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Jewish World Review March 2, 2000 / 25 Adar I, 5760

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Consumer Reports



This report card
deserves an 'A' in every
subject -- THIS WOULD NOT SEEM to be an especially good time to be an administrator or teacher in an American public school.

If you're a principal or a teacher, you know that you are likely to be blamed for just about anything that goes wrong in the life of a student.

Standardized test scores at the school may be low -- for which you -- administrator or teacher -- will be chastised for not doing enough to make sure the students get into good colleges.

There may be violence on the school grounds -- for which you will be severely criticized for not doing enough to keep the students safe from one another.

But if you do install metal detectors, and if you search lockers, you will find yourself harshly questioned for trying to turn the school into a police state.

If you strongly suggest that students dress in a neat and dignified manner, you will be accused of trying to force your own tastes on the boys and girls in the school, and will be told that how they dress is none of your business.

But if you permit students to wear anything they want to school, you will be told that you are contributing to an undisciplined environment that diminishes the classroom experience.

It goes on and on; whatever there is that goes wrong in the school, you are told, is your fault -- you, the administrator, the teacher.

In light of that, it may be instructive to take a look at a report card that was recently shown to me.

It's not exactly a current report card -- in fact, it was issued to a student in the Elmhurst Public Schools during the 1904-1905 school year.

What is interesting is not the student's grades, which subject-by-subject are carefully and precisely written by the teacher in fountain pen inside that almost-100-year-old report card.

Instead, it is enlightening to read the back of the report card -- where, preprinted, is the following message:

To the Parent:

The boys and the girls in the schools will be the men and women of the future, the immortals of eternity. Because of what they will be, the responsibility of parents and teacher is very great. The affections of the parents, naturally centering in the welfare of their children, lead to a desire that they, the objects of their dearest thoughts, may receive the best educational advantages possible.

But no matter how earnestly and persistently the teacher tries to help the pupil, the best results will not be forthcoming unless there is the heartiest co-operation and warmest sympathy between parents, teachers and pupils.

As it is impossible for you to visit the school frequently, this report is sent that you may know how your child is progressing in each study. It will enable you to see how the latest compares with all previous reports, and is intended to be a complete summary of all that pertains to your child's school life this year. Will you not please examine it carefully, sign it promptly and act upon the information given? You will thereby greatly help both your child and the teacher.

Please aid in securing compliance with the rules of the school. This is not only necessary for the best interests of others, but ready obedience to proper authority is a lesson which every child should learn.

Pupils should not only behave properly, but they should acquire the habit of being punctual, regular in attendance, studious, kind, courteous and neat. They should be taught to think of every action as a moral act, tending to form habits and indicating and determining moral character. For the sake of their present and future welfare, kindly help the teacher in all efforts to secure these and other desirable ends.

This message to parents evidently was a feature not only of report cards issued by the Elmhurst Public Schools, but of school report cards all over the United States -- in small type on the card, it is indicated that the card was printed by Richardson, Smith & Co., a New York company that specialized in manufacturing standardized report cards. So most likely the message to parents appeared on report cards a hundred years ago not just in northern Illinois, but across the U.S.

In light of the constant news about the troubles in schools today, you are tempted to ask yourself what would happen if a public school administrator were to send such a message home to parents in our current society.

But you think you can guess:

The administrator would be hauled into federal court.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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