Why Nong Went Wrong

The parent from the Temperance Society walks up to me and explains, "We're not keeping this under wraps.  I called a socially conservative newspaper and they're running a story on this.  It should hit the evening papers in a few hours."

"Okay, well I'm really sorry.  I knew there were ads, but I had no idea one would involve alcohol."

"I need school to be a safe place for my child.  I expect that."  On some level, I get it.  I would be angry about my daughter seeing ads for peep shows (which, fortunately Nong blocked) or even for burlesque dancers.  Yet, learning is dangerous and the world is not all velvet and lace.

The principal explains, "We understand your concern.  We'll re-examine our policy about allowing ad-generated content."

"I'm worried about this pencil stuff.  I got a set of colored pencils and some paper for my son.  I thought he'd use it to learn.  He joined this pen pal network and apparently he's writing letters to members of the Mafia."

"It's a game. Just like the farm and sorority game." I explain.

"So, he's not thinking of joining a sorority either?"


"Glad we got the gender confusion out of the way.  Still, I'm worried about exposing my son to the world so quickly and so young."

"Hey, you wouldn't happen to have a newspaper with you right now?" I ask her. She hands me one.

"Let's see, the lifestyle section. Look, an ad about meeting local singles.  I'll check the sports section.  Hey there's an ad for beer.  Oh, and one for gin.  And, if I'm not mistaken the Knickerbockers are playing in a stadium with beer advertisements. This is a real problem, considering your son idolizes athletes.  What do you do to keep your child away from the paper."

"Oh, I don't censor it.  I mean, I want him to read.  Sometimes we even read the paper as a family." The reality hits her and she moves from anger to embarrassment and she buries her face in her hands.

I've won, or so it seems. Until she cries.  Not simple tears, but huge sobs.  She tells the story of her father being abusive when he was drunk and her former husband who would throw bottles at the kids when he had a few too many.  Apparently, she left her entire life behind and moved to the city where she often sees drunk factory workers exposing her daughter to a grown-up world and she wonders if the biggest danger isn't alcohol, but the fact that one of her children has to work 50 hours a week for them to survive.

Sometimes I get so focussed on pencil integration that I miss the deeper social reality that exists on a daily basis.  Sure, they can block field trips and even try and keep us in a Pencil Island, but every child brings in a story and as a teacher, I have to make snap judgements based upon a sense of ethics that we may not all share.  We bring in our own stories and often those stories clash and we fight to retain our voice and our character and a common setting.

The story never hits the evening papers.  Either it had been a lie or something had changed.  The problem with stories is that they're incomplete.


  1. Your comparison of Pencil-based advertising and other media advertising is timely. I am sure it will stay with me when I confront my next concerned parent.

    I have a student who created his own Nong network for a research project. I am trying to help him connect to others now.

  2. a concerned parent10:43:00 AM


    We were especially concerned with the advertisement promising to "get ripped in two weeks." Not only was he shirtless (gasp!) but it was also deceptive. I know you tried to "save" it with an impromptu lesson on teaching kids about media bias, the deception of imagery and the like. However, based upon the ad alone, I believe that my son will become a roided-out athlete who some day grows a pair of breasts.


    a concerned parent