Wednesday, March 28, 2012

From John Curry, March 28, 2012
March 27, 2012
I Blame Teachers for Everything
SOMETIMES, I READ what critics say about American education and feel myself spiraling downward into a 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; and I blame schools when readers are too dense to notice.
Consider this recent headline in the New York Times:
I read that, and before I can even start the story, I mumble, "Holy @$#%!"
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 kind of taken aback from the very 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 you, Ms. Rice, and your buddies in the Bush administration.
What about Mr. Klein? Why does this particular millionaire lawyer make me grit my teeth? I think it's because he never taught a day in his entire 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 clerk's desk in California.
So I'd be ashamed to brag around combat veterans about what I would have done if I had been in battle in their places.
Sadly, Klein and his type have no such shame. Or, as Shakespeare put it once so aptly "he hath a killing tongue and a quiet sword."
WELL THEN, how are schools' failings destroying this great nation? Simple enough: 75% of young adults no longer qualify to serve in the military because they are physically unfit, due to criminal records, or because education levels are inadequate.
Read that sentence carefully, though, and see if it still 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 all fat parents, after all.
[Click image to enlarge.]
Sometimes, statistics outlining broad trends, be they declining SAT
scores or rising
obesity rates, don't actually reveal entire truths. America is a changing nation and a wide array of negative changes outside of 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 and 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, if not for teachers. By 1990, states were taking note. Only six now failed to track obesity and only ten had rates below 10%. In 1991, for the first time, four states reported adult obesity rates of 15% or more.
It wasn't until 1994 that the last holdout, Wyoming, began tracking problems; and by then it was clear 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 first states crossed the 20% obesity threshold: Mississippi, Indiana and Kentucky.
By 2001 calories were catching up to everyone: Mississippi passed the 25% mark. In 2004, nine states had passed the 25% mark. In 2005, another milestone was passed: Louisiana, Mississippi and West Virginia reaching the 30% level. By 2009, nine states had reached the 30% adult obesity rate and only one remained below 20%: Colorado.
Another twelve months--another season of Halloween candy and a forty-fifth round of Super Bowl parties, and every state had passed the 20% mark. In fact, a dozen states now topped out at 30% or more--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.
It's the same if too many kids have criminal records. Why don't we blame crappy police--and lawyers, and, yeah, that's you, Mr. Klein, too--and judges?
That doesn't make a bit of sense, but neither does most of what passes for reasoned criticism of American education today.

John Viall is a retired teacher, having taught 33 years in the Loveland (OH) City Schools.
Larry KehresMount Union Collge
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