Introducing… Guest Host for the Week, FedupMom

I’ve given FedUpMom, who has written several guest entries in the past, free rein to speak her mind for the next week here on stophomework. If you’d like that opportunity, too, please email me.

FedUpMom attained her FedUp status through the experiences of her older daughter at the local nominally high-performing public school. Currently, both of FedUpMom’s daughters attend a small Quaker school, in kindergarten and 6th grade.

Guest Post #1
by FedUpMom

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“Such, such were the joys
When we all, girls and boys,
In our youth time were seen
On the Echoing Green.”

(from “the Echoing Green”, by William Blake)

“Such, Such Were the Joys” is an essay by George Orwell, about his experiences at St. Cyprian’s school. It is bloody brilliant, and only becomes more relevant with every passing year.

I know my recommendation isn’t enough to motivate you to read the essay, so I’ve decided to make it compulsory. You can find a book of Orwell’s essays at your local library, or buy it from Amazon. Buy it used; you know your family can’t afford to buy it new.

Or, you can read it online.

Answer the questions below and turn in your answers by the end of the week. All submissions must be signed by a parent or guardian, your local police chief, the superintendent of the school board, and the Pope.

(Or, use those finely honed school skills and answer the questions without reading the essay! I will never know the difference.)

All quotes are from the essay.

1.) “Over a period of two or three years the scholarship boys were crammed with learning as cynically as a goose is crammed for Christmas… At St. Cyprian’s the whole process was frankly a preparation for a sort of confidence trick. Your job was to learn exactly those things that would give an examiner the impression that you knew more than you did know, and as far as possible to avoid burdening your brain with anything else.”

[Vocabulary: “confidence trick” is the British equivalent of the American “con”.]

How does Orwell’s experience relate to today’s standardized-testing-infested public schools? Compare and contrast, if possible.

2.) “Indeed, it was universally taken for granted at St. Cyprian’s that unless you went to a ‘good’ public school (and only about fifteen schools came under this heading) you were ruined for life… Over a period of about two years, I do not think there was ever a day when ‘the exam’, as I called it, was quite out of my waking thoughts… For people like me, the ambitious middle class, the examination passers, only a bleak, laborious kind of success was possible. ”

[Vocabulary: in British usage, “public” schools are so called because they are not open to the public. It’s pronounced “Chumley”.]

How does Orwell’s quest for a ‘good’ public school compare to today’s upper-middle-class quest for an Ivy League school? How is ‘the exam’, which got Orwell to Eton, similar to today’s SAT? Compare, contrast, and weep.

3.) “Looking back, I realize that I then worked harder than I have ever done since, and yet at the time it never seemed possible to make quite the effort that was demanded of one…All through my boyhood I had a profound conviction that I was no good, that I was wasting my time, wrecking my talents, behaving with monstrous folly and wickedness and ingratitude — and all this, it seemed, was inescapable, because I lived among laws which were absolute, like the law of gravity, but which it was not possible for me to keep…The conviction that it was not possible for me to be a success went deep enough to influence my actions till far into adult life.”

Would Orwell have fared better or worse in your local “gifted” program? Explain.

4.) “That was the pattern of school life — a continuous triumph of the strong over the weak. Virtue consisted in winning: it consisted in being bigger, stronger, handsomer, richer, more popular, more elegant, more unscrupulous than other people … Life was hierarchical and whatever happened was right. There were the strong, who deserved to win and always did win, and there were the weak, who deserved to lose and always did lose, everlastingly.”

Has anything changed? Support your answer.

Extra credit:

5.) “There never was, I suppose, in the history of the world a time when the sheer vulgar fatness of wealth, without any kind of aristocratic elegance to redeem it, was so obtrusive as in those years before 1914… The extraordinary thing was the way in which everyone took it for granted that this oozing, bulging wealth of the English upper and upper-middle classes would last for ever, and was part of the order of things… How would St. Cyprian’s appear to me now, if I could go back, at my present age, and see it as it was in 1915 [when Orwell left the school]? … I should see them [the Headmaster and his wife] as a couple of silly, shallow, ineffectual people, eagerly clambering up a social ladder which any thinking person could see to be on the point of collapse.”

How does Orwell’s historical moment compare to our own? Is our social ladder on the point of collapse?

20 Comments on “Introducing… Guest Host for the Week, FedupMom”

  1. PsychMom says:

    It’s already Wednesday…that only gives us two days to do ALL THOSE QUESTIONS. It’s going to take me a week just to read the essay. Can I have an extension?

    April 7th, 2010 at 7:49 am
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  2. FedUpMom says:

    PsychMom — a perfect illustration of how school works! The mechanics of the assignment loom larger than the actual subject.

    Yes, you can have an extension, but I’ll need a signed note from your therapist/exorcist/bartender.

    April 7th, 2010 at 8:04 am
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  3. PsychMom says:

    And it was a gut reaction…
    Like the one I had last night at 9:45, when my 8 year old comes out of her bed, in her PJ’s, worksheet in hand and pencil scratching her lip asking, “Can you help me with this…I don’t get it?”

    9:45 PM is when, left to her own devices, my child decides it’s time to do homework. She mentioned at 5:30 that she was supposed to do it and I was supposed to help, but then I never heard about it again so, I ignored it. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just proving my point (to myself) day after day when this nonsense happens.

    This is the reality of Grade 3 homework, teachers! Unless a parent is taking an active role in organizing it, and taking time to teach your students at home at night. She’s my child, but she’s your student.

    But I digress….

    Thanks for the extension. I’ll get the note.

    April 7th, 2010 at 8:20 am
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  4. FedUpMom says:

    Hey, my 12 year old suddenly remembered she had math homework at 11:00 last night. Oy.

    The teachers really do expect Mom to do all the organizing, btw. One of my daughter’s teachers advised me to keep a big calendar with my daughter’s homework assignments in a prominent place in our house. WTF?

    April 7th, 2010 at 9:11 am
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  5. April says:

    Just had to share: my 12-yr-old is supposed to write a manifesto for her school. She has pointed out that there are too many Math problems on any given night, too much writing that could be typed to save time, and too much wasted paper. She’s following her mom’s footsteps. 🙂

    April 7th, 2010 at 11:23 am
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  6. Fred Baumgarten says:

    You had me at hello.

    LMAO.

    I really think it’s time we all met and started our own alternative to the Tea (and Coffee) Parties. Any ideas for a name?

    P.S. Allow me to put in a good word for the DADs who suffer along with the MOMs.

    April 7th, 2010 at 3:36 pm
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  7. Disillusioned says:

    “The mechanics of the assignment loom larger than the actual subject.” How true. Yes, the teachers do indeed expect the moms to organize all homework and projects. Interesting that Orwell should should speak of a hierarchical order. The school system itself is a hierarchical order with the moms at the bottom rung (I think they’re even below the students).

    April 7th, 2010 at 5:28 pm
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  8. HomeworkBlues says:

    Loved this, Fed Up, and everyone’s comments. And yes, Fred, we hear and feel your pain. You go, DAD. Thanks, Fred, for being here too. We need to hear from fathers as well.

    I’m waiting for your sequel. What’s happening? What was the reaction to the phone message you left the principal recently? Do tell.

    Should I share my own stories once my daughter has graduated? We have two more months…

    April 7th, 2010 at 5:32 pm
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  9. FedUpMom says:

    HomeworkBlues, I’d love to see your war stories. Fred, that goes for you too.

    Disillusioned, Moms are very near the bottom rung. It just occurred to me that at least kids are allowed to get special deals through an IEP — mothers never get a deal! Can’t we get an IEP for our various special needs? Uh-oh — I feel another rant coming on!

    April 7th, 2010 at 6:36 pm
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  10. tracey says:

    Another reason I defend my motives for homeschooling. There is no homework – just schoolwork. And they never have extra added on, once their duties for the day are done. THANK GOD. Our afternoons are OURS, which means my kids can go to soccer and not have to rush home to finish homework 2-3 times a week. It means that we can stay at the park a little later and get that energy out. I wish all kids had the chance to keep school “work” during school and allow the free time at nights to actually BE free. Free to learn or free to stare at a wall. JUST FREE.

    April 7th, 2010 at 7:51 pm
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  11. zh says:

    All I know is, I was watching the BBC version of “Nicholas Nickleby” and I’d rather go to St Cyprian’s than the boys’ “school” run by Wackford Squeers 🙂

    April 7th, 2010 at 8:32 pm
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  12. HomeworkBlues says:

    The moms are at the bottom rung precisely because they DO the teacher’s bidding. Who was it who said it’s better to be feared than to be loved?

    April 7th, 2010 at 10:30 pm
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  13. Disillusioned says:

    Yes HWB they do. The teachers are feared by the SAMs because they can be vindictive towards the kids. Also, for the SAMs, their kids are their whole life. The working moms are more empowered and less in tune with the odd dynamics that exist between the SAMs and the teachers at high achieving elementary schools.

    April 8th, 2010 at 10:49 am
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  14. PsychMom says:

    I do detect that flavour at our school too. The single working moms that I know, and I include myself too, are so clueless about the daily goings on because we’re holding it all together by a thread. We are attuned to our kids but in a benignly neglectful way, so that asking us to go home and do schoolwork just doesn’t fly. The only cutting comments I’ve ever heard have come from the SAHM’s.

    April 8th, 2010 at 11:25 am
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  15. Sara Bennett says:

    I just read the Orwell essay and highly recommend it. I’m going to skip the compulsory questions, though, and I don’t think I’ll make a diorama, either!

    April 8th, 2010 at 4:38 pm
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  16. FedUpMom says:

    I might take a shot at answering the questions myself. The parallels between Orwell’s experience and mine, and subsequently my daughter’s, are amazing. To quote Orwell again:

    “Take away God, Latin, the cane, class distinctions and sexual taboos, and the fear, the hatred, the snobbery and the misunderstanding might still all be there.”

    April 8th, 2010 at 5:11 pm
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  17. FedUpMom says:

    Anyway, I’m glad to hear of people reading the essay! It’s one of my favorites. Orwell was such a great writer — perceptive and crystal clear.

    BTW, “Such, such …” was only published after everyone mentioned in it had died, because of England’s strict libel laws.

    April 8th, 2010 at 5:13 pm
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  18. HomeworkBlues says:

    Dear Teacher:

    I clicked on the essay link. The format was cramped, not enough spaces between paragraphs and a little hard to read but I persisted. I began reading. I loved it. I couldn’t stop. I hyper-focused. My mind wandered, delving into its themes. My mom saw me look up and scolded me for being “off task” but in fact I was reading and pondering.

    I finished reading the essay. I’m dying to talk about it but everyone’s asleep. I am filled with thoughts, I want to discuss but now I have these pesky questions to answer.

    Teacher, I just can’t do it. I’m tired and I’m going to bed. You may think I don’t care, that I didn’t read it. The perky girl across the room didn’t read it, she read Sparks Notes instead but she answered all the questions. You’ll think her a better student than me. But I read every word, I analyzed the piece, and now I’ve run out of time. I’m sorry… I’m going to bed.

    And I’m not doing the diorama either. I’ve done enough of those over the years and I’ve run out of clay.

    April 8th, 2010 at 5:39 pm
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  19. FedUpMom says:

    HomeworkBlues, get some rest! We’ll continue the discussion next week.

    April 9th, 2010 at 8:10 am
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  20. Anonymous says:

    Does anyone else have teachers phoning them to complain about your kids not doing homework? What am I supposed to do about it??!!!

    No wonder so many parents do their kids’ homework. Maybe they’re the smart ones…at least they probably don’t get calls. 🙁

    April 9th, 2010 at 2:41 pm
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