Jewish World Review Sept. 6, 2002/ 29 Elul, 5762

Marianne M. Jennings

Marianne M. Jennings
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Consumer Reports

Public schools: An unqualified success | My husband and I fork over the dough for private schools for our children's early years. But classmates there dwindle each year until your child's only socialization comes from a Beta missing a chunk of fin. We then transfer them to "alternative public school."

These are not the schools of the 60s wherein children traipsed through daisy fields wearing hand-sewn burlap sacks. The tables, multiplication and otherwise, have turned. Today's alternative schools banish flower children fare and teach grueling phonics, math and grammar. Also, there are no grief counselors for the goal is to give children grief.

But, limited options find my children in regular junior high's brave new world. It has been 7 years since one of my children hallowed such halls. Having witnessed the first few weeks of junior high and sallied forth to open house, I state, without equivocation, that there is no hope for public education.

While my son is graced with several dedicated teachers, New Ageites abound. His geography teacher pledges to teach him to "think outside the box." Dear woman, the purpose of geography is to teach the box, or at least a flat surface map. Geography once meant learning of cities, rivers and countries blessed with bauxite. Instead, my son will learn Socratic latitude and longitude, environmentalism, and AIDS.

We will overcome knowledge deficits such "critical thinking" courses cause. But, we must also compensate for limited knowledge gains in all areas because teachers and administrators spend the bulk of their time coping with a student body that is largely illiterate and undisciplined. Our home is located in an enclave surrounded by everything from Section 8 housing to the most active drug-trading street in the city. Those sissy NIMBYs - we'd welcome the plunking down of a Wal-Mart or power plant.

Our socioeconomic location breeds quite a cross-section at the junior high. Students in my son's elective computer course struggle to read aloud, stumbling over words. "Metal" was eventually pronounced "Ma -TALL." Hail, whole languageites!

Evidence of deportment lingers on the campus via thousands of black spots on the walkways where the cherubs have spat their Juicy Fruit. Student attitude is comparable to that of pink-slipped adults: angry and not planning on working any time soon. Around each corner lurks a smart-mouth who should be grabbed by the ear and forced into heavy labor. Three appropriately muscular security guards patrol the campus, checking for missing IDs, drugs, and t-shirts not covering navels.

After school, the 12-14 year-olds suck each other's faces in mouth-locks. The girls swoon. Their young suitors' eyes are wide open, looking about for better. Romance! Junior high blasphemes thee. Where's Naomi Wolf when you need her?

Educators still try to dump something into these fried, green brains, beneath color-coordinated hair. Ergo, their agenda program mandates a planner-type notebook to be carried at all times. In the back of the agenda is legalese on behavior and expulsion that can make a corporate compliance lawyer blush. The class segment of the agenda requires each student to have a stamp from each teacher, each day, in each class, to confirm materials (we're talking pencil, book), homework and being on time. Students not "stamped" must stay after school. We parents sign the agenda each weekend. Immigrants passed through Ellis Island with fewer stamps and less paperwork. INS and Justice should try this agenda thing on terrorists. They'd leave the country anon.

The spoon-feeding program includes a mandatory 25-minute class in which, get this, students must read. I quote from one of the many advisors, reading coordinators, counselors, shrinks, or media specialists who spout talking points, "We find that students just don't read or study at home. Reading gets test scores up; so it's required at school." There is also a reading class that was once only for remedial readers. Now everyone suffers through a bureaucratic nightmare of a program that dictates which books they can read. It took me a week to find someone who could approve To Kill a Mockingbird.

Every teacher speaks of tests: Stanford tests, Arizona AIMS test, district tests. Tests, tests, tests. Their fear is palpable for they know parents will descend upon them if those scores don't improve. Parents should neither expect nor demand higher test scores.

Schools languish in an untenable position. Forced to solve societal and family problems, they feed their charges breakfast and lunch, foist studying upon them, and spend untold paper and hours checking for books and pencils. Content is a pipe dream. Arizona test scores show that there is little discernible improvement after eighth grade.

Nothing short of military academy discipline can halt public education's decline. Teachers and administrators are babysitters for slackers and delinquents who need home support. To cope, they dumb down the curriculum. Parents who are actively engaged with their children will teach them at home or seek private schools as public schools continually lower the bar, catering to dregs they cannot motivate. If further stratification of society was the goal of public education, I pronounce it an unqualified success.

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JWR contributor Marianne M. Jennings is a professor of legal and ethical studies at Arizona State University. Send your comments by clicking here.


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08/23/02: Hollywood Joe's admission
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08/08/02: Ode to a coal miner
08/02/02: Sarah Brady's gun gift
07/26/02: Don't do it, Tiger
07/18/02: Reality Muppets
07/09/02: We're all going to die, live with it
07/02/02: From the eye of the storm
06/27/02: Nick not right
06/20/02: Behind the music
06/14/02: The sum of all fears in vouchers
06/06/02: Where was Agent Rowley when the FBI needed her?
05/30/02: Of big hair and sanity
05/24/02: Should I embrace liberalism?
05/20/02: Some passion about Israel
05/09/02: A mother who cares enough
05/02/02: Go ahead, pass judgment
04/29/02: The irritation of the modern wedding
04/18/02: Claire's life
04/15/02: Harvard takes off its pants one leg at a time
04/09/02: The Clinton legacy: Politics of personal destruction
03/31/02: Oscars' subtle bigotry was embarrassing
03/22/02: Blame Oprah, Rosie, Sally, Ted, David
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03/08/02: Botoxic faces
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02/25/02: Don't take the gold
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02/11/02: Because I was courted
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04/05/00: Endowing the Hooters Chair for Literature Appreciation
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10/28/99: Live by litigation, die by litigation
10/22/99: Jesse, Warren, Cybill, Donald and Oprah
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06/17/99: True courage is more than just admitting troubles

© 2002, Marianne M. Jennings