Spanish or shop?

Building a mini-locker for a seventh-grade Spanish class project got her 12-year-old son excited, writes mother Ann Bradley, an Education Week editor, on Motivation Matters. But she discovered most of his grade would be based on writing sentences in Spanish describing the locker contents.

My son, who desperately wants to do well in school but is still learning that effort equals outcome, was thrilled to get this creative assignment and determined to do his best. He spent hours turning a Nike box into a miniature locker. He spray-painted it blue, made a lock out of tin foil, and filled it with a tiny bulletin board (made by ripping a corner off the one in his room) complete with a tiny note written in Spanish stuck on with a pushpin. He even got our 5-year-old in on the act, who lent him a tiny SpongeBob backpack to hang in the locker.

. . . Being a Type A Mom, of course, I couldn’t help but point out to my son that all of his labors would only yield 10 points, and that he’d better get cracking on his sentences. It was awful to have to “shut down” his creative energies that way, although I do understand that this is a language class, not an art class.

Mom wants more creative assignments that will turn on her son. But where’s the Spanish learning in designing a locker? Maybe he should drop Spanish and take shop instead. Only I’ll bet that’s not an option.

My daughter did a lot of arts and crafts — mostly poster design — all through school in various subjects. Some of it was fun for her. She’s an artsy type. Very little taught her the subject she was supposed to be learning.

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  1. Other than the medium, I see no difference in being “creative” in the creation of a physical object and being creative in the written expression of ideas Creativity in shop class is limited to the laws of physics. Creativity in language must follow rules of grammar.

    Since language does demand creativity I think this mom must mean something else. Perhaps she really thinks that building the locker is simply more entertaining to her child than the writing assignment.

  2. Cardinal Fang says:

    I don’t understand why a Spanish class gives any points whatsoever for a crafts project. I’m the parent of a kid who is deficient in his crafts skills. It’s bad enough that he suffers when neatness, coordination and artistic ability really are required. He shouldn’t get penalized again in a foreign language class.

    If the teacher wants to have the kids be creative, let them write and put on little skits in Spanish.

  3. A lot of “educators” seem to want to turn everyting into arts & crafts; indeed seem a lot more interested in these activities than in the substance of the knowledge they are supposed to be teaching.

    Yet at the same time the “education” community is quite hostile to actual shop classes.

    Can anyone explain this apparent paradox?

  4. Stacy in NJ says:

    I thought this was a cute idea until I re-read and realized the project was for a 7th grader, not a 3rd grader. Jeeze, what a waste of time.

  5. I’m with Cardinal Fang.

    My son is seriously deficient in arts and crafts skills, and no one’s made any attempt to remedy the problem.

    But he’s been graded, in academic subjects (middle school), on coloring, “artistic qualities,” and the like.

    At a minimum, if schools are going to grade a child’s ability to make craft projects, they should teach kids how to make craft projects instead of leaving it up to parents.

    Of course, I would prefer my son’s school teach academic subjects via reading & writing, not making collages.

  6. In January, Charles Murray of “The Bell Curve” fame wrote three successive articles in The Wall Street Journal. They focused on IQ and how kids on the margins have been wrongly welcomed into colleges throughout this country by depreciated curriculums and major course of study choices that aren’t the business of a college. I agree with a lot of what he had to say.

    When I attended middle school in the late 1950’s and then high school, boys who were not set on college — and even some like me who were — had the opportunity to take several shops. To be more correct, we were REQUIRED to take shops: Print, Metal, Wood, Handicrafts, Auto. Today that is not the case, in fact the Wood Shop teacher at a local high school has a room full of unused equipment and his job is to supervise youngsters interested in learning CAD design.

    Not to be forgotten: girls of that era learned sewing, cooking and office machine skills. It does seem silly to think of the distinctions during those times. But my point in this remembrance is to punctuate how far we have come and what we have created or not created in the young men who exit high schools for the world of work.

    One of Murray’s articles pointed out that skilled cabinet makers can earn more than most college grads. In a society where men are continually apt to be less able to fix anything around the house, the handyman’s potential income will only increase. And with husband and wife both working, they can afford to hire him. What a world.

    Yet most parents have bought into the idea that their kids will only get a good paying job if they go to college. That’s certainly not the reason I have paid and will pay college tuition. I have and will send my children to schools that see a college’s job as illuminating the search for truth; and teaching a person how to reason. Not to learn a trade.

    Why high schools direct every student toward a version of college prep escapes me. Young men, turned off with certain classes, have no outlet at the school for their creative instincts. So school becomes a 100% negative place. Sports fill the gap but only provide an illusion of a future and then only to a small percentage. As David Foster asks: Can anyone explain this paradox?

  7. wayne martin says:

    > the whole experience left me feeling sad that
    > my son, who attends one of the finest middle schools
    > in the nation

    Is there a national ranking of Middle Schools?

    > has so few assignments that jazz him up
    > the way the locker has.

    Seems to me this says a lot more about the boy than the mother is willing to admit.

    > He was so motivated to make it,
    > and the assignment gave him the opportunity to exercise
    > a little-used part of himself—

    Any vocational classes in this school? If not, what about from another school source, or a hobby group?

    Seems that the boy failed to read the assignment (presumably in English) that directed him to manage his time on a 90/10 basis. Whose fault is that?

    It stands to reason that any assignment in a Spanish Class would result in either a verbal, or a written, report. Why would anyone (even a mother) not understand that?

  8. We have no shop classes, only home ec.

    Boys have to learn to sew and cook; girls don’t have to learn to hammer nails.

    I don’t know what the origin of this change was. In our case — in NY — it seems to have come from the state, which sets state standards and requirements for learning.

    But I do think it’s connected to the femininization of public schools.

    These institutions are almost completely female-dominated: “the percentage of 6th-grade teachers who were female ranged from 58 to 91 percent across four core subjects (math, science, reading, and history).”

    The Why Chromosome

    C. is in 7th grade now.

    He’s had two male teachers in 8 years of public school, both of them this year, and both of them in “specials.”

    One teaches music; the other teaches art.

  9. Very long ago, in a French class in 9th grade, I built models of French aircraft for a requried project. One girl did a sculpture of a gargoyle.

    In 7th grade I ecall my book reports were judged not by what I wrote, but on the quality of the cover I put the report. My father’s help, with his backoround in commercial art, was critical in getting me through the course. What talent I displayed, my teacher did not appreciate.

  10. Product-oriented learning can be a powerful thing.
    Activities that engage students in multiple modalities (particularly tactile) can be very effective.

    But let’s be smart about it.

    In an academic class, students still need to be evaluated on their competence in the academic standards.

    And as for artistic talent, no student should ever be penalized for lacking talent, artistic or otherwise. If a student can demonstrate academic excellence via an artistic expression they ought to be credited for it (if, for example, a foreign language student wrote and produced a play in that language or wrote a song which required using vocabulary and grammar she was supposed to learn). If a literature student can show a deep understanding of a novel through a graphic depiction that could replace an essay, at least once in a while (actually, I might have that student then describe his art in writing as a step toward bringing his writing up to the level of his drawing or painting)….

    But shouldn’t those be options and not requirements….

  11. This sounds like a project thrown in for the tactile learners, though I doubt they’ll learn much about Spanish in the process (maybe they’ve learned lockermaking). While I can think of physicial activities that might help a person learn another language, such as acting out something while saying or reading the related word as a mnemonic device, learning to read, write, and speak another spoken language (as opposed to American Sign Language, where the physicial activity is part of the language) will surely be more visual and aural, by the nature of what you’re trying to learn.

  12. Richard Aubrey says:

    Well, for one thing, class projects don’t have to be taken home and corrected. By the teacher, I mean. And since there’s no particular metric, there are no standards.

    We had a basement drain back up a month ago. The Rotorooter guy got $325 for about an hour’s work. Say he gets two of those and six of the $125 calls for a week. That’s a call and a half a day. Given that they are always on another call when we need them, they are probably busier than that. So let’s say he has ten $125 calls. That’s $1900 gross billings. If he gets half, that’s about $40k a year. And that’s about twenty-five hours including driving.

    Christmas Eve I spent from 11:30 to midnight going up and down our street with the gas company guy looking for a leak we could smell when we got back from Christmas Eve services. He allowed that he got triple time.

    We’re remodeling our home. The contractors and subs seem to be living pretty well.

    And they can’t outsource bricklaying.
    The Maytag guy gets $85 for knocking on your door.

  13. Boys have to learn to sew and cook; girls don’t have to learn to hammer nails.

    I do think it’s connected to the femininization of public schools.

    Most people need to eat and sew on the occasional button – these are not “feminine” skills. The people I felt most sorry for in college were the guys who never learned to cook. One friend of mine ate frozen food for every meal for an entire year (until I started to teach him to cook.)


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