My son told me he wrote a post for my blog. He’s written for this blog before, so I read his post with excitement. But then I had to tell him it wouldn’t work. I’m not sure it’s that nice,” I told him. “Or useful.”

Then I read a review of the book Now You See It: How Technology and Brain Science will Transform Schools and Business in the 21st Century. The author, Kathy Davidson, was horrified when her students at Duke wrote poorly constructed, failing papers and returned to their dorm to write brilliant blog posts.

But instead of berating the students for laziness or illiteracy, Ms. Davidson began to question the whole form of the research paper. “What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school — the term paper — and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?” She adds: “What if ‘research paper’ is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?”

After studying the situation, Davidson concluded, “Online blogs directed at peers exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers.”

Davidson is part of a new trend of academics who recognize that the way we trained management for the last century is not appropriate for the current century. Stanford’s writing program found that students had learned excellent writing skills from the brutal, quick-to-click readers online. And journalism schools are teaching graduate students to evaluate their own writing on social sharing numbers rather than GPAs.

All this is to say that I decided my son’s blog post is not as bad as I initially thought. Virginia Hoffman, writing in the New York Times, warns that when we criticize kids for not writing in a way that we like to read, “we bind ourselves to the world as it is.”

So here’s the post my son wrote:

Stuff I hear in mom’s coaching calls. And other calls in general.

1. Mom seems to talk about how marriages are totally failing

2. She also talks about kids and how divorces affect them and constantly refers to a family that has kids moving around between two households every weeks and carrying backpacks with all their belongings in them

3. Mom also screams at people a lot and tells them how bad they are at business, sales, etc.

4. One time mom recommended that someone goes out with their friends and use drugs. (great way to get arrested mom.)

5. As I just wrote 4 Mom attempted to justify her reason for suggesting someone use drugs.

Solution for number 1
According to me. If you don’t have kids then divorce is okay as long as you try everything in your power to work out your problems. If you do have kids, wait for them to leave the house, then you can get a divorce. In the meantime just suck it up. Maybe along the way you’ll work it out.

Solution for number 2
See number 1

Solution for number 3
I feel that mom should be calmer when coaching and stop screaming and telling people how awful they are

Solution for number 4
It’s very bad to tell people to use drugs, even when they are in a horrible situation. Don’t do drugs. Drugs are bad. Not even if Mom recommends them.

Solution number 5
No one should attempt to justify suggesting drugs to someone. Mom is trying to tell me she was making a point in order to show them how messed up their life was.

Story time number 1: Car rides with mom.
During a long car ride Mom typically has multiple coaching calls. And she ends up forgetting a few of them. So that completely screws up the schedule, which is very delicate. And that’s annoying. Especially if you want to talk to her or need her help during violin lesson.

Story time number 2: Traveling with Mom.
Mom has other people schedule her stuff for her, but that doesn’t always prevent errors. So at an airport we ended up getting there three hours late because Mom’s alarm didn’t go off. Then when we got there it turned out we were there three days early so we had to wait five hours in the airport.

Story time number 3: Resort and most embarrassing moment of my life.
We were staying in Vail on our way to a Colorado paleontology gig, which was totally awful by the way. So we stayed in Vail for a few days. When we went on the chair lift up to a restaurant, I ended up for some reason throwing up everywhere while Mom was on a coaching call, and I had to suck it up. Not literally.

And then, another day we were walking to a gluten-free pizza place that had a bowling alley in it which was awesome, but Mom had a huge call with an investor and she was dropping a million f bombs a second. So we had to stay outside at a soccer area while she was screaming at this person.

Then someone with a stroller full of baby Chihuahuas came along and I pet them for a little. When the lady asked where my mom was, I pointed to her and Mom was screaming f-you, and the lady said, Oh. Then I pet the dogs for five more minutes and she left.

46 replies
  1. layla
    layla says:

    clever and humorous. sorry your mom drops the f-bomb so often. you could start a “moron jar” we have one at our house; the perpetrator of some moronic act or word must drop money in this jar. the person who catches them determines the amount of money owed. you could buy yourself something really nice with all that money!
    keep up the good writing.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      I feel like he could quickly amass enough money for a $15K violin.

      I’m not sure why swearing is such a big deal. It used to be to me and then I started swearing to deal with anger when someone did something awful and it worked. The swearing releases anger quickly and I’m able to get a hold of myself and move on.

      Just teach kids to realize when it’s okay to swear and when it’s not and how some adults will freak out about it.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        K- I frequently swear, it is cathartic in the moment. I have nothing against cursing, but I do let my children know that some adults would be offended so to use their judgement. They choose not to swear though.

        I’m not sure why swearing makes one a moron, that seems strange to me. But even having a moron jar is weird to me too. I don’t see the logic in this. :)

        • Melissa
          Melissa says:

          I’ve been wondering this myself. Like what is the linguistic/cultural purpose of “bad words”? I remember feeling deep, deep shame when I got caught for cursing as a 9 year old. Now I think of that as a huge waste of time and energy that I want to spare my (unborn) kid. I love how you and Karelys approach this.

          Now, my other burning question: WTF Santa Claus? Isn’t that just a big dumb lie? Or am I missing the point?

          • MBL
            MBL says:

            Santa Claus was a hard one for us. My daughter was four when she asked for real. I tried to blow some “the ‘spirit of Christmas’ is real” nonsense her way, but she basically said “Look, you would know. Do you buy the presents or not?” I spilled the beans, but made her promise not to let my mom know that she knew. And pointed out that the longer she “believed” the longer she would get more loot.

          • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
            YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

            You sound like a typical INTJ. ;) Those arguments sound oh-so familiar.

            I came to a point a few years ago, that I could either turn into the Grinch and tell everyone how dumb they all are, or I could just learn to celebrate all of it without believing any of it. I chose the latter, because who wants to be the grouchy guy who raises his fist and yells out “Get off my lawn you whippersnapper!!”? Not me, and I was headed down that road. lol. I give my oldest child useful phrases to say when Grandma asks what Santa brought her, since she doesn’t believe in any of it, yet adults sure do like to talk about it all the time.

          • sarah
            sarah says:

            I never grew up believing in Santa Claus. My Mother told me the truth right off the bat. To quote: ” I won’t lie to you like other Moms lie to their kids. I want you to know you can trust me. Santa’s not real. ”

            I wish she had followed it with, “Don’t tell anyone” because I had no friends after I repeated that one to them! ha ha.

  2. Jim Grey
    Jim Grey says:

    Since college, I’ve never written a research paper or a lab report. But I have to write persuasively and interestingly every day in my job as a director in a software company. My blog has helped me do that better (via practice) than any term paper I ever wrote.

    Sounds like your sons think you scream a lot!

  3. jessica
    jessica says:

    Oh my goodness, your son is kind of hilarious. I like his style. Also, it’s adorable that he is including himself in your grown up world through writing and thus bonding.

    If I could offer anything based on his concerns it would be to separate the work and the kids more.

    I would read his blog.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      What? No! Don’t separate the kids and work more. The reason why he sucks it up when he throws up while she’s coaching is because he knows how important that is. He also knows they’ll be together all day.

      He’s giving solutions to what he sees is wrong or bad. He’s not asking or wishing his mom was 100% solely focused on him and his brother. I think it says a lot for how they feel being a part of everything.

  4. Jana
    Jana says:

    I loved reading this!!!! I think it’s rare that we see how kids think and process when they are left unfiltered. We need more of this.

  5. Mali
    Mali says:

    ” I ended up for some reason throwing up everywhere while Mom was on a coaching call, and I had to suck it up. Not literally.” – LOL

  6. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    The way your son writes makes sense to me. The website 9gag is a staple of my life. It’s weird. I’m always busy but if I’m waiting for something I catch up on 9gag. Everything is quick and to the point and I feel like for the most part I’m talking to people that speak my language.

    The post reminds me of that. When the numbers start mixing with the letters it doesn’t jolt my brain like I’m sure it would for an English teacher. It just flows and makes sense. The quickness with the story time is amazing. I feel like I’m getting a look into his life without having to read a novel.

  7. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    He is so awesome! It is like he is observing you like a scientist would while journaling his observations. I love the way he writes.

  8. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    Happy belated Mother’s Day. I think Moms should probably get at least two officially celebrated days a year (of their own choosing). Everybody drops what they’re doing and their plans at a moment’s notice for Mom. I shudder to think what I may have written if given the opportunity when I was Yefet’s age.
    According to Mark. the use of the f bomb can be an effective tool in the coach’s arsenal for motivational purposes. However, the use of the f bomb in a carpet bombing fashion is very much last century. :)

  9. Writing Teacher
    Writing Teacher says:

    Dear Yefet,
    My favorite part of your post was this sentence: “Not literally.” Thank-you for writing.

  10. Cassie
    Cassie says:

    Great piece! I love your son’s voice! Life’s messy and all of us grown ups don’t have our sh*t together. It’s ok for our kids to see that they don’t have to live up to some sort of ideal.

    I loved this: “when we criticize kids for not writing in a way that we like to read, “we bind ourselves to the world as it is.”

    For a long time I’ve felt I have no right to teach writing to my children…as if I know how do it better than they. And so, I haven’t. At 15 and 11, they are both great writers. My younger daughter has a sarcastic, hysterically funny writing voice. I’m happy I didn’t squash it out of her.

  11. MBL
    MBL says:

    I concur. “Not literally.” was awesome! Had I been drinking coffee while I read it, I would have cleaning it up. Literally.

    This will never apply to me, but if a couple doesn’t have kids why should they “try everything in their power” first, before resorting to divorce? I don’t mean walk out the door if someone forgets take out the trash, but I think sometimes people make a mistake in their choice and it is often better to recognize that early on rather than spend too much time and energy trying to “fix it” for the sake of “sticking it out.”

    In my view, taking vows seriously includes marrying the right person for the right reason and not just “you made a promise so you should suck it up.” I can see how strict religious beliefs could alter that, but I was just curious about Yefet’s reasoning.

    Great post!

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      “not literally” was my favorite part too. I wonder if that was intentionally tongue in cheek, or if he wanted to make sure we knew it wasn’t literal. Either way, he is adorable.

      • MBL
        MBL says:

        I assumed it was meant to be hilarious. It didn’t occur to me that it could be for clarification only! Yep, adorable and endearing.

    • Me
      Me says:

      I think the only way to make a marriage work is to tell yourself from the beginning that there’s no backing out. Just remove the possibility of walking away, and that forces you to make the best of it. Keeping the possibility open that you might have made a mistake will lead you to think that you did make a mistake (because relationships are messy, people aren’t perfect, infatuation fades, etc.).

      I have seen a lot of marriages fail that didn’t have to. The follow up is that most of those people got remarried. With the benefit of experience and the ability to choose again, you’d think those second marriages would be successful, but I notice that they tend to fail.

      Unless there’s abuse or neglect, hang on to your first marriage.

  12. Sarah Faulkner
    Sarah Faulkner says:

    Yefet, When I was your age I swore all the time. It didn’t bother me. Even though I was taught not to swear. At some point, a friend said they thought I must be a bit slow mentally. Since my vocabulary only consisted of 4 letter words. After that I stopped swearing. Now that I am grown up and I can swear I have a hard time swearing because I feel like it makes me sound dumb.

    The funny thing is, I have only said the F word 3 times since I was a teen. One of those times was on this blog. :)

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      One of my closest friends is highly educated and highly intelligent and she says f*ck for every other word. Using the word f*ck doesn’t impact her intelligence level. It sounds like your friend had her own personal issue with you swearing and tried to change you and you listened to her. My entire persona is pretty much IDGAF. :) It makes life so much easier.

      • MBL
        MBL says:

        I had an obnoxious Social Studies teacher in 10th grade that made that same “makes you sound stupid” argument.

        I keep tellin’ ya’, you should change your name to IDGAF! If commenter can rename himself, so can you!

  13. carol
    carol says:

    love your son’s writing. hilarious. i can relate because i have 3 sons and a little girl. i also do coaching sessions and i am on the phone most of the time. but i probably dont use the f bomb as much as you, also because my kids call me out everytime i say a bad word. i am glad you wrote this post because i am always making a big deal about how my boys write in their journal. there’s this need for me to make them follow a structure thats in their literature books… but after reading this, im just gonna take it easy on them.

    • jessica
      jessica says:

      I encourage journaling/diary keeping as well. He normally ends up drawing everything.

  14. SA
    SA says:

    This is the funniest writing I’ve ever seen on your site.

    And I agree, after having graded thousands of standardized test essays this season, that the style of writing we teach kids is terrible. Lots of clunky malarkey, even if well-organized.

  15. Lindsay
    Lindsay says:

    I love this. So great to hear Yefet’s voice and get to know him directly a little bit. I like him.

  16. Heather Sanders
    Heather Sanders says:

    1. I have been on one of those calls. No f-bombs, but I was told I was being stupid and that I wasn’t honest with myself. It was true. I needed that.

    2. Being a work at home mom can be hard with kids. I remember trying to talk with a client with a 4-year-old screaming “WIPE MY BUTT” from the bathroom over and over. I was in the back corner of the closet with every door closed between us and STILL the woman politely said, “Do you need to handle that?”

    Umm…yes.

  17. MBL
    MBL says:

    Well this is timely. Someone just linked to XKCD 987 which goes like this:
    Narrator: When teachers complain, “You’re not working at your full potential!”
    [Explosion in background.]
    Narrator: Don’t take it too hard.
    [Car casually spirals through the air while a crash is heard in the background.]
    Narrator: They complain way more when you do.
    [A mechanized, 6-tentacled robot rampages around, picking up cars and creating a small warzone before the student inside while the lamentations of people and the building of military forces are in the background.

    And the “hover text” is “The bunch of disadvantaged kids I was tutoring became too good at writing, and their essays were forcing me to confront painful existential questions, so I started trying to turn them on to drugs and crime instead.”

  18. Monica
    Monica says:

    I actually think his article is great and very similar to your own writing style.

    What I was most impressed with is how the topic is so clearly spelled out and how every single point relates to the topic.

    It does probably feel bad to be viewed a bit more negatively through your own child’s lenses. However, as for usefulness, this is great copy for a sales page for coaching calls. I bet you will sell more.

    • Charlene
      Charlene says:

      Was just about to comment the same thing. He really does remind me of Penelope’s writing so I found it really funny she said it wasn’t useful or nice (I thought it was both).

  19. Astorienne
    Astorienne says:

    Yes! I worked in academic publishing for years, and it was disheartening to see fascinating material presented in a way almost guaranteed to alienate and bore all but a few fellow specialists. At the annual meeting of the Association of American University Presses a few years ago, Jill Lepore (Harvard professor and staff writer at The New Yorker) gave a wonderful talk about the decline of the public intellectual in American life, and how academic writing should be more accessible–not dumbed-down, but engaging and readable by educated laymen with an interest in the topic. The problem is that scholars are taught to write only for other scholars and rack up publications that count towards tenure.

    One of her ideas was that universities should allow magazine articles and op-eds to count towards tenure, to encourage scholars to write for wider audiences and engage in their community. It sounds like Kathy Davidson is already taking that path with the next generation of scholars.

  20. Christopher Chantrill
    Christopher Chantrill says:

    Think about it: why would you put your best foot forward writing for a lifer academic bureaucrat or a minimum-wage adjunct?

    I once had a physics prof. tell me that a Presbyterian minister (who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales) told him that he inserted a joke in his sermons every eight minutes.

    Writing is really about telling stories, laughing, and defining social reality. Anyway, it turns out that half the academic research today can’t be replicated. Now you know why research papers are boring and impenetrable.

  21. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Cute and hilarious! Your son’s smile hints of a mischievous sense of humor, and his writing echoes that, too!

  22. Laura
    Laura says:

    You are hilarious. I laughed out loud a few times reading this. You are a breath of fresh air.

    I had a coaching call with your mum. (Hi Penelope!). It was midnight your time because I am in Australia. So it was daytime for me. She had stop the call at one point and get you and your brother out of the car and in to the house.

    Luckily for me she didn’t yell at me (maybe she was too tired) but she did tell me that I am terribly underpaid and the people I work for are jerks. So I’m sure given half a chance she would probably yell at them.

    Your ability to cultivate self deprecating humour will serve you very well in life. You will most likely find people really enjoy spending time with you which will give you a distinct advantage in all areas of your life.

    I’m glad that you didn’t suck back the vomit (literally) and got to spend more time patting baby Chihuahuas whilst your mum was on the phone.

    I very much look forward to more posts from you in the future
    :-)

  23. Wendy
    Wendy says:

    Oh my gosh, what an awesome post! Really delightfully-articulated and canny insights. Thanks for writing this. I would absolutely read your blog if you started one.

  24. Mark W.
    Mark W. says:

    There are two excellent videos titled ‘The Fundamentals of Writing” at http://online.hillsdale.edu/courses/k-12-education/lecture-11/lecture-11 . One of the videos is the lecture and the other one is an interview of the instructor regarding the teaching of writing at Hillsdale College.
    The lecturer’s name is Justin A. Jackson. He is an Associate Professor of English at Hillsdale College, where he has taught since 2004, and where he currently serves as the Academic Advisor to the Hillsdale College Writing Center. He received both his B.A. and M.A. from California State University, Fresno, and his Ph.D. from Purdue University.
    The videos are part of the free online course (twelve lectures total) at Hillsdale College titled ‘A Proper Understanding of K–12 Education: Theory and Practice’. I’m planning to take the course. The videos can be accessed without signing up. However, signing up for the course affords you extra benefits such as resource lists, etc. Even though they are free, a small donation is requested. After listening to the videos, they made me appreciate even more the thought process and hard work that goes into truly good writing.
    Also, it did not go unnoticed that he used an odd number of talking points in his “outlined” post. I’m guessing he picked that up from his writer Mom.

  25. Kate
    Kate says:

    I’m soo glad you posted this Penelope! Hilarious!

    Older son, you are awesome and some time soon you will need your own blog, mate.

    Penelope, that must have been hard to read but I hope you’re laughing a bit now because it actually was well written, very funny and informative. And I’m sure everyone here is quite sympathetic. I’m sure all the kids I am an aunty to would be like ‘Aunty Kate is always on her phone and saying to get off the counter’. Anyway, you should be flattered, he gets his writing talent from you :)

  26. Tracey
    Tracey says:

    Most of his post is just a recounting of events or regurgitating what mommy said. It feels like a writing assignment he didn’t enjoy, except for Story 3. There some personality starts to emerge, which makes sense as it was apparently the most embarrassing moment of his life.

    Get him to write more about the things he feels strongly about and that inspire him to write in a more personal tone. That will help him learn to write better. He has a lot of potential to be a great writer like his mother but not so long as he’s just trying to please her or can’t separate his own thoughts and beliefs from hers. He needs to see himself as his own person. He needs to be himself, whoever that may be. Sounds like he’s imaginative and sarcastic.

    Thanks for sharing.

  27. Rachel
    Rachel says:

    Dear Older Son,

    I’ve been thinking about this since the day it posted. I’ve been thinking about how grateful I am for the coaching call I had with your mom where she yelled at me. How much the call has helped me and changed my life. And thinking that after reading your post I now realize that part of the gratitude I feel toward your mom should actually be toward you too.

    Thank you for sharing your mom, Older Son. Your family is a great team and I’m so grateful you are committed to each other. You being there for each other changed my world in small ways that are big to me.

    I wish I could bring my kids to play at your house and listen to more about your life but I live in Arizona. I guess you will have to start a blog instead :)

    Thank you again,
    Rachel

  28. ellen chamberlin
    ellen chamberlin says:

    jeez, hopefully the people being coached scream back and don’t get discouraged. ps this was a cool post, good to show a different perspective

Comments are closed.