By Diane Alden
The NewsMax Years #20
Still ON TARGET: May 9, 2000
The man is unbelievable, shameless, beyond name-calling or common sense. Who else? William Jefferson Clinton of course. Just when you thought he couldn’t do anything dumber he goes right ahead and proves you wrong.
With more chutzpah exhibited than anyone in recent memory he has called for “organizing home-schooled kids.” Where is his head? Where are the heads of the soccer moms who voted for this guy? Just because he says his goal in life is to improve education does not make it so. He has had eight years and tons of money, and the nation’s schools are no better off than they were eight years ago.
Lets delve into the weird world of Bill Clinton’s education reform.Yes, the same “reform” we have had from government for 20 years with no results. Nonetheless they are going to give us a whole lot of nothing one more time; whether we like it or not it will cost lots more money. If history is any guide it too will fail.
Not long ago the Heritage Foundation investigated the past and future of education. The author of the study, Dr. Nina Rees, found that at the heart of the much-ballyhooed reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act is a five-step program to “improve” education. States would be required to (1) turn around low-performing schools, (2) end social promotion, (3) raise teacher quality, (4) implement sound school discipline policy, and (5) issue report cards on schools. Sounds good so far.
The act’s requirements also would apply to the recently expanded Education Flexibility Partnership Act (Ed-Flex), which offers states greater flexibility to administer some ESEA programs in exchange for meeting program goals.
After 34 years and $120 billion spent on Title I – ESEA’s key program – only 13 percent of low-income fourth graders score at or above the “proficient” level on national reading tests, compared with 40 percent of the higher-income students.
Despite spending $358 million a year to train teachers in math and science, America ranks 19th out of 21 industrialized countries in 12th grade mathematics achievement and last in 12th grade advanced physics.
The Safe and Drug Free Schools and Communities program has spent $6 billion since its inception; but according to Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, the Clinton administration’s “drug czar,” it simply “mails out checks.”
The lack of correlation between federal programs and academic outcomes is disturbing. Thus, although the president’s diagnosis of the problems facing schools and students today is accurate, the administration’s plan is the wrong remedy. It will complicate and retard treatment of these problems. The system is broken, and no amount of money, no goals 2000, no new new math, no phony calls for accountability can fix it. Forget it – it’s too late. Jeb Bush, the governor of Florida, said that in his state only 52 percent of the kids graduate from high school. Well, considering the state of education it doesn’t make much difference. Probably some kids save their lives by removing themselves from a dangerous situation where there is a lack of respect for life, and learning is next to zero.
Public schools are more than a disaster; they reflect the absolute moronic education philosophy and policies of the last 30 years. They will never change for the better because these idiotic policies are entrenched. Teachers unions and the education establishment are in charge, and they and the “soccer moms” have absolutely no inclination to admit they were wrong. They continue to elect dumb and dumber individuals to national office where such policies receive their funding.
Education dollars are spent to support bureaucracy and administration. Hardly any gets down to teachers and students. But teachers unions seem to be filled with refugees from a ’60s make-love-not-war rally. These goofs are in charge, and they don’t want change. Especially they don’t want home schooling to show them up. It’s bad enough that parochial schools, especially those in the inner cities, run rings around public schools. They get results. There are no shootings or terrible discipline problems. They receive far less money per student than public schools, and they do 10 times the job. In New York City, inner-city kids graduate from high school at a much higher rate than those in public schools, and they outperform their counterparts in public schools at all levels.
The Heritage study shows that the average Washington, D.C., eighth-grade Catholic school student outscored nearly 72 percent of his or her public school peers in mathematics achievement in 1996. Performing a similar analysis on the fourth-grade kids and the results demonstrate that the average Catholic student outscores some 65 percent of his or her public school peers.
“In short, the outcome of Catholic schooling on achievement cannot be understated. Catholic schooling in Washington, D.C., has a greater effect on students than decreasing class size. Researchers may make these claims by investigating test score distributions and performing standard deviation analyses.”
Not long ago, a person’s grandparent, who may never have gone beyond the eighth grade, had today’s equivalent of a junior college education. In Florida, an incredible 60 percent of those who do go on to college have to take remedial courses to continue their education at the college level. While in some states the numbers aren’t as high; the downward spiral to the basement of competence is nearly universal.
Asking the Right Questions
I talk to kids because I like them. As a mom with grown ones and a former teacher of special education, I am intrigued by kids. For instance, the young African-American who carries my groceries out of the Big Star is a high school sophomore with dreams of becoming an architect.
He told me he was having trouble with “environmental science.” I swallowed my gorge at that misnomer for propaganda and asked him if he had taken geography, world history, biology or chemistry. Mind you he was a sophomore; he said he had had geography only as part of social studies back in elementary school, and “no,” he had not taken the other courses I mentioned.
He went down the list of those he did have. There was no biology, no languages and no solid history courses. He was taking English and algebra, but the rest of it was “crap.” The bright shining light in his eyes spoke about dreams and goals – too bad the system will let him down.
In today’s brave new world of education, kids don’t memorize the facts of math – the multiplication tables, poems, phonics, parts of speech, countries of the world, their own states, their own history. No – because memorization is verboten. The touchy-feely approach rules the day.
For instance, a recent study in California schools highlights the use of the Dale Seymour third-grade program for math. This “program” instruct parents on the importance of family math discussions. It proposes that parents should make roll-out cookies and explore shapes. Examine who gets a “fair share” or not. Conduct family math decisions such as how many yards of carpeting to buy, and make sure the whole process is democratic. No memorization here but plenty of touchy-feely manipulation. When many of us old folks were growing up it was mom and dad or grandparents who participated by helping us memorize the times tables or quizzing us on the weekly spelling assignments or making sure we knew which state we lived in.
These days kids and their parents are feeling and self-esteeming themselves to a clunker of an education. In this world of the educrat there are no right or wrong answers – the process and technique become the goal. There is also the pernicious notion that somehow education technique is going to bring families closer together. However, since when was that a function of education?
In Petaluma, Calif., a mandatory high school class called Human Interaction is driving some parents wild. The young people are given take-home assignments that tell their parents how to be parents.
Some of the questions: How much money do their parents make? Have close relatives ever had alcoholism or mental problems? Do students feel OK about crying? Then there is the really important stuff such as whether or not they recycle, eat fast food or use public transportation.
Now what has all this got to do with whether or not a kid can point out his state on a map, read at a high school level, or do basic math without a calculator?
The Organization Man
Bill Clinton maintains that home schoolers should be organized. He said, “Your children have to prove that they’re learning on a regular basis, and if they don’t prove that they’re learning then they have to go into a school – either into a parochial or private school or a public school.”
And the president of all the people wants to inflict the education establishment’s notion of what constitutes an education on home schooled children. These home-schooled children, according to all test scores, are light years above their contemporaries. But when asked if he would have home schooled Chelsea, Clinton babbled something about the importance of learning with a diverse group of kids and experiences. As if the exclusive private Quaker school he sent her to was a hot bed of “diversity.”
In Dr. Lawrence M. Rudner’s 1998 study, students who were educated at home consistently scored above the national average in standardized tests. Rudner is a quantitative analysis specialist and a branch chief in the U.S. Department of Education. In a study of 21,000 home-schooled children in the best standardized tests available, home-schooled children score in the 82-92 percentile in reading, and up to the 95th percentile in math. These data show home-schooled children well above national averages. By the eighth grade the average home-schooled child is four grade levels above the national average. Contrary to the dunderhead in the White House the parents of these children are not uneducated wacko-redneck-religious-know-nothings. Approximately 88 percent have education beyond high school.
Clinton and educrats will maintain, “Well, if they are doing so well, why can’t they take a little test to prove it?” The problem with that is that they are already being tested. What Clinton and his soul mates in the educational establishment want is control.
Historically, allowing the government camel into the tent means the end of independence and parental control of a child’s education. As time passes more and more stupid regulations will be piled on. Regulations do not help or improve the child’s education. Regulations only make it more difficult to do the real work of educating students. Public education has been regulated into mediocrity, and Clinton and the statists want that for everyone – including home schoolers.
Parents should decide where and how their children should be educated. But because the state has no faith in the individual once again it wants to do its level best to screw things up.
This same administration that struggled so valiantly to get Elian Gonzalez returned to his father, the same father who is taking him back to a totalitarian dictatorship, is again proven the hypocrites they are. Clinton is a statist. That means that he wants everything and everybody answering to the state. Even when that state is the biggest, most expensive bungler on the planet. Because there is almost no accountability in the public education system these people are deceptive scoundrels for demanding parents be held accountable.
My Own Personal ‘Breakfast Club’
Armed with a temporary teaching certificate, bold idealism, hope and love for kids and teaching, I agreed to teach a bunch of behavior-disordered children in the school year of 1988-89. Georgia called it a “project school.” Located in an area where the poor and lower middle class lives, Grant Middle School (not the real name) is located in a small city south of Atlanta.
My certificate gave me the right to teach for one year as I decided whether or not to pursue further certification.
The day before classes started the principal gave me my “equipment” – a box of chalk and an eraser. I would share textbooks with the other special ed teacher, Linda.
My first day I cut out the requisite bright-colored paper letters and rocket ships and pinned them to the cork board at the front of the room: Aim High, it said. On each rocket were the names of the 35 students who would be my charges for that year. I had only seven kids in each of 5 classes, because teaching special ed is different from teaching mainstream kids.
For each one of them I was required to fill out four different reports on various aspects of their education and progress weekly and monthly and one giant mega paper shuffle at the end of the year. In addition there were lesson plans, individual programs with individual lessons. I was also required to take part in extracurricular activities such as overseeing a group of youngsters at home football games or taking them on field trips, doing lunchroom or bus duty.
There were six I remember especially, six who stand out. The others are an administrative blur. Perhaps that is because I wanted to forget what I considered a failure in that I was not able to accomplish what I started out to do.
There was 15-year-old named Albert, whose father owned a heavy equipment business. Albert had a spiky blond crew cut and a missing front tooth, which he had lost in a fight. One day he told me that his father had just pulled a big scam. He had dug a large hole in the hard red Georgia clay and buried most of his equipment – for the insurance. Albert informed me that if I told anyone about it his father would have me killed. Routine business – no big deal.
Then there was Albert’s friend Ronnie. With the hope of the eternally optimistic I put Ronnie in charge of taking the lunch tickets and money to the cafeteria. Toward the end of the year I was told by the vice principal, a former deputy sheriff, that Ronnie had been stealing tickets off the center of the roll for an entire year and selling them to kids at reduced rates. When his parents were informed they threatened to sue the school – I forget their rationale. I am sure Ronnie is running some West Georgia business with his friend Albert and making tons of money – or he is in jail.
Then there was Jeffrey. A 14-year-old African-American, a handsome kid who resembled a young Will Smith. Jeffrey was the father of two children out of wedlock. One mother was a 12-year-old girl; the other was an older woman of 15. Jeff made it a point as he left the room every day to tell me that if I ever touched him or sassed him his parents would sue me.
I had one child none of the other teachers would touch. They called him the “Demon.” His real name was Demantra, a young black male about my height. Everyone from the vice principal on down warned me to let him sleep in class because he was a lost cause. Somehow I had not gone into teaching to let kids sleep in class. I should have listened.
Then there was Sarah, a small birdlike 12-year-old redneck girl with big blue eyes and a smile that I looked forward to seeing every day. Sarah’s soft voice and eagerness were immensely different from the apathy or outright rebellion I encountered from most of the kids. She told me once that her stepmom and her dad had hopes she would get out of special ed someday. Her parents were always at the conferences and always offered their help.
Howie was a young African-American from a caring family who worked desperately at getting out of what he considered the embarrassment of being labeled “special ed.” Of all the kids I taught that year Howie wanted out the most. He did every bit of extra credit, took every opportunity for extra tutoring. Howie would have done anything to get mainstreamed.
Then there was Wayne. This tall, gangly, Lincolnesque, withdrawn young white male lived out in the piney woods near the Chattahoochee with his widowed mom. He kept a large notebook filled with pictures of tanks and guns and barbed-wire compounds and much death and mayhem. This was before most of the violent video games were available. I had a feeling Wayne was on the way to becoming the dictator of some Third World country. Wayne had tried to kill himself twice.
I always thought my worst failures were Ronnie and Albert, the two white kids; and Demantra, the African-American who beat up a retarded black kid. I should have heeded the warnings and let him sleep in class. When I came between the two of them, he took several swings at me that connected and left me with a fat lip, a bruised cheek and a ripped blouse.
The vice principal insisted I press charges. I said I would rather not – so he did. Demantra ended up getting six weeks in Jackson, the reform school of the day. He also got tossed out of special ed.
The school had an alternative class run by lookalike of Denzel Washington – Coach Maurice. A former Marine drill instructor, Maurice was my buddy. As Maurice marched his charges through the hall, Demantra would glare at me and coach would high-five and wink. I felt no vindication about Demantra’s incarceration or subsequent exile to the class for complete hard cases. I felt immense sadness knowing that child would probably end up dead or in prison before his 20th birthday.
The rest of my own personal “breakfast club” had different outcomes. After deciding the world of public education could do without my help I told the kids I was leaving. Just before the end of the school year Jeffrey, who had grand plans of getting rich by suing me, stayed after class one day. Without prompting he recited the dates, crucial battles and five World War II generals I had demanded he learn for history. He said, “maybe someday I will go on Jeopardy! and get rich if they ask me about World War II.” Then I had to turn away. “Miss Alden,” he said, “you’re the best teacher I ever had.”
Howie got retested and was mainstreamed for part of the day for the following year. I suspect if the system didn’t crush every spark of desire out of him that he would do very well. Maybe it was the extra credit that did it. Or maybe it was the fire in his belly to learn.
Wayne, the withdrawn, suicidal storm trooper, progressed that year. His drawings changed, he talked about himself, why he was angry, why he hated school. My friend the art teacher across the hall took him on as his special project. He put Wayne to work doing school murals. Sometimes he took the boy with him on his second job as a botanical garden designer. Wayne seemed to find something better to do with all that rage and energy. Unfortunately, I doubt seriously a teacher today would be allowed to take so much interest in a child lest he or she be labeled a pervert or subject the school to a possible lawsuit.
Sarah was totally mainstreamed. One of her essays won a second place in a state contest. Linda, the other special ed teacher, agreed that Sarah had more writing talent than most supposedly normal kids. Plus her math and science had improved to such an extent that she outshone many children in regular classes. No one had bothered to push Sarah; she was easy to ignore. But she shines in my eyes. The essay she won the contest with was called “A Person Who Made a Difference in My Life.” Linda showed me the letter from the state about Sarah’s triumph. Till the day I die I won’t forget the content of that essay. Sarah’s essay was about me. It is worth noting that it was Sarah who made a difference in my life. She was one small frail proof of the triumph of the human spirit over circumstance and adversity.
I packed up my things and took down the faded cut-out letters I had idealistically put up at the beginning of the year – “aim high.”
As I look back now I know there are thousands and thousands of Ronnies, Alberts, Demantras, Howies, Sarahs, Waynes, and Jeffreys. And I know they are losing out in public schools. It has more to do with what has happened to our culture and the way we teach and what we teach than a lack of money. The common thread among my six angels was that when parents were involved, children thrived. Where parents were absent or uncaring they did not. Add that to a system that is more concerned about its own existence and piling administrative details on teachers and children and next to nothing about quality education. This makes a recipe for disaster.
The frosting on the educational cake is the dumb curriculum. Homosexual education and environmental “science” have absolutely no place in the schools. That kind of education belongs with parents or in some voluntary after-school program. Understanding homosexuality and environmental concerns are not subjects that tax payers should endorse with their tax money. Just as public schools are not allowed to teach or even mention religious values, schools have no business supplying or explaining secular values either.
No matter their sexual preferences, children need solid grounding in the basics without the “new” math or dippy reading programs that have thrown out phonics and memorization as tools. All too often teaching language and math or science relies on the latest fantasy coming out of the theorists in the schools of education – an oxymoron, by the way.
Without an excellent education it doesn’t matter how kids feel about sex because without a decent education they will be at the beck and call of the endlessly manipulative state. If children can’t read, write or cipher, their attitudes about sex don’t mean a thing.
Children living in a corrupted culture will grow up corrupted. Alan Keyes is correct when he says until we solve our moral crisis no government or state program will do any good. That is why home-school parents teach their children at home.
Clinton wants to hire 100,000 more teachers. Never mind, just fire 100,000 administrators. Give parents the choice where to send their kids. Stop with the social engineering and psychobabble. Remove every politically correct subject from the curriculum. For the time being raid the retirement homes and employ a few Catholic school nuns. You might find some of your educational answers there.
For the sake of the kids, leave home-schooled children alone. They don’t need to be part of the monstrous failure of public education, or for that matter some overpaid bureaucrat’s idea of what constitutes an education. But especially they should not be subjected to Bill Clinton’s plans for them. He has no interest in children, he is only interested in appeasing corrupt teachers unions and expanding the state’s control over individuals. He has proven this time and time again.
Soccer moms, most women, and some men are a pack of fools for falling for it. They and their children would be better served to have a million mom march on the sorry state of education and culture rather than trying to lobby for more gun laws. But then these are the same dolts that elected Bill Clinton in the first place.
The 53 percent of women who voted for him live up to the reasons given by those who didn’t want to give women the vote in the first place. It remains for the concerned 35 percent of Americans – men and women – to turn things around. It always does.
This column first appeared in NewsMax.com, May 9, 2000. Copyright 2000-2011 Diane Alden.
The Moral Liberal Senior Editor, Diane Alden, was one of NewsMax.com’s most popular and outspoken pundits ( 1999–2008), and before that, a wonk for The Nevada Policy Institute. A former DJ in Georgia, Diane of late has been a weekly guest on the East Coast hit program, The Marc Bernier Show. Diane is loved for her quick sense of humor, creative vocabulary, independence of mind, and her penetrating analysis of a wide range of political, economic, and cultural issues.