Give it to Me Straight! I Swear I Won’t be Mad!

I have an American friend (same guy as in this earlier post) who lived for a number of years in Mexico.  He married a Mexican woman, and while he always spoke to his kids in English, their real first language was Spanish.  He recently moved back to the U.S., and he enrolled his oldest daughter in kindergarten.  The school gave her some kind of language evaluation, and they concluded that she was slightly behind in English, and said they would like to give her some kind of limited special instruction if her parents wanted it.  My friend and his wife were inclined to go along with what the teachers thought, but they wanted to know the answers to a few common-sense questions: how behind was the kid really, was what they would do for her during the special instruction time really worth giving up whatever she would miss in the regular class, and so on.  The problem was, they were having a hard time getting any straight answers out of the teachers, and they were pretty sure they knew why: these very nice, well-meaning teachers were so worried about offending them that they couched every answer in a million caveats and weasel words.  My friend said he said he was dying to say something like: "I hereby unconditionally vow not to sue you, hate you, or speak or think ill of you in any way.  Now will you please just tell me what’s going on with my kid?!?"

Don’t get me wrong: that hyper-sensitivity comes mostly from a good place, and I certainly don’t want to go back 50 years when a kid like that would just be thrown in the deep end of the pool.  But come on!

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  • http://hanson.gmu.edu Robin Hanson

    A large fraction of people who say “give it to me straight” don’t mean it, so one can reasonably fear the consequences of doing what they ask. How can we tell who really means it?

  • http://yudkowsky.net/ Eliezer Yudkowsky

    Watch them for a few months. Try with small cases. See if they earn your trust. I don’t expect people to believe me when I say they can tell it to me straight.

  • Tom

    Pff. Say it straight and damn the consequences!

  • Ben Jones

    “Gerry, I’m a woman! We don’t say what we WANT! But we reserve the right to get pissed off if we don’t get it. That’s what makes us so fascinating! And not a little bit scary.”

    Sliding Doors

    Never, ever, ever but never give it to her straight!

    Don’t think there’s a handy heuristic here. Depends on the person, the context, the timing.

  • http://www.ciphergoth.org/ Paul Crowley

    I don’t expect people to believe me when I say they can tell it to me straight.

    I don’t know how best to judge whether people can give it to me straight, given how much I find other people in error on this one.

  • http://drchip.wordpress.com/ retired urologist

    The Cajuns in my area have a story illustrating the social dangers of “giving it to ’em straight.”

    Boudreaux was a widower whose most valued possession was his cat, Felix. Boudreaux won a 2-week trip to Europe, and he asked his friend Thibodeaux to look after the cat in his absence. “Thib,” he said, “I’ll call you from England to check on Felix.” Three days into the trip, Boudreaux indeed called Thibodeaux and asked, “How’s my cat doin’?” Thibodeaux replied, “Mai, Boudreaux, your cat died.” Boudreaux was beside himself, first with grief, then with anger. “Thib,” he wailed, “You don’t just tell somebody flat out that their cat died. You got no sensitivity. You should ease into it. Like, you should say, ‘Boudreaux, your cat’s on the roof, but I’m pretty sure we can get him down.’ Then when I call the next day, you say, ‘We got your cat down, but he caught pneumonia. The vet’s pretty sure he’ll be OK.’ Then on the next call, you say, ‘The cat took a turn for the worse, but the vet’s giving him some powerful medicine.’ Then the next day, you finally say, ‘Boudreaux, we did all we could, but your cat passed on.’ That’s the way you handle bad news like this.”

    Thibodeaux expressed his remorse for his insensitivity and vowed to be more thoughtful. Two days later, Boudreaux called again. “Thib, how’s my mother?” Thibodeaux replied in his kindest voice, “Boudreaux, your mother’s on the roof.”

  • eric falkenstein

    I have little kids, and I too find this extremely annoying. But I think part of this is teachers don’t understanding testing, and standard errors. Thus, once someone told me my son scored about 4 standard errors apart on two tests. I said, I think your standard errors are wrong. He didn’t understand. Also, they hear so much about testing and its problems, you get them bending over backwards saying how meaningless tests are. Now, just about any test that isn’t full of questions like ‘what’s you favorite color’ are g-loaded, and have some validity, but often I hear the teachers and their mouthpieces say over and over how tests are really meaningless because a person is much more complicated blah blah blah. The key is, after hearing this all the time, does a teacher even feel that learning about educational testing metrics–their biases, standard errors, fluctuations over a lifetime, etc.–is worth it? After all, if they are all meaningless.

  • sonic

    Our schools are in a bad way. Where I live if you volunteer to help at the school (something that is encouraged) you must never, ever, ever actually touch a child. Even if one child is relentlessly beating another to a pulp- don’t touch a kid.
    This is totally absurd.
    How did we get here?
    Ask your litigation department.

  • http://occludedsun.wordpress.com Caledonian

    I don’t expect people to believe me when I say they can tell it to me straight.

    Then why do you say it in the first place?

  • http://pdf23ds.net pdf23ds

    Just because they might not believe him doesn’t mean it conveys *no* information, or is not useful to say. You’re being rather contrarian.

  • http://drchip.wordpress.com/ retired urologist

    “I hereby unconditionally vow not to sue you, hate you, or speak or think ill of you in any way. Now will you please just tell me what’s going on with my kid?!?”

    An attorney friend (I have several, surprisingly) tells me that the ideal defense in a libel or discrimination action (provided it’s unfounded) is the truth. And, it’s easier than the alternative of political correctness: when you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything. (Mark Twain)

  • David J. Balan

    Don’t get me wrong, the teacher has a real problem here. If I was the teacher, I would also be eager to send the signal that: (i) the kid really had the problem I said she had and that my saying so wasn’t just me being biased against her somehow; and (ii) that whether or not the kid got signed up for the extra help it wasn’t going to influence how much I liked her or how I was going to treat her in the future. And if I was the parent, I would want to be convinced that this was so, and part of the way that the teacher could convince me of this would be, frankly, a display like the one my friend got.

    Also, as much as I would like to think that I am a “give it to me straight no matter what” kind of guy, I don’t rule out the possibility that my courage could fail me if the news was bad enough. Maybe not, but maybe yes. So this is also not completely simple.

    But still, come on!

  • http://occludedsun.wordpress.com Caledonian

    You’re being rather contrarian.

    You’re reading a great deal into a very little evidence. When did asking a simple question become a form of contrarianism?

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