This is True often deals with education. That’s due to several factors, including: 1) We all spend so many of our formative years in school, 2) Kids have a knack for doing really dumb things sometimes, and 3) School administrators and teachers always want to outdo the kids, and thus pull even dumber stunts.
There’s more, of course, and it’s far from all Zero Tolerance stuff.
As I collect stories to write about in True, I often notice certain patterns. There might be a sudden surge in “Bank robber drops his wallet during the crime, and leaves it behind” stories, and it’s a lot of fun to run several variations together.
In January 2005 I noticed I had a big pile of Stupid Public School stories coming up. To get a head start on the angry letters, I …well… I… I… OK, I admit it! I baited my readers!
I figured that of the hundreds of teachers out there, some percentage had to be self-important “blame it on everyone but me” idiots who would write to complain about what I said.
But the interesting thing was, only one fell for it! Before we get there, though, I want to run my editorial, which was in the 23 January 2005 issue. I used a reader letter to give me just the springboard I needed:
Today’s mail brings this from Brian from Colorado:
Just thought I’d let you know I am reading True while working at Baghdad International Airport [since] I have access to my email account from here. I am a Reservist called to Active Duty from Colorado Springs, CO. I moved to Austin, Texas on 1 December and got activated on 27 December.” [Nothing like a chance to settle in, eh?! -rc] “Anyway, the real reason I am writing is This is True and your ‘extra’ commentary really exacerbates the conflict I have between my philosophies on the nature of people: whether people are idiots or not. I see so much stupidity being perpetrated and perpetuated by people, I think to myself ‘people are idiots.’ Then, I go read your writings and the postings of intelligent readers who have responded to your expanded discussions and think to myself ‘there are a lot of people out there who are not idiots.’ And so the battle rages on; one day people are idiots, the next day they are not. I guess reading True and HeroicStories helps me keep the balance between sides, but now I am ever in a state of conflict. Do you have any suggestions on how to end this perpetual, personal, philosophical conflict? Very Respectfully, Brian, SMSgt, U.S. Air Force, Iraq
Yes. Remember that variety and differences is what makes life interesting. If we were all the same, imagine how boring life would be.
“They Need Self Esteem”
This is what makes some “professional” educators …well… idiots: they seek to treat all students the same, no matter what. By forcing all kids into one mold, their strengths are ignored.
They think the kids “need” self esteem, so they prop them up with bogus reassurances that cause more problems later, when they find out that not everyone has the same abilities — that others really do better than they do at some things.
Once they realize their self-esteem is based on lies, it comes crashing down to much lower levels that it ever was before. They think all the praise they got was a lie, including their actual strengths, which were ignored or downplayed because teachers didn’t want another kid without that particular ability to “feel bad.”
It’s a rare kid that doesn’t have one or more true strengths that he could feel good about, but that’s no longer allowed: wait’ll you see the story in next week’s issue about why one school canceled their spelling bee….
Different is Good
So we should embrace differences, not smother them. It’s what makes life worth living. So yes: some people are idiots some of the time, others all of the time.
I’ve done stupid things in my life, and no doubt you have too. Luckily, we have the ability to learn from the mistakes of others so you don’t have to make them all yourself. To wrap back to the beginning, if the stories in True make you think and make you a better and more interesting person, fantastic! Anything else would simply be idiotic.
(Several of the more interesting “extended discussions” Brian referred to are listed here.)
So that was the setup. Here are the stories — from the 30 January 2005 issue:
Two students at Wyomina Park Elementary School in Ocala, Fla., were caught doodling in class. The 9- and 10-year-old boys had drawn stick figures purportedly showing a classmate being hanged, with other stick figures “holding knives pointed through” his body. The teacher called in the school’s dean, who called in the police, who called in the State Attorney’s Office for consultation. The boys were arrested, handcuffed and charged with “making a written threat to kill or harm another person,” a felony. The mother of the 9- year-old says her son was upset at the boy supposedly in the drawing since that boy had been pushing and shoving him at school. She said her son, a special education student, would not be able to associate the drawing with actual physical violence. (Ocala Star-Banner) …With him in jail, then, the bullying is complete.
Institutional Bully II
School officials in Chicago, Ill., say a teacher at Morgan Park School taped shut the mouths and eyes of several second-grade students who were disrupting her class. She gave students a warning first, though: “Sit your ass down!” No charges have been filed, but the school district has started procedures to fire the unnamed teacher. (Chicago Sun-Times) …Portrait of American Justice: Assault children, no charges. Draw a picture of a bully: felony charges.
Expanding Kids’ Minds
The Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School in Palo Alto, Calif., hosted a “career day” to help students plan for their futures. One of the speakers invited to the assembly was William Fried, a salesman who, in his presentation called “The Secret of a Happy Life”, pointed out there’s a special career available to girls, especially those with large breasts: stripping. “For every two inches up there, it’s another $50,000,” he told the very attentive kids. Asked to comment later, Fried stood behind his comments. “Maybe I could have probably spent less time on exotic dancing,” he said, “but I think the kids were entertained.” Principal Joseph Di Salvo admitted encouraging eighth-grade girls to pursue stripping was “inappropriate,” but insisted the controversy was “overblown.” (San Francisco Chronicle) …And you know, the overblown girls can get more like $100,000 extra.
How That Idea Spreads
Police in La Marque, Texas, were called by parents to investigate the Mainland Preparatory Academy, a private “charter” elementary school known for its innovative “out of the box” educational style. After a $10 bill was discovered missing, school officials forced 10 students to submit to a strip search. Uncertain what to do, police asked the district attorney whether any charges should be filed. County DA Kurt Sistrunk announced that the school officials’ conduct did not “rise to the level to support any criminal charges.” The money, of course, was never found. (Galveston Daily News) …Right. A teacher had stuffed it into one of the kids’ g-strings.
“With videos and various cable TV shows, there’s an awful lot that kids are exposed to,” says school psychologist John Crahen. “Kids will imitate what they see and hear.” Crahen was reacting to a report that two first-graders — six years old — had been caught under a stairwell at school attempting to engage in sex. The boy and girl were each suspended for five days, pending an expulsion hearing to keep them out for the rest of the school year. The kids are students at Indianapolis, Ind., School 69. (Indianapolis Star) …I think I know what the problem is.
Bee Been Banned
Schools in Lincoln, R.I., have canceled the annual spelling bee competition. Assistant Superintendent of Schools Linda Newman said the decision was unanimous, and was because the “No Child Left Behind says all kids must reach high standards,” but a spelling bee is “about one kid winning, several making it to the top and leaving all others behind. That’s contrary to No Child Left Behind.” A spelling bee “sends a message that this isn’t an all-kids movement” as it leaves “some kids being winners, some kids being losers.” That just won’t do, she says, since “You have to build positive self-esteem for all kids, so they believe they’re all winners.” (Woonsocket Call) …Asinine. A-S-I-N-I-N-E. Asinine.
Story Update: After I wrote that last story, the newspaper published a follow-up to say the school district’s new Superintendent has reversed the decision, but he’s still a bit wishy-washy about it: “My job is to make sure schools aren’t dull and dreary places,” Superintendent John Tindall-Gibson says. “These sorts of competitions can be motivational and exciting for students, so that’s something we will have to consider.”
You bet, Superintendent: you should “consider” doing what you define as your job! And then we have James in New York:
Finally, it happened. You offended me. In your latest dispatch someone with very little insight wrote a piece about teachers trying to shove their students into the same mold. This professional educator, along with many, feel our hands tied by ADMINISTRATORS who, like the spineless cretins they are, worry about such things as if we hurt the feelings of a child when we tell them the answer they gave is wrong. They are the ones with parents breathing down their backs. The administrators also know that Johnny can’t read. That’s because Mom and dad will buy a 65 inch HDTV plasma television before they buy a book to put into their kids hands. Don’t forgot that in mommy and daddy’s eyes Johnny can’t do any wrong. When he doesn’t study because there are no rules at home and Johnny is up later than the teacher. It is always the teacher’s fault why Johnny can’t read. I don’t teach in an affluent part of town, nor do I teach in the heart of a crime infested city. I have several 13 year olds in my classes who have rap sheets longer than my tie. They are found wandering the streets at three or four in the morning when there is school the next day. Mom and dad didn’t even know they were out. Of course when the blame is unrefutably the parents, they just throw up their hands and say, ‘I just don’t know what to do any more.’ But somewhere along the lines an administrator is telling us from their ivory tower, how to fix the world and make everything all better for the kid. What does the administrator do? Worry about the self esteem of the child. Teachers seem to be the scapegoat in your little blurb. Walk a mile in my shoes and you’ll run screaming the other way. Is it the teacher who pushes the child with a single digit average on? NO! We know better. We know skills and lessons were not learned. But heaven forbid the school district should look bad. Currently in New York State the Commissioner of Education (the head administrator) is thinking of tying student performance to State aid. So if the kids do poorly they suffer with less tools like books, papers, and pencils (do you really think everyone brings them to school)? Teaching positions are cut because the aid is no long flowing in and the classes get crowded and little Johnny is lucky to get the attention of one teacher for four minutes a week. Don’t get me wrong, not all administrators are like this. So I’m not sure who wrote that piece but obviously someone who is ill informed. If you would pass it on to them, I would appreciate it.
(Why yes, I did greatly condense that letter, but otherwise did not edit it in any way, or fix misspellings or grammar errors — the people who teach our kids should be top-notch in that department.)
Beyond the fact that it astounds me that there are readers who don’t know who writes this section (less, of course, anything in quotation marks and attributed to others), I do find it interesting that so many readers choose to think I’m speaking about them when I write about what’s wrong, but don’t think I’m talking about them when I discuss what’s right. They choose to take offense, to assume they’re considered part of the problem. And here I thought it was human nature for the “guilty” ones to say, “They must be talking about someone else, since I know I’m perfect.” Oh well!
To help belabor the obvious, Yes: kids do “need” self-esteem. But it must be real, and they must not be “protected” from the fact that they are not perfect, and that others have skills that they do not have. To pretend that we are not all different, with different strengths and weaknesses is not only a denial of our humanity, it’s …yes… idiotic.
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