Jewish World Review Sept. 20, 2002 / 15 Tishrei, 5763

Joanne Jacobs

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Stupidity Watch


http://www.NewsAndOpinion.com | Stupidity is the theme of the week. Here's a national round-up. 

 

ILLITERATE IN IOWA 

Des Moines public schools should give diplomas to students who can't read, argued Jim Patch, a candidate for school board. A shop teacher for 40 years, Patch was endorsed by the teachers' union. 

"How can we take a bright kid that is having trouble reading and tell them, "You can't graduate?" Patch asked. "If they are doing well in other subjects, are we going to tell them they can't get a high school diploma?" 

Yes. 

If diplomas are withheld, "we could have a lot of future architects and doctors out there that aren't going to graduate," Patch said in an interview. 

Um, isn't that a good thing? Who wants an illiterate doctor? 

In a radio interview, Patch said that CEOs of major corporations don't need to read well because they can dictate letters. Illiterate police officers could use a Dictaphone too, Patch said. Later, he decided that maybe cops should be able to read. 

Patch believes that students who can't read well are dyslexic, and therefore can't be held to normal standards. Actually, most poor readers aren't "word blind." They just haven't been taught properly. True dyslexics also can learn -- if they're not just passed along. Patch would like to pass them on with a worthless piece of paper, a Des Moines high school diploma. Then they'll discover they don't have the skills they need to function in society. Not even as a CEO of a major corporation. 

Eight percent of registered voters turned out for the Des Moines school board election Tuesday. Patch was elected

REMEDIAL READING

To serve the subliterate, 78 percent of colleges offer remedial classes. At California State University, which allegedly serves the top third of students in the state, only 54 percent of entering freshmen are proficient in both English and math, reports the Christian Science Monitor

It's a long way from the goal of 90 percent proficiency in math and English by 2007. And it's not satisfying to Ralph Pesqueira, a San Diego businessman and a member of CSU's board who spearheaded the policy after hearing complaints from faculty during campus visits. 

"These professors kept saying to me, 'What can we do about these students who just can't read and write -- they come here, sit in class, and don't have the foggiest idea,' " he recalls. 

CSU now limits students to one year of remediation. After that, they're "disenrolled." 

TEACHER HARASSED FOR TEACHING 

Remember the North Carolina teacher who was forced to apologize for teaching fourth graders that "niggardly" is a synonym for "stingy?" Now the school board has sicced the superintendent on the poor teacher. The board's attorney says the board is "very concerned about the situation" and wants a "quick and immediate resolution." The teacher was reprimanded and forced to apologize. How could it be more resolved except by firing a woman for trying to do her job? 

The complainers -- a mother, the minister who heads the local NAACP and a few others -- are unhappy because the school board discussed the matter in closed session. They know the board members are sitting in private laughing at the idiotic notion that teaching a word that sounds like a racial slur is the same as teaching a racial slur. But they want the board to pretend to take the complaint seriously, even at the cost of hounding a dedicated teacher out of the classroom. 

WHO'S BURIED IN GRANT'S TOMB? 

American students don't know much about history, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But what about adults? You can test yourself on fourth, eighth or 12th grade history questions here. I think the 12th grade questions are absurdly easy, but some of the fourth grade questions are challenging -- for fourth graders. And, yes, I got 100 percent. 

A DAY THAT WILL LIVE IN APOLOGY 

JunkYard Blog imagines a news story on Dec. 7, 1942 in an alternate universe. 

America commemorated the tragedy of Pearl Harbor today, one year after the terrible day that changed the nation forever. In San Francisco, closest U.S.-held territory to the site of the incident that the National Education Association has said should not be blamed on any group or nation, sailors rowed by a mockup of the sunken wreck of the USS Arizona in lifeboats, dropping wreaths and handwritten poems dedicated to their fallen comrades. It was a moving, tearful scene... 

In Washington, Congress observed a moment of silence. Then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt...pledged to seek out the root causes of Japan's apparent hostility toward the U.S., vowing to "make things right," adding that he would probably review our relationship with China's beleaguered military with an eye toward ending it... 

...CBS radio, meanwhile, played somber music most of the day, mixing it with tearful testimonials from those who lost loved ones, pausing only for a moment of silence. This was followed by a brief newscast detailing events in Europe, which look grim for the increasingly bellicose English and their shrill, portly leader, Winston Churchill. 

The Colonel, a new blogger  who teaches at a Virginia college, gave JunkYard's fake story to a colleague, who showed it to freshmen in his next class. "All of them thought it was actually a clip from the 1942 paper," the Colonel reports. 

LIGHTENING THE ACADEMIC LOAD 

Will California buy schoolbooks by the pound? Peter Schrag of the Sacramento Bee mocks a newly passed bill to set a weight limit on textbooks. 

It was an adult act of stupidity -- really two acts -- that got us into this fix in the first place. 

The most obvious, of course, was the contagion of locker-removal, apparently in the belief that it would increase school safety, save money and reduce drug use: Get rid of the lockers, and the kids wouldn't have them to hide the stuff anymore. They'd have to carry it around in their backpacks along with all those books. 

The other act of stupidity is the collective professional decision that in order to get the kids to look at the textbooks at all, they had to stop being texts and become picture books -- great fat things printed on heavy glossy paper with hundreds of color photographs and other illustrations that threaten to choke out the last remaining words entirely. Each book costs $70 and up. 

Japan's excellent math books are slender and inexpensive, Schrag points out. 

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

09/03/02: First, win the war
08/26/02: Out of their field, out of their minds?
08/20/02: Fun with failure

© 2002, Joanne Jacobs