October 03, 2022

Punishment By Essay: A 1000-word writing assignment

Today, I finally started to transfer things from my old MacBook to my new one. It's going to take weeks, if not months, to transfer all of my photos because I am starting from scratch with them. My Photos app is such a mess with a million date changes, a billion keywords, and a trillion duplicates.

While I was transferring documents over to the hard drive, I came across this writing assignment that Eli was given in middle school. I had completely forgotten about this, but I'm so glad I kept it!

You see, Eli is not the one who wrote it. I did.

He was in middle school at the time and his teacher (known for being a total jerk) gave him a 1,000-word essay to write because he was talking in class. What had happened was that another boy, who had come in a little late, sat next to Eli and showed him the worksheet he picked up from "Mr. C's" desk. (I'll keep him anonymous). He quietly asked Eli if it was the correct assignment and Eli told him no, it was a different paper.

Mr. C said that the boys were not allowed to talk in class and gave them each a 1,000-word writing assignment for their short interaction. One of Mr. C's favorite expressions to say in class was, "Children should be seen and not heard"; as punishment for talking, among other things, he handed out writing assignments.

He actually had a jar on his desk filled with small, folded pieces of paper--the kid being punished would have to draw one out of the jar and the number written on the paper was the number of words the writing assignment would have to be.

I was furious about Eli being given a writing assignment for talking in class for two reasons: 1) It was a short, quiet interaction about the worksheet; and 2) Writing should not be a punishment! As a writer myself, I think kids should be encouraged to write for enjoyment or as a therapeutic way of expressing their thoughts; instead, they see it as a punishment, thanks to teachers like Mr. C.

I told Eli he did not have to write it, and instead, I sat down and wrote an essay for him. As someone who loves passive-aggression when done in a clever way, I was excited about this! I had no idea if Mr. C actually read the essays he assigned, but I really hoped he did. So, here is what "Eli" wrote. (It's actually less than 800 words--which was a page and a half in a standard Word document!)

I am so relieved to have received this writing assignment from Mr. C; without this assignment, I never would have learned that children should be seen and not heard. As a 12-year old boy in a class full of kids my age, it is unfathomable to me that another student should expect me to respond to his question about a worksheet we were to complete in class.

Unfortunately, my parents taught me that when a fellow student and/or friend asks an innocent question, the polite thing to do is to respond appropriately. Due to my parents' effective parenting manipulation, giving a polite response is now an automatic behavior for me. Because of this, I received a 1,000-word writing assignment.

I will have to discuss this with my parents so they will know that kids my age should not respond to questions from others. My parents were born in the 1900s and obviously don’t know anything about how middle school should be conducted. 

Children should be seen and not heard.
Children should be seen and not heard.
Children should be seen and not heard.

Maybe if I write that enough, I will finally learn that being politely social with my peers is unacceptable in this day and age. 

It is unfortunate that my mom’s occupation is a writer. Even when she was my age, she was always writing in a journal that one of her teachers had given her. Her teacher told her that writing is a gift that we should treasure and use freely. Because my teacher is smarter, I can clearly see that the teacher was trying to punish her—what a sneaky teacher! She made my mom believe that writing should be enjoyable instead of used as a punishment such as this. 

My mom enjoys writing so much that she turned it into her occupation, and she had hoped that my brother and I would enjoy writing as well. She said writing can be thoughtful, fun, creative, imaginative, and that we are lucky we can express our thoughts in written words. 

I guess I mistook our right to "freedom of speech"-- those words should not be taken literally, but rather as a figurative way of saying "freedom of expressing your thoughts in writing instead of voice". I don’t think my mom understands it, then, why writing assignments such as this one are given as a punishment. 

I just don’t feel the happiness and joy in writing that she does. Writing should not be fun! Writing should be used as a tool to manipulate kids into doing what the teacher asks. The threat of a possible writing assignment is far more effective than a simple reminder that we shouldn’t reply to questions from our peers in class. 

My mom just does not understand that by writing 1,000 words on a piece of paper, I will learn that I should not respond to one’s question at school when it is directed at me. I tried to explain to her that writing is to be used as a punishment—just ask Mr. C—but she continues to reiterate that writing is a creative and imaginative way to express oneself. Silly Mom.

Back in the 1900s, when my mother was in middle school, she was taught that socialization with other children was an important part of childhood development. As the years have passed, and teachers have gotten smarter, I think she is finally starting to comprehend that to be social, 12-year olds such as myself should simply use our body language to communicate rather than using our voices.

Children should be seen and not heard.
Children should be seen and not heard.
Children should be seen and not heard.

When a fellow student asks me if he picked up the correct worksheet from Mr. C's desk, a discreet shake of my head would have sufficed. Instead, I did the unthinkable: I told him no, that the worksheet he picked up was not the correct worksheet. Imagine how disappointed he would have felt if he had completed the wrong assignment! By writing this 1,000-word essay, I will be reminded that the act of common courtesy should not be used in a middle school setting. 

You know… now that I think about it some more, maybe my mom was right. Writing CAN be fun! Writing out these words was quite therapeutic and I enjoyed it very much. Thank you, Mr. C, for this punishment. Where else would I learn to enjoy writing so much if you hadn’t given me this assignment? 

P.S. My mom is already expecting your phone call.


I never did get a phone call from Mr. C, which left me wondering if he'd read "Eli's" essay. Eli is very creative and when he was younger, he would frequently write in a journal. I've saved some of his early "journal" pages--which eventually turned into drawings more so than words, but I will never support the idea that writing assignments should be a used as a punishment.

But what do I know? I was born in the 1900s! ;) 


  1. As a former teacher, assignments like that are infuriating. That teacher should have received assistance on some best practice theories or left teaching altogether if they have that mentality. Thank you for supporting your kids and teaching them to be kind human beings!!

  2. OMG! I love this. You are the best mom ever.

  3. Omg I LOVE this!! Genius!! I'm kinda bummed he never called you to be honest :) Although if he was smart at all, I bet he knew he was never going to win this one and decided to ignore the issue ;) I agree that writing should be not be viewed as a punishment! It's such a great creative outlet. I do hope that this Mr. C is retired now for the benefit of future classes :\

  4. I feel the exact same way when I see a coach use running as punishment.

    I loved 'Eli's' essay. It would have taken a lot of control for me not to march into that school and speak with administration about the teacher.

  5. The way I look at it, the teacher said no talking in class, and your son did. The teacher giving out writing assignments for punishment seems a odd, but that's what he chose, and I'm sure your child was aware of the consequences. In life, and especially in the working world, you can be told to do something that makes no sense to you at all, but you do it to keep your job. Maybe instead of teaching your kid that he doesn't have to follow rules by doing the assignment for him, you should have made an appointment to speak with the teacher and principal.

  6. Ahh, I love this!! I hope he read it and didn't want to have that phone call, hahaha.


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