No Pineapple Left Behind: My Own Experience in Cultivating Pineapples

“I think you should look into another profession. Either way, I hope you stay in touch. I like to keep in touch with all my trainees even if I don’t think they are suitable for the job”

That was the closing statement by my overseer on my last day of student teaching. My teacher-tutor, who coincidentally was also my high school history teacher, was no where to be found. No doubt he was drinking coffee in the teacher’s lounge, paying as much attention to this moment as he did to my time in front of my class. This was the fourth and last time I would meet the supervisor from my University. We shook hands, and I never contacted her again.

The few emails I would send to my teacher-tutor went unanswered.

Regardless, I received my teaching certificate but I didn’t really have the patience to become a substitute teacher so shortly thereafter I returned to Europe to teach English as a second language. I knew I wanted to teach, but I wanted to explore my own ability in teaching without the constraints of treating students like pineapples.

I can admit when I do something wrong or make a mistake, usually anyway. This last exchange baffled me though. I had done some faux pas during my tenure as a student teacher, but the majority of feedback from my students and the vice principal was favorable. I taught a class of 14-year-old students to think critically about American History and was mostly successful but I don’t think this is what was required.

Even though my life in the US public school system was short (but not nasty or brutish), it left a bad taste in my mouth. The room for improvement I saw while a student became even more clear when the curtain was pulled back. I learned some things about teaching though, and I am grateful for the experience. The students and some of the faculty was great, but the ones in charge of my progress let me down.

No Pineapple Left Behind, a game which is a scathing critique of the US school system and in particular the No Child Left Behind Act, was something I looked forward to try because I wanted to see if my experience was reflected in it. In short, it is a management game about running a school and trying to turn children into pineapples by removing their humanity. Humanity is removed by continually doing rote tasks and memorization and protecting the children from any outside stimuli that might flavour their life, including making friendships. Once they lose their humanity, they turn into pineapples which don’t do anything except study and try to pass tests. Nothing else matter for these pineapples; they lose all human traits and their names become a string of numbers.

There is a little bit of the fantastical in the game. Teachers don’t teach lessons, but cast spells. School buses are teleported around the city, and to influence students, teachers can zap them. The difficult part is the management of money. Your success is dependent on the scores of daily tests. The better grades your students get, the more money your school has. However, if your students do not succeed, your school gets no money. On top of that, teachers have energy and the better spells for teaching cost more energy. By the end of the day, your teachers barely have enough energy to do anything but turn on the television.

No Pineapple Left Behind’s days are full of hiring and firing staff (to save money and replenish energy), dealing with complaints from parent phone calls, and making sure you meet the goals for the scenario (sandbox mode also available.) all the while trying not to run out of money. It quickly becomes tedious as newer, harder scenarios force you to become more granular. Pause, adjust, start, pause adjust, start. Much like teaching to the same curriculum over and over, it becomes a slog. Maybe that is the point, but I feel the game could have fared better with some additional polish and depth.

I wanted to play it because Seth Alter, the creator, used to be a teacher who stopped teaching because he no longer liked what we was doing.

“My special education class was on the same curriculum as everyone else with the same expectations and resources–my question was, what ultimately distinguished it as special education? Eventually, the answer resolved itself; the special education room was a stats tool. If the average grade of the school is per class, grouping all of the struggling students together boosts the average; it served no further function. This is where the dichotomy of pineapple and child ultimately originates.”

Seth Alter, A FRUITY EDUCATION: AN INTERVIEW WITH SETH ALTER, Comics Game Magazine

Maybe he knew a little about how I felt about my short experience in the education system. From his interviews, he saw that the administration treated its students as statistics to be manipulated to get funding. In the game, this is demonstrated by turning children into pineapples, in my experience, its guidance counselors encouraging my friends to drop out of school. The pineapples are diligent students, who lap up what you feed them and because your job depends on how well your students do on a standardized test, you teach to the test. Memorizer spell anyone?

Of course, this means the students lose any practical application of their skills. They might be confronted with a problem they could solve in a context they do not understand.

When I was student teaching, I was put in charge of the hybrid Social Studies – English class at the school. As a dual citizen and someone who spent significant time of my development in two countries, matters of national identity was important to me because I didn’t feel like I fit in anywhere. In my university studies, I was fascinated by the notion of American Exceptionalism and just how bad it was as a lens to look at the country’s history.

In my class, I decided to introduce the concepts of American Exceptionalism early to give some structure for the entire course. We would not only go through the necessary materials, but as a class, we would scrutinize the historical events and context and see just how closely the history of the country followed the ideas of freedom, liberty, and all that good stuff. This was probably not what the other teachers wanted to see.

I started student teaching right after No Child Left Behind was passed. My approach attempted to add a layer of critical thinking on top of history that I felt was sorely lacking having been through the curriculum as a student myself. I did not want pineapples in my class, and a lot of the material I was covering was not beneficial for standardized testing (even though History is not one of the important subjects according to NCLB.) In retrospect, I think I came to feel the same as Seth Alter did, but at the time it was just a feeling and I couldn’t quite formulate it in my mind. I was too busy with school, with my job, and with student teaching to do anything but go forward as best as I could.

In the end, I don’t think I learned anything from No Pineapple Left Behind because I had seen it before. What I did get was affirmation that I wasn’t alone in that moment in front of the school when my supervisor told me to get another job. Then, I was hurt and confused, and more than a little angry. I felt that the whole experience had been unfair, that I hadn’t gotten the support and guidance that I had needed, and that I had been trying to do something different but important that had been ignored. I don’t know if I was good at what I was doing then or if it got the students to think critically about history at all, or if it was a waste of time.

My tutor-teacher spent most of the time not in my class while I was teaching and I was left to fend for myself.

What I do know, is that I did not want pineapples in a system that increasingly wanted them.

I only got through about half the game before I decided to stop playing. I know there were some features and mechanics that I didn’t see. Sorry, No Pineapple Left Behind, but it got too much and too dull. If I had stayed in the US education system and made an attempt to make it work for me, I would have eventually felt the same, until I got sacked right before I got tenure to save the school some money.

Hmm. Maybe Seth Alter and No Pineapple Left Behind taught me something after all.

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