The Suitcase Lady


March 1, 2011, 10:16 pm

I learned in fourth grade how to be an “A” student. The assignment was to do a booklet on Wisconsin; state symbols, animals, history, maps, etc.

The good nun who taught us graded our offerings and did a critique of our work which is forever burnt into my brain. She stated to the entire class that one student was totally outstanding and put everyone else to shame. Bernadette’s booklet was “three inches thick”. All the rest of us had merely done the assigned work; saintly Bernadette had toiled for hours to amass the thickest booklet sister had ever seen.We were instructed to hang our lazy heads in shame.

Of course, all the girls did exactly that. The boys looked out the window. For the next seven years I toiled to produce at least three times more volume than was required for each assignment.

This strategy worked like a charm. I could get stars, top grades, stickers and love from my teachers and family.

By some miracle, I woke up my last year in high school and realized that quantity was not a substitute for quality. I withdrew from the “more is better” race.

A harmful variation of the quantity over quality mantra is afoot in our grade and high schools now. Park outside most any school and watch the kids leave. The ones aspiring to be super students have their backs bowed by the weight of their backpacks. They carry more than mules in a pack train. Carrying every textbook you own plus a few for good measure grants status as a top student. I fail to see how deforming your back is going to improve your brain.

I long for a time when educators and parents value critical thinking over critical mass.

3 Comments for this entry

  • liz levins

    no kidding. sometimes my kids had so much homework i would send a note to school asking for them to be excused as they had to go to sleep at a reasonable hour for health reasons.

    much of the homework was of little value. according to the school mantra, it was assigned to determine whether the students were able to understand the material that had been presented in class (or independent studies). in many cases the teachers did not use it for that purpose. it was just plain repetition, and typically the homework grades contributed to the student’s cumulative record.

  • eve robillard

    MARY, I too wonder what those poor children are carrying in those packs. Has anyone ever investigated? Noted how much detritus and unecessary stuff they’re lugging around? Poor dears. I long for the days we cradled our books against our budding breasts.
    By the way, the name Bernadette is so very apt.
    Don’t know if you’re fictionalizing there or not, but it is perfect. In my school, the goodie-goodies were often named (ahem) Madonna.
    fondly, eve
    who is writing a memoir; I’ll share it with you someday.

  • Judith

    So, is that how I got my muscles?