Jewish World Review August 9, 2004 / 22 Menachem-Av, 5764

Joanne Jacobs

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Consumer Reports

Kids and Convicts, in Need of Training | Parents who fail to set limits are raising a generation of brats, writes Martin Booe in the Memphis Flyer.

He tells the story of a 5-year-old boy at a mostly adult party. He starts by biting Booe, then begins kicking the floor-to-ceiling window:

His father finally intervenes, taking the child by the arm and pointing out some of the window's unique features. "You shouldn't kick this window because it's a very special window," he tells his son. "See how the frame ..." And I'm thinking, Kid, you shouldn't kick the window because in another universe your father would have some vague concept of parental authority.

Then there's a 6-year-old boy, a guest at a barbecue hosted by a professor named Donald John, who removes an antique violin from its case.

The boy began darting through the house, swinging the violin by its scroll, clipping it against walls and furniture as he led a merry chase. The mother declared that only she could defuse the situation, but each time she squared off against her son, he scurried into another room. "It turned into a hostage negotiation, but it was all appeasement," John says. "She would offer him ice cream, and his eyes would light up for a second before he ran off again."

By the time the violin was retrieved, its bridge and neck were damaged. "The perplexing thing is that some of these parents seem amused when their children do this sort of thing," says John, the parent of two grown daughters. To avoid unruly children, John, a non-smoker, requests the smoking section when dining in restaurants because he finds second hand smoke less irritating than the kids in non-smoking sections. (It was a child skateboarding in a restaurant lounge who tipped him over the edge.)

"The Me Generation is raising the Me-Me-Me Generation," says educational psychologist Michele Borba.

Self-esteem for Unemployable Convicts

California convicts won't be able to learn a job skill in prison. Instead, they'll learn to feel good about themselves. While prisons lose 300 vocational classes, the state isn’t saving money, notes an LA Times editorial.

The instructors who formerly provided inmates a chance to succeed in the outside world are now conducting self-esteem "modules" instead. These use workbooks hammering the sort of feel-good lessons that some prison experts believe increase, not decrease, recidivism (one can imagine the resulting thought process of an inmate — "I'm gonna be the best darned crook I can be!").

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Why did the state prison guards’ union negotiate self-esteem classes in place of vocational classes for inmates? Well, it guarantees more jobs for prison guards.

Summer Success

New York City's ban on social promotion means that children who've fallen behind get help with reading, writes Samuel Freedman in the New York Times. He talks to the mother of a third grader who scored at the lowest level in the reading test.

Instead of resisting, instead of complaining, instead of impugning the test or the teacher or the mayor, (Susan) Pellecier postponed her family's vacation to Florida and consented to have Dominique attend the Summer Success Academy at P.S. 200. What both mother and daughter understood, if few of the mayor's critics did, was that passing along a child in academic trouble is a recipe for disaster.

...Along with just nine other pupils, roughly one-third the size of a class during the regular school year, Dominique gets the attention of a teacher named Elizabeth McCormack. The group works in unbroken blocks as long as 75 minutes on both basic skills and test preparation in reading and math, with lessons carefully scripted for focus and consistency. Every day, each child also receives 10 minutes of personal drilling in phonics with an aide.

Almost all parents of children scoring at the lowest reading level have enrolled their children in summer classes at P.S. 200, Freedman writes. Attendance is above 90 percent. Parents also are enrolling second graders, who aren't required to take summer classes, hoping they'll improve their skills and pass the third grade test.

"We have to stop stigmatizing being held over," said Phyliss Bullion, the principal of P.S. 200. "Does it matter if you graduate high school at 17 or 18 or 19? It's more important you come out with the skills you need to survive in the world."

The parents seem to get it.


All students learn more when "diverse" voices participate in class discussions, say proponents of racial and ethnic preferences. But minority students don't necessarily want to speak for their groups -- or in front of majority students.

At the University of Colorado's School of Education, a "school and society" class focusing on race, gender and culture created a special section restricted to minority students and students who are the first in their families to attend college.

School of Education Dean Lorrie Shepard said the section requirements aren’t discriminatory because the class includes those of any race who are the first in their family to go to college. The special section was created as an experiment last year, she told the Daily Camera.

"Often a student of color would find they were the only non-white person in a given section and ... very often their class would turn to them whenever an issue of race was discussed," Shepard said. "They'd be asked if they agreed with a certain perspective or to defend a position. They'd be put on the spot in ways that made it feel like a hostile environment."

...But for those who choose it, she said, it provides an "important intellectual opportunity" and a "much safer and open environment to be able to agree and disagree with each other without having to speak for their whole group."

It sounds like they threw in the first-in-family students to avoid blatant racial bias. Implicitly, the school has told non-whites that being asked to express their opinions creates a “hostile environment,” while being segregated is safe, open and an “intellectual opportunity.” And down is up.

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JWR contributor Joanne Jacobs, a former Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer, blogs daily at She is currently finishing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. Comment by clicking here.


© 2004, Joanne Jacobs