Jewish World Review Dec. 1, 2003 / 6 Kislev, 5764

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Schooling around | After a decade of pouring billions into the public school system, the final exams are in: American kids are not reading much better than they did 10 years ago, and there's no way to spin it otherwise. The National Assessment of Educational Progress says that only 31 percent of fourth graders read at a "proficient" level; for eighth graders the percentage rises to 32 percent.

This, of course, is a disaster and one that will lead to economic deprivation for millions of Americans in the coming decades.

Presidents Bush and Clinton both promised that more money would solve the educational problem, but that has turned out to be false. The reason so many American students can't read very well is twofold: first, many parents do not encourage reading, and allow their kids unfettered access to TV, computers and crude music. And second, discipline in many public schools is woeful. Students simply are not held accountable for behavior and academic performance.

Consider the following as a microcosm of what's going on. In the small town of Mt. Pleasant, Mich., a 16-year-old high school junior named Alexander Smith stood up in the cafeteria of his public school and called the principal, Betty Kirby, a "skank" and a "tramp."

Smith was suspended for 10 days. Enter the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which sued on Smith's behalf. The ACLU said his speech was a "parody," and therefore protected. A federal judge agreed and struck down Michigan's verbal assault law. While the judge did rule that the school had a right to discipline Smith, it could not do so simply on his abusive statements alone.

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This kind of nonsense is happening all over the USA. The ACLU, which I believe is the most dangerous organization in America, is on the prowl. It will bring litigation against anything it sees as limiting "freedom of expression," even if that expression demeans and humiliates schoolteachers and administrators. Think about it. How can teachers possibly keep order in large schools when students know there are few consequences to outrageous behavior? Anything said can be described as "satire" or a "parody." In Houston, a survey of public school teachers finds 70 percent of them have been the targets of profane language by students. That's an awful lot of parody.

We are living in a hypercompetitive society where the kids who can read, think and are respectful will prosper while the children who do not learn those things will, most likely, find it difficult to earn a good living as adults. The ACLU and its acolytes are succeeding in undermining almost every traditional institution in the country. Patriotism, spirituality, respect for authority and basic moral values are all under siege from a well-funded, secular lobby that envisions a society free of judgments about personal behavior. And if that society falls apart in the process, so be it.

It is certainly true that you have a "right" to be an illiterate, unskilled person under our Constitution. You have a "right" to be irresponsible and to be lazy. Those attributes are strongly defended by the ACLU and some federal judges who believe responsible Americans should support irresponsible ones with their tax dollars. And anyone who disagrees with that thesis is immediately labeled a dreaded "conservative."

I feel badly for Alexander Smith and for the principal he verbally assaulted. Both have been poorly served by our rapidly degenerating social system. Many Michigan kids now know they can call just about anybody a "skank" and a "tramp." But the question is, can they even spell those words?

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JWR contributor Bill O'Reilly is host of the Fox News show, "The O'Reilly Factor," and author of, most recently, "Who's Looking Out for You?" Comments by clicking here.

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© 2003 Creators Syndicate