November 20, 2013 by briantshock
There’s a big criticism today that children are too coddled; positive reinforcement is doled out for everything and everybody is too afraid to ever raise their voices and all that. This is the belief that everybody winning a trophy for participating is making kids too soft, that they need competition, because dang it, the real world is rough! I think I was near the beginning of this new trend, as I remember starting to get the trophies every year for participating in “Field Day” (AKA “Teachers Have Taught These Kids for 178 Days already, Screw It, Let ’em Go Outside Day”) and an increase in winning awards for stuff I figured I was just expected to do.
But it certainly wasn’t always like that for me. Let me tell you about the time my third grade art teacher threw my project in the trash.
As a kid I always loved the artistic stuff. I loved drawing silly little drawings and comics to pass around to my friends. I was also pretty good at looking at cartoons and comics and copying them onto my own piece of paper. Everybody claimed I was using tracing paper but they were just jealous and incorrect; I was using real paper. Coloring books were awesome, and I was damn good at it! Painting by numbers was a little trickier, but I still had the artistic chops to get the job done. So naturally I always loved Mondays at school in third grade, because that was the day we went to “Art” in the middle of the day.
One Monday, we were to begin our most ambitious art project yet; Papier Mâché pigs! Yes I copied that from Wikipedia; I’m not going to get those symbols right from here on out. It would take several weeks of effort, but we would soon have papier mache pigs to paint and take home and be proud of forever! All it took was an empty two-liter soda bottle and some paper towel tubes and we would soon be on our way!
Of course, papier mache quickly turns into an exercise of tedium. After wasting so much masking tape on the base materials to get the shapes right, it was time to start applying the shredded newspaper in that disgusting glue to the model. I figured this was a pretty cut-and-dry exercise (…) so I laughed and joked with my friends and I mindlessly stuck pieces of newspaper to this soda bottle. The art teacher made her rounds, checking up on each table’s progress, until she got to ours, when she saw the bulbous tumors of newspaper collecting in spots on mine.
“You’re going to have to smooth this out,” she said, “this isn’t looking so good.”
This harsh feedback was sobering. I settled down and put my nose to the wet, gluey grindstone. I did all I could to try to level things out to improve my situation. I probably didn’t say another word for the rest of the class.
The next week, it didn’t seem like things had improved that much. My previous week’s efforts had now hardened and my poor pig was now a much bigger mess than how I remembered leaving it. I worked fast to try to fix my past mistakes before the teacher got back around to deliver more terse criticism on me and my pig. It ultimately wouldn’t matter. I looked up and saw my teacher staring down at me, looking shocked at this terrible scene of desperation.
I’ll never forget what happened next. She picked up my would-be pig, made a face, and said without a trace of emotion,
“No, this cannot be saved”
She then proceeded to throw it across the room, right in front of me, into the trash can. In my mind, this was the full length of the classroom, but I know it was probably a much shorter distance. It could not have been less than ten feet, however. I swear this happened in slow-motion for me. I feel like there was an instant replay and I had to see it twice.
“What am I supposed to do for the rest of the class then?” I asked. How I summoned the courage to speak to this monster is still beyond me.
“You can help the other students finish theirs,” she replied. What a slap in the face! Alas, there wasn’t much I could do to bring back my pig. So for the next few weeks I helped my friends, taking care not to help TOO much; after all, I wouldn’t want their pigs meeting the same fate mine did.
Mine ended up being the only one discarded. I didn’t understand; how could I have been the worst at this project? How could I have been so bad that my work was thrown away? It was a harsh lesson. I had already been taught that while there will always be somebody better than you, you should never give up, and if you enjoy something, you should keep at it. But in this case the entire whole class was better than me and I was forced to give up. This contradicted everything! Was I taught the wrong thing? Is there no justice? My pig was dead. Are there no happy endings?
Nine years pass.
I’m sitting in Art 2 class in high school, one of my only reprieves from an otherwise very busy senior schedule. This art teacher was a much more relaxed woman than my previous nemesis, probably because this was her last semester teaching (a fact she advertised often). She announced that we’d be doing papier mache as our next project and was hearing people’s suggestions for what they would like to make. I gave a solemn nod to nobody in particular at my table before speaking up. There was really only one thing left to say.
“I would like to make a pig.”