Interviewing a Little Girl about School


My First Halfway Decent Depiction of a Horse 🙂

Yesterday I got to hang out with a little girl and talk to her. I was at the Art Co-op Store where I have a few paintings hanging. I was working with the little girl’s grandmother, and I was painting a small watercolor of a horse. The little girl came in, and I gave her something to paint on and with and she sat down with me and we had a good time.

She’s going into third grade. I said, “I remember liking third grade. I had fun then.” In fact, it was hard, because I was a new kid in a new school, but, you know, otherwise, it was very good. I learned a lot about drawing — my teacher’s husband had been stationed in Japan and she brought Japanese paintings for me to copy (it kept me quiet, too…)

This little girl said, “I don’t think I’m going to have any fun. We don’t have any fun at my school.”

“Why not?”

“We just take tests.”

“I remember getting to read some good books.”

“I won’t. I’m still in the last level in reading so I get to read second grade books until I pass the exam. In reading I’m still in level X-2 and I need to be in level X-3 if I am going to read new books.”

Imagine that. Knowing when you start a WHOLE new school year you’re going to read the SAME thing you did the year before even though you’re in a new grade.

“I’m sorry about that,” I said. “If I ruled the world you could at least read a new book.”

“Yeah, that would be nice, but I can’t read a new book until I pass the test.”

“Well, like I said, if it were up to me.”

“I’d like school if it was like this.”


“Yeah. I’d like that.”

“You don’t get to paint in school?”

“No. We just take tests on iPads. I hate that..”

Her painting of a volcano was pretty good and showed a decent understanding of geology. It had fiery red lava, a black sky and a dark mountain. She wanted to put smoke in her picture, but since she’d painted the sky black, she couldn’t see how. “Take a paper towel,” I said, “wet it and soak up some of that black sky. You’ll have nice smoke!” She did. She followed instructions, saw how it worked and got some very good smoke effects for her efforts. I was tickled. She was a teachable little girl, truly interested and ready to learn.

After she finished her volcano she did two more paintings on blue post-its, both of them were of the beach. I said, “Are you going to put in sea gulls and an umbrella?” She did and then she told me the story of all the people at the beach.

When she finished drawing, she went outside and jumped rope.

This is a very cool little girl. She’s smart and she’s talented and imaginative. In no way is she a behavior problem or learning challenged. She’s just a normal, bright kid. She’s 8 years old. She likes to learn and she hates school.

I could cry.

20 thoughts on “Interviewing a Little Girl about School

  1. IF there is only one thing you are allowed to say bad about W, it’s No Child Left Behind. What it did was allow no child to move forward. This is the type of child that most teachers I know would love to teach. What I would like to see is someone buying a book for that little girl that she could read at home. Then when she passes the test, and gets new books in school, she’ll already be ahead of the game.

    I know that reading-insecure children are likely to reread the same books over and over again. When they read it out loud, one can hear the ways in which they have stopped reading and are telling the story themselves. They miss words on the page, mispronounce words that are pointed out them. I read with a child at a local school one day a week in the school year (done for the year now). She loves it when I read the age appropriate stuff to her, and usually follows along. But she won’t try it herself yet, and part of that is because even the easy stuff is hard for her to make sound lively and entertaining. She wants to read, but doesn’t want to work for it. But she’s sticking around for next year, and I hope to see some improvement after a month or so of getting to know each other again. She comes from a home without books, and is terribly challenged by that.

    My new mantra is to give kids books to read, rather than technology that doesn’t challenge them. These are the people who will be entering the job market when we most need social security and medicare. Let’s hope we challenge them enough to enjoy their conversation and thoughts when we are decrepit and they are the ones caring for us.

    • Obama has contined GWB’s disastrous education policy and for that alone I think he sucks as a president. I agree with your mantra and I imagine her parents and grandma do too. It’s just wrong that a kid hates school for THOSE reasons. Being bullied or hating the teacher, fine. But because she’s not allowed to LEARN? That’s so awful. Anyway, I’m going to see her through the summer and I plan to put a book or two in her way. 🙂

  2. Our US public schools are so broken. It’s all about testing. Forget reading for fun, creative arts, music and god-forbid, some active recess time on the playground in free play. I feel sorry for this next generation of children. Good for you, Martha, to buy her some books! Love your painting!

    • Oh! A lady came in the shop and saw what the little girl and I were doing — the little girl was having a blast painting a volcano. The woman said, “Free style? Anything she wants?” I truly didn’t understand the woman. I said, “What else would she do?” The woman goes, “Oh, coloring books, you know.” I’d forgotten ALL about coloring books. Then the lady told me her life story — her mom was an artist and the woman had lots of chances to paint or draw whatever she wanted. The little girl’s grandma said, “You should give that painting to your father!” The little girl said, “I want to hang it in here with the other pictures!” I would have let her…

  3. OMG, how sad a comment on the school system this post is. The system will take that little girl’s creativity and interest and talents and scrunch them to fit whatever cookie-cutter form some bureaucrat has decided is what a graduate should be.

    I have a grandson who is very bright, but there was no money for private schools, Waldorf or Montessori or the like. He’s been a voracious reader since he was a toddler, and he can look at anything mechanical, figure out how it works, take it apart and put it together again like new. He’s a computer nerd too, and can make anything electronic just about walk and talk for him. He’s been in soccer, football, and other sports since grade school. There’s a good deal of potential in this young man.

    He’s graduating from high school this year, and he’s been bored out of his mind since about grade four. What kind of start in life is that, I wonder?

    • I’m sorry to say it seems to be the normal start to life these days. But…school isn’t that long and I have a lot of faith that once they’re out of school they’re natural curiosity will gain ascendancy.

  4. I am not aware of the US education system but can relate to it. The situation in India is similar too. Tests rule ! Some parents are are crazy about tests and force their kids to appear for all tests possible. I think it’s more of a parent ego satisfaction thing . I feel tests kill creativity and the ability to think out of the box. In India we hardly see kids reading books outside their syllabus . are we creating robots I wonder at times.
    Sorry for the long comment, Martha. Your post made me emotional 🙂

    • Mamta! No need to apologize — I think this is a subject on which everyone should feel emotional. It’s a situation (apparently worldwide) that is hugely detrimental to human culture and happiness.

  5. I’m glad that little girl ran into you. Give her some good books. I checked into a volunteer reading program at the local school. They needed help with children who were behind in reading. They told me they had a program that couldn’t be deviated from when I asked about the books they wanted the kids to read. I said, ” If a kid is interested in pirates, why can’t we read about pirates?” They said that wasn’t how they did it. I said no thanks. They seemed to insist on a force feeding of material that seemed more like brain washing that learning.

    • You might try the local library. Sometimes they have richer reading programs for kids. And it is brainwashing. Absolutely. It’s exactly that — it’s insidious mind control designed to prevent kids from developing a love of learning and healthy curiosity. I’m not sure how I feel about Snowden, but that’s something the perfect state doesn’t want, right?

      • The only way around that is to teach kids to be skeptical of everything they hear, to look it up. But they won’t do that; that would put the whole thing in danger of being exposed. And when you expose the system for what it is, you wind up seeking asylum with the Rooskies. I’m constantly amazed that people don’t recognize textbook propaganda. But if you’re too lazy to look into it, you will buy the bull. It doesn’t matter what channel you watch; you’ll hear 25% truth, 50% half truth, and 25 % lie.

      • I think it’s pretty difficult for anyone to write anything that is not propaganda. If kids are taught skills such as critical thinking, reading, writing, “cyphering” it doesn’t matter all that much if textbooks are propaganda. When I look back on the propaganda I was taught as a little kid I see that there were also facts. I think the most important thing is that the natural abilities of the human mind are not flattened by school.

  6. It really is a tragedy, how we are squashing the love of learning in our schools because someone important thinks the only thing that matters is what you can “prove” by a standardized test. Sad.

    • I think it’s a plot to replace education with brainwashing and I’m not particularly a conspiracy theorist (kind of — you don’t grow up in the Cold War reading science fiction without a little of that).

  7. This is tragic. Judging by my grand-kids, we don’t seem to be quite as test-bound here. They do all sort of things I wouldn’t have dreamed of: the two 9 y/os (cousins, same class) gave talks last week on ‘living in a multicultural society’.

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