The parents of El Paso elementary schoolers are still trying to figure out why their kids got a strange take-home assignment that involved reading several bleak passages in which a child possibly gets abused, a wife discovers her husband is cheating, and a mother learns of her son's death at war.
The fourth-graders at Pasodale Elementary School were asked to draw inferences from the passages as part of a class reading exercise—but when some students took the work home to finish it up, their parents found that "the subject matter was distinctly adult," according to KTSM-TV.
It was also a hilariously dark commentary on the meaninglessness of domestic life, in the style of a Raymond Carver short-story collection. Here were some of the passages and questions in the assignment, provided anonymously to KTSM by one of the parents:
"Tommy!" Mom called out as she walked in the front door. "Tommy," she continued shouting, "I sure could use some help with these groceries. There was still no reply. Mom walked into the kitchen to put the grocery bags down on the counter when she noticed shattered glass from the picture window all over the living room floor and a baseball not far from there. "I'm going to kill you, Tommy!" Mom yelled to herself as she realized that Tommy's shoes were gone.
- What happened to the window?
- Why did Tommy leave?
Ruby sat on the bed she shared with her husband holding a hairclip. There was something mysterious and powerful about the cheaply manufactured neon clip that she was fondling suspiciously. She didn't recognize the hairclip. It was too big to be their daughter's, and Ruby was sure that it wasn't hers. She hadn't had friends over in weeks but there was this hairclip, little and green with a few long black hair strands caught in it. Ruby ran her fingers through her own blonde hair. She had just been vacuuming when she noticed this small, bright green object under the bed. Now their life would never be the same. She would wait here until Mike returned home.
- Why is Ruby so affected by the hairclip?
- How has the hairclip affected Ruby's relationship?
Valerie opened up the letter from the military department. She felt the pit of her stomach drop to the bottom of the earth before she even opened it. She knew it was news about John. As she read the first line, she thought of all of the lunches she had packed him and all the nights she tucked him in his bed and warded off the nighttime monsters. The man carrying the flag put his hand on her shoulder. She thought of the day that John signed up for the military. Her tears wet the letter. She stopped reading after the first line.
- What does the letter say?
- What is Valerie's relationship to John?
The parent who passed the assignment on also told KTSM that the fourth-graders in question happened "to be the class of Mr. Hector Perales, the father of a Chapin High School football player who was tragically killed in November as he traveled to watch his son in the Texas High School playoffs in Amarillo," suggesting that this was now probably the most jaded bunch of nine-year-olds ever to walk this cold, lonely earth.
The school district has apologized to parents for what it called "an unacceptable assignment" and vowed to investigate.
But as the El Paso news station pointed out, not all the parents were troubled by the situation. As one put it on Facebook: "[I]s this material appropriate? No, I don't think so but neither is letting them play violent video games, letting them get fat nor allowed them to dress like 'thugs' and listen to gangster music [sic]."