When Alan Coleman, a sixth-grade teacher in Washington, D.C., posts a student's work on the bulletin board, he's supposed to display with it the performance standard it meets, writes Jay Mathews in the Washington Post.

Here is one he is supposed to display with a good analytical essay: "The student demonstrates familiarity with a variety of functional documents that identifies the institutional context of the document."

"Who this is for is anyone's guess," Coleman said, "as the standards are written in educational jargon that means nothing to the students."

It's not just students who don't understand it. It means nothing to me, and I’ve been wading through ed jargon for years now. What "documents" is the standard talking about? What’s the function of the word "functional" or the context of "institutional context?"

The grammar is a mystery too. I think it should be "documents that identify," but others make a case for "variety" or even "familiarity" as the subject. It’s impossible to parse gibberish.

No Apples for the New Teacher

Allen Reece started Apple a Day to chronicle his first year as a Teach for America middle-school teacher in Baton Rouge, La. Reece is exhausted, frustrated and isolated.

The school system which I am in confirms my worst expectations. It is a Kafkaesque bureaucratic nightmare. Ex. the school district shelled out money to buy each school a copy of Sister Act 1 & 2 to "motivate" the teachers. But they won't give me a #$% dry erase board, or an overhead projector screen. Or keep ink in the printers. Or reimburse me for the bazillion copies I'm running off at Kinkos. Or allow me to get into the building any time school isn't in session. (It's locked and alarmed, and I can get neither a key nor a code.)

Reece wrote the assistant superintendent asking why teachers were entrusted with children, but not with a key. He asked about the inkless printers too.

He was told that if teachers got keys, 4,000 staff members would have access to the building, endangering its valuable assets. That apparently refers to every employee of the district, though why they’d all want keys to Reece’s middle school was unexplained.

Copying supplies are on order, the administrator wrote, adding a warning against "excessive use of duplicating paper. An abundance of worksheets is a no-no."

Reece was moved to sarcasm:

There are obviously better ways of getting information to students than giving them marks of ink on paper! It's so passe! Why give them paper, when I could be using semaphore, Bunraku puppets, or smoke signals? I mean, come on, a purchasing department requisition has been submitted! What more could I want or need?

Teach for America recruits "the best and the brightest" college graduates to fill teaching slots in troubled schools. I know a woman who was assigned to a large, out-of-control Los Angeles high school. She couldn’t get a key to the faculty restroom for four months. Finally, a union steward slipped her a key as a reward for criticizing the administration in a staff meeting.

Why is it so hard for public schools to hire and retain smart people? Because they treat them like idiots.

Deconstructing Patriotism

Education's moral relativists have been having a field day since the Sept. 11 attacks, writes Josie Appleton in Spiked.

Megan Boler, a professor in the "social foundations of education" at Virginia Polytechnic, encountered a student who said that "America has done more than any other nation in the twentieth century to ensure the spread of freedom and democracy around the world." He also wasn't keen on America haters. The professor and a colleague diagnosed "defensive anger," writing that the student "had constructed a 'patriotic self,' which was key to his own identity and his relationship with others." They prescribed the "pedagogy of discomfort," which means persuading the student that the root cause of his patriotism is anger and fear. Only haters love their country.

Appleton writes:

In the same journal, Kerry Burch from the College of Education at the Northern Illinois University argues that the discussion of the "American Taliban" John Walker is "an extraordinary pedagogical event and opportunity" to "illuminate and intensify the contradictions nested within the American negotiation of identity." She quotes students saying that Walker is a traitor and should be given the death penalty. These sentiments, she says, are a sign of the American nation attempting "to 'perform itself' once again, to wrestle symbolically with a figure who profoundly disturbs the inscriptions of identity that are conventionally written on the American body politic."

I think this means that students should learn that it's OK for American citizens to fight in the enemy's army. But don't get your identity tattooed on your body politic 'cause then you're stuck with it.

I wonder what goes first for education professors: Is it the ability to write English or the ability to think?

Bilingual Split

By a two-to-one margin, Massachusetts voters adopted an initiative requiring English immersion classes for students who aren't proficient in English. But bilingual education boosters defeated a similar initiative in Colorado; 56 percent voted "no."

A Colorado billionaire's $3 million donation funded a last-minute pro-bilingual advertising blitz that played on white parents' fears.

The Rocky Mountain News interviewed the ad men behind the pro-bilingual campaign. Their strategy: Don't mention bilingual education. Instead, raise fears of "Chaos in the Classroom."

...The announcer states children who speak little English, largely Hispanic students, would disrupt the education of "your children" -- presumably the majority white families of Colorado. . . .

An "a-ha" moment came in September, (John) Britz said. They were interviewing what they considered a typical suburban voter -- female, Republican, a parent. The woman was adamant in her support of (Amendment) 31.

Then Britz said her own children would be affected. That her child's teacher might be distracted by having to work with students who know little English.

"She turned," he said. "She said, 'They're going to put them in my kid's class?' "

Despicable.

Letters

Cameron Hoppe writes:

You asked: "So why insist that everyone go straight from high school to college without motivation or purpose?" You're dead-on.

When I went to college I had both motivation and purpose, but little else. Having been a ward of the court I had no savings and no support. After three semesters I had to drop out of Colorado State University so I could afford a massive amount of needed dental work. I was laid off and had to pay another massive amount of student loans before I was able to start saving the money necessary to return to college. I expect to graduate at the end of next August.

I attribute the bulk of the hold-ups I experienced to taking poor advice and not having the knowledge to see through it. Going straight to college isn't the best choice for everyone, probably not even a third of everyone, and educators should recognize that.

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 JoanneJacobs.com while writing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. She's never gotten a dime from Enron.

Respond to the Writer