In which #1 rants about Pinterest English assignments

@#$@#$#@

After increasingly stupid “book report” assignments for DC1’s monthly novel, including things like having to make 15 “matchbooks”, illustrating the outsides of each, and putting in a summary (not chapter summaries, but 15 summaries no matter how many chapters there are in the book) into each “matchbook”, DC1 and I were joking about what kind of ridiculous assignment the next one would be.  Hir teacher surpassed our wildest expectations (though, to be fair, the accompanying and unexpected “non-fiction” book report project included a few of our guesses, like making a rap song).

DC1 has been assigned a “t-shirt” book report project.  What is a t-shirt book report project?  Well, it’s something the student is supposed to design, but the parent is supposed to help with.  It’s supposed to be wearable art that your student will LOVE LOVE LOVE making and wearing.  It is definitely all over @#$ing pinterest.  It’s even one of the “11 best creative book report projects”.

The front of the shirt is supposed to be a hand drawn/ironed on/glued/painted copy of the cover or what you believe the copy should be.  The left sleeve is a picture of the main character.  The right sleeve has the “setting and the problem” including a picture of the setting.  The back somehow fits words and graphics of the student’s favorite scene as well as a summary of the book and the student’s opinion of the book.  Not sure how all of that is going to squish into a size 8/10 shirt, but maybe DC1 will write small.

UGH.

So maybe I have no joy in my life.  But!

1.  We had to immediately change books because there is no way DC1’s art abilities could do justice to Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry.  After strongly considering Flatland but rejecting it for the misogyny, we settled on Fahrenheit 451 even though DC1 will be reading it again junior year of high school.

2.  The fricking assignment says that parents are supposed to do most of the art work except for doing the design itself(!)  DC1 is a better artist than either DH or I, and that is not saying anything at all.  Us helping is not going to make this @#$3 shirt look anything like the etsy-level ones shown in the pictures that the teacher sent home with the assignment [update:  these pictures aren’t even from her former students, they’re from the internets, taken without attribution] .  I don’t mind spending time helping with DC1’s math homework if zie needs it, or if zie ever wrote an essay for school I’d be happy to proofread it, but doing arts and crafts for my kid is a huge waste of my time.  (So I’m not going to– not that the teacher would be able to tell if I’d done it– my t-shirt art ability is pretty much frozen back to 1989.)  (Have I mentioned that DH and I suck at crafts?  Yes?  Multiple times?  That’s because it’s true.)

3.  WTF.  Student has to buy clothing and things to decorate the shirt with for a shirt that zie will not be caught dead with in public?  Seriously?  I doubt that Pinterest surveyed any students when it claims that the students will love creating and wearing these shirts.  Maybe 3rd graders would.  But not 7th graders.  And, as always, what about the kids for whom just going out and buying stuff has a measurable effect on the family finances?

4.  All of the assignments so far have involved spending a huge amount of time cramming text into bizarrely shaped spaces.  At least with the matchbook project DC1 got permission to type things out and paste them in, which cut down on the hassle considerably, but this t-shirt thing doesn’t have that option.  And it’s not like mistakes can be bleached out.  Writing on cloth is not fun!  Writing paragraphs on cloth is even less fun!  And I just don’t think the time spent on this is generating any useful skills.  (What about iron-ons, you ask?  Well, if we could get that to work with the printer, chances are that’s still not going to work with the amount of text needed, plus we don’t have an ironing board, though oddly, we do have an iron.)

(Speaking of no joy in my life:  Our new dean has decided that we must all wear ugly sweaters and participate in an ugly sweater contest for the annual holiday brunch.  I used to like the holiday brunch, but this year it’s getting a big side order of NOPE.)

DC1 hasn’t had a friend over or played a computer game in weeks because every moment of his non-school time has been spent making movie posters and matchbooks and crossword puzzles and on and on and on.  Not on reading books and writing essays about them, but on crafting cutesy projects.  It would be one thing if zie were learning art skills from these craft projects, but zie isn’t.  There’s no formal art instruction, just time consuming hassle.

And it’s not just DC1’s teacher. ALL of the English teachers across the entire grade are giving these stupid assignments in advanced English and regular English. So we can’t escape by switching teachers at the semester. At least 8th grade looks like the assignments are more of the “learn how to write” variety.

How do you feel about middle-school Pinterest projects?  What do you think she’s going to have in store for DC1 next month?

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A remembered kindness

Trigger warning:  Middle school bullying

It is 3am and I just woke up from a nightmare about middle school.  Well, it was sort of about middle school and sort of about graduate school in the way that dreams are.  I was fumbling for money for the light rail and shades from middle school showed up to make fun of how I was in PE…

Middle school was extremely traumatic.  It has taken me decades to (I thought) mostly get over it.  But apparently I can still have anxiety dreams about it.

One of the worst bits (that #2 is tired of hearing about because the girl in question went to our boarding school too) was when a girl at my lunch table who I went to church and choir and Sunday school with and had all my classes with invited all the other girls at the lunch table (and in the G/T track) to her house for an overnight party and deliberately excluded me, complete with whispered not talking about it around me the next day.  The “don’t let her know” part was the worst, I think.  Really drove home that the exclusion was deliberate.  Later her mother was a teacher at boarding school– I should have asked how she let that happen (that’s an insight from 3am).

Once I was invited to an overnight party in middle school.  A very nice girl who wasn’t in my classes but was good friends from elementary school of someone at my lunch table (who both went to my church and occasionally invited me to her house in a “don’t let other people know I invited you” sort of way) and current friends with another girl in my neighborhood who was generally kind to me, invited me to a come as you are party.  A mini-van driven by her mother with a few girls in it showed up to my house, bundled me in, and we went around driving to pick more people up until we landed at her house.  People treated me normally, not like a social pariah.  It was fun.  They feathered my bangs.  We watched a Steve Martin movie on VHS.  We played games like twister.  I listened about boy crushes.  Everyone was nice.  In the morning we had fruit pizza with custard (which became my favorite dessert as of that morning).  She didn’t need to include me, but I was included, and I cherish that memory.

And I suppose I shouldn’t completely blame the girl who excluded me… In 6th grade the math/science teacher was a huge bully and the excluding girl and her best friend were his favorites while I was one of his victims (not an easy mark of a victim though– we had an exam where the instructions explicitly said to always round up in this situation, and he was berating the class as stupid for not rounding down despite what the instructions said.  That led to him saying if I was so smart why didn’t I teach the class and I said I’d be happy to, and then he asked how many people wanted me to teach the class.  I cherish the sole kid in the class brave enough to raise his hand.  I am still grateful to John K.  Sadly, 6th grade was the last year he was tracked into GT math/science so the only time I really came across him again was as a young adult when he was a cashier at Walmart.  Also my parents had complained earlier that year when that teacher gave me a B one quarter even though I’d never earned lower than an A- on an assignment and he switched the grade to an A after he could show no basis for the grade other than some blustering about how my lines weren’t completely straight in my graphs and I needed to better use a straight-edge.  He retired the next year.)  Prior to that year, the first girl had been nice to most people, even including the developmentally disabled girl who was the only person in school equally reviled to me (incidentally, said developmentally disabled girl saw me as lower on the pecking order and would call me names, but I never blamed her for that).  That’s a 3:30am mental connection.  Adults set the tone of school in ways that can have lasting effects.

So… thank you Emily, even though I can’t remember your last name.  I have remembered your kindness throughout my life and have tried to emulate it.  In high school and college and beyond, I have always tried to be inclusive and to never leave anybody out.  The more the merrier.  And I’ve encouraged my children to do the same.  Bullying sucks.  Exclusion sucks.  Small acts of kindness and inclusion can make a big difference in someone’s life.