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Out with the in crowd

Maureen Dowd complains that Alpha girls lose their power after junior high. Robert Musil calls Dowd a Zeta girl, a washed-up Heather and other unflattering things. (Scroll down to the Feb. 25 post.)

I am reminded of my daughter's week at Girl Scout Camp, when she was 10. She reported that the most favored girls slept in a circle around the Alpha Scout, with their sleeping bags touching hers. Allison was in the second circle of social acceptance; she was allowed to sleep with her bag touching the bags that touched the bag of the Alpha Scout.

All of this Alpha stuff is about lording it over other girls with less social confidence. Thank God it loses its power as girls grow up.

Schools for Afghanistan

Kamran and Zohre Elahian are providing seed funding for 2,000 schools in Afghanistan through Relief International, reports the San Jose Mercury News.

"When you see how much you have compared to 99 percent of the world, it really changes your priorities big time," says the Iranian-born entrepreneur and investor, who co-founded chip maker Cirrus Logic nd 10 other tech companies.

Last week, I made fun of women college presidents who placed a full-page ad in the New York Times proclaiming their "special support" — in the form of words — for women's education in Afghanistan. The Elahians — former refugees themselves — are actually doing something. Building started six weeks ago; nearly 200 classrooms are under onstruction. Relief International plans to build 2,002 village schools and train 1,0001 female teachers.

Tampering with success

Reading scores soared when Baltimore schools adopted a phonics-intensive reading program. Now, the Baltimore Sun reports, school officials want to change to "balanced literacy," which some suspect means dropping phonics for "whole language."

In 1998, Baltimore chose a phonics textbook series from Open Court Publishing for kindergarten through second grade. Educators credit the emphasis on phonics in the primary grades with the leap in test scores. Last year, 56 percent of first-graders scored above the national average in reading, compared with 29 percent in 1998.

Baltimore elementary students spend three hours a day on language arts; Open Court devotes 45 minutes to teaching phonics, with the rest spent on writing, reading from an anthology and other activities.

In the "balanced" alternative, phonics is taught for 20 minutes a day. Teachers read to students for 20 minutes; for another 30 minutes, students hold a book and follow along silently as the teacher reads aloud. After 90 minutes of other activities, students end the period with 20 minutes reading a book of their choice. A few schools went "balanced" in 1977; 10 more did so last year. School officials didn't point to any evidence that all that reading by teachers led to better reading comprehension by students.

How to gain the disadvantage advantage

Kate Coe writes:

As the mother of a SoCal high school freshman, I'm avidly following UC's admissions requirements. If I threaten to kill him if he doesn't do his homework, does he gain points for growing up under the threat of violence? And if he doesn't do it, can he claim he was too scared to do the work, thus gaining more points? And if he does do it, will the high grades negate the violence issue?

Will there be a black-market in victim stories for white kids? Can I hire someone to terrorize us, so we'll have something to overcome?

My reply: There's no need to hire a professional traumatizer. Victimization is in the mind. If your student thinks he's a victim — or can get an admissions officer to think so — that's all it takes. Alcoholism, drug addiction, domestic violence, homosexuality and death of beloved friend or relative are the classics; all are politically correct and impossible to disprove. But don't ignore the identity crisis he might have suffered on learning of his 1/32 Native American heritage, or the youthful poverty he might have experienced when both parents were in graduate school. For the neo-disadvantaged, creativity counts.

When fat doesn't fit

I think the Jazzercise franchise in San Francisco missed a bet by refusing to hire an extra-large aerobics instructor who doesn't fit the fit 'n slim image. Many extra-large exercisers might welcome an instructor who's packing a floor-shaking 240 pounds on a 5-foot, 8-inch frame.

Jazzercise saw it differently, telling Jennifer Portnick she's too portly to exemplify the benefits of aerobic dance. Since weight discrimination is illegal in San Francisco, Portnick has filed a complaint with the city's Human Rights Commission.

Running a business is not yet illegal in San Francisco, but they're working on it.

Education are impotent

Gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez laid out his education plan in a grammatically challenged letter to the Texas teachers' association. Someone — probably an English teacher — passed the letter to the Dallas Morning News.

"I believe that curing our problems in education is a matter of priorities, for example, only half of the staff of Texas' schools are teachers and only half the school budgets are spent on instruction," says one sentence that should be two and is missing a comma after "teachers."

Still, Sanchez is a regular Shakespeare compared to Tim Blair's subliterate correspondent who, employs all of, Sanchez's missing, commas, in his, idiotarian rant. (Scroll down to the Feb. 24 post.)

Joanne Jacobs used to have a paying job as a Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer.  Now she blogs for tips at ReadJacobs.com while writing a book, "Start-Up High,'' about a San Jose charter school.  She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

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