Reading Thomas Friedman in this morning’s New York Times,
I couldn’t help but think of the Shel Silverstein classic, “Clarence
Lee from Tennessee,” a 1993 poem suggesting that kids could trade in
their parents for new ones.
Clarence Lee from Tennessee
Loved the commercials he saw on TV.
He watched with wide believing eyes
And bought everything they advertised
I used to read this to the kids whom I tutored in reading and also
brought it with me to classrooms, to share with whole groups of
students. The poem introduced these youngsters to narrative rhyme —
and the ubiquity and charms of advertising:
Powder for his doggie’s fleas,
Toothpaste for his cavities,
Stylish jeans that fit much tighter.
Bleach to make his white things whiter
Spray to make his hair look wetter
Cream to make his skin feel better
It was a set-up, of course, to the punchline: parents were just like
toothpaste: trade ‘em in for better ones. And, of course, it was funny
because the kids Silverstein addressed actually loved their parents,
despite the fact that they made them do things they didn’t want to do,
such as go to school, read, do homework, take the garbage out.
But I eventually stopped reading the poem in my school, as I realized
that its punch line — that the kids could trade their parents in for