The wisdom of seve^H^H^H^Hsixth graders: What it means to be an adult

I was out of town for the grading of the seventh grade essays, so I pitched in with the sixth grade essays instead. The students were asked to think of an adult and describe the qualities that make that person an adult. This topic was not very well received by the students, who deemed it uncreative and boring. While I understand their lack of enthusiasm, it's also true that for most of your life, you're going to have to write on topics that are uncreative and boring (and the stakes are going to be higher), so you'd better get good at it.

The difference in writing skill between sixth and seventh graders (between eleven year olds and twelve year olds) is quite noticeable. Many of sixth graders could not get past the literal definition of the word adult, describing the qualities that make an adult purely in terms of biology: Age, height, strength, puberty, armpit hair. Many others focused on accomplishments or privileges that distinguish adults from children: Advanced education, having a job, knowing how to drive a car, and being able to stay up late without getting yelled at.

Remember, these are just the funny sentences/excerpts. Do not assume that all students write like this. The assignment is given under standardized test conditions: 90 minutes with nothing but pencil and paper, with one additional hour available upon request.

The easy life

  • After collage, you could just go home and relax for the rest of your life. And you wonder why scrapbooking is so popular? It's because everybody goes to collage!
  • Adults go on vacation to international countries and play golf. Gosh, I wonder if this student comes from a wealthy family.
  • My dad is a big fan of football. Who's not?

Check your fun at the door

  • Adults don't like to do anything fun 60% of the time. I think I'm getting shortchanged on the other 40%, too.
  • They talk and talk and talk, that's all they do.
  • When an adult takes you somewhere it is usually to a depactment store.
  • My mom was so busy she had to step up her gear to get it all done.
  • My mom is nice, she likes to get new kitchen supplies and carpet.
  • Just like kids, adults still make mistakes and just want to have fun.
  • Being an adult means living above the influence.
  • Adults don't do stupid things like throwing wild house parties 24/7.
  • Mature people order off the adult menu at Red Robin and do not order jumbo sundaes with extra cherries.

Responsible behavior

  • My mom is responsible because she cleans the house before anybody tells her to.
  • My dad is good sport. If he wins something, he doesn't say, "nanny nanny boo boo."
  • Being mature is one big part about being an adult because if no one was mature then we would be at war all the time. Instead, adults just talk and talk and talk.
  • My mom cleans the house because my dad doesn't. Are you suggesting that your dad isn't an adult?
  • Being a civilized adult is simple, and all adults have it just not all the time.

Let me tell you about my parents

  • She's now a mail women.
  • My dad is an adult because of his hair. He is losing his hair, and I hope he will not be bald soon.
  • He has a wife (my mom). Thanks for clearing that up.
  • My dad is really smart. He's been married three times. Most people are satisfied to be only one third as smart as him.
  • A good dad makes his own meals, and who doesn't like a guy that knows a thing or two about the stove?
  • My dad is tough. He is not easily scared by spiders, lightening, or the dark. I'm assuming that lightening was a spelling error, but who knows?
  • My mom helps me appreciate that I don't live in a third world country. For example, she frequently reminds me that there are starving children in Africa.
  • I hope one day my mom will live longer than ever before. "Hey Mom, have you ever been this old before?" "How about now?"
  • My mom is the first adult I ever met.
  • My parents are not overly protective. They let me eat raw cookie dough.
  • When I saw my Uncle Mike in Texas, I knew he was an adult.
  • Sarah has many personalities that make her an adult.

Assorted commentary

  • Adults can't whine unless their car gets totaled, or their house burns down.
  • But I think of you more as an adult when you have to shave your back hair.
  • My dad is one of the most manly adults I know. Must be the back hair.
  • Eight-teen is a huge age!
  • OK, you've survived the first paragraph. Good, because here comes the second one.
  • Most adults I know are pretty smart. Not Albert Einstein smart, but common sense smart.
  • Adults are great people unless they aren't what they shouldn't be.
  • Every single adult has gone through puberty or at least half way. I believe the ones that went through only halfway are known as 'Frat boys'.
  • Best opening sentence: When you grow up to be an adult, you get armpit hair.

Concluding thoughts

  • I also think I'm going to have a hard time when I be an adult.
  • And those are just some snidbits from my brain.

Misspelling corner. I've included more context; that may make the game a bit easier.

  • He doesn't goof around when he is so post to be doing work.
  • Responsibility is when you have to make the right desigin.
  • Being grown up is never goffing up.
  • All the school gets the money from us for fiead hips and fun razors and the suplise. I'm trying to imagine what a fun razor is.
  • Less mature human beans are not very keen and when doing extensive work they throw tantrums.
  • They should be aloud to drive. Speak up! I can't hear you driving.
  • When you become an adult you get fatiol hair.
  • She doesn't wine like a baby. Hey, baby, how about another glass of chardonnay?
  • My dad also plays motable instruments.

Other remarks on student writing:

  • Most essays followed the standard introduction formula "There are three qualities that make a person an adult. Those qualities are A, B, and C." It's a treat to find an essay that opens more creatively, but alas, the essays with excellent introductions failed to maintain the quality level for the rest of the essay.
  • You can't just write "And that's why X" to conclude your paragraph if you never actually explained why X. I read many paragraphs that took the form "Adults have quality Q. Quality Q means that XYZ. That's why adults should have quality Q." The paragraph did nothing to explain why quality Q is an important one for adults to have; it merely stated and defined it. One teacher explained to me that this isn't a conscious writing choice but is rather simply a bad habit. "I've written a bunch on topic X. Now I need to wrap it up. And the way you wrap it up is to write, 'And that's why X.'"

And that's why I read student essays.

Comments (24)
  1. Pete R. says:

    Perhaps “My dad also plays multiple instruments.” ?

    [I think you’re right. -Raymond]
  2. Damien says:

    My own guess at “My dad also plays motable instruments”. would be “multiple”. Seems closer phonetically.

  3. keith says:

    Blame it on the Mad Men:

    "Above the Influence" is an antidrug campaign tag line.  The fact that a kid used it in an essay means they’re either simply swayed by anything they see on TV; a rules oriented child who might otherwise be a tattletale personality; or a cynic who is using the line to mock the tattles.

    A ‘fun razor’ is possibly a "Razor scooter", though I’d like to see the insurance bill for the school district that buys them!  

    The structure of the standard introduction formula gave me flashbacks to "the five paragraph essay" expository writing technique I think I had in middle school.  That’s the exact formula: opening paragraph, three concrete paragraphs with three supporting elements, conclusion paragraph.  I bet that’s what the kids were taught!

  4. Alexandre Grigoriev says:

    "fun razors"->fundraisers

    "fiead hips"->field trips

    "My mom is the first adult I ever met" at the maternity ward…

    And the ultimate wizdom: "Just like kids, adults still make mistakes and just want to have fun" Who would say it isn’t so?

  5. esau says:
    1. I and most of my high school classmates achieved armpit hair about age 15; in anything but legal status, adulthood was a minimum of half again that.

    2. The only guy I ever knew who shaved his back hair did so for his drag act.

  6. Josh says:

    Many (most?) middle-high school English classes teach the horrible "There are three qualities that make a person an adult. Those qualities are A, B, and C." approach as dogma.  Yes, it dumbs everyone down, but anyone can pull it off, regardless of natural talent.  The downside is that for some people (e.g. me) it turns you off of writing completely.  I ignored English class from sixth through twelfth grade, and only picked up writing again when a teacher encouraged me to write in a less rigidly formulaic way.

  7. Stephen Jones says:

    "fun razors"->fundraisers

    "fiead hips"->field trips


  8. Gabe says:

    Wow, good call on glossing "desigin" to "desicion". I kept seeing it as "design". It probably would have taken me days to figure it out.

  9. Monday says:

    I love your closing sentence. :)

    What grade did you get?

  10. Aaargh! says:

    > I was out of town for the grading of the seventh grade essays, so I pitched in with the sixth grade essays instead.

    So how does this work ? You go to your local school and ask to see the essays the kids wrote, and they just give them to you ?

    [Most schools are happy to receive volunteers, though you have to arrange for it in advance rather than just dropping in unannounced! -Raymond]
  11. Aaargh! says:

    Most schools are happy to receive volunteers

    Volunteer to do what, exactly ? They actually let you grade essays ? Can anyone volunteer for that or do you happen to be a licensed teacher ?

    I’ve never heard of anything similar in my country (.nl), I doubt it would even be legal.

  12. @Aaargh!

    You don’t have to be a licensed teacher to grade papers, at least, not in America.  Teacher’s Assistants, often students themselves, do it all the time; even in high school (9th – 12th grade).

  13. It’s not an easy question to answer, either, when asked of non-adults.

    I think it’s like asking a layperson what makes somebody a good programmer. At the very best they’ll be able to offer an extensional definition (someone who easily writes correct, maintainable programs), but in order to make a qualified guess at the underlying traits that cause somebody to be a good programmer, you need to be one yourself. (Or, perhaps, a very perceptive journeyman programmer).

  14. ack says:

    I’m here to meet my girlfriend, Mona. She’s a male woman….

    …I mean, a woman who delivers mail…

  15. mike says:

    re: "And that’s why …"

    I read (edit) white papers and miscellaneous texts produced by non-professionals all the time that have a "Conclusion" section at the end. Which is the growed-up version of "And that’s why …," in most cases, anyway. (But I can’t remember a time when such a paper needed much concluding.)

  16. Worf says:

    Ugh, I hated English, or Language Atrs or whatever it’s called. All this stuff I never got like subtext, etc.

    Still, I do write a fair bit in my day job, and it’s not just code. Just that technical writing is a bit more formulaic and has definite structure. Plus the audience I write to doesn’t care for the flowing kind of writing, just a more to the point boom-boom-boom done writing. Thus, a quick introduction, followed by the meat.

    Just it was to be well structured so headings are obvious and be possible to be read out of order. Unless a sensible reason is mentioned in the introduction that can’t be gleaned from the headings.

  17. Jonathan says:

    My first thought about "suplise" was "surprise", possibly by an Asian student. "supplies" makes more sense in the sentence though.

  18. Neil says:

    Luckily for me, the very last line of the post got cut off at the end of the page and I had to scroll another page down to read it!

  19. Alexandre Brault says:

    A depactment store is where nerds and geeks want to shop after One More Day ( )

  20. Brian Tkatch says:

    I think maturity is based on Kersian personality type, and seen in reaction to situations:

    Artisan (SP): Knowing how to react from experience.

    Guardian (SJ): Reacting responsibly; not shirking duties.

    Idealist (NF): Reacting with empathy; sharing the burden.

    Rational (NT): Reacting based on what is best for the situation; remove the personal aspect.

    As we are (hopefully) always growing in maturity, possibly reaching its peak a bit later in life, it would be hard to call anyone under 50 or 60 an "adult". But, we just draw the line somewhere.

    I think i draw it at my age, and adjust it each year. How can i expect 6th grader’s to do otherwise?

  21. kip says:

    "Being grown up is never goffing up."

    Are you sure that’s not supposed to be "giving" instead of "goofing" (as your tooltip suggests)?  F and V are very similar sounds, and "giving" makes more sense in the context.  Not sure how they would have sounded out an "o" as the first vowel, though.

  22. Sarah says:

    This is always one of my favorite blog posts of the entire year.  If only for these ‘wisdom’ posts I would continue to subscribe to the blog.

  23. GrumpyYoungMan says:

    "Mature people … do not order jumbo sundaes with extra cherries."

    Hmph!  As Adam Savage would say, "I reject your maturity and substitute my own."  With extra cherries too!

  24. Eff Five says:

    Re: "I’m trying to imagine what a fun razor is"

    I’m pretty sure that "Fun Razor" is an accessory for Mainway Toys’ Johnny Switchblade: Adventure Punk Action Figure.

    Of course Johnny Switchblade isn’t as popular as it was in the 70’s but Bag O’ Glass, Chainsaw Teddy bear and the classic Halloween costume Johnny Human Torch are still popular.

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