Is religious neutrality in public schools anti-Christian bigotry?

The wall between church and state is being eroded never more so than in Kennedy v. Bremerton School District (“How the Right Is Bringing Christian Prayer Back Into Public Schools,” Slate, Apr. 14).  The case is based on the right of school officials to practice their religion during the course of their formal duties.

When Joe Kennedy, a football coach refused to pray with his players in a less public location than the 50-yard line, he sued the school for violating his First Amendment rights. I don’t understand Kennedy’s argument. If prayer is between him and his God, then why does it matter if he prays in a private setting?  He wants it both ways. Given the present makeup of the Supreme Court, I wouldn’t be surprised that Kennedy will prevail.

Lost in the controversy is the right of students who do not share Kennedy’s beliefs. Who will protect them from religious coercion?

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Gifted classes to expand in New York City

New York City has come up with a compromise for its gifted and talented classes for elementary children (“New York Will Expand Gifted-Student Classes, But Cut Entrance Test,” The New York Times, Apr. 15). Rather than rely solely on an entrance exam, it will let teachers nominate candidates to be entered into a lottery.

I think that’s the best solution to a controversial issue.  Whether it will work the way it is intended is another story however. Teacher recommendations are always subjective, which means that some children will not be able to handle the advanced work.  Nevertheless, I say it’s the best way to appeal to both sides.

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Book bans on the rise in schools

The American Library Association reported that there were 729 challenges to 1,597 books in schools and libraries last year, which compares with 156 challenges to 273 books in 2020 (“More Than 1,000 Books Banned From Schools Since July 2021, Study Finds,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 8).  The increase is a setback to critical thinking.

I maintain that young people today are far more sophisticated than their counterparts in past decades because of their exposure to images on the internet.  As a result, they are quite capable of handling material that their parents think would be inappropriate.  So many students are disengaged in school because the curriculum has not kept up with changes in society.  No wonder so many drop out or act out.  They are bored to death.

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The SAT debate will never end

Now that MIT has decided to reinstate the SAT in its admissions, the controversy over the test has reignited (“MIT Leads the Way in Reinstating the SAT,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 6). I maintain that the debate will never end for reasons not clearly understood.

Those in believe in democratization in higher education vilify the SAT, while those who believe in differentiation applaud it.  That’s the fundamental reason too often overlooked.  I made that point in a letter to the editor published in the Wall Street Journal on April 8.  Yes, there are reasons to oppose it on technical grounds, such as how the test is constructed, and on socioeconomic grounds, such as why low-income students don’t ace it, but those are secondary.

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College is not for everyone

Going to college after high school is widely accepted as the best way to have a gratifying life (“College Became the Default. Let’s Rethink That.” The New York Times, Apr. 5).  But is it? 

The truth is that far more young people would be better served taking a vocational curriculum in high school that is coupled with an apprenticeship.  For those who want to expand their formal education, there is a surfeit of online courses. 

I don’t doubt that the traditional college experience with in-class instruction and dorm living is invaluable for some.  But the expense and debt involved overwhelm the benefits for many students.

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College is not for everyone

Going to college after high school is widely accepted as the best way to have a gratifying life (“College Became the Default. Let’s Rethink That.” The New York Times, Apr. 5).  But is it? 

The truth is that far more young people would be better served taking a vocational curriculum in high school that is coupled with an apprenticeship.  For those who want to expand their formal education, there is a surfeit of online courses. 

I don’t doubt that the traditional college experience with in-class instruction and dorm living is invaluable for some.  But the expense and debt involved overwhelm the benefits for many students.

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Why the SAT is so controversial

When the subject is higher education, few issues are more controversial than the SAT (“MIT Leads the Way in Reinstating the SAT,” The Wall Street Journal, Apr. 5). By choosing to maintain its high standards, MIT became the first prominent school to reinstate the requirement that applicants submit SAT or ACT scores.

In the final analysis, the reason that the SAT provokes so much heat is that it can be used by opposing ideologues to support their particular agendas.  Those who believe in differentiation in higher education applaud it, while those who believe in democratization vilify it. So in a sense the SAT is a proxy for both sides. I see no end to the debate.

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The lesson of the Oberlin College case

When students at Oberlin College protested the action of Gibson’s Bakery to press charges against a Black student for shoplifting a bottle of wine calling the owner racist, the store’s owner sued the college for libel (“Oberlin College Loses Its Appeal,” The Wall Street Journal, April 1). The Ohio Court of Appeals upheld the owner, even though the college claimed it was not responsible for the speech of its students.

The trouble is that some senior administrators actively participated in the protest by passing out fliers.  As a result, the court correctly ruled in favor of the bakery.  Therein is an important lesson going forward.  Colleges that don’t respect the line between free speech and defamatory speech by actively participating in protests will pay the price in the courts.

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Comments rather than grades on student essays

As a former high school English teacher for 28 years, I know how time-consuming evaluating student compositions is.  That’s why anything that lightens the burden is worth seriously considering (“I no longer grade my students’ work – and I wish I had stopped sooner,” The Conversation, Mar. 29). 

When teachers put grades on essays, all that students really care about is the letter grade. Nothing that the teacher writes in the margins is considered.  So if the purpose of having students write is to help them develop the ability to express themselves, why bother to add a grade?  In short, it’s counterproductive. 

Assessing student writing is subjective by its very nature.  Therefore, why bother to waste time assigning a grade?

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Make financial literacy a graduation requirement

In making financial literacy a graduation requirement, Florida deserves high praise (“Florida to require high school financial literacy to graduate,” New York Post, Mar. 22).  The fact is that most young people are totally unprepared to handle money.  It’s seen in the huge number of them who are in over their head in credit card debt.

By making financial literacy as important as reading and writing, Florida does a great service.  Purists will no doubt decry the move as non-academic.  I say they need to get real.  I’ve seen too many bright young people struggling because they never mastered financial basics.

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