Slice of Life Tuesday: The 9/11 assigned letter


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Last Sunday evening, I spent some time talking over the phone with my lovely niece Chloe. Our conversation shifted to the homework assignment she was working on.  I know no other 7th. grader who has as much homework as Chloe  – here’s what she had for just one night in language arts, day 2 of the school year:

  • Write 20 compound sentences beginning with “I am”
  • Compose a 20 line poem on any topic
  • Write 20 compound sentences using each of 20 spelling words
  • Complete 3 pages of vocab exercises (sentence completion, synonyms, antonyms etc) using a completely different set of 20 words to the 20 spelling words

On Sunday night, though, Chloe was grappling with a new assignment: write a four paragraph letter to the NYPD and the NYFD to thank them for their work on September 11th.  This seems to be an assignment  that crops up at this time of year in classroom after classroom.  Children who were not even born then, or who were just babies on that dreadful day, are asked to write letters and essays about the significance of those events.

Chloe had some meaningful things to say, but she definitely struggled – the assignment had to be four paragraphs long.  How many different ways to say “thank you”, “I admire your dedication”, “I will never forget”?  I saw immediately, of course (as a writing teacher), that the main issue here was that Chloe was struggling to write about something she knew very little about. She’s in 7th. grade, she lives in California, and what she knows about 9/11 all these years later is filtered through images and stories she hears most often just around that date. No unit of study was planned around the event, no thoughtful discussions had been had in class, there was just this assignment to be completed. Perhaps, collectively, these letters would make a nice bulletin board for her class’ back-to-school night?  Why do teachers assign these letters?

We brainstormed a bit, and then Chloe was off and running.  She wrote her letter.  But I still wish she had had a different writing assignment…or had been given the freedom just to read.


20 thoughts on “Slice of Life Tuesday: The 9/11 assigned letter

  1. Too often teachers don’t think through the assignments they assign. Those of us who lived through that terrible day will never forget. I have always felt that writing assignments should be relevant to the person doing the writing.

  2. Another ugh. Sorry for dear Chloe, as I often am for my grandson who has so little to say with an excited voice except about band & pe. One would hope they at least had a poem that someone wrote & a brief story (of the many) of those brave people so they could reflect honestly and be thankful truly. Thanks for sharing so we can all learn Tara.

  3. I am sorry to offend anyone here, but this is a ridiculous assignment for one night. ALL of this will be done in a rapid, thought-less way in general. If it can get done. There will be no learning to come from this. I am sure poor Chloe also had homework in other subjects. I never had this kind of homework in 7th grade and turned out to be highly educated and competent. It seems no wonder kids do not complete homework. I thought I was incorrect and the child could choose from the list……how long does the teacher think it takes to create a 20 line poem? One of quality certainly does not get done on the fly. I would write a letter to the principal and superintendent and share this assignment and other concerns. This is really not right in my experienced opinion. Also the teacher should sit down and film herself completing this assignment so she can show how long it took her. Honestly I won’t go so far as to cry “child abuse” but I strongly believe this is wrong on multiple levels. Not least of which is how are the students going to learn to love literacy learning?

  4. Oh, that poor little girl. What about letting kids go outside and play with their dog, enjoy the autumn afternoons before the winter hits. What about letting them ease into school a bit. What about meaningful assignments? Your little Chloe is a real trooper, lucky she has a lovely auntie like you who ‘gets it.’

  5. I much prefer my bulletin board display – quilt squares that students complete by choosing four separate topics to share about themselves. Parents love it, classmates love it, and the entire school community stops to read.
    This is an excessive amount of homework for any night in one subject. What is this teacher thinking? This is a week’s worth of busy work. Reminds me of the long lists of words my kids were assigned in high school. I looked up the definitions of the words for them, they were responsible for learning them.

  6. So sad! I can’t imagine having to do that as a student and I certainly can’t imagine doing that as a teacher. She is lucky to have your support!

  7. Wow that homework is excessive. You make such a good point about the 9/11 writing and writing as a piece of a unit of study instead of writing a decontextualized obligatory thank you. Good thing she has a helpful Auntie!

  8. I’m so sorry for Chloe. So much of this is so very far away from anything that might seem to ignite learning. Sounds like she is a hard working kid, so she does it dutifully. A sad waste of humanity. And, I’m wondering what does that teacher do with all of those lists of 20 times however many students she/he has.

  9. I’m not sure if I have more of a problem with the Day 2 assignments or the 9/11 assignment. They’re both designed to foster a hate of learning (is that an expression??? I’m making it one as the opposite of love of learning.) I have a seventh grader and I would not want her spending her time figuring out what to say to people she doesn’t know about an event she can’t imagine. Hard to understand how teachers can really think that these are inspiring, meaningful lessons…

  10. Ugh from me as well. I don’t understand why teachers continue to assign homework. There is no research to support its effectiveness. And when are children supposed to be children? So often homework is simply meaningless busy work anyway. I so appreciate the teachers who do not give homework, and yet I can tell some feel uncomfortable about it because some of my son’s teachers actually apologize to me when explaining their homework policy, as if I will expect and want them to assign homework! Which makes me think that many parents do. But when my son is in school for 8 hours a day, I resent it when he comes home and has to spend 2 more hours doing homework (as he did on Monday). The 9/11 assignment is especially thoughtless and pointless and shows a real lack of understanding about why people write. I join you in full curmudgeonhood!

  11. This was always something I struggled with as a teacher – what homework to assign and why it was necessary. Too often teachers are trying to get all the curriculun covered and cram some into homeworl. My belief still is that the best homework at any age is to read, read, read. And that was what was the main thrust of homework in my class. Thankfully Chloe has you to help her.

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