Poverty is not destiny in education

Reformers would have everyone believe that students from low-income families are doomed to a mediocre education.  If so, then how do they explain that more than 60 percent of students at Brooklyn Tech High School and nearly half the students at Stuyvesant High School live in poverty (“New York’s Selective Public Schools Aren’t Only for the Wealthy,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 20)?

These two schools, along with six others, admit students solely on the basis of their scores on the Specialized High School Admissions Test, as mandated by the Hecht-Calandra law.  As a result, the schools are accused of being elitist, which is a dirty word because it is associated with wealth.  The evidence contradicts that assumption.

I’m not arguing that poverty plays no role in academic achievement.  But students can and do overcome the disadvantages in their backgrounds to succeed.

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Obsession with race afflicts private schools too

Even posh private schools are not immune to viewing every facet of society through the lens of skin color (“Dalton headmaster quits while Brearley dad writes scathing letter,” New York Post, Apr. 17).  The latest example is the Brearley School in New York City, where tuition runs to $54,000 a year.

Angry and appalled that his daughter, who had been a student at the school since kindergarten, was subjected to this indoctrination, Andrew Gutmann fired off a 1,700-word letter taking the administration and Board of Trustees to task.  The school responded that his letter was “deeply offensive and harmful.”

I fail to see how it was when it stated the truth about how the curriculum has devolved.  As for the school’s claim that students felt frightened and intimidated by the letter, I say they need to grow up.  There is nothing in the letter that can upset a student.

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Math instruction proposal will hurt Blacks

Just when I thought I had heard it all, the proposal before the California Department of Education proves me wrong (“Destructive California teacher training seeks to eliminate ‘white supremacy in math’” thebl.com, Apr. 16).  It asserts that finding a correct answer in math is an example of racism and white supremacy. 

This harebrained idea says that math is not objective, but it never provides evidence to support its view.  In short, it’s an ideological proposal that will hurt precisely those students whom it claims to help.  Why the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation funds it is beyond me.

I remember when standard English was attacked for similar reasons.  In its place was Ebonics.  Fortunately, the latter never took hold.  Let’s hope the same fate awaits the math proposal.

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Shakespeare turns off students

When I was teaching English in the Los Angeles Unified School District, there were two things that always elicited moans from students: studying Shakespeare and grammar (“The Case Against Shakespeare,” thewalrus.ca, Mar. 31).  Since both were part of the curriculum, I had little choice but to teach both.

I must admit that I failed in both cases. It seemed that no matter how hard I tried to make both relevant, my efforts were futile.  I’m glad that when I was in high school my teachers were more successful.  But that was in a different era. 

Today’s students are exposed to images and subjects that my generation never were.  As a result, I can understand why Shakespeare and grammar are so unpopular.  Yet I wonder if teachers today still don’t have a responsibility to teach both.

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Indoctrination instead of education in schools

In the name of equity, schools have become indoctrination centers (“I Refuse to Stand By While My Students Are Indoctrinated,” Common Sense with Bari Weiss, Apr. 13).  By doing so, they make a mockery of their mission to develop critical thinking in students.

As long as divergent ideas are punished, students are severely shortchanged.  I submit that they can handle controversial material.  In fact, it is what will deeply engage them more than anything else.  Yet we persist that they must be protected lest we harm their self-esteem.

What Paul Rossi, a teacher at Grace Church High School in New York City, did by pointing this out took great courage.  The school’s administrators deserve to be fired, and Rossi deserves a citation.  I hope he gets it.

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Teaching creativity is a chimera in higher education

Nobel laureate economist Joseph Stiglitz called on colleges and universities to make teaching creativity their No. 1 goal (“ ‘The major challenge facing every university, every teacher, is how to teach creativity’ “ yahoo.com, Apr. 7).  But I submit that everything they do today is guaranteed to fail in pursuit of that objective.

I say that because individuality has been replaced by groupthink.  How many students feel free to express ideas that don’t toe the party line?  If they try, they are cancelled by fellow students and more importantly by their professors.  As a result, they don’t have an opportunity to develop the knowledge and skills that characterize critical thinking.  I expect the situation to get much worse.

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College admission based on personal essays

More and more colleges have eliminated the SAT and ACT for the purpose of admission because they claim standardized test scores are biased.  Instead, they are requiring applicants to submit a personal essay (“Inconvenient Facts for the War on Testing,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 6). 

I say the real reason is that grading of personal essays is more subjective, which allows them to increase racial diversity.  The truth is that not everyone is college material. That has nothing at all to do with race.  But colleges are dead set on engineering a racial mix regardless of students’ proven ability to handle rigorous academic work.

Since merit seemingly no longer matters, why not just admit everyone who applies, as in public high schools?  I’m being sarcastic now, but there will be a day when that may be the case.

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College admission based on personal essays

More and more colleges have eliminated the SAT and ACT for the purpose of admission because they claim standardized test scores are biased.  Instead, they are requiring applicants to submit a personal essay (“Inconvenient Facts for the War on Testing,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 6). 

I say the real reason is that grading of personal essays is more subjective, which allows them to increase racial diversity.  The truth is that not everyone is college material. That has nothing at all to do with race.  But colleges are dead set on engineering a racial mix regardless of students’ proven ability to handle rigorous academic work.

Since merit seemingly no longer matters, why not just admit everyone who applies, as in public high schools?  I’m being sarcastic now, but there will be a day when that may be the case. (To post a comment, click on the title of this blog.)

The value of ‘racist’ novels

Rather than eliminate novels that are seen today as racist, they can be a valuable teaching vehicle (“I’m A Black Mother And Educator. Here’s Why I Let My Kids Read Racist books,” Huffington Post, Apr. 4). These books need to be understood in the time period in which they were published and the author’s intent.

Consider Huckleberry Finn, which is a staple of 11th-grade English classes.  Although, Twain uses the N-word 219 times, he makes Jim the personification of morality.  If the book were pulled from the curriculum solely because of the use of the N-word, students would be deprived of an opportunity to delve deeply into the author’s meaning.

Students can’t develop critical thinking if they are never given time to debate controversial issues.

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The A-List college obsession

The Operation Varsity Blues scandal showed what some parents were willing to do to get their children into marquee-name colleges (“Panic Mode,” Time, Apr. 12).  But their actions were so unnecessary.

The truth is that what students major in is far more important in landing a well-paying and satisfying job than where they spend four years hitting the books.  I submit that majoring in computer science at, say, the University of Mississippi is more productive in that sense than majoring in gender studies from Harvard University. My views on this were published by the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal on Apr. 9th (“Regional Colleges Can Compete by Emphasizing Choosing the Right Major”).

So what the desperation comes down to is really about buying a brand.  That may satisfy some students and parents in the short run, but in the long run it won’t matter much.

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