Make sure not to blame any group for the Sept. 11 attacks, the National Education Association tells teachers. Unless you're blaming America.

I think it's fine for teachers to tell kids not to blame all Muslims or all Arabs for the Sept. 11 attacks -- if it's a small part of a larger discussion about who we should blame. Our current enemy is profoundly intolerant of other religions and cultures: Radical Islamists believe that everyone should be a Wahhabi Muslim, and that they have the right to kill anyone who's not: Christian nurses in Pakistan, Jewish grandmas in Israel, airline passengers, stock brokers, waiters and clerks in the U.S. Not to mention crushing gays to death, stoning women for sexual activity (including rape victims), and gassing dogs to test chemical weapons.

This could be an object lesson in the superiority of tolerance, separation of church and state and rule of law. Students could think about why it's not okay to kill people even though you sincerely think that's God's will.

Of course, some teachers are too steeped in mealy-mouthed mush to deal intelligently with Sept. 11. But most teachers are sensible people. The problem is more on the milquetoast end: Teachers tend to avoid controversy. Teaching tolerance is easy. Teaching that there are some things that people shouldn't tolerate is trickier.

The NEA’s Sept. 11 site is a mix of silly and sensible lesson plans, as James Lileks writes. None is likely to turn innocent children into Usama acolytes.

Lileks takes up the suggestion that Dr. Seuss offers guidance for high school students on dealing with terrorism.

I do not like you, mad Imam.

I do not like your lesson plan.

I will not have it in my schools.

I will not have Sharia rules.

I do not like you, bad Saddam.

I do not like you. Thus, JDAM.

Homeschoolers Are Law Breakers

Homeschooling is illegal in California -- unless the parent is a credentialed teacher. So says an attorney for the California Department of Education. The Daily Bulletin reports:

Parents who home-school their children but do not possess a teaching credential are in violation of state law, officials confirmed Tuesday.

State law mandates that children ages 6 to 18 attend a public school. Attending an accredited private institution or being home-schooled by a credentialed parent or tutor are the only two legal exemptions to public school attendance.

"A child who is not properly exempt is truant, and the parent is subject to an infraction by the district attorney," state Department of Education Deputy General Counsel Roger Wolfertz said. "Buying instructional materials and doing a good job of teaching is not the issue with us."

California has plenty of homeschoolers. Only a few have been prosecuted, and without success. Often, homeschoolers operate under the legal fiction that they're running a very small private school. But now the state department has decided the homeschool must be "accredited," which means regulated.

Public schoolers are okay with parents teaching their kids -- if the public system gets a cut of the action. Public school districts are trying to enroll homeschooled kids in "independent study" programs, which offer testing, books and materials to parents; the district gets the full per-pupil funding from the state. 

The Daily Bulletin story mentions a mother who received an attendance waiver for her children: She did all the teaching; again, the public school district, which did nothing, got the per-pupil state funding. As long as the kids can be counted as public school students, that's what counts. Certainly not, "doing a good job of teaching."

Out of Their Field

Parents aren't qualified to teach their children, say California education bureaucrats. And a lot of teachers aren't qualified either, concludes an Education Trust report on teachers assigned to subjects they never studied themselves.

One in four high school and middle school classes is taught by a teacher who's out of his or her field. In high-poverty, high-minority schools, more than half of core academic classes are taught by out-of-field teachers. Middle-school math is the worst: "70 percent of middle-grade math classes in high-poverty and high-minority schools nationally are assigned to a teacher who lacks even a college minor in math or a math-related field (including math education)."

U.S. students make little progress in math from fourth to eighth grade. There's a push on now to teach algebra in eighth grade, which requires stronger pre-algebra teaching. Too bad the teachers don't know math.

Who's Qualified to Teach?

Virginia certifies semi-literates as English teachers, writes teacher Patrick Welsh in USA Today. But mindless certification requirements drive away intelligent people.

My former colleague, Scott Sidley, was told by the state that he had to take a basic composition course to keep teaching English. It didn't matter to the bureaucrats in Richmond that this was a low-level course that Sidley had been exempted from at the University of Virginia on the basis of his Advanced Placement score in high school, or that he had 48 graduate hours in creative writing.

Welsh quotes a New York teacher who says, "The coach-turned-principal types are threatened by bright applicants. Intelligence is not valued by administrators."

Performance Lobster

Four Carnegie Mellon students will be suspended for one year for damaging a house made of scraps by a student wearing a lobster suit.

The sanctions stem from a disturbance in March outside a makeshift house built as part of an art project by William Kofmehl III that drew worldwide attention. Some scorned the project as absurd and others called it legitimate performance art.

Kofmehl built the three-story wood-frame house from scrap materials while dressed as a lobster. He planned to study human behavior and speech patterns during his project, which qualified for $1,000 from an undergraduate program that encourages artistic and research endeavors.

Frat boys sneaked in on March 2, causing damage to a statue and roof truss; a stairwell collapsed.

The four intruders are required to pay $800 each to Kofmehl for damages and loss of time. They must write at least 15 pages on "diversity and freedom of expression." The suspension will be cut to one semester if the offender performs 240 hours of community service, takes an applied art class and agrees not to live, work, eat or attend sports or social events on campus.

Making them pay for the damage seems fair, as would a reasonable amount of community service. But the university seems to be trying to stamp out anti-crustaceanism with a heavy boot. Not content with the 15 pages of praise for the Lobster-American community, Carnegie Mellon demands they take an art class. Why? So they'll be mercilessly mocked by real art students for their inability to...get $1,000 for sitting in a tree house wearing a lobster suit?

The frat boys made a crucial mistake: They confessed to a "prank" when they should have demanded praise -- and money -- for their subversively provocative act of "performance art."

Letters

Stephen Hayes writes on the failing Florida school that told students, “F = Fantastic.”

Mark Twain said or wrote somewhere: The only thing worse than a stupid person is a stupid person who is proud of it.

As a general rule, I'm not personally in favor of class action suits, but this begs for it. This is shameful. It's shocking enough that this school is still open, but the attitude of the faculty is amazing. I thought if you were failing, you improved to feel better about yourself. I never dreamed one could just buy a T-shirt and celebrate one's failure. Stupid me! When I think of all the hours I wasted studying, I could just kick myself.

...Florida may have to trade in their slogan of the sunshine state for the stupid state. I am, you should pardon the expression, stupefied by this attitude that F stands for Fantastic.


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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