Vn46.1 Rotten Hints 7/19/77
Two years ago, Miriam took swimming lessons. She was in the class
of ‘Blueberries.’ Their course of instruction amounted to splashing at
the edge of the lake. Their most advanced achievement was to say their
names with faces held in the water. Last year, in our move from
Connecticut to Massachusetts, Miriam and Robby missed out on swimming
lessons. With both children wanting to learn to swim, it seemed good
fortune that the summer swimming lessons at our lake were offered
during our 2 week vacation.
Robby, declaring the swimming lessons would interfere with his
visiting Raymond, decided not to enroll. Even though I was not willing
to spend much time at it, he figured I could teach him to swim. Miriam
was anxious to take the lessons. At registration, she was judged by
the teacher to be ready for ‘Kiddy 2,’ the class preceding beginners.
She seemed pleased enough.
Tuesday morning her class began with ‘Ring around the rosy.’ The
group of 8 joined hands, bounced around in waist-deep water, and on the
chant’s conclusion ‘we all fall down’ the children were supposed to sit
in the water, getting their heads completely wet while holding hands.
The next element of the lesson was the ‘dead man’s float’: one takes a
deep breath and floats face down in the water. Miriam refused. At the
end of the session they had another round of ‘Ring around the rosy.’
Miriam did not sit down as expected of her. One of the instructor’s
assistants approached me after the class and suggested that “we” might
try getting “our” face wet in the wash basin between swimming classes.
Miriam doesn’t like getting her face wet. Neither do I. My
version of the crawl (which I rarely employ) keeps my face out of the
water, as do the other strokes I prefer. Despite the ultimate limit
this may place on my speed or furthest reach, as a youth I achieved
swimming and lifesaving merit badges in the Scouts. I see no reason
why ‘face wetting’ should dominate early swimming instruction. This
strikes as even more forcefully true for a child whose allergies render
As we left the beach, I asked Miriam how she enjoyed her swimming
lesson. Her response was very direct. “That was terrible. She wants
you to get your face wet all the time. I’ll never learn to swim from
her. She can’t give me any good hints. All she knows is get your face
wet. What rotten hints.” I agreed she should not continue instruction
unless she wanted to. Miriam asked to go to the beach on the third day,
but once there refused to join the swimming class.
This vignette describes an instruction situation which Miriam
judged to be especially bad. Her formulation of the badness was that
the teacher could only give ‘rotten hints’ for learning.