Tuesday, March 27, 2012

I Blame Teachers for Everything

SOMETIMES, I READ what critics say about U. S. education and feel myself spiraling downward into deep depression. Just look at all the evidence of our failing schools! The best proof yet:  the idiot analysis that seems to pass without questioning. That's right. I blame schools for failing to teach basic logic and reasoning to journalists.

Consider this recent headline in the New York Times:


"Holy @$#%!" I mutter, even before I start reading the story. Bad enough that teachers get blamed for bad reading scores. Now we seem to be putting the U. S. jobs and safety at risk!

What's wrong with this particularly stupid article? To begin with, the report is issued by a panel led by former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice and Joel I. Klein, longtime chancellor of the New York City public schools.

If you're like me, you're taken aback from the start. I was a humble history teacher in 2003. I don't remember leading the charge into Iraq that spring. I never said Iraqis had stockpiles of chemical weapons. I never spooked the country with talk about Iraqi nuclear weapons and atomic clouds. Nope, if there are threats to our national security today, that might be on  Ms. Rice and her friends in the Bush administration.

What about Mr. Klein? Why does this millionaire lawyer make me grit my teeth? I think it's because he never taught a day in his life. So asking his opinions about education is like asking me what it's like to serve in combat. True:  I spent two years in the Marines during the Vietnam War. But I did my "tour of duty" behind a supply desk in California. Not exactly "heroic" service.

So I'd be ashamed to brag around combat veterans about what I would have done if I had been in their places.

Sadly, Klein and his type have no shame. Or, as Shakespeare once put it so aptly "he hath a killing tongue and a quiet sword."

WELL THEN, how are schools' failings destroying our great nation? Simple:  75% of young adults no longer qualify to serve in the military because they are physically unfit, have criminal records, or because their level of education is inadequate.

Read that sentence carefully, though. See if it makes any sense. The United States leads the world in rates of incarcerations--and now crime is the fault of schools? And fat kids? Maybe they're following the diet lead of fat parents, after all.

I blame teachers and schools
for making me eat so much candy!
Sometimes, statistics related to declining SAT scores and rising obesity rates, don't reveal the truths we think they do. America is a changing nation and a wide array of negative changes outside schools are reflected in the hallways every single day.

Consider, for example, our current obesity epidemic. In 1986, less than 10% of adults in states like Ohio and Alabama were obese. Only seven states had rates above 10%, none more than 14%. (Twenty-five states didn't even bother to keep tracking data.)

Unfortunately, the late 80s were good years for Twinkies. (Lord knows, I ate more than my share.) By 1990, states were taking note. Only six failed to track obesity and only ten had rates below 10%. In 1991, four states reported adult obesity rates of 15% or higher.

It wasn't until 1994 that the last holdout, Wyoming, began tracking. By then it was clear that the 90s weren't going to be any better on the diet front. Now, sixteen states had obesity rates of 15-19%. Three more years of Coca-Cola-drinking and Frito-chomping, and the three states crossed the 20% obesity threshold:  Mississippi, Indiana and Kentucky.

By 2001 calories were catching up to all of us:  Mississippi passed the 25% mark. In 2004, nine states had reached that 25% mark. In 2005, another milestone was passed:  Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia reaching the 30% level. By 2009, nine states had a 30% adult obesity rate and only one remained below 20%:  Colorado.

Another twelve months--another season of Halloween candy and Super Bowl parties, and every state had surpassed the 20% mark. A dozen states now topped 30%--led by Mississippi (34%), West Virginia (32.5), Alabama (32.2), South Carolina (31.5), Louisiana (31) and Texas (31).

SO WHAT DO WE KNOW when we read stories like this? You can blame schools if you want. I've been know to pack on the pounds, myself. But I don't recall ever seeing a teacher standing in the candy aisle at Krogers ordering shoppers to grab another bag of Twix bars.

It's the same if too many kids have criminal records. Why don't we blame crappy police and crappy lawyers, (yeah, that's you, Mr. Klein) and judges?

Of course, that doesn't make sense at all, but neither does most of what passes for "reasoned criticism" of America's education system and America's teachers.

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