Teaching American history is a fraught undertaking

Teaching the history of this country today means maintaining a healthy balance between patriotism and nationalism (“Loving Your Country Means Teaching Its History Honestly,” Time, July 2).  Teachers in K-12 public schools are largely bound by what their board of education says is the correct formula.

That means what is acceptable in one part of the country is taboo in another.  The truth is no defense for teachers who violate the prescribed curriculum.  I think that shortchanges students who deserve the learn the good, the bad and the ugly about our past.  That’s the essence of education, as opposed to indoctrination.

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Gifted programs are not fodder for manipulation

Despite wide support for the use of testing to determine admission to gifted programs, critics want to shut them down (“The Left’s War on Gifted Kids,” The Atlantic, June 29).  The reason: too few Black and Hispanic students are enrolled.

In an ideal world, there would be a nice racial balance of students.  But the reality is that gifted programs are not for everyone, any more than the Navy SEALS is.  Yes, providing equal access to test prep may help, but I maintain that not everyone has the aptitude to succeed.

But let’s say for a moment that we arbitrarily admitted more Black and Hispanic students.  What would likely happen? When they realized they were over their heads, they would either drop out or more likely standards would be lowered to avoid that. In either case, their self-esteem would severely suffer.

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Religious school teachers lack employment bias protection

Despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in July 2020 that barred teachers who work at religious schools from filing discrimination lawsuits against their employers, the New Jersey Supreme Court has agreed to hear the case of an unwed teacher who was fired from a Catholic elementary school for being pregnant (“An Unmarried Catholic Schoolteacher Got Pregnant, She Was Fired.” The New York Times, June 28).

As a layman, it’s hard to understand why the New Jersey court will hear the case.  I thought that the issue had been settled once and for all last year. It seems that all religious schools have to do is to declare that all staff are “ministers” to avoid being sued for employment discrimination. I believe that’s unfair, but it is the law.

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Student free speech applies to social media

When the Supreme Court held that school districts cannot punish students for using a vulgar word on social media, it made the correct ruling (“Supreme Court Rules for High-School Cheerleader Brandi Levy in Free-Speech Case Over Snapshot Post, “ The Wall Street Journal, June 23). All a high school student did was say “fuck school, fuck softball, fuck cheer, fuck everything” after she failed to make  the varsity cheerleading squad.

That hardly is enough to consider being disruptive of school, the standard the high court established in 1969 in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent School District.  Yet the girl’s school district refused to reconsider the punishment. I don’t approve of how young people sometimes express themselves, but it’s time to accept that it is reality. Using a four-letter word is common. Why the Mahanoy City, Pennsylvania district persisted is hard to understand in light of the financial cost.

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Reality check about amateurism in college sports

At last, the truth about college athletics was confirmed by the Supreme Court by a unanimous vote (“Supreme Court Rejects NCAA’s Tight Limits on Athletic Benefits, Compensation,” The Wall Street Journal, June 22). For too long, the NCAA persisted in the fiction that college athletes were primarily students.

Although the ruling doesn’t allow unlimited pay for athletes, at least it acknowledges that those in football and basketball are cash cows who are entitled to compensation beyond mere tuition reductions and the like.  Technically, of course, these athletes are amateurs, but they are pros in actuality.

I’m glad to see the ruling, but I’ll bet that what counts as education in allowing compensation will be the subject of future litigation that eventually winds up in the courts.

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Pandemic’s one positive side

The National Student Clearinghouse reported that the pandemic has resulted in roughly 727,000 fewer students enrolled in undergraduate programs (“Hunt Is On for High-School Graduates Who Left the College Path,” The Wall Street Journal, June 20).  As a result, colleges are frantically trying to lure them back.

I say this is not the tragedy it is made out to be.  As readers of this column know, I believe we have been wildly oversold on the importance of a college degree for a bright future.  Students who found well-paying jobs are reluctant to quit and go to college because they have seen through the myth.

It will be interesting to compare those students who were accepted at college but decided not to enroll with those who did.  I think what students major in is far more important than mere possession of a degree.  That goes for community colleges as well as for four-year institutions.

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Meritocracy and equality are incompatible

Equality is today’s mantra.  Yet it is a meaningless term unless it is properly defined.  Unfortunately, that is not the case, particularly when it applies to  education (“Meritocracy isn’t always by the numbers,” New York Daily News, June 17).

No matter how much money is spent on trying to provide equal outcomes in education, it is an impossible task. Even if we can somehow engineer equal opportunities for all, that is no assurance of desired outcomes. That’s because students differ widely in their capabilities.  Some are smarter than others, and some work harder than others.

We can persist in denying the reality that life is unfair, but in the final analysis little will change.

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Qualified immunity for teachers is essential

Although qualified immunity is largely in the news today because of police misconduct, it is increasingly being debated whether it should be applied to educators (“Schooling Qualified Immunity,” Education Next, Summer 2021). What it does is to insulate public employees from financial liability even if they violate someone’s constitutional rights.

To date, the Supreme Court has been reluctant to strip away this protection for educators.  I believe its rulings are correct because teachers are neither lawyers nor police officers.  As a result, they can’t be expected to understand the nuances of the law.  That’s why school boards buy insurance to indemnify employees against legal costs incurred during their official duties.

Teachers and administrators can’t do their jobs if they have to worry about being sued and paying out of their own pockets.  They already have enough pressure in their current roles.

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Does porn belong in sex education?

If sex education in public schools weren’t already controversial enough, it is even more so because of the debate over the place of pornography (“Ignoring Pornography Won’t Make It Go Away,” The New York Times, June 15).  The argument for its inclusion is that most teenagers watch sex videos. Therefore, it should be part of the curriculum.

If so, does that mean actually displaying porn in class?  After all, teachers routinely use visuals as part of their instruction. Is porn an exception?  These are the kind of questions that need to be answered before proceeding.

I believe much depends on parental buy-in.  If they are comfortable with their children’s viewing porn, then there is no problem. But I doubt that will ever happen because sex in general and porn in particular will always cause an uproar.

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Parental choice is not only about test scores

One of the arguments in favor of parental choice is that it leads to higher test scores (“Report Uses Weak Data and Method to Promote School Choice,” National Education Policy Center, June 15).  The fact that it doesn’t is beside the point.

Parents know what is best for their children.  Yes, they want high test scores, but that is hardly the only consideration.  Surveys have consistently shown that other factors are more important.  That’s why I think focusing on test scores does not advance the case for parental choice.

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