Saturday, November 28, 2015

Themes vs Morals, Opinion vs Fact

    As my friend Erica so aptly put it, “English is either the worst class or the best class.”

    When I was in sixth grade, English was the best class (well, except for my electives, but that’s to be expected). My sixth-grade English teacher was one of the best teachers I ever had, and she actually gave us cool assignments. She was strict, but not in a dictator-like fashion, and she had a sense of humor.

    Since then, English has been “the worst class”. Well, except for algebra - last year algebra was far worse than English - but English was kind of boring. It just wasn’t the worst. Then our teacher retired during the third quarter and we got an extremely unpopular sub. I felt kind of sorry for her - she didn’t deserve the bad reputation she got. In fact, I rather enjoyed the class where everyone kept tripping over the word “bosom” while we were reading A Midsummer Night’s Dream and she made all the boys in the class say “bosom” with her five times.

    This year, though, it fits the description perfectly. English is the worst class. My friend Joshua actually fell asleep during class. Teachers make jokes about kids falling asleep in class, but that almost never happens. It actually did. (For everyone but Joshua and the teacher, it was rather comical, which is good, because we were exceedingly bored up until that point. I fantasized about doing the same, but Joshua sat in the back and I was right up front, so I would have had a harder time concealing it.) The fact that it did happen means more than you might think.

    My teacher also insists that every story has a theme. (By “theme”, she means “moral”, as in lesson, like Aesop’s Fables.) Erica and I agreed that’s not very accurate - can you name a moral for A Wrinkle in Time? The Diary of Anne Frank? The Call of the Wild?

    We also have to do this thing called “Cornell Notes” for the literature circle books we’ve read. We never did that before. In sixth grade, we had to write down significant quotes from the book and interpret them. I thought this was kind of a pain, but not every assignment is fun, and it at least made sense. When I was in seventh grade, we were quizzed on the assigned sections of the books, which seemed perfectly logical. Cornell Notes are sheets of paper where you divide the paper into three columns. One has “key terms”, the next has detailed notes on the term (which apparently need to include quotes or they don’t count), and the third has the page number where you found the event.

    For my first-quarter book, I listed the names of characters and settings, then identified them in the second column. These notes got a hundred percent.

    When I turned in the first page of Cornell Notes for my second-quarter book, they got a zero.

    I used the exact same method I had for the last one, which got me full credit. Apparently, for key terms, you couldn’t just write the names of characters and then elaborate on them; you had to write “Characters”, then list significant characters in the next column. And you needed to include quotes, apparently. I imagine this was said in class and I missed it, but it seemed perfectly logical to me that what earned full credit the previous quarter would do the same this quarter. Apparently not.

    We are now writing persuasive essays. Troublemaker that I am, I am writing against the use of merits at my school to determine the players in the student/staff basketball game (a time-honored school tradition in which students go to the gym during their P.E. or health period, and then choose to sit on the bleachers or join the students’ basketball team for that period, which this year students have to pay merits - pieces of paper they are given when they do something “good” - to play). I was thoroughly offended that they had hijacked one of the few times in which students and teachers are (were) treated as equals.

    For some reason, none of the websites we’re allowed to research on have a great deal of information on the use of rewards and punishments in school, so I asked if I could use other sources.

    “What other sources did you have in mind?”

    “Well, I know some other websites that have information on this stuff…there’s this blog called The Answer Sheet…”

    “No blogs,” she replied sharply. “Those are all opinion.”

    “They defend their claims,” I assured her - teachers love those academic-sounding phrases.

    “Doesn’t matter,” she answered dismissively.

    She later said that blogs are “all opinion, no fact, just people sitting at computers.”

    This saga will be continued when I receive critique for my persuasive essay.

    The moral of this story is: English is either the best class or the worst class.   

Friday, November 20, 2015

Palm Trees, Vikings, and Bullying (oh my)

        A few weeks ago, we had a counseling lesson on cliques.

       If you have one counseling lesson, you've had them all. I had a counseling lesson on cliques in fifth grade, and the only thing that was different about the one in eighth grade was the lack of a picture book.

        Counseling lessons are all about things we already know. Don't be mean, accept each others' differences, the smallest acts of kindness are important, blah, blah, blah. And they're all taught through the use of some highly irrelevant activity, i.e., looking at a picture of a palm tree and a picture of a Viking and brainstorming ways they are similar (which, yes, we actually had to do).

        Anyway, this particular one was supposed to get us ready for Mix It Up Day, a highly unpopular yearly tradition at my school. The period before lunch, students get armbands from their teachers, which are given out randomly. Each armband is a different color, so when you get to the cafeteria, you sit at the table marked with your color and complete an endlessly boring, useless activity with the other people there. It's meant to get you to hang out with new people and to promote teamwork. The counselors always come in shortly before Mix It Up Day and spend a whole class period lecturing us on making sure the whole group is involved and working as a team. It's basically telling introverts (people who prefer to be alone and work better independently, like me) that they need to meet new people and learn to "collaborate" (a word I have come to loathe with all my heart, they've told it to me so many times), or they won't succeed in life.

        Ironically, it's also about accepting each others' differences.

      I had a doctor's appointment that day and was fortunate enough to miss the last ten minutes of this lecture. The rest I was forced to endure like everybody else.

        So I tuned out the first ten minutes of "respect everyone's differences" and waited for the eighth-grade counselor to get to the worksheet that would undoubtedly come. When it came, it was a five-question survey we had to fill out by ourselves.

1. How often do you sit with the same people at lunch?

a) Always
b) Sometimes
c) Rarely

        We have assigned seats. Granted, we get to choose them, but then we have to sit there all the time - so they can "find us". (Whenever they're looking for someone in the lunchroom, they call them over the microphone anyway, by the way, so I don't know why they bother.)

2. Your friend group usually _____ other people.

a) Makes fun of
b) Ignores
c) Welcomes

    Depends on the people.

3. You usually feel _____ about meeting new people.

a) Annoyed
b) Nervous
c) Excited

    Um…all of the above, like most people on Earth…?

     (In case you can’t tell, the “right” answers are the C's.)

4. When you make a decision, you tend to weigh the opinions of:

a) Your friends
b) Your family
c) Yourself

    Well, obviously, I weigh my own opinions, but, depending on the decision, I may also ask my friends and/or family. It depends on the people who will be impacted by the decision.

    I don’t remember the fifth question. But, basically, you get the gist. If you answered mostly A's, you were supposed to look at your circle of friends and ask yourself if you’re in a clique. If you answered mostly B's, you were supposed to try to think for yourself a little more.

    Funny…whenever I “think for myself” around teachers, I get in trouble.

    Go figure.



    I’m Eowyn (name changed to protect the guilty), and I'm in the ninth grade in Maryland. I have created this blog from a series of rants I would love to but cannot say to my teachers because a) they will give me detention, b) they will ignore me, because I am fifteen years old and don't have a psychology degree, or c) all of the above.

       I will also include stories of interesting school happenings, thought-provoking conversations with fellow classmates, and some of my more personal musings about the general shortcomings of education from my point of view as a student.

        And - unlike in school - if you get bored, you can leave and I'll never know. But hopefully, you will find this more interesting than the formula for slope or the different kinds of figurative language. If you don't, either you love school more than is healthy, or I need to pay a lot more attention in English class (which I probably do already, but oh well).

        I hope students will be able to relate and parents and teachers actually get something out of this, and maybe understand teenagers a little better.