Friday, December 10, 2004

On School Indoctrination

What a time of year it is! Busy, busy, busy. All that Halloween candy is just about gone. We’ve just (barely) survived an intensely divisive election season. We’re slogging through the post-election armchair-quarterbacking rife with opinions and dire prophecies. We were allowed to celebrate Thanksgiving again this year. It looks like we can still have Christmas in our homes. “God bless us, everyone.” Am I still allowed to say that?

Sure, it’s a joke, but in all seriousness, the answer isn’t funny, for in many places I am not allowed to say it. At the East Manatee Freedom Elementary School, Principal Gary Holbrook has nixed Santa, Frosty (and any other snowman), Rudolph, and even snowflakes, “...trying to be respectful of everyone.” His peer at nearby Braden River Middle School, Anthony DiBello, says “You won’t see any Christmas trees around here, we keep it generic.” In Manatee County all principals received a letter from the Anti-Defamation League, approved by school officials. The league is a group dedicated to defeating antisemitism and other discrimination and their “letter suggests ways to keep the holidays out of classrooms”. I have to wonder if the Vatican sent a similar letter would it be promulgated as policy or filed in the nearest ‘circular-file bin’. Such a letter might even provoke an outcry from offended school officials and perhaps litigation from the ACLU. Back in October, Puyallup (WA) school district informed parents that the school district would not observe Halloween. Karen Hansen spoke for the district, “Witches with pointy noses and things like that are not respective symbols of the Wiccan religion and so we want to be respectful of that.”

Principal Chuck Fradley at the Braden River Elementary School, adjacent to the Middle School, is having a Christmas tree, he says “You don’t want to take it away.” He should be commended for his courage. In every school across the nation children are expected to learn about Kwanzaa, a celebration invented in 1966 to promote the traditional African values of family, community responsibility, commerce, and self-improvement. Call me intolerant, but I think Christmas handles those values quite nicely while still managing to be inclusive of all races. Creating a ‘celebration’ out of wholecloth for a specific group of people based on their ethnic origin is the very definition of racism. Ben and Sherry Burkhart have a child in Glenallen Elementary School (Sarasota) and note that “if students sing about Hanukkah and Kwanzaa, they should be allowed to sing about Jesus, too.” Sherry Burkhart goes on to say she’s “just tired of Christianity being politically incorrect.” The state code for education in California requires 7th graders to learn the 7 Pillars of Islam and to experience it by kneeling and bowing to Mecca five times before they can pass to the 8th grade. In New Jersey, Shiba Pillai-Diaz taught 7th and 8th grade English until she was fired for refusing to remove a photo of George Bush from an American History display or add a photo of John Kerry. Steven J. Williams was a fifth grade teacher, until recently, in Cupertino, CA who taught about the references to God in our history and founding documents. It wasn’t a problem until earlier this year when the district decided “to uphold the First Amendment which mandates the separation of church and state” and would rather go to court than allow a teacher to teach.

Our schools are doing a wonderful job of indoctrinating children into multi-culturalism, but are failing to actually teach. In the fervor for multi-culturalism, the education system is failing our culture, ourselves, and our children. Imagine how much time was wasted in Manatee and Puyallup discussing the ins-and-outs of this “respectful” policy. Meanwhile, the Program for International Student Assessment study was testing our 15-year-olds’ ability to apply math to real-life problems. Out of 39 countries participating in the test, American students placed 24th. The Center for Education Policy director, Jack Jennings, notes that PISA only tests real life skills as opposed to calculus and algebra, the real brainy math. I know I’m comforted knowing graduates can do calculus but can’t balance their checkbook. Or I would be, if they actually could. The fact is, they can’t. Ron Morvai, Mansfield Senior High School principal opines, “math is not easy or fun...Math requires students to be disciplined in the learning process.” Morvai’s peer at the Mansfield Christian School, Cy Smith, blames parents and observes, “we may not demand enough of our students.” Tressa Reith is the principal at St. Peter’s High School and said, “when we have areas that require focus and concentration, we see kids sometimes become impatient.” Michelle White is a student at Ocean Springs High School (MS) whose mother teaches first grade. She comments on her mother’s challenges: “Most of her students are failing, and it’s not her fault. It’s a lack of parental involvement, and the children don’t have the money to be on the medication they need to be on.”

A Dec 6th report found that the number of schools failing to meet No Child Left Behind minimums this year has doubled. On the plus-side, the report shows that in at least 32 states schools meeting the minimums have increased, but the fine print notes that the improved test scores are the result of a dispensation of leniency from the US Dept of Ed and not really better students. 77% of schools in both Florida and Alabama, 49% in Hawaii, 46% in New Jersey, 44% in South Carolina, 36% in Alaska, 28% in Oklahoma and 25% of schools in Delaware have failed to provide the basic skills mandated in NCLB. How does this happen in a school system where teachers are in the classroom for six months out of nine and for the balance have in-service days honing their skills or no-school days (we can’t call them holidays)? Milwaukee, Madison, and Racine (WI) released hundreds of students from classes to participate in Wisconsin Citizen Action Fund’s get-out-the-vote program going door-to-door or manning phone-lines reminding people to vote. (They all winked at WCA’s endorsement of John Kerry.) This was teaching civics. Front page of the Eagle Times Nov 28, 2004 was a report about “Connected Math”, which, according to Don Hart, principal of Claremont Middle School, “is helping students connect math to real life.” Maybe in the classroom, but not in the real world. “Connected Math”, the article later reveals, is really “New Math” which has been pushed by the education system for nearly 20 years.

John McClaughry, President of the Ethan Allen Institute, wrote in this very paper (Nov. 24, 2004), that “sixty percent of all state and local government employees [in Vermont] work in the K-12 public educational system.” McClaughry goes on to say, “Nationally, public education employment relative to population grew by six percent. In Vermont it grew by 30%.” And our students do no better for it. The solution is not more money as a court panel in New York seems to think. They were already spending $10,469 per student per year four years ago! The National Center for Education Statistics reports that Vermont ranks 28 out of 50 for teacher salaries. The State Teacher/Staff FTE & Salary Reports note that “in FY 2002 the statewide average teacher salary is $39,165.54. In comparison, the US Census of 2001 reported the median income for a two income family at $51,407. The teacher earns 72% of the two-income family. At the risk of being a Neanderthal (for recent graduates, that’s a pre-historic man), the solution is to do what we know works. Keep teachers in the classrooms for the school year. Scrap the “Connected Math” and ‘Social Studies’ programs and return to the basics. They worked for me and I’ll wager for most people reading this. Stop excusing failed curriculums by blaming parents and medicating students. Insist that the education system do better with what it has. I was not born a Yankee, but the Yankee ethic works: “Use what you have to make it work.”


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