Friday, January 05, 2007


So, I was listening to my iPod while driving down to SLC the other day. I currently have 3214 songs, and one of them happens to be a song called “The Book Report”. It’s from the Braodway Musical, “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.”

I realized that the lyrics of the song describe some of the concerns that I have with public education. Not with the teachers, not with administrators, but with the system that inherently is bad for kids.

Let’s look at the song. The cast of characters includes Lucy, Linus, Schroeder, and Charlie Brown. They all start singing about a book report that they have to do on Peter Rabbit. After a brief intro Lucy breaks into a solo.

Peter Rabbit is this stupid book
About this stupid rabbit who steals
Vegetables from other peoples' gardens

She then proceeds to count the words (there are 17), and says, “hmmmm, 83 to go.”

Clearly Lucy doesn’t much care for the story. Why? We don’t know. Maybe the book is too hard, maybe it’s too easy, maybe she has a bad attitude; it’s hard to tell. But Lucy has learned how to beat the system. She is supposed to write a 100 word book report, and by golly she is going to write a 100 word book report. She very likely won’t get anything out of the experience, but she will meet the minimum requirements.

We hear more singing from other characters, but I want to keep focused on Lucy. Later in the song she comes back with more of her report. She uses a whole lot of adjectives and filler words to ‘stretch out' her report.

The other people's name was Macgregor.
(::counts to 23::)

The name of the rabbit was Peter
(::counts to 30::)

There were vegetables
In the garden

“Such as carrots and spinach
And onions and lettuce
And turnips and parsley
And okra and cabbage
And string beans and parsnips
Tomatoes, potatoes, asparagus
Cauliflower, rhubarb and chives.

“And they were very, very, very, very, very, very
Happy to be home.

Finally, at the end she counts up and realized she’s only at 97. So she finishes her report with:

The very, very, very end.”

Clearly Lucy isn’t learning, she’s only trying to meet the stated goal. And the ‘goal’ (100 words) is an arbitrary goal set up by the teacher. Who is to say that a 100 word essay will prove that students understand Peter Rabbit? Why not 80? Why not 200? Some students might be able to encapsulate the story in less, others might need more space. Lucy doesn’t care, she meets the technical requirements, and calls it good. And the sad thing is that since she met the technical requirements, she will likely get a passing grade.

Lucy’s probable grade – B+

Tomorrow, we’ll look at Schroeder.

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