Learning politically-correct fairy tales

by hexacoto

pri1-1[1]Photo credits to Catch Forty Winks

A motherhood-blogger shared a picture from her friend’s Facebook (above); her friend’s first-grader son’s test paper and how he apparently got a question wrong.

The question is one of those “arrange the words” type to form sound sentences. The boy apparently wrote “The fairy godmother turned the handsome prince into a snake” and “The castle was on the beautiful green field” and they were marked as being incorrect. The teacher indicated that the answers should have been “The fairy godmother turned the snake into a handsome prince” and “The beautiful castle was on the green field.”

Why were the answers marked as being wrong? They were all grammatically sound, but because they didn’t adhere to some standard of what fairy tales should have been. some poor child’s rather creative construction  got neutered.

Not that I would like to repeatedly lambaste Singapore’s education system, but this sort of inflexible marking shown by the teacher is precisely what’s wrong. The government and the public lament that our students turning out to be uncreative and un-innovative, and I wonder why that is so. When everything has to adhere to a preset, every fairy godmother has to be benevolent, and every castle has to be beautiful.

It is not known if the student’s parent confronted the teacher over this stunting marking.

The blogger felt that should her son encounter this situation, she would do the following:

1. Meet the teacher, and explain my view on why this answer should be marked as correct. However, this will be dependent on whether I have already sized up the teacher to find out more about her personality. If she is open and accommodating to parental feedback, she might feel a little apologetic and then change her marking on the paper. Or if the teacher is by-the-book and inflexible, my child might get unnecessary attention amongst the 29 other kids in class or just get ignored eventually.


2. Explain to child that conformity is part of societal expectations, model answers and behavior is needed to get approval from teachers and school. However, share with child that his answer is correct according to English language structure and rules. And continue to encourage creativity in modules of creative writing, problem solving and life in general, apart from school.

In the immortal and forever-wise words of the movie Mean Girls, I quote:

There are two kinds of evil people in this world. Those who do evil stuff and those who see evil stuff being done and don’t try to stop it.

Not confronting the teacher and letting the issue slide does more harm than good. Would the teacher continue marking every prince that has been turned into a snake as incorrect? Then, telling a child that conformity is what is needed in society is just as harmful — this tells the child that deviance isn’t accepted in our society, be it good or bad. How is having the child cripple himself to fit our society’s narrow-minded confines going to be useful in the future?

How would this blogger react if the child grows up expressing views that are deviant from societal norms? What if he grows up wanting to study the humanities, or wants to become a chef, or turns out to be homosexual, or decides that he wants to become a fashion designer — all outcomes that do not conform to the Singaporean norm. What then? Would the parent still tell the child that he or she is still expected to conform? Where does one draw the line?

But I deviate. Not only should the child know that his answer is perfectly acceptable, he or she should be encouraged to make more of such creative sentences. Why stop at the fairy godmother turning the prince into a snake? How about a snake turning a fairy godmother into a snake? The parent could even engage the child’s artistic faculties by asking the child to imagine how something like that could happen, and make an illustration! Take the opportunity to turn such an event into  a way for a child to exercise his or her creative juices.


The fairy godmother turned the handsome prince into a snake by the castle on the beautiful, green field.