United Nations International School in the spotlight

It was bound to happen.  Students at the United Nations International School launched an anonymous social media campaign denouncing their teachers as racists and threatening to identify them by name (“Spoiled Rotten,” City Journal, Jan. 28).  Predictably, administrators immediately caved in and hired a director of diversity and inclusion and mandated antiracism training for all faculty.

Even though students posted unverified accusations, that was not enough for administrators who couldn’t move quickly enough to mollify them.  It’s a sad commentary about the state of education in this country.  I wonder what’s going to happen to these spoiled students after they graduate.  Will they persist in seeing racism everywhere?

It’s time for administrators to stand up to students who make outrageous demands.  Doing so would teach them an invaluable lesson.  But I don’t expect that to ever happen.

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Teachers’ unions are losing public support

The Chicago Teachers Union rejected President Biden’s plan to reopen schools, claiming that they are not safe due to Covid-19 (“Chicago Teachers Union vs. Biden,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 26).  As readers of this column know, I support teachers’ unions.  But in this case, the union is making a big mistake.

I say that because more than 130 private and religious schools and more than 2,000 early learning centers across Chicago have been safely open since the fall.  If they can do so, why can’t the city’s public schools do the same?  It looks like teachers are stalling in order to have all their demands met, no matter how unreasonable they are. There is going to be a backlash that the union brought upon itself.

When the pandemic first appeared, teachers were largely seen as heroes.  But their refusal to return to school now increasingly brands them as villains.  Goodwill is crucial, and teachers’ unions are undermining it by their intransigence.

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Parental choice is not racist

Critics of parental choice argue that it is the enemy of equal educational opportunities, and therefore is undemocratic (“Discussing ‘A Wolf at the Schoolhouse Door’: The Dismantling of Public Education and the Future of School,” National Education Policy Center, Jan. 19). Instead, they want all children to be in an environment that integrates those of different backgrounds.

But parents know what is best for their own children.  That has nothing at all to do with racism.  Black and Hispanic parents have the right to choose which school is a good fit as much as white and Asian parents.  Racism is a red herring.  Yet it is used repeatedly as a justification for abolishing parental choice.

Ethicists tell us that there is nothing at all wrong with putting the interests of one’s own children first.  In fact, it is their No. 1 responsibility.  How many parents are willing to sacrifice their own children on an ideological altar?

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Textbook adoption is fraught with ideology

Public schools rely overwhelmingly on textbooks in their instruction.  As a result, students learn only what is contained within. The problem is that thousands of schools across the country use textbooks published by two Christian companies, Abeka and BJU Press (“These Textbooks in Thousands of K-12 Schools Echo Trump’s Talking Points,” Huffington Post, Jan. 15).

Not surprisingly, their textbooks provide a distorted view of history.  Therefore, what students get is not education but indoctrination.  Private and religious schools that adopt these textbooks are within their right to do so, even though I maintain that their students are shortchanged.

Textbook adoptions have always been a political process, with different factions trying to get their point of views across.  Yet the blatant disregard for facts remains extremely troubling.

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Yeshivas continue to flout New York State law

Despite a New York State law passed in 1894 that all private schools in the state must offer a “substantially equivalent” education to that of public schools, too many persist in ignoring it (“The least we owe all our kids: Why we must guarantee a basic secular education for all children, including those in Yeshivas,” New York Daily News, Jan. 15).  As a result, students in many yeshivas are taught almost exclusively religious studies.

Yeshivas resist, claiming that the law cripples their independence and imposes onerous costs.  Politicians are reluctant to enforce the law because they are dependent on the votes of parents whose children are enrolled.  It’s a scandal that shortchanges children.

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Gifted testing too early is counterproductive

Identifying gifted children and providing them with the instruction they need is seen by some as elitist.  But all nations noted for the excellence of their schools do so.  The question is when to start differentiating (“New York City to End Preschooler Gifted Test After This Year,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 14).

Until now, New York City did so in preschool years, which is way too soon.  Even Singapore, whose students shine on tests of international competition, waited until children finished elementary school.  I think that is too early.  But tracking students based on their ability and motivation is necessary to ensure that children get an education geared to their ability.  It also makes it easier for teachers to prepare lessons because they don’t have to try to reach all students.

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Academics once trumped football

It’s hard to believe, but at the end of 1961 Ohio State’s faculty voted to decline an invitation to play UCLA in the Rose Bowl (“When Studying Came Before Football,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan 11). They simply felt that that students were paying too much attention to football and not spending enough time on studying. Although Ohio State’s head coach disagreed with the faculty vote, he accepted their decision.

That would never happen today because football and basketball are cash cows for colleges and universities.  No administrator would back faculty that voted the same way as Ohio State did then. Academics takes a back seat to athletics, despite rhetoric to the contrary. That’s too bad because so many college stars graduate without having gained an education except on the playing field.

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Civics education too often is indoctrination

The past four years should convince everyone about the need for civics education in high school (“After the siege, we need civics education,” Jan 9).  But the reality is that too often such courses are designed to indoctrinate young people rather than educate them.

I say that because the emphasis is to stress victimization of groups rather than their achievements.  As a result, students leave civics and history classes with resentment. I don’t deny for a second the sins of our forefathers, but they’re not the totality of the picture.

I seriously doubt that students will get a balanced view no matter how many such classes they take. Their anger makes them ideal candidates for extremist groups of one extreme or the other.

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Ph.D. glut persists

Despite the lack of jobs requiring a Ph.D., there seems to be no end to those pursuing the long-haul degree (“America Is Pumping Out Too Many Ph.D.s,” Bloomberg.com, Jan 4). That’s particularly the case for doctorates in the humanities and social science.

The only positive note is that more than 140 doctoral humanities and social science program admissions have been suspended for this year.  I say that is a blessing in disguise for students because it spares them from eventually finding out that aside from personal satisfaction a doctorate is a poor investment.

Colleges and universities are increasingly relying on adjunct rather than tenure-track faculty.  As a result, even those lucky enough to find an adjunct position soon learn that they must find work outside of academia to support themselves.

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‘Release time’ will backfire against teachers’ unions

Although both state law and the New Jersey Constitution prohibit paying government workers not to perform the jobs they were hired for, and instead work full-time for labor unions, The Jersey City Board of Education entered into an agreement with its teachers’ union allowing just that (“The N.J. Teachers Who Get Paid Not to Teach,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 4).  The New Jersey Supreme Court will soon rule on the issue.

Whatever the outcome, I don’t think teachers’ unions that do this realize how harmful the practice is in terms of taxpayer support.  As readers of this column know, I support teachers’ unions, having participated in three strikes during the 28 years I taught in the Los Angeles Unified School District.  But release time is outrageous and will only alienate taxpayers on the fence about teachers’ unions.

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