Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Samantha's Writing Homework

The other night I was visiting my brother when my nine-year old niece Samantha asked me if I'd help her with her writing homework.  Back when my own kids were in elementary school, I always enjoyed the opportunity to help with various assignments and projects.  Of course, sometimes my "help" wasn't so helpful, like the time my daughter Lindsay got a D- on a History Day project after I told her that the Battle of the Bulge was fought by Oprah Winfrey.  After that, she and her brother stopped asking for my input so often.  So when Sammi asked for my assistance with the writing assignment, I was happy to get back on the homework bandwagon.

This was her assignment:

After reading the following story, write an essay about the main theme showing your understanding of the story.  Support your ideas by referring to the story and your own experiences.

The Stone in the Road
by Judy Sierra

A certain country was ruled by a kind-hearted king who would do anything for his subjects.  But at last he noticed that they were growing lazy, and seldom did anything for themselves -- or for each other!  The king wondered if there was anyone left in his kingdom who would go out of his way to help his neighbors.  So he concocted a plan.

Late one night, the king went to the main road of the kingdom and rolled a huge stone right smack into the middle of it.  Then he secretly placed a bag of gold under the stone.  Next morning, he hid near the road to watch.

First, a woman came by on her way to the market.  Because of the stone, she had to walk in the mud at the side of the road.  "Someone should really move that stone," she snapped angrily.

Next, two students passed by on their way to school.  "What a nuisance!" they cried.  "Why doesn't the king move that rock out of our road?"

And so it continued all day long: some people blamed the king, some people blamed the stone, and some even hit the stone as they walked around it.  As the sun was about to set, a young girl passed by.  When she saw the stone, she stopped.  "I'd better get this out of the road," she said.  "Someone might pass by here after dark, and not see the stone, and bump into it."  The girl pushed and pushed at the stone.

A man walked by and said, "Let the king take care of that."

But the girl kept pushing until at last the stone began to roll, and rolled over the edge of the road and down the hill.

It was then that everyone saw the bag of gold the king had left there.  Everyone agreed that the girl deserved the gold.  And, everyone was more than a bit ashamed that they had not thought of moving the stone.  After that, they began helping each other instead of waiting for the king to do things for them.

Samantha and I discussed the story at length.  While it seemed like the author (and Sam's teacher) wanted us to think that it was a story about taking responsibility and helping other people, we picked up on a more obvious (and somewhat disillusioning) message.  Here's what we came up with:

The Passive-Aggressive King: An Analysis of The Stone in the Road
By Samantha, Mrs. McDonald's third grade class 
The obvious theme of The Stone in the Road is that passive-aggressive trickery is a pretty screwed up way to run a kingdom.  The king in this story is a total douchebag, the sort of leader who pussy-foots around a problem rather than confronting it head-on .  He should have inspired the citizens of his kingdom with a passionate speech about cooperation, or spear-headed a community outreach program to get everyone involved in the betterment of society.  But no, he tried to solve one problem by creating an even bigger one.

In a misguided attempt to teach his subjects a lesson, the king decided to place a large stone (the word "boulder" would be more accurate here) in the middle of a well-traveled road.  What a dill weed.  Inventing a problem that doesn't exist just to illustrate one's vague point about cooperation is Neanderthal in its inception.  The king was actually very lucky that the only consequences of his roadblock were a pair of muddy shoes and two ticked off kids.  Clearly, it could've been much worse.  What if an ambulance came whizzing down the road en route to the local hospital, carrying a battle-weary prince with an opponent's lance sticking out of his neck?  The boulder in the road would, at best, cause a great delay and lessen the chances for the prince's survival.  At worst, the ambulance would slam into the boulder, everyone inside perishing in a fiery explosion.  Did the king think about that, even for a moment?

The irony here is that the two students who used the road were right when they said, "The king should move this stone."  It is, after all, his job to make sure the kingdom is safe for travelers.  At the very least, the king should have delegated this responsibility to a Department of Public Safety.  At any rate, individual citizens can't be expected to maintain the streets themselves, they're not trained for it.  That became all too apparent when the little girl took it upon herself to move the rock, causing it to "roll down the hill."  The story doesn't say what happened next, but surely it wasn't good.  Did the rock flatten a schoolyard full of kindergartners?  Smash into someone's home?  It's a good thing the little girl found a bag of gold because she's probably going to get sued, and the king himself should be named as an accomplice!

Instead of sending his message in such a convoluted manner, the king should have developed a proactive plan to combat laziness or, better yet, started to lead by example.  If the people of the kingdom saw their leader going out of his way to do good deeds for others, they would probably do the same.  

Even though the assignment didn't ask for it, we printed out a picture to accompany the story, depicting what could've happened to the kingdom.

I can't wait to find out what grade she got.


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Hap said...

Hmm... I'm pretty sure you won't be her favorite uncle for long, Chris. hehehe.

CatLadyLarew said...

Hey, it works for me! Lazy king! What I want to know, though, is why nobody just stood there screaming until somebody else moved it? (That would be the response of some of the four year olds I teach.)

Grumpy, M.D. said...

"The king was impeached, when it was found that he paid gold to an underage girl to help him get his rocks off."

Suldog said...

Hilarious stuff. And I can't help but think that, upon discovering the bag of gold under the boulder, it's highly unlikely that everybody would say that the girl deserved it. As a matter of fact, while she was huffing and puffing on the side of the road after finally moving the massive roadblock, the first ne'er do well who passed by probably scooped it and ran.

Linda said...

I must agree with Suldog, that was my first thought too-someone else grabbed the gold and ran.

Great picture find-perfect for the essay.

Heff said...

That was a ROYAL example of delegating a homework assignment !

Frank Lee MeiDere said...

It seems we have similar, jaundiced views towards moralistic stories. Well done.

ReformingGeek said...

That poor child. Allow her to experience the simple things in life. Yeah, like moving the boulder. That was really her in the story and you watched her do it and tried to take her gold.



Bethany@ImperfectMom said...

Haha! I love that you called the king a douchebag! Great post.

Jules said...

The Kingdom Attorney didn't file a lawsuit as soon as he saw the stone? The kingdom wasn't put on High Alert for an unidentified stone-placer? No chopper-videos or Twitter accounts of the story as it unfolded? What kind of civilization is that?

Eva Gallant said...

I love Jules' comment! And I think Uncle Knucklehead is going to be in the doghouse soon, even if he is fiendishly clever!

screwdestiny said...

LOL! I'm sure it will give the teacher a chuckle.

MikeWJ at Too Many Mornings said...

You are the best, and worst, sort of uncle, and a man after my own heart. Hilarious, Knuck!

Janna said...

This is great. :)


Kathy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
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