Thursday, February 16, 2006

Daughters and Schools II: the Politics of Fourth Grade

Weird stuff happens at school.

Yesterday my daughter came home very upset. It turns out that her social studies teacher had given them a class assignment whereby the students each wrote on a piece of paper the name of someone they really liked and one that they really hated. To add injury to inanity, he then collected the papers and marked the results on the board for all to see. The educational purpose of this fascinating exercise remains a mystery.

Lest anyone think that this is somehow representative of the way teachers behave here, my daughter's homeroom teacher was appalled by this, and said he would speak to the social studies teacher -- who is also the counselor! -- about the appropriateness of such an assignment.

One student did indeed hate my daughter, and she was devastated by this. Her bosom buddy CL scored nine votes in the 'hate' category.

Why is CL hated? Well, it's par for the course here. CL is a burbling, energetic child with a charming, positive attitude. It's hard to see how anyone could dislike, let alone hate, CL. It's only after you interact with her for a while that you realize she's -- to use a quaint old word -- slow -- "short one gene" as her mother puts it.. In schools on The Beautiful Isle, it's normal for other kids to ostracize such students, and torment them mercilessly. As is so often the case here, CL gets no therapy of any kind for her problems.

This hate is carried over to any of CL's associates, and inevitably encompasses my daughter. Once Sheridan was the most popular girl in her class, and everyone played with her, came over our house for tea and cookies, and so on. Not anymore. Last year a new girl arrived who elbowed out Sheridan. HT, then Sheridan's best friend, with an innate ability to sense social carrion, ditched my daughter faster than you can say "former best friend" and is now sucking up to Popular Girl. Last semester HT bought new placemats for all the students except -- pointedly -- my daughter Sheridan and her friend CL. Their teacher registered no disapproval of this act. Last semester my wife made sugar cookies for the class, which she does from time to time (many mothers do volunteer stuff). Popular girl, however, is backed by the full resources of her wealthy mother. Swinging into action, Popular Girl's mom went out and bought a case of expensive imported Japanese fruit, which she distributed to everyone. Yes, fourth grade is political hell.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting that unique classroom exercise.

If you listen carefully, you might hear my jaw dropping from overseas.

Tim Maddog said...

Is the teacher's name "Skinner," by any chance?

All those who hate the social studies teacher, say "Aye."


Anonymous said...

Is your daughter going to a local public school or a private school?

Anonymous said...

Igore my previous post abut the school that your daughter is going. I just read your earlier post about her school. Sorry about that.

David said...


However, in case you think this is confined to one nutty teacher: my company has 6-monthly reviews in which you are asked to name the colleague you work best with and (up until about a year ago) were also asked to name the one you had the biggest problem with - and some of that information gets back to you. I'd always thought it was rather a bizarre question, but not thought much more about it ...

Of course, it's not comparable as most of the people in my company are more emotionally mature than 4th grade girls, but it does seem this is some sort of standard practice at some level.

Anonymous said...

Michael, as a foreigner living abroad, all I can say is that I understand how you and your family must feel. No matter how hard you and your family try, you will always be treated as outsiders and nothingmen. Perhaps it is because you are the foreigner, or God only knows what reason. The worst part thought is that your daughter has to experience this though. However you can do nothing but keep trying. Break the system, be noisy. Do what you must. As the months go buy no one remembers. And always remind your daughter, what doesn't break her, what doesn't remove makes her stronger. And in the end when it is time to enter the real world, she will be ahead of all the others. When she is a succesful member of society, she can feel free to blow off the jerks from her school days. She will be stonger than the others.

Anonymous said...

Hey MT,

In Taipei, parents sued a counselor/teacher for damages and won 200,000 NT. During a spate of petty thefts at a middle school, an 'educator' had students *vote* who was most likely the thief. A poor girl lost the vote and her parents sued for 2 million, getting, as you can see, a fraction. The educator had to give up his counselor job until the case was settled. I suppose he'll be back on the job soon. see the Liberty Times

Well, remeber the lessons from *Learning to be Chinese*: the creatino of scapegoats is built into the system.

Keep us posted!


Michael Turton said...

Thanks, everyone, for all the posts. They are beautiful.

rmdazwdv, I don't think that Taiwan has a monopoly on this behavior. I think the difference is that a lot of the stuff that gets tolerated by the school and faculty here -- the sexism, the tormenting of the slow, the episode with the placemats -- would not be so tolerated in our home countries.