Truth in Consequences

When my son was in fourth grade his teacher introduced a unit on story writing when the students returned from their December holiday break. She taught the children the traditional three-step process: introduce characters; create a conflict for the characters; and end the story with a resolution to the conflict. My son has always been a good writer. His verbal skills, as tested by an educational psychologist, put him at the college level. The story he wrote was amazing. His teacher gave him a “C”. He was upset. He knew the story was good. Here’s the thing though, his ending, his so-called resolution, was very sophisticated. We had spent New Year’s Eve day and much of the evening watching “The Twilight Zone” marathon on the SciFi channel. These were the original black and white episodes. My son was entranced by them. He couldn’t get enough. He created a wonderful “Twilight Zone” type ending for his story. It was, as I mentioned, written beautifully. His teacher was not pleased by this. Thus the “C”.

I told my son that his teacher probably wanted him to write a very simple ending. “Mine is better than that,” he said. He was right. I explained that I didn’t think his teacher cared about how good his ending was. She probably only cared about his story having an ending that was done exactly the way she expected it to be. She wanted a tidy ending. Something simple to button things up. I explained that this was not the mark of good writing but that it was what she was most likely looking for in his story. Parent teacher conferences were coming up in the next week so I suggested we wait and talk to her about the story then.

My son and I sat across from his teacher at a table in the classroom. The teacher talked about how well my son was doing in class. I asked specifically about the story. She said that my son had failed to write a good resolve. I said that his resolve was more sophisticated. She said that was a problem. I asked her why. She said, “How can I tell if he can write a simple resolve if he does something much more sophisticated?” My son started to open his mouth. I put my hand on his leg. He shut his mouth. I explained to his teacher that it would be impossible to write a sophisticated resolve without understanding the basics of a resolve, without understanding what a resolve needed to do, which by the way, my son’s resolve accomplished. She held fast to her view that my son needed to write a simple resolve to prove he could do that. I stopped talking about the story. My son looked disappointed.

After our meeting my son and I walked to the parking lot and got into our car. “I’m sorry, honey, your teacher is an idiot,” I said. I explained what it meant to “teach to the test” instead of teaching for understanding. I went on to explain that he had three choices when these types of situations arose. He could:

1. do it her way and probably get an “A”.

2. do it his way and undoubtedly get a “C” if not a lower grade.

3. do it his way for himself and her way for her and probably get an “A”.

He said he would continue to do things his way. He felt it was unjust to be asked to dumb things down. He also thought it made no sense to do the story twice.

I told him I totally supported his choice but that there was one thing he had to keep in mind. He asked what that was. I said once you choose a course of action, in this case choice number 2, you have to understand that there is a corresponding result that goes with that choice. Choosing 2 would result in receiving a grade of “C”. He couldn’t expect an “A” because that would be the result of choosing number 1 or 3. He also was making his choice freely so he really couldn’t complain about the result. A grade of “C” was the result associated with his choice. He didn’t have to think it was fair but the choice and the result were a matched set within the system of his fourth grade classroom.

We had a conversation about how the concept of choices having associated results wasn’t just about school. It was about everything. There are usually specific results that are coupled with specific choices. You can’t choose course of action 1 and expect the results that go along with course of action 2. If you feel super stressed in your life because you do too much but you want to do all the things you are doing, stress is still the result that goes with that choice. There may be other results too, such as feeling virtuous or useful, but you cannot expect the stress that goes with that choice to magically not be part of the deal. You don’t have to like the stress but you do have to realize that the choice you made comes with stress. Many of us try to get rid of, or offset, the stress instead of making a different choice. My son learned a lot more from his teacher’s lesson than she thought he did, just not what she expected.

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Cinse Bonino

Cinse Bonino

Cinse, a former professor with a background in the psychology of human learning, writes nonstop, and is addicted to capturing the human experience in words.