teachers would act surprised and require an explanation anew, and then I’d have to sit there pretending I didn’t care while everyone else enjoyed cupcakes or doughnuts or lollipops or whatever.

    But it wasn’t food, much to my surprise. “You all get special new pencils you can use on the MSA,” she told us. I took mine and looked at it. I had plenty of pencils, and they gave us shiny new #2 pencils for the test each time we took it. But whatever.

    “It has a poem on the side to help you if you get nervous,” she continued.

    Nervous? Why do teachers always think we’re nervous? In elementary school, everyone’s too young to know they’re supposed to care about the MSA, and the results don’t even affect them in any way they can see. The teachers are the only ones who care.

    “Let’s read it. It says, ‘Take a deep breath, go with the flow, just do your best, and show what you know.’”

    I rolled my eyes to myself. Why, I wondered, did they bother? Why did they bother trying  to assure us the test was something basic and insignificant, something students could pass just fine by themselves and didn’t need to worry about, when they were the ones making a big deal about it? If anyone was actually nervous about the test, it would be because of all the emphasis they placed on it. Was it something we needed all these test-taking strategies and hours upon hours of mind-killing practice to pass, or something simple and meaningless? What did they want to portray the wretched thing as?

    “And then, because you guys are such smart cookies…” she continued, smiling broadly.

    I knew it was too good to be true.

    “I brought something else!” She took out a bin of M&M cookies.

    I wilted.

    While everyone else eagerly nibbled their cookies, I read the ingredients list on the bottom of the box in a hope even I knew was futile. M&Ms are artificially colored.

    So there I sat sullenly and watched everyone else eat their cookies. But I consoled myself with the reminder that this particular diabolical scheme was over and done with for the whole year, which was sweeter than any cookie.

The Saga of Mrs. S: Fifth Grade

    The next year, there were no prep sessions. I was in fifth grade and enjoying my year of seniority - the special ten-week Broadway unit in music class, reserved for fifth-graders, the mysterious Family Life (ha - even in fifth grade they make a big deal about nothing but gender stereotypes and periods), and the preparation for middle school.

    But there were still the practice MSA’s. And they still wouldn’t let us bring in books or drawing paper, even for the practice ones.

    I decided I was thoroughly fed up. I knew that Mrs. S was the testing coordinator. Therefore, I thought, I could just write her a letter explaining all of my thoughts as to why the practice MSA’s, or at least the no-books policy, was stupid.

    I don’t remember the content of the letter - basically, it was outlining my exasperation with the MSA worship and the strictness of the test security rules, and challenging the merit of the innumerable test prep and practice exam sessions. I thought it was pretty well-written, at least for a fifth-grader, and proudly asked my classroom teacher which teacher I should hand it in to (Mrs. S).

    Unfortunately, though, I was already late for the morning announcements at that point, so I hurried to Mrs. S's room, which happened to be on the way, conveniently enough, and knocked on the door.

    She opened it, and I saw she had someone else in the room. On the verge of panic, I mumbled, “Um, here,” thrust the letter at her, and fled. Not my finest moment - I would pay dearly for it.

    I think it was about a week later when they called me to the office in the middle of a very boring math lesson. I planned to thank Mom for coming at such a serendipitous time to drop off whatever it was she had come to drop off - that’s all they ever ask a student to come to the office for. That or early dismissal, but they mention it when that’s what they want. It didn’t occur to me that they actually wanted to talk.

    When I walked into the office, I saw no family members. Confused, I asked the secretary what she needed me for, and she sent me to a little back office, in which I saw Mrs. S, who was looking gravely at me, and Mrs. G, the principal, who seemed to at least be making an effort to appear more welcoming.

    “Hi, Eowyn,” she greeted me pleasantly. At this point, I had figured out they must want to talk to me about my letter, and was pleased that I was finally getting a real chance to state my case without being dismissed.

    “Hi,” I said in return.

    “So, we’re here to talk to you about your letter,” Mrs. G began, glancing at Mrs. S. I nodded.

    They weren’t, actually. They were there to lecture me about how rude it was to thrust a letter at someone, and how strongly it could sway the impact the letter might otherwise have, and all the more polite ways I could have given Mrs. S my letter. They were also there to ignore my apologies and explanations and say the same thing over and over again until I had to resist the urge to ask them if they had actually read the damn letter.

    Finally, finally, the discussion moved to the content of the letter, and I could shed my I-am-listening-solemnly-and-humbly-to-your-valuable-words-of-wisdom face and actually tune back in without feeling a number of brain cells drop dead.

    But they basically said what they always say: “If we let you read when the test is done, then everyone else will want to read too.”

    “Well,” I answered, “why can’t everyone else read? At least for the practice MSA’s - they don’t actually count for anything.”

    “But the purpose of the practice MSA’s is to get you in the habit so you can take the real test.” Mrs. G smiled, appearing confident that her words were making a good deal of impact on me. “Since you can’t read in the real MSA, it doesn’t make sense to let you read in the practice one.”

    I sighed, sensing defeat, but decided to try my luck at something else. “Why do we need practice MSA’s, anyway? Except for the third-graders, everyone’s already taken the test at least once. They’ve already had practice MSA’s. Why don’t we just have the third-graders take the practice ones, or could we at least just take one practice one a year?”

    [Pointless reply reciting importance of being ready for tests]

    Most of my further inquiries were met by some form or another of this lecture, even the questions that weren’t actually asking about it, until I could tell that they were just reciting standard answers and not actually listening, and I was going to get absolutely nowhere. I politely thanked them for their time (or the fifth-grade equivalent of politely thanking someone for their time; I don’t remember what exactly I said to excuse myself) and got up to leave.

    “So, Eowyn, whaddaya think?” asked Mrs. G, grinning broadly. “Do you think you can muster up the stamina to take the tests?”

    Had I had a few more years to perfect my response, I would have retorted, “If you think my objection to the MSA’s had anything to do with my stamina, then this whole conversation was a waste of my time,” and stalked out. But, as I only had a few seconds, I stared dumbly at her, sensing I would later think of a good comeback, and mumbled, “Yes,” then slunk out, defeated.

    Advanced reading group with Mrs. S was just soooo fun the rest of the year! She harbored absolutely no grudges against me.

    When Linda lent me her copy of A Wrinkle in Time, lost it right before the reading group met, then blamed me, Mrs. S looked at me with the same grave disappointment she had in the office, and kept saying, “I just don’t know where it could have gone,” every time I protested my innocence and insisted I had given it back to Linda. When Linda found it at the bottom of her backpack, though, Mrs. S made up for it by apologizing profusely (note the sarcasm) for jumping to conclusions when it was my word against Linda’s and no incriminating evidence against me whatsoever.

    We had to read A Wrinkle in Time 1-2 chapters per week, depending on the length of the chapter. God forbid you get bored at a craft show, catch up on your reading, then suddenly find the book so riveting you read just one more chapter, then one more, and then the next thing you know you’re done with the book and have no regrets.

    Thing was, we were only supposed to have read through Chapter 3 at the time, so I had to keep my uncomfortable secret for quite a few weeks.

    When we read Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s autobiography, I humored my mother and read it in the assigned chunks, but all that obedience was driving me nuts, so when Mrs. S decided we should read Shiloh next, since it was one of the author's most famous books, I went straight to the school library, checked it out, and started reading. (The trilogy was excellent, by the way. Did you know they released a fourth?)

    The last day of reading group, we celebrated. Mrs. S and I had conflicting ideas of what exactly we were celebrating. She thought we were celebrating a successful year of reading, collaboration, and learning. I was celebrating the fact that it was over and I had maintained my self-control, through the agony, and not screamed my desperation to Cthulhu.

    She offered us all lollipops, but I wanted to read the ingredients list first. She always looked disapproving when I brought up that I couldn’t have artificial colors, like she thought I was just making it up to cause trouble. When the print was too small for the human eye to decipher, and, to be safe, I thanked her for the offer but said I would pass, she gave me a you-know-that’s-not-necessary-and-you’re-just-being-a-jerk look and chided, in a voice that mirrored her look, “Would it really kill you to have one just once?”

    I stared at her - not as a deer caught in headlights, but in righteous indignation. I was, much to my regret, still speechless.

    “I mean-” she switched her tone to wounded “-I brought these in to be nice.”

    “I know,” I replied through gritted teeth. “And I’m sorry. But I’d rather be on the safe side and not have one.”

    She sighed, like I was a lost cause not even worthy of further rudeness, and replied, “Well, it’s your choice.”

    Later, I got the joyous news that Mrs. S was leaving, gone to teach in another county, never to return!

    Hallelujah! There is justice in this world! May she be faced with countless children who have my heart, soul, and food allergies, and may their tongues be swifter and sharper than mine were at the time, so she may die by the scorn of her students - for I, too, can harbor grudges.

    I then encountered the child-loathing sadist Ms. A, the other one, my health teacher Mr. B, and, most recently, my science teacher Mr. A, who actually wasn’t that awful most of the time but disliked me for numerous invalid reasons. But now I’m off to high school, with all of them in my past, and now I have student court training that has prepared me to generate killer comebacks on the spot. So, future child-loathing sadists, beware!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Health Class: An Unhealthy Skepticism

    Health class didn’t have many new flaws that I could develop whole posts on, so I’ll just summarize the quarter in one lengthy one.

    Mr. B, my health teacher, does not just recite the health curriculum. He preaches it, with passion and conviction. If there is the middle-school-teacher equivalent of a fire-and-brimstone preacher, that is Mr. B.

    Of course, he can’t actually tell us we’re going to hell if we have premarital sex or get an abortion, though he may as well.

    He is also one of the school’s biggest sticklers for collaboration (cue sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns barfing glitter). He religiously follows his group-generating computer program, which sorts us into groups by our assigned numbers (I’m sorry, but does that remind anyone else of The Giver?) for every stupid assignment. We have to read whatever agonizing two-page document we’re writing about (out loud, and preferably taking turns so everyone gets a chance to contribute), then fill in each box at a time. God forbid we get ahead of the timer and do box number 3 when we were supposed to still be doing box number 2, especially if there are a whole twenty seconds of friend-making goodness left on box number 2. And, of course, we have to brainstorm each and every answer as a group and encourage everyone to share their valuable ideas about how Josh could tell Maria he doesn’t want to have sex with her yet.


    We had one assignment where we were supposed to get into groups and create a skit promoting abstinence and sharing our opinions on why teens should wait to have sex (because, of course, the extremely convincing, teen-friendly, not-remotely-influenced-by-religion abstinence lessons transforms everyone in the classroom into a good little child who won’t dream of ever flushing their lives down the toilet by having sex - there’s no chance anyone has *gasp* different opinions). This horrified my mother - and I can’t say I felt too different, though I was more or less resigned to it at that point. I mean, it’s one thing to force opinions down our throats, it’s another to make us regurgitate them and present them as our own.

    Oh - and then, to give us ideas for our skit, Mr. B treated us to two brief videos meant to inspire us. The first featured Benjamin Franklin saying, “I’m here to talk to you about abstinence. You may think teen pregnancies can never happen to you. Well, think again! [Quotes statistic]” (The link below is from Bing, because I couldn't find it on its original website, Then it ends with the particularly charming, "So, before you have sex, think of me, Benjamin Franklin!"


    So now some old white guy in a wig who lived so long ago that abortions and birth control didn’t exist, premarital sex just wasn’t acceptable, and girls were supposed to stay at home and raise children, is considered someone we’ll want to listen to?

    First of all, he knows nothing about how modern society views sex and gender roles, so he’s not even a valid symbol. Second, is he supposed to be like, “Oh, boys and girls of the 21st century, if you ever have questions about sex, come to me! I’m only a couple hundred years older than you. You can trust me. I’m just like one of you!”

    No. That’s creepy. It’s not funny and it’s even less effective.

    The second video was a teenage boy begging a crying baby to stop crying just for one night - I assume he was portraying a teen father.

    Not that I know much about parenthood, but isn’t that how it goes? Babies cry. You lose sleep begging your infant to calm down and receive no reward for it. It’s not like if you wait until marriage, parenting is suddenly some perfectly smooth ride where everyone gets lots of sleep and the children are always pleasant and agreeable. Ultimately, parenthood is parenthood, teen parent or not. So is the goal to keep us from ever having babies? Is the point of the video to leave this generation permanently disillusioned with the notion of ever becoming a parent?

    The rubric was typical. I don’t remember too much, but there’s stuff like Our health enhancing position (abstinence) is extremely clear. You know, just in case we hadn’t gotten the message the first 13 squillion times.

    Only one group prepared an actual skit, as opposed to a brief speech or something. It was kind of funny, I’ll admit, but…well, here’s how it went down:

Tom: [Pretends to knock on student who is playing door, for lack of a third role]
Grace: [Pretends to open “door”] Yes?
Tom: [Giggling awkwardly in a manner I can’t imagine was in the script, but is realistic regardless] Um, so, hey, do you wanna have sex?
Grace: Why?
Tom: [Looking genuinely confused] Um…I don’t know…I guess…because I wanna feel good?
Grace: Well, okay. What should we use?
Tom: Well, I’ve got some condoms…
Grace: I have a better idea.
Tom: What’s that?
Grace: [Smirking slightly] Abstinence. [Slams door]

    Well, on the bright side, Grace has absolutely no chance of getting pregnant with Tom’s child in the near future.

    In fact, Grace will probably never get pregnant with Tom’s child, or, if she keeps this up, with anyone’s, because I foresee a lot of embarrassment, hurt, angry rows, and an inevitable breakup in Tom and Grace’s near future that the skit conveniently omits - not because Grace didn’t want to have sex with Tom, but because Tom was perfectly nice about it, and Grace was a complete jerk to him. Is this the sort of healthy-relationship behavior teachers want to promote? It doesn’t matter if you’re completely rude to your boyfriend/girlfriend, as long as you don’t have sex?

    Mr. B, of course, ate it up with a spoon, which in my humble opinion is sick.

    He also taught us about birth control, which, admittedly, I give him credit for. I didn’t think he had the stomach to explain so many options and how they work. He kind of ruined the effect, though, by going over how effective each method was and then saying, “So, which is the only method that has a complete guarantee of, you know, of not getting pregnant, or getting an STD?”

    Gee, I can’t imagine.

    “That’s right - abstinence. That’s really the only reason I taught you about birth control, so you can see that abstinence is the only method of birth control with a 100% guarantee.”

    One girl asked, “What if you get raped?” to which he simply conceded, “That’s different,” but never elaborated. This had occurred to me - you can plan on abstinence and all, but there’s always a risk.

    As my friend Helene pointed out, that’s not entirely true. If you get a vasectomy or tubal ligation, as long as it's done properly, there’s no chance of getting pregnant. No guarantees about STI’s, admittedly, but still.

    That wasn’t it, though. There was a whole list of reasons abstinence was the best choice for teens - one of the most questionable, in my opinion, being that it was “the expected standard.”

    And we all know how Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks, and Susan B. Anthony, and Malala Yousafzai (shall I go on?) adhered to their expected standards.

    Then there was the lesson on teen pregnancies, which, of course, they just tied in with the abstinence lessons. It basically portrayed teen pregnancies - the babies, the parents, the pregnancies themselves - as this huge burden on society. He talked about how many tax dollars were spent funding them (I’m not sure what “funding them” meant; for whatever reason, he never elaborated on that either) and had us fill out worksheets listing possible physical, financial, and emotional impacts on teen parents, their parents, and their children.

    Something else my friend Helene pointed out was something that had never occurred to me, but was a very good point nonetheless: There are children in our generation who are themselves the results of unintentional teenage pregnancies. How will it feel to them, being portrayed as burdens? What is the emotional impact on them of seeing the video of a teen mother saying, “I love my daughter, but I really wish I’d never had sex?” and imagining that is how their parents feel about them? The whole guilt tactic strategy won’t just hit teenage parents, they’ll hit their children, possibly harder.

    So there was all this talk and all these contrived worksheets about how you basically give up your life if you have a baby as a teenager, and I kept waiting for them to get to the other options, and they never did. Finally, sick of having to generate innumerable ideas of how caring for a baby would destroy my life, I raised my hand and said, “This is true if you decide to keep the baby, but what if you get an abortion or put the baby up for adoption?”

    “We don’t cover those here,” Mr. B answered, in a tone that indicated that this would change over his dead body, and the subject was dropped.

    I’ll just bet the people writing the curriculum overlooked two major options for teenage mothers completely by accident, and it’s never occurred to them that they’re presenting a completely skewed and inaccurate portrayal of teenage pregnancy. I’m sure they never realized that they are totally failing to educate girls about their options in a situation that will permanently alter their lives. I mean, the adults in charge of deciding what we should learn about healthy relationships and sexualities, how to handle a teenage pregnancy, and even such basic things as reproductive anatomy and feminine hygiene…they obviously have our best interests in mind and wouldn’t leave us uneducated in a desperate, feeble effort to keep us from ever having sex. America is clearly in better hands than that.

Which, I suppose, is also why we have one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancies in the civilized world.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Extremely Solemn Answers to a Very Important Test

    Wow, I haven’t been here for ages. Health class wasn’t nearly as full of material as I expected, much to my disappointment (though I stand by my theory that my teacher, who doesn’t just recite the curriculum, but preaches it, is attempting to prevent the birth of a future generation). And then, with summer vacation, I haven’t had much to write about, so I went back to a couple of old posts I was working on, to warm back up for the flood of new grievances high school shall undoubtedly bring.

    The Algebra 1 PARCC (the new-but-not-exactly-improved MSA) is a high school graduation requirement, but last year, you didn’t actually have to pass to get the required credit. So, basically, I spent the first two test blocks reading, then I semi-took the third Algebra 1 PARCC.

    I tried to answer all the multiple-choice ones correctly - and I’m quite confident I did. But I was planning to type completely random answers for all the written (typed?) responses. For some, they would only let you type numbers, so I had to get creative. I used 666, 3.14159, 42, etc., and when all else failed, I alphabetized them (eight, nine, one, all the way to zero). I doubt the poor baffled humans (robots?) that read them will have any idea what was going on in my head, but too bad.

    Still, there were plenty of verbal responses to take advantage of. In one page, they only had one answer box, so I wrote Don’t blink. All by itself, it looked like a genuine warning at first glance, like if you blinked, something bad was actually going to happen. Another page had four separate boxes. In the first two, I wrote Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die, and You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means. In the bottom two, I wrote What is the average air velocity of an unladen swallow? and Your mother was a hamster and your father smelt of elderberries. (I heard some other kid answered this on some other standardized test, which is what gave me the idea. Thank you, unknown student!)

    One of my favorites, though, was (approximately) the following:

These two number systems have no solution. Use at least two strategies to explain why they have no solution.

    To which I replied:

    Like life, these two number systems have no solution, unless you count the answer to life, the universe, and everything. However, 42 does not work mathematically; thus, we can conclude that these number systems were written in a parallel universe.

    But I wasn’t the only one writing less-than-serious answers. According to my friends, one wrote, to the last question, I don’t know how to solve this problem. Goodbye. Another wrote No to a question asking her to write a function and I don’t understand how to solve this to another. The second day of the algebra PARCC, I was still reading, but after the test, two of my friends complained about some problem involving e-mails and popcorn. If I understand their explanations correctly, it gave a table showing the relationship (apparently, none) between the number of people who responded to some e-mail and the number of bags of popcorn someone else bought. One acknowledged that he had just written “some shit answer” and the other apparently tried to give a legitimate-seeming answer, but, once the test was over, muttered, “That depends. Is it free-range popcorn? Is it gluten-free popcorn?”

    When I told some of my other friends about my joke answers, most were simultaneously shocked and delighted, one seemed horrified (much to my surprise), and all of them agreed that the test was stupid.

    I never thought I’d say this, but I can’t wait until next year’s!

Monday, January 25, 2016

My English Story

     This is the Narrative With Theme I submitted for English class. The only comment I got was FYI - all the English classes at [School] are called Advanced English. But I also got full credit, by some miracle of the Flying Spaghetti Monster.

                                                              Moral Character

    Anyone who does not know the difference between an adjective and an adverb by eighth grade should not be in advanced English.
    It’s not enough for me to score better than 90% of juniors in writing and better than 94% in reading when I take the PSAT in seventh grade. It’s not enough for me to be able to write dialogue perfectly, pick out usage errors most adults miss, and read about four books a week - six, if I’ve been to the public library yesterday and have started binge-reading. I still have to take grade-level English and learn the same material, year after year.
    It is boring as hell.
    I stare at the list of speech parts without seeing it. Beneath my bored-teenager shell, my mind silently rages at whatever cruel creature decided students should be able to take tenth-grade math classes in middle school but couldn’t go above eighth-grade English. This world is prejudiced against the verbally oriented.
    “Adverbs are used to describe...who can tell me?” asks the teacher, as if the inner workings of language are a great mystery. A wordless scream dies somewhere in the general vicinity of my tonsils.
    Some kid in the front eventually ventures, “Verbs?”
    “That’s right,” the teacher declares, approaching the board and scanning the sentences written there from the warm-up as if he needs to find the adverbs for himself before he can ask us about them. Then he turns. “So, what do adverbs usually end with?”
    I tune out the teacher’s droning voice. I need something else to think about, so my mind slinks off to its default - fine-tuning the details of my most recently planned story.
    Five minutes later - and please note that five minutes is an extremely long time to be sitting around listening to teachers go over four different parts of speech you mastered in third grade - the teacher finishes going over the warm-up and starts on the details of our next assignment. At this point, my mind is already submerged in the tale of a girl living in an authoritarian theocracy, and it seems to have no desire whatsoever to leave, so I tune in at occasional intervals to make sure I get the gist. But it rapidly becomes clear that this assignment is too complicated to pay attention to in brief spurts, so I wrench my brain away from the far more interesting activity it is currently engrossed in and force myself to listen (relatively) attentively.
    “...already know what you want to do, you can just get started on your narrative,” the teacher is saying.
    Finally! A story - what I do best. Maybe I can finally squeeze out a piece of writing that comes remotely close to my usual standard of writing. Of course, my essay comparing three retellings of The Twelve Dancing Princesses was satisfactory, as was my analysis of Song of the Shieldwall for figurative language from seventh grade, but I wrote those at home. School assignments are so full of suffocating rubrics: Develop this idea in that paragraph. Include this many quotes to Support Your Answer. Conclude this way.
    Be creative, as long as you do it on our terms.
    “I’m passing out plot charts so you can map your stories. These need to be completed before you start writing,” continues the teacher.
    Wait. What?
    I should have known it was too good to be true. In the past, I’ve always found ways to evade plot charts - typically by writing the story, and then filling out the plot chart. It’s going to be harder this time, I suspect.
    They’re so rigid, so unnatural. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you can’t force a story. You have to let it evolve naturally. If you plan too much, you’ll have to turn away inspiration when it comes, so you can stick to the plan. I hate how confining plot charts are.
    The boy in front of me hands one to me. I take it like it’s a dead animal.
    “These have to be done by Wednesday,” the teacher informs us. “But for now, put those away. We’re going to look at punctuating dialogue.”
    My head sinks slowly to my desk.
    I agonize over my sad, sorry excuse for a life, in true teenager fashion, while the teacher calls up a bunch of sentences on the board.
    I am making apple pie said the girl
    Spencer asked are you coming to the Christmas party
    I stare at them, unimpressed.
    “What do we need to do to start?” the teacher asks, in a fake I have no idea how to deal with these words, so please, middle-schoolers, help me voice. “Grace?”
    I snap to attention. “Put quotation marks around ‘I am making apple pie’ and ‘are you coming to-’”
    “Don’t do them all at once,” he interrupts. “Let’s take this one part at a time. So you said put quotation marks around…?”
    My eyes flutter briefly closed. “‘I am making apple pie.’”
    “Right!” the teacher exclaims, as if I’ve just figured out the answer to life, the universe, and everything (42).
    That’s the thing. Language isn’t that hard. Words aren’t a great mystery. At least not for me. I just understand words - the subtlest differences between one word and another. I know how they’re used in stories, like how the word softly almost means quietly, but not quite, because softly has an extra gentleness. It’s not something I can explain, I just know. I’ve absorbed them, I guess, from reading so much. It’s the same way I intuitively know how to write dialogue, how to use metaphors, even before I was taught.
    I don’t think anyone else understands that.
    Fifteen merciless minutes later, the bell rings, and I flee in desperation.
    “How was school?” my mom asks cheerfully when I step through the front door.
    I say the only thing on my mind: “English sucks.”
    A look of worry darts across her face. “I’m sorry. What are you doing in English?”
    “Parts of speech,” I groan, flopping dramatically onto the couch. “For about the seven hundred seventy-seventh time.”
    She grimaces sympathetically. “Still? Aren’t you supposed to be in advanced English?”
    “That’s what I said.” Alas, I was the only person around I could say it to without the high risk of receiving a lunch detention.
    “Maybe just ask your teacher how long you’re going to be doing this for,” she suggests. “Tell him you feel you already know this stuff.”
    “He’ll just say ‘You can always get better.’” Bile rises in my throat at the thought of his favorite saying. “I wish I could tell him that I was reading in preschool.”
    “You could. Whether he’d believe you is another story.”
    “True.” I wander over to my bag of leftover Halloween candy. Supplies are getting low, but I think I’m entitled to a Reese’s cup today.
    “Well, how was the rest of your day?”
    I shrug. “About normal. We got a new piece in orchestra, all the other girls in my gym class thought the volleyball would bite them if they let it get too close, and algebra was incredibly dull.” I take my first bite of chocolate, savoring the salty sweetness. “Science was fun, at least.”
    Two chocolates later, I begin the heinously complicated task of removing my binder from the stubborn jaws of my backpack, and, grunting with triumph, heave it onto the dining room table. I flip through the frayed mess of papers that fills the vast majority of my binder until I find and remove the loathsome plot chart.
    Where to begin? I thought I wanted to get this over with quickly, but now I’m not so sure.
    I think the teacher told us we had to start with the moral. He clings stubbornly to the belief that every story in existence has a moral, which I think is kind of crazy. One day, he gave us a warm-up in which we were supposed to identify the moral of our favorite book or movie from our early childhood.
    To prove my point, I said that I really liked the book Goodnight Moon when I was little and that it didn’t have a moral. The teacher asked me what I thought the author’s message to the reader was, to which I replied, “‘Go to sleep’?”
    He then informed me that I was being really immature and obviously would not do well in the following unit. The next day, when I asked him what he thought the message of Goodnight Moon was, he said he didn’t know.
    Go figure.
    [Yes, you can see that I didn't incorporate any real-life experiences into this story.]
    Seriously, what is the moral of, I don’t know, Cinderella? Spend your lifetime taking crap from an abusive stepparent, and some chick with a wand will eventually solve all your problems for you?
    Or Sleeping Beauty? What in the world is the moral of Sleeping Beauty?!
    Struck by a sudden inspiration, I write in the blank next to Moral: Not all stories have morals.
    Now, how to set about proving my point?
    Once I decide what I want to write, I head straight down to the computer and get started. My fingers fly over the keyboard as satisfying blocks of text stack neatly on the screen. Once I finish, I edit here and there, refining my language, fixing the occasional typo, and finally bringing down the Great Plot Chart of Wretchedness to fill out.
    There. Narrative done, right off the bat, and not even the plot chart could thwart this story. Maybe my English teacher will finally see what I mean - and that I can write.
    Two days pass in an infinity of solving for x, squabbling with violists, recording moon observations, and interactively studying torts. Then the rough drafts of our narratives are due in English, and I proudly submit mine, waiting eagerly for judgment.
    The moment of excitement doesn’t last long, though, because it turns out the teacher won’t read them until he gets home, and we’re learning “new” ways to punctuate dialogue.
    All. Blasted. Period.
    The next day, and the next, prove no more enjoyable. He still hasn’t read them. But now it’s a weekend, so when I come back on Monday, he’s bound to have looked at the stories, and then I’ll get some critique.
    Sure enough, on Monday, as soon as I step into the room, he says, “Grace, could I have a word, please?”
    I’m the first one in, so no one else has to witness this. He leads me to the back of the room, where he opens a laptop that’s been sitting on the desk to reveal the familiar pages of my story.
    “Shall we read this together?”
    “If you want.” I hope he isn’t going to read it aloud. “Should I-”
    “ it through. You don’t have to say it out loud.”
    So I do.

    Once upon a time, there was a little girl named Emily. Her English teacher told her that every story had a moral, or life lesson, that she could use in reality.
    Then one night, Emily’s mother read her a book of fairy tales. Emily decided she would try to use the morals of the fairy tales to help her survive the cruel world of Middle School.
    When the queen bee, Lily, started teasing Emily about her clothing, Emily remembered how Cinderella coped with mean girls, and how nicely her story ended. So Emily never said anything mean to Lily, no matter how many times she wanted to make a biting comment, and remained a little angel of a girl.
    Then the school dance came up, and Lily told Emily she better not try to put in an appearance because her crush was going to be there. Unbeknownst to Lily, Emily had been crushing on the same boy. But she didn’t say anything to Lily about it.
    However, as fairy godmothers are fictitious creatures and the generosity of parents can only be stretched so far, no one came and gave Emily a beautiful dress, highly impractical dancing shoes, and a private chariot to take her to the school dance.
    Emily’s crush asked Lily out at the dance, which Emily heard all about the next day, and she was heartbroken. But, being too innocent for her own good, Emily stupidly did not lose faith in the moral power of the fairy tales.
    Then, when she accidentally threw her basketball onto the garage roof while shooting hoops, Emily recalled the story The Frog Prince, and called her taller older brother, who, being male, bore an adequate amount of resemblance to a frog, and promised to give him her allowance if he would get her ball down for her.
    Her brother retrieved the ball for Emily. But then Emily remembered that the frog turns into a prince at the end, and as there was no chance of that happening with her brother, she was now set up to fork out twenty dollars with no happy ending in sight.
    Then she recalled how the heroine in Rumpelstiltskin had gotten out of a bad deal, and begged her brother for a second chance. However, it is a well-known fact of life that brothers do not have the same generosity as your typical fairy creature, and her brother told her to get lost.
    Emily’s parents made her pay the twenty dollars she had promised. And Emily learned a valuable lesson: Not all stories have morals.

    “I believe a better moral for this story would be ‘Not all morals can be interpreted literally,” coaxed the teacher.
    “Or ‘If you try to read a moral into a story that doesn’t have one, disaster will strike’,” I reply dryly.
    He pauses. “I’m not so sure that’s an effective moral, because all those fairy tales do have morals.”
    “Like what?”
    “Well, Cinderella is about being kind no matter what,” he begins.
    “That’s my point. That’s what Emily tried doing, and look where it got her. Friendless, miserable, and at the bottom of the social ladder.”
    My teacher frowns. “What about ‘no good deed goes unpunished’, then?”
    “But Emily’s brother did a good deed, and he got paid twenty dollars for it. It would be silly to suggest and then immediately contradict my own moral,” I argue, channeling my inner Daria Morgendorffer.
    “Well,” he responds testily, clearly beginning to lose patience, “I’d like you to change your moral.”
    “I’m sure,” my teacher continues, slipping from snappish to patronizing, “that a smart girl like you can find another moral. And….” He bites his lip. “Maybe get rid of the tension between Emily and Lizzie, or at least...ease up on it a bit.”
    “Lily. And no, it’s a key element of the story. The rivalry between the two girls brings the agonies of middle school to life, illustrates just how sad and friendless Emily is due to her failure to think for herself, and emphasizes the stupidity of being unconditionally kind to people who don’t deserve it.”
    “I’m not sure that’s a life lesson…” He trails off.
    “Look,” I answer tersely, trying to keep my own patience. “If Emily had stood up to Lily, she would have sent the message that she’s not the kind of person who takes crap from shallow, thoughtless jerks, thus saving herself the trouble of being seen as an easy victim. But she didn’t. And that’s where she learns her lesson: In fantasy, passive creatures such as Cinderella can gain happy endings off of nothing more than a stroke of luck, but in reality, you need to stand up for yourself.”
    “Then why don’t you make that your moral?” The bell rings as my teacher presses a hand to his forehead.
    “Not the whole story is about-”
    “I don’t care what you do, but please change your moral,” he interjects, walking to the front of the room.
    The moral of this story is: Not all stories have morals.
Blogger's note:The alternate ending to Grace's story, which I did not include for obvious reasons, was meant to neutralize Snow White (and make fun of health class) and is written below:

     The next day, there was a shooting at Emily's school. Emily took a bullet to the stomach and slowly bled to death. The ugliest boy in the school, who had a secret crush on Emily, crawled over to her, ignoring the gaping bullet wound in his shoulder, and planted a kiss on her cold, dead lips. But, as it was just a kiss and lacked anticoagulant (not to mention chemistry), Emily remained dead. Not only did Emily remain dead, but it turned out she had HIV, so as the boy kissed her bloody lips, he contracted the virus and subsequently died at the age of fourteen.
     No one lived happily ever after. Or lived at all.