more tales from the third grade writing classroom

As mentioned in the previous post, my daughter has been asked to write an essay about why she loves America. To begin with, the issue isn’t patriotism, it’s anti-intellectualism. Rhetorically, this is the same as being as to write an essay on "why I am a Yankees fan." Is it possible that someone might not love America? Is the intention here to teach our children than not loving America is some kind of Lyotardian differend, an unspeakable phrase?

Anyway, when my daughter says she doesn’t love America, she isn’t making some anti-American political statement. She is partly expressing a philosophical position–saying it is not possible to feel "love" for an abstraction. She is also expressing some eight-year idealism: she loves the world. Now those might seem contradictory positions, except the world is not an abstraction. As is not unusual for an eight-year old, she wants peace; she loves animals and the environment; she doesn’t understand why other kids around the world have to suffer. Just b/c she doesn’t want to wave the flag and shout "America is #1!" doesn’t mean that she doesn’t value democracy and freedom. Not to put a fine point on it, but I don’t think there are many eight year-olds (or 38 year olds) who can articulate what democracy and freedom actually might be.

But of course the unsurprising conclusion of this episode is that when she expresses her position to her classmates, they suggest that she ought to move. Clearly they have already adopted the "America, love it or leave it" philosophy. The assignment has been successful in reinforcing the notion that not-loving America is not an option.

One more victory for "critical thinking" and literacy in public schooling.


4 replies on “more tales from the third grade writing classroom”

What a ninny of a teacher.
So, here’s the thing–what I’d have probably suggested, at least.
I’d suggest writing a paper about why this assignment is a bad idea, because it forces a thesis that might not be at all true for the writer.
Also, I’d suggest maybe the merest nod to how a thing one ought always be able to love about America is utter freedom from this sort of indoctrination in schooling. Being free not to love it–to be ticked, and angry, and demanding, and challenging, and so forth–has given us some of our greatest thinkers.
And those, of course, we eventually will call great Americans, though in their moments, they are often not regarded as such.
America is not simple to love. That’s the tack I’d take. I’d suggest that I’d be loathe to write an essay that forced me to make the place one whit less complicated than it really is.
Then, I’d quote Whitman.


But, now for the flip side.
Do college teachers ever put students in this postion?
I think they do.
Being expected to criticize something in a very particular way is often just as asphyxiating as being asked to praise it in a particular way would be.
I still remember the course in which I was supposed to write all about how a female wearing high heels could only ever and always (and always already) be a victim and a sign and a tool of the patriarchal machine.
I generally opted for sneakers or boots on campus, but I wore high heels to that class a lot after that.
And I wrote that essay about costume, and why I can love the high heels quite as guiltlessly as I love the jeans and sneaks, and play with both, too, and enjoy twisting the expectations of both.
Goddess bless stilettos.
Guess we shouldn’t mistake the particular stance being forced on someone as the problem. It’s that *any* stance is coerced that’s really the issue.


“But of course the unsurprising conclusion of this episode is that when she expresses her position to her classmates, they suggest that she ought to move. Clearly they have already adopted the “America, love it or leave it” philosophy.”
I imagine her classmates (most of them) might not yet have a philosophy of any sort regarding loving or not-loving America. They might just be repeating what they’ve heard. (And just repeating what they’ve heard is exactly what the teacher’s assignment calls for, as far as I can see.)


No doubt Jon. That’s the way it works right? People say love it or leave it without any philosophy. In children that knee-jerk response is more forgivable.
All this comes home in an unusual way b/c the teacher is a BA/MA grad of Cortland.


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