Heard while driving home from Tess’s basketball game earlier.
“But Dad, I’m the only one in my class who doesn’t have a cell phone.”
“I know Sweetie, but that’s not a great reason for getting one.”
“But Dad, it’s like embarassing.”
“I’m sorry Tess, really. Mom and I will talk about it again, but for now…”
Silence for a few minutes.
“So, anything happen at school today?”
“Ugh. We got a writing assignment.”
“A writing assignment? What kind?”
“We’re learning persuasive essays.”
“Persuasive essays? Well that’s kind of appropriate.”
“Like, what do you mean?”
“Well, don’t you have something you want to persuade me to do?”
She looks at me and smiles. “Cell phone!” Pause. “Ugh.”
“I can’t do it on cell phones.”
“”Cause I had to pick from a list.”
“And you picked…”
“Why we shouldn’t be forced to wear uniforms at school.”
Jenny Luca says
Nice to know discussions like this are universal.
Tricia Buck says
Ugh is right. Just shoot me now if I ever have to read one more peruasive essay about uniforms. This is a short and sweet reminder that auhentic topics are far more meaningful. I say offer her the opportunity to write both essays…see which happens first, uniforms adopted by school board, or Dad caves to sweet daughter’s well-supported demands.
Gary S. Stager says
The worst part of this sort of assignment is its coercive nature. One side of the issue is often clearly communicated to kids as being “more correct” than the other.
In other words, the school or teacher’s view on the issue is often clear to kids and then it is rare for them to argue the other side.
Jean-Louis Bontront says
I’ve got a 5 year old son. I’m already taking notes! 🙂
Shame there wasn’t an option “Why we shouldn’t be forced to provide uniform essays at school” That would’ve offered some leeway.
Gary S. Stager says
Sure, kids should be allowed as much topic and format choice as possible.
However, being able to argue any issue from a range of perspectives is a worthwhile skill.
(I cannot believe that I’m defending this) 🙂
“However, being able to argue any issue from a range of perspectives is a worthwhile skill.”
No, it’s lying and anti-intellectual. It’s the same as companies that lie to customers to sell products; it’s deceptive marketing that willfully ignores important facts. Persuasive writing is an ugly bastion of the real goal: understanding and evaluating opposing viewpoints.
They’re similar, but dangerously so; someone skilled at persuasive writing will probably think themselves a neutral author and a similarly trained reader might naively agree….in actuality, the author is just writing to support their initial hypothesis.
When we talk about the edublogosphere being an echo chamber, that’s because everyone’s writing circles of linked persuasive essays. We should be aiming for well-informed decisions and seeking to understand the logic of those who disagree.
tl;dr: Persuasive essays = “truthiness”
Harold Jarche says
George Mayo says
That’s pretty ridiculous. The first thing you do when introducing the persuasive essay is an exhaustive class brainstorm on all the possible topics. That’s part of the fun.
Maybe she could persuade the teacher to let her do an essay on a self-selected topic. Never hurts to ask.
What we don’t see in the article is tied to the quote with which I start every parent-teacher conference:
“I will believe half of what your child tells me about home if you believe half of what your child tells you about me.”
Please, no posts about abuse or hidden agendas – this statement is made tongue-in-cheek to help parents understand that their angels sometimes exaggerate.
Kids learn to spin from an early age. They know how to make any teacher a monster.
The article is like those impossible-to-answer math problems – Not Enough Information.
It is possible that there was a brainstorming session.
It is possible that dozens of great topics were generated.
It is possible that the teacher doesn’t want to read 25 essays about ____(fill in the blank with any number of topics of interest to middle schoolers).
It is possible that the child in question had a choice to pick the topic about getting a cell phone – but being a child, she did not immediately make the connection to her home life.
This last choice is the one that we need to focus on. In education we do very little to relate what happens within the brick walls of the school to what happens in the “real world”. We need to blur these lines so children immediately see the connection.
Randy Thornton says
Being a smartypants sort of student in my day, I think that the topic “School Uniform” should include presense/absence of a cell phone, “Iâ€™m the only one in my class who doesnâ€™t…”
Uniform=Uniformity, Peer PressurePolicy Pressure is actually a potentially rich topic…
Steve Shann says
What’s the teacher like? What would happen if Tess wrote a persuasive piece on the cell phone? Is someone bent the rules like this in my class, I’d be thrilled.
Shaun Wood says
It is sad that your daughter cannot even get to choose a contextual topic of interest for her persuasive essays. I bet she would be more interested if it had any meaning for her, like the cell phone.
Beth Holmes says
The years my son was young student were very difficult for me because of incidents exactly like the one you describe. I share this to encourage you! He survived and so did I! So, don’t get shot!
If educators could simply imagine their students as their OWN children, would we not RUSH toward more interesting, challenging and relevant instruction? I’m always confused as to why this simple transfer fails to transform a “mother’s” teaching practice. It is very perplexing to me. You too will continue to be perplexed. Just don’t get shot. We need you to change the world for the next generation’s children.
Luci nda says
This is very timely for me! I am teaching persuasive writing tomorrow. I’ve been “stuck” on the whole topic thing. The Social Studies teacher wants me to use something related to her unit; my principal wants me to do something about treating others kindly. I’m testing a new software which has topics already programmed which I don’t care for. Now, I know. I’ll let the students decide what to talk (write) me into! Thank you!!
Frank LaBanca says
Why do some teachers feel obligated to beat creativity out of their students? I am constantly amazed that so many teachers “think” that creativity is an important part of the educational process, but when faced with an opportunity to allow students to problem find (i.e., develop a problem or question of their own for study) – a clearly creative process, they are stifled. When we allow students to select and identify areas of interest for them, we certainly empower them to take ownership. I just don’t understand why some teachers are against work that is authentic for a student. Picking from the list just shouldn’t cut it.
Ed Allen says
Qvoid the shooting. It will do no good. I have 24 and 21 yo daughters. Your story brings back memories. As has been said, your daughter will get over this and all will survive.
I do think that the persuasive essay on the cell phone would be a far better, more relevant essay.
By the way even when they are as old as mine, they still try to be persuasive about things like money and money. So take heart, it will get better and yet stay the same.
Cathy Nelson says
Buy Tess one of those “CALL ONE WAY–>HOME” pre-programmed type phones. Then when asked at school in peer pressure situations whether or not she has one she can truthfully answer yes, but it is one guaranteed not to make it into her pocket, bookbag, or gulp, teacher’s desk. As far as the assignment, as lame as it is–she did select it. I don’t like that I have to stop important conversations to take roll at school, but alas, it’s a necessary evil that has a purpose. It is funny to read these responses for once.
Robert Rowe says
Being passionate about a topic is probably one of the best ways to motivate a person to excel. “School uniforms” doesn’t sound like a passionate discussion for anybody except future fashion designers.
Gary S. Stager says
You and your millions of followers might enjoy this story from my own kid’s education.
Is it just me, or is the persuasive essay an antique? If you read a persuasive essay (in the style taught to kids) in a magazine, or on a blog, wouldn’t you pretty quickly realize a bias and trust the author that much less?
An education should teach us to weigh as many considerations as possible and not make a choice until you can make a confident, well-informed choice. Encouraging hastily-written persuasive essays that aren’t allowed to evaluate opposing points is pretty clearly in direct opposition to this.
Just when you thought education and real life were going to connect….thud. The “I had to choose from a list” barrier rears its ugly head again.
Amber Merritt says
Ugh. The word persuasive essay still gives me nightmares, maybe that’s because they are so fresh in my memory. We seldom got any list to pick from in any of the three high schools I was in though, we were just told what to write about. In grade ten I know for sure it was about capital punishment (pretty sure we did that one in two different classes. I have always wondered how teachers could stand reading the same essay from ten different people (because we all knew what our teachers opinion was by the time we wrote the essay).
Maybe if I’d had a choice about what to write I wouldn’t have hated it so much and would find creative writing (including blogging) much easier, instead of just being good at regurgitating someone elses opinion.
Maybe she should include in her essay that uniforms would not go with her new cell phone or a forced uniform would also force her to limit her choice of a cell phone. Just a thought, I have 2 girls already biting at the bit for a cell phone. Is it all about fashion?
Reminds me of Mark Prensky’s article “Engage Me or Enrage Me”.
He posits that “all the students we teach have something in their lives thatâ€™s really engagingâ€” something that they do and that they are good at, something that has an engaging, creative component to it.”
If we’re not engaging kids by allowing them to tap into the things they really care about, we’re missing tons of opportunities to prevent students from tuning out.
Mr Chips says
What age is your daughter, Will? If she’s very young (primary age), it might be that the teacher is trying to limit the choices available so that kids and teacher can share ideas about subject matter; then, the teaching is about the skills of persuasive writing rather than the topic itself. Certainly, I let younger kids choose their own topics if they want to (very few ever do) but insist on it only when they are older.
Marc Sheffner says
On the cell-phone issue: Governor of Osaka, Japan, has been calling for banning cell-phones amongst schoolchildren. “The ban in Osaka comes after a prefectural education committee reported in July that students are spending less time on their studies due to an addiction to cell phones.” Some private high schools already ban cell phones. My son is certainly one of the addicted ones.
Marc Sheffner says
Here’s the link to the Japan Times article about Japan banning cellphone use in schools: Osaka school mobile ban resonates
Marc Sheffner says
On the issue of being able to choose your assignment topic: while it’s easy to sympathize with the student in this anecdote, not all students will have a theme they are passionate about, and without guidance many will write boring, irrelevant and poor-quality stuff. (I’ve taught EFL writing for many years). A better teaching strategy might have been to say “pick from this list or use your own idea, but check with me first”.
James Rigney says
I’ve assigned the persuasive essay and challenged the students to come up with an interesting/provocative topic. I got a few legalize soft drugs essays, but many of the students just fell back onto the school uniform prompt. Some of them said they had it on FCAT before.