Jewish World Review Oct. 27, 2003 / 1 Mar-Cheshvan, 5764

Joanne Jacobs

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Parent, teachers, parents as teachers; cramming in education; out of control | If you can read this . . .

Eugene Volokh, a UCLA law professor and blogger, thanks his parents for teaching him to read in English and Russian, instead of delegating his education to the school.

When I was a kid, parents were told not to teach their kids to read because they might "do it wrong." My mother obeyed this diktat. So my sister taught me to read when she was in first grade and I was in kindergarten. Thanks, Peg.

I taught my daughter when she was two. She seemed to know already. It was a bit eerie. Until then, she’d been the slow kid, missing all her “major milestones.”

The result is that I have no idea how children were taught reading at her elementary school. I thank Beverly Cleary for writing the Beezus and Ramona  books.

Cramming in Education

Black students need what Asian cram schools offer, writes Bill Maxwell in the St. Pete Times. His cousin Shirley, a single parent in Harlem, sends her two sons to a Korean-run school.

Each afternoon, she and the boys ride the subway to a storefront. There, the boys, along with 45 other students, study for three hours with certified math, English and science teachers. On Saturday mornings, they make the trip again. The boys study for four more hours.

One tangible payoff is the improvement of the boys' grades. They went from earning C's and the occasional B to making all A's and B's. The grades are important, but Shirley says she cares more about the boys' new love of learning: "Up here in Harlem, they don't have a lot of role models their own age. A lot of these kids don't open a book after they get off the subway. My kids just don't fit in because they love to study. That makes me feel bad.

"The cram school is different. Those Korean kids study very hard. My boys are the only blacks in the school, but they fit in. I mean, it's normal to work hard. Nobody says they're acting white. When they see all these other kids studying, my kids don't feel weird. The peer pressure is positive. Studying has become a habit -- second nature."

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Relatives told Shirley she was pushing her boys too hard. She told them to get lost.

Spell Well

The documentary Spellbound, which follows eight 12-year-old National Spelling Bee contestants, just opened in Britain. From The Independent:

...What makes Spellbound subversive is that it presents, with general approval, the values of the American dream so often included in the speeches of right-wing politicians and so regularly dismissed or satirised by film-makers and novelists.

For these families, the majority of whom are first-generation immigrants, America really is the land of opportunity where, if you work hard, anything is possible. Teachers are important but the family is the wellspring of success and happiness. Mothers and fathers working around the clock to advance their children are loving and conscientious, not the "pushy parents" so often decried in English middle-class circles.

Out of Control

David Pitone, a computer engineer, was hired as a teacher in Philadelphia. He had four weeks of training before he faced his first computer class at Audenried High. When students threatened and cursed him, he sent them to the office. The principal sent them back, saying Pitone hadn't filled out disciplinary forms correctly. Pitone, who has a law degree, walked off the job in his first week and into the courts. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

In papers filed yesterday in Common Pleas Court, Pitone, who has taught only 2 1/2 days, is seeking an emergency court order that would temporarily allow him to eject students who he said cursed at and threatened him, while he seeks permission to do so through the district's grievance system.

"To me, this is an emergency," said Pitone, of Philadelphia, who has not been working since Wednesday, when he said he was told he could not eject students anymore. "People are making moves at me like they're going to punch me, then backing off. They know I can't kick them out. That leads to other students getting unruly."

District officials yesterday defended the school's position and said it was Pitone's job to manage his classroom.

"We're in the business of trying to keep students in the classroom. We're not in the business of kicking them out. He's a teacher. A teacher is a very, very tough thing to be. You have to be able to manage a lot of children in different stages of development. That's his job," said Wendy Beetlestone, the district's general counsel.

Let's concede that Pitone may not be cut out to be a teacher. But what about the principal? She had a brand-new, virtually untrained teacher who was calling for help. Her job was to observe his class and suggest ways for him to improve. Instead, she let him sink or swim. With the sharks.

More from the discipline front: At an Anchorage, Alaska school, a teacher broke up a fight, putting one sixth grader in a bear hug to pull him off the other boy. Mom, upset that the teacher had touched her son, came to school and punched the teacher. The mother's quotes are classically awful.

Operation Give

While serving in Baghdad, Chief Wiggles is distributing toys and clothing to Iraqi children through Operation Give. FedEx is offering free overseas shipping for donations.

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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.

10/21/03: Go, Samaritan; 2 + 2 = ?; Majoring in Middle-class Status
10/14/03: To Gag a Mockingbird; saying 'hate' is hate speech; protest school
10/08/03: No Homework Overload; Self-centered Social Studies; The Boy Code; Codswallop; College 101: Don't Jump Out of Your Bunk Bed
09/29/03: Flunking mom; classroom classics; ritalin gag rule; lousy children
09/22/03: Order, disorder
09/08/03: No Child Left Behind: A Primer
08/29/03: The Decline and Fall of Social Studies
08/18/03: F is for valedictorian
08/14/03: Start-up success
08/11/03: Subliterate Superintendent
08/04/03: Alternative High School
07/28/03: Out of the System
07/21/03: Too Snobby for Shop
07/14/03: Be very afraid
07/09/03: Know-nothing nonsense
06/30/03: Affirmative action reactions
06/23/03: Overdressed Students, Underdressed Teachers, Dressed-down Exams
06/16/03: Paper 'Is-ness,' Excluding Awards, New Racial Consciousness and Politics
06/09/03: Racist math, red tape for charters, potty reading
06/02/03: Teacher Pay, Illiteracy , No Republicans Allowed
05/27/03: Research papers, athletics, reading
05/19/03: Soft America, plagiarism, Minutemen and Jets
05/12/03: Demographics, nerves, valedictorian, vouchers
05/05/03: Gender Bias, Banned Words, Helen of Troy
04/28/03: Tests, home-schooling, self-esteem
04/25/03: Lessons, American Pride, Iraqi Schools
04/14/03: Iraqi Textbooks and the English language
03/31/03:Teachers, hugging, text messaging
04/07/03: War talk at school
03/24/03: Watching the war
03/10/03: Classroom chaos
03/03/03: Teaching tales
02/24/03: Segregation stories
02/18/03: Writing Essays, America, Beyond Bert and Ernie
02/13/03: Size matters
02/10/03: Parental homework, cheaters and memoirs
02/03/03: Diplomas, academics, preschools and Ritalin
01/27/03: Head Start, Social Studies, Marx, Africa and Math
01/22/03: Teachers as targets
01/13/03: Big Bully's Feelings
01/06/03: School of 60's Whining and Communal Destruction
12/23/02: Teaching in
12/16/02: Chocolate city?
12/10/02: Mandatory Victimhood --- and when cleaning up a school is 'racist'
11/25/02: Multi-colored math, sensitive science
11/20/02: How to leave no child behind
11/18/02: The tummy track
11/11/02: Dysfunctional documents?
11/04/02: Why go to college? Why test schools?
10/28/02: Pride goeth before an F
10/21/02: Diversity adversity
10/14/02: Bad hat day
10/07/02: Inflated sense of worth
09/30/02: The Royal road to knowledge
09/24/02: Sierra's Club
09/20/02: Stupidity Watch
09/03/02: First, win the war
08/26/02: Out of their field, out of their minds?
08/20/02: Fun with failure

© 2003, Joanne Jacobs