• Published 22nd Aug 2019
  • 427 Views, 28 Comments

Constrictive Criticism - forbloodysummer

Applejack struggles to find something nice to say about students who aren't.

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Constrictive Criticism

Applejack stared down at the parchment in front of her, jaw slack and quill untouched. Her eyes weren’t even scanning the writing on the page anymore; she’d read it three times already.

They instead rose to the plaque on the wall, engraved with the latest EEA procedures for how teachers should conduct themselves ‘to best fit the learning needs of each individual child.’

It wasn’t Twilight’s fault, and Applejack knew that. The commandments had come down from on high, and the school’s hooves were tied tighter than a hog in a woodtrap when it came to following them and staying open.

Back when the school had been going their own way, they’d have done what they thought was right regardless of what the EEA said. But now the school had been accredited, she couldn’t really blame Twilight for not wanting to risk upsetting that.

Still, though, she heard the words in Twilight’s voice.

“All criticism should be constructive and positive. Focus on students’ successes rather than their failures.”

Again, Applejack dropped her gaze back to the parchment on her desk, tempted to drop her whole head onto it too.

‘1. It is always best to be honest with everycreature because:

Then everyone will believe you when you need to lie about something.’

She tried closing her eyes for a few moments, but, when she opened them again, the words remained the same.

Which was probably for the best, really. The last thing the fillies and colts of her class needed access to was enchanted parchment. Helplessly, she read on.

‘2. Generosity is considered a noble virtue because:

Everycreature will respect how rich you are if you act like you can afford to just give stuff away like it doesn’t matter.’

Although she’d never say it anywhere Apple Bloom might hear, occasionally Applejack missed the days of Diamond Tiara and Silver Spoon being the worst foals anyone in Ponyville had to deal with. They’d been right mean to lots of ponies, but at least it had come from being jealous and insecure.

The foals she had to teach these days, though…

‘3. Kindness is sometimes called the most important of all virtues. Why do you think Discord tried to become a better draconequus after being shown Kindness?

Discord gets bare puss now. Fluttershy be polishing his pole day and night.’

That one had been shocking, the first time she’d read it. Even amongst the answers that belonged in a mucking shed, that one stood out. Back in the old times – not that any student would ever have written anything like that, before the new EEA guidelines came in – she’d have reported it to Twilight.

But reporting something was criticising it, wasn’t it? Saying it shouldn’t be said, and that was negative. ‘Stifling of a student’s self-expression,’ they’d told Rarity last year when she’d slapped a hoof away from squeezing her flank in class.

Clearly somepony high up in putting together the way things were run had had good intentions. No one wanted to see foals having their feelings hurt, and Applejack didn’t want to be the one hurting them. And every teacher in schools all across Equestria already knew to keep criticism constructive nine times out of ten. Ponies of all ages got their hackles up when you told them they were wrong, but if you showed them how they might be able to improve, then they listened.

So Applejack understood. It worked most of the time, it looked good as a thing to be telling ponies, and it would look terrible to go back on it.

But when it was a flat rule, applied to every situation with no alternative, well now, that caused problems. 98% of the time you wouldn’t want to burn down any of your apple orchard. But, occasionally, a few trees would get the blight, and if you didn’t act fast and torch them to stop the spread, you’d lose the whole crop.

Every once in a while, a foal did something so bad, got it so wrong, that they needed somepony to be frank with them about it. Not sugarcoat it, not try to put a positive slant on it, not water it down in any way. And if they didn’t get that when they needed it, the problem would take root, and in time it’d infect far more.

The rot had spread to the foundations, now. And, still, she had to find something positive to say.

Applejack felt a tugging inside her head, like an itch that needed scratching, and it pulled her attention over to the filing cabinet behind her. She fixed her eye on it, biting her lip.

She could just look at the reports she’d written last term. Rephrase them, rearrange which compliment was used where, make them fit this term’s activities. She very much could do that. The students, the parents, the local educational authority… they were all just being told what they wanted to hear anyway, so why not make it the same thing as before?

It wasn’t like the students had actually progressed or anything. Improved. Getting better would imply they hadn’t been doing it perfectly to begin with. Broadening their horizons suggested they weren’t broad enough already; learning about other cultures, other ways of thinking – why, that might suggest there was something wrong with their own.

And that was the thing that really made Applejack’s ears droop, as she sat at her desk.

She’d gone to Manehattan. She’d stayed with the Oranges, and that change of scenery had let her know what was really important. She’d grown as a pony.

Fluttershy had overcome her fears, Twilight had made friends, Rainbow even admitted she read books now.

But under the new guidelines, Fluttershy would have been told the world was wrong for making her afraid. She’d never be challenged, never have it suggested to her that obstacles were things to try to overcome.

The foals in Applejack’s class would never get that, under these new rules. They’d remain the same – exactly the same – when they left school as they had been when they joined it.

Applejack loved Ponyville with all her heart. It was her home, and there was no place she’d rather be. But it had never felt so darned small.

And then she sighed. The education system, the culture that pushed for it – all of that might be breaking, but still, she’d been hired as a teacher.

Hired to teach them honesty. She wouldn’t cheat, and copy her old reports. She’d find something constructive to say, even if it took her all night.

She picked up her quill.

‘The student’s choice of ink colour for answering the question with was technically not terrible…’

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Comments ( 28 )

This was a lovely read. I love how much atmosphere came across despite the sparse descriptions--it felt very intimate, like you're right there in the room with Applejack and experiencing all her contemplative melancholy with her. And I am quite impressed with how solid this feels given the amount of time invested, even allowing for expansion the day after outside the original hour.

You did a fantastic job here :twilightsmile:

>bare puss
...I mean, would shaving be a kink in the land of the fuzzy?

Separately, I've always liked "This child is going someplace. I mean, the state penitentiary is a place."

Applejack: Twi, I can't take it anymore. These here rules are FORCIN ME TO LIE! Either they go, or I go.

Here's something to think about: was the ink color the student's choice? In a way, it's a serious question, because we had an episode where Twilight was worrying about making sure they had enough highlighters for all the students, so that indicates that the school provides supplies, such as the aforementioned highlighters, and pens or inkwells (depending on the method).

To me, this also makes it a little more amusing, because the one thing that Applejack thought she could compliment the student on was actually something they had no control over.

Funny when it needed to be, and also a little bit deep with the introspection. Good work.

I like it. Just a nice wholesome fiction. It felt like Applejack had written the story herself.

9795096 Thanks for reading it again :twilightsmile:

I am thinking that maybe atmosphere is much easier to do as a thing when there's no dialogue involved. It wasn't even really intentional here, but that there're no other ponies to distract you from how Applejack sees things I think helps with that?

Thanks, I was pleasantly surprised! I was expecting to get a little way in and then need another three days before I had anything like a complete story :twilightsheepish: I like how the time limit makes you commit to ideas, rather than second guessing lines too much. But I think that's maybe tied up with how the prompt ensures it's a fresh idea, without any existing visions of how it'll go, so it's easier to try whatever seems best at the time. My point, unfortunately, is that I don't know how well the speedwriting approach would work for an existing story idea, so I'm not sure it'll really help me write things I have in mind any faster.

You did a fantastic job here :twilightsmile:


I completely forgot to add this to groups when I posted it :facehoof: I've now added it to a couple of Applejack ones, a School of Friendship one, and the Quills & Sofas one. Any ideas what others might be good?

9795241 One thing I've learned from this site is how popular some rather unexpected fetishes are :twilightsheepish:

I think among humans both clean shaven and very hairy are established fetishes, so I'd think the same is true among ponies?

Separately, I've always liked "This child is going someplace. I mean, the state penitentiary is a place."

That's a good one, but it implies the problem is the child. Whereas these aren't necessarily problem children (or weren't, I should say), they're a reflection of the average :twilightoops:

I’m confused. The ponies decided to let the school be in accredited after a few weeks.

I think the extra lampshading and framing does help quite a bit, yeah. Good job making it feel very different while keeping the core of the story intact.

9795268 I was thinking that sort of thing when trying to come up with a story description just before publishing, yeah. But, Applejack doesn't actually consider lying at any point. Plagiarising the same things she said last time, but that doesn't mean they'd be any less sincere on this occasion.

It's more that the truths she's allowed to tell are so meaningless they're not worth telling :twilightsheepish:

9795369 I hadn't thought of that! I agree, that suggests the school supplies stationery. Even if they didn't, and the students brought their own, it's not at all uncommon for a teacher to dictate a preference for writing colour, usually blue or black, so that they can make clearly visible notes in red.

Could be that there are multiple colours of ink jars to choose from on each desk, though, and it's down to the students to decide? :twilightsheepish:

9795382 For the second time in two days I'm reminded I really need to catch up with South Park, I don't think I've seen the last three seasons, and really ought to :twilightsheepish:

Thanks! Glad it managed to hit both of those marks :twilightsmile:

Between Rarity and Pinkie, that is possible.

9795408 Thanks!

I'm really happy you used the word wholesome. I was worried that people wouldn't take too kindly to this one, as some on the site really don't like criticism, especially the not-constructive kind, but hopefully it's clear that Applejack is never trying to be mean.

I'm glad the story felt like Applejack, too - with no dialogue, there's none of her Southern twang, so I tried to put some countryisms into the prose where I could, but there still aren't many. It's a bit more reflective than we often see from Applejack, too, so I could understand some saying it doesn't sound as much like her as they'd like :twilightsheepish:

I mean, if fur is generally subbing for clothing, it's a lot more of a statement to remove the underwear area.

I'd figure it as a warning, if they're consistently behaving like that and not improving. "The tools I have to hoof aren't working, either I need authorisation for different methods or someone later in life will pick up the slack."

9795751 ...Somehow I'd missed the fur replacing clothing connotation, that makes that much clearer! :twilightsheepish:

I think that's exactly it, yeah. Either this gets fixed now with a gentle nudge, or later with a hard shove. Or not at all, and everything around it gets broken instead.

9795571 Ooh, can you remember what episode that was? I figured it happened after School Raze, but haven't watched many season 8 episodes more than once to check. Either way, when the school started, it had more freedom, but now it's subject to EEA approval to maintain its accredited status, that means doing things their way.

9795639 Thanks for the forthright comment on the original version, I know you questioned how useful it would be as feedback, but I thought it was well worth saying and agreed on the stumbling blocks.

episode 2 of season 8
But I guess it can be an alternate universe

9796491 Right, yeah, at the end of that one they decide to keep the school open even without accredited status, right? That's what Applejack's thinking about here when she's talking about how the school used to be run.

But at the end of season 8, Neighsay comes around to their way of thinking. I can't remember if there's a scene when he does then grant the school accredited status, but, if there isn't, then I think that's something that might well happen off-screen. So this story is set sometime after that - probably a few years after - by which time the influence of the EEA policies has been felt by some students through quite a while in the school system.

We've seen the trouble that comes from not being accredited (the competition from the Friendship University), so I think it's something Twilight would be keen to have if possible.


It wasn't even really intentional here

This is more or less how I feel whenever someone comments on one of my stories having atmosphere, as a few people have, so in my experience, it's just something that, like... happens when the sort of voice of the story matches whatever tone you're going for, to put an abstract term in terms of an abstract term. But I do think there's more room for it in descriptions than in dialogue, generally, so, yeah, there not being many ponies in this one might have helped it in that regard.

I completely forgot to add this to groups when I posted it I've now added it to a couple of Applejack ones, a School of Friendship one, and the Quills & Sofas one. Any ideas what others might be good?

my little fetish, because of that line

… it is occurring to me that I don't have a clue what sort of groups that aren't EQG or siren-focused are out there, since I've rarely had a use for such things :rainbowderp: I see you got it in a slice of life group, too, which is the thing I'd thought of. So, uh. I dunno, basically :twilightsheepish: There're always big, general groups like the writer's group and that, maybe.

Good representation of Applejack, where she's not even allowed to be honest, lest somebody's precious poopsie get offended. And that's some pretty relevant commentary in times like this. You and I don't live in the same country, but it seems like both our school systems have this problem.

9802510 Thanks!

Because this was written without much time for thinking, a lot of stuff went into it in broad strokes, just influences from general attitudes in places. So there's some university safe spaces and trigger warnings, where protecting is seen as more important than learning. There's how my friend was a teaching assistant for a violent special needs child and wasn't able to do much to intervene when he would pull her hair or rip chunks out of that of other students. There's a general cloud of Brexitness where platitudes are taken over facts, where warnings are seen as nay saying, and where looking up to other countries is seen as looking down on your own. And there's a government that heaps more and more and more on teachers (teachers are counter-terrorism operatives now!), insisting everyone has a part to play in raising children, but refuses to tell parents to do a decent job.

There's also some fimfiction influence, of course, because I'm sure we all know at least one person who insists criticism must be constructive, and that rude critiques can be instantly disallowed as not containing anything useful.

But mostly, yeah, it comes from looking through a teaching contract the day before the contest which stated that all criticism should be constructive. Only rarely does criticism need to be more forceful, but if it can't be on those few occasions, the problem snowballs.

I've never understood this. The best way to learn is to have your failings exposed, in a non-antagonistic manner, so you can work on correcting them.

9833377 The counterargument is that ignorance is bliss.

People want to believe things that make them happy, and few things make people happier than believing they're right, and have been all along.

The problem comes when that inevitably intersects with reality.

So I completely agree, and I think it's something we need to get considerably better at as a society.

9940089 Yeah, actually :twilightoops:

Sometimes, amidst the social and meta commentary, I forget that, yeah, poor Applejack :fluttershysad:

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