Saturday, March 7, 2009

Making Something All Better

This week, our third-grade son came home very upset about an incident at school. In order to motivate the kids to write an effective persuasive essay, they had told the kids that the superintendent wasn't going to allow them to have recess anymore. Third graders were far too old to have recess, you see. The initial mindgame was compounded by rumors among the children that the next day's recess was going to be the very last one. After the essays were handed in, the kids were told about the deception.

At the end of the day, my teacher said it was all just a trick to make us put more effort into the persuasive essay. I was really upset, and I was crying at school today because they tricked us. I still think that was really mean. Why did they lie to us?

I wrote a letter to the principal (who had participated) and the teacher. Here's a bit of it, edited for privacy:

Why would you so undermine the caring, safe environment that you have all worked so hard to create? This is so damaging to his trust in you and in the school.

From an educational and developmental viewpoint, it would better have been presented as an imaginary scenario so that they could understand hypothetical thinking.

If, on the other hand, there is a real threat to the children being allowed recess, it would have been better to ask for a response from the parents. You could certainly count on either one of us to write a “persuasive essay” on this topic if this is an issue being discussed at the superintendent’s office.

What most concerns us is the emotional impact. We would like to be able to tell B that he can trust that you and his teacher(s) will not lie to him.

Manipulation and mind-games are completely inappropriate in any educational environment, but even more so – more compellingly so – when children are involved.

We’ve heard you giving the morning announcements and talking with a wide range of people, and have always had the utmost confidence in your abilities and your motivations. We know how much care and energy you put into creating a supportive environment in which the children can learn and grow.

That is all the more reason that we would like some kind of explanation - and an assurance that this sort of thing will not happen again.

Hubby and I both signed it, and sent copies in the next morning. It didn't take long. I got a call from the teacher on the way in to work. That afternoon, we also received a letter from the principal:

Words cannot adequately express my sincere heartfelt apologies for my part in causing B to be upset and putting his faith in adults in question. I cannot disagree with you on any of the points that you brought forth in your letter. You are totally correct.

When the third grade teachers came to me asking that I do this to inspire passion in the children's writing assessment essays, know that they were going to tell the children afterwards the purpose of this theatrical staged event, it never crossed my mind the concerns that you brought to my attention. The teachers were so excited about their idea and felt that this was a creative avenue to elicit the students' best writing samples. In hindsight, it was not a good decision.

I did speak to the class this morning and sincerely apologized to them. I am so very fortunate that they are so loving and forgiving, as I would never do anything intentional to cause a single child harm. Again, I am so very sorry and I hope you can forgive my poor judgment. I can promise you that this will not be repeated in the future. Sometimes the best intentions do not lend the results we thought, but what a valuable lesson can be learned.

Thank you for your understanding.

When I got home from work, our son ran up and gave me a big, big hug. He said they admitted that they made a bad decision, and they said they were sorry, just like people should do when they make a mistake. I think he has more respect for them for doing that than he did before.

I don't remember ever hearing an apology in an educational setting myself.

He sat with me and told me all about it. "It's all better now, Mommy."

Ah. Sweet.


yolanda said...

that's pretty impressive that the teachers responded to you so positively! the times they are a-changin'?


The Mind of a Mom said...

wow, you have a lot more self control then me... I would have marched down to the school that evening and then again the next morning!! I'm glad to hear he was okay with everything and his world is right again in the end.

Patricia Rockwell said...

These kinds of essays and experiments are conducted regularly (at least at the college level), but always they are HYPOTHETICAL. What would you do IF this were the last recess? To actually make children think they would never have recess again is truly cruel.

Persuasive Essay Topics Help said...
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