Grandparents Day (Part 2)

November 28, 2009

Imagine a school which is something like a combination of Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and Stanford with a student body of highly intelligent, very creative, frequently neurotic young students. Most come from wealthy backgrounds, though there are a number of “scholarship” students as well, selected on a combination of merit and a desire to promote diversity. Instead of young adults ranging from late teens to early twenties, the students range from preschool to eighth grade. You will find something like the private school Random Granddaughter attends as a kindergarten student.

When Mrs. Random and I arrived for Grandparents and Grandfriends day, we were escorted into a lobby with the other Grands. We were quickly and efficiently registered, receiving a sticker displaying our name, our grandchild’s name and marked with a color indicating grade level (green in our case indicated our grandchild is a kindergartner). A large movie screen presented a show documenting a trip by eighth graders to Vietnam.

I joked earlier about RG “adopting” rich grandparents to get in their will. My prediction has had a slight detour with truth in a surprising way, which I will get to in a bit. However, Mommy (a teacher at this school) confirmed that the Grands day is in part a marketing promotion to bring in students and bequests for this expensive to operate private school.


After a brief wait a staff member welcomed us and described the plan for the day. At a little after 9 am the grandparents would go on a school tour, and then go to their assigned classrooms. However, we kindergartener grands were directed to go our grandchild’s class right away, so we missed the tour.

In our kindergarten (one of three) we found 13 children gathered around the teacher listening as she read to them. [Each classroom at the private school has 16 students; 3 were away on Thanksgiving travels.]

Grands gathered in a circle of folding chairs surrounding the class. The kindergarten teacher, whom I will refer to as KT, was a pretty, buxom young woman who spoke to the children enthusiastically and positively. Although I did not encounter the other two kindergarten teachers, I could see why Mommy had selected this woman as RG’s teacher.. The mommies try to be positive and upbeat with RG, and careful about what she encounters in the arts, to maintain her innocence and enthusiasm for life as long as possible.

KT read a story, more of a chant, actually, about picking things out of a bucket. The moral was to pick good things out of the bucket; things to be thankful for. The teacher then greeted the Grands and explained the children would perform “The Gingerbread Man” for our entertainment. The children gathered in groups by characters. Several children got to play each character. For example, there were two gingerbread men (both girls), one blond, one light brown. The characters were always referred to in the singular and performed, spoke, and sang in a group.

We saw Random Granddaughter in a group of three girls, each playing a cow, indicated by a hat with horns.. RG nodded slightly when she saw Grandma in the audience, but otherwise ignored our presence.

KT narrated the play and frequently prompted the children with lines and cues. Mommy later told us that this teacher loves to use drama in her class. “I generally avoid trying to direct plays cast with small children,” Mommy said with admiration.

At the end of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Lear goes mad after learning of the death of his daughter Cordelia. They play is often considered one of the most wrenching and depressing of Shakespeare’s tragic creations. For a time, a happy ending was tacked on to productions. As Wikipedia summarizes:

Nahum Tate produced an adaptation in 1681: he gave the play a happy ending, with Edgar and Cordelia marrying, and Lear restored to kingship. The Fool was eliminated altogether, and Arante, a confidant for Cordelia, was added. This was the version acted by Thomas Betterton, David Garrick, and Edmund Kean, and praised by Samuel Johnson.

This page provides a pretty typical version of the traditional Gingerbread man story.  When I worked as student teacher in ghetto public schools I sometimes told it to small children, taking great delight in presenting the tragic ending where the fox gobbles the runaway cookie man. As I remember, the little ghetto children (growing up in an atmosphere of crime and gangs) took some delight in the violent ending.

At the end of the kindergarten play, when it is fairly obvious that the fox is going to gobble the Gingerbread Man, all the characters gather in the meadow and have a jolly picnic in peace and love. This provides the uplifting and politically correct version of the story suitable for a private school for (mostly) rich children.

After the ending, the children all sang a song. Up to that point, Random Granddaughter’s acting (in what was obviously a bit part) had been a bit perfunctory, but when it came to the song, she participated with great enthusiasm, singing loudly and gesturing firmly.

After the conclusion, each child received a large paper apple and dropped it into a large symbolic Thanksgiving pot, telling the audience what they were thankful for. “My family” was a frequent choice. RG said, “My family…and trains, planes, and automobiles.” As I can say with some confidence that RG has never seen the movie of that title, it was an interesting contribution on her part.

At that point, the children went into the audience to sit on their grandparents’ laps. The grandparents were asked to share a favorite memory of their grandchild.

RG came and sat in my lap. Grandma shared, “We were present when RG first crawled by herself and when she took her first step.”





5 Responses to “Grandparents Day (Part 2)”

  1. I am fascinated by the bowdlerizing of traditional stories, which seems to me to reflect a powerful ignorance of the place of myth and fairy tales in children’s developing psychology. I cannot remember whether you are one of the blogosphere-dwellers who has read “The Uses of Enchantment,” but if you haven’t read it, I think you would find it very interesting.

  2. C'hele Says:

    I have been doing Yoga for years….and damn it, I cant do that! LoL

  3. C'hele Says:

    Holy smokes. Some caffeine is needed to set me to rights, lol. This comment was intended for part “I.” 🙂

  4. modestypress Says:

    I haven’t read The Uses of Enchantment. The author, Bettleheim, is controversial. The mommies are certainly strong fans of sequencing exposure to materials such as harsh fairy tales in a careful and cautious manner, as befitting two prissy, goody-goody “lesbians.”

  5. woo Says:

    I’m with David – fairy tales and traditional stories have evolved with the endings they have for a reason: kids love them! Most kids like to be slightly scared and scandalized, in a safe environment. An opportunity to shriek.

    Plus, life doesn’t always have a happy ending, and that’s okay, too. Its how you deal with the crap that makes you a better, stronger person – not how much of it you can avoid.

    And as for ramming our weak morals down their throats at such an age, thinly veiled as entertainment, I’m horrified.

    Still, I’m intrigued by her choice of things to be thankful for – did she explain her choice later at all??!

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