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In Idaho, a Scarlet Letter for Deficient Elementary Readers

Slow readers in a fourth grade Idaho classroom were given an unusual menu of options as a result of not meeting their academic goals: miss recess or have their faces painted with magic markers by their classmates. Six students at Declo Elementary School in an Accelerated Reading program agreed to have their faces scribbled by peers as punishment for their poor reading performance.

child%20reading%2043946851-001.jpgAccording to various news reports, the Magic Valley students got creative with the magic markers. They drew mustaches, eyeglass frames and names in green, purple and red colors. A local news outlet reported that the mother of a 10-year old student was astonished to see her son’s entire face and eyelids covered in colorful, yet crude, scrawls. The face painting took place during morning period, which means that the students were branded the entire day of classes in shame.

The incident recalls the badge of shame worn by Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter, down to the Puritan-like consensus and supervision by the teacher in charge. The educator, who is reported to have six years of teaching experience, has not answered to information requests by news reporters. The Cassia County School District Superintendent has confirmed the incident and explained that the face scribbling was supposed to be an incentive rather than a shaming.

Initial investigations by school officials revealed that a recent Parents-Teacher Organization event featured the painting of the Principal’s face and hair, but the Superintendent is concerned that such actions do not translate well when applied to children. Some parents are comparing the incident with bullying, while the parents of the students who met their reading goals do not think it was such a big deal. The problem, according to one grandparent, is that some of the marked children already deal with learning difficulties and self-esteem issues.

The judgment of the teacher is being questioned as the students’ reading adequacy is a significant part of her responsibility as an educator. After being absent for a couple of days, she is back in the classroom while the investigation continues.