Barry Rubin’s 10-year-old son, an anthropologist studying fourth-grade American classrooms, reports on the friendship worksheet.
The guidance counselor said: “The point of this is when you are sad then you look at the page and you feel better because this person thinks those nice things about you.”
My son, bless him, replied, “Of course the person is going to say nice things because it’s a project.”
The teacher paired off students and assigned them to praise each other. The worksheet supplied 28 adjectives “ranging from kind and dependable through funny and nice.” Under predicates, students could choose from 14 items including “is nice,” “cares about others,” “has good ideas,” and “is a good sport.”
There is a choice at the end to write in something but the direction is foreclosed because one alternative begins with “is good at ___” and the other “is great at ____.”
. . . Finally, comes a “friendship sentence” to be written using the words chosen above. In my son’s case, he received the following: “You are a good and nice friend who is kind and learns quickly.”
This took thirty minutes of class time.
Niceness also prevails on the playing fields of affluent communities, Rubin adds. Boys don’t play hard, yet they’re showered with praise.
The coach and parents keep telling the kids how well they are doing, how every play they are making is terrific. My son mimics this with an exaggerated: “Isn’t that great!”
In Israel, where the Rubins lived before moving to Maryland, coaches yell and kids play to win.