Iraqi Textbooks and the English Language

By September, when the new school year starts, Iraqi children will have new textbooks scrubbed of Saddam worship, militarism and anti-American rhetoric, reports the Washington Post.

Look. See Saddam. See Saddam run. Run, Saddam, run. Look. Saddam is dead. Dead, dead, dead.

Just a suggestion. (You can tell I went to school in the '50s.)

Starting in kindergarten, Iraqi children learn to pledge allegiance to Saddam Hussein. They chant their wish to die for Saddam and march with pretend guns.

The education system's martyr-building machine meshes with a series of Baathist paramilitary youth groups, which recruit schoolchildren as young as 5, according to the federation report. The scouting organizations, each tailored to a particular age group, are known by a variety of names: Saddam's Cubs, the Vanguard, the Order of Chivalry, the Youth Brigade. Tens of thousands of Iraqi children have attended training camps run by the groups, which supply members to Saddam's Fedayeen.

The groups promise children money, prestige and higher school grades, which translate into greater opportunity in Iraqi society. Members wear camouflage fatigues while practicing marksmanship. They hurl dummy grenades, march in formation and take turns dashing through flames.

Children are encouraged to denounce their parents, neighbors and friends. Fatherless children are adopted by the state and trained to be Fedayeen. Now many are sacrificing their lives for Saddam Hussein, which means they're dying for nothing.

In a Guardian story on the not-so-elite Republican Guard, a captured private says the end of the regime is "like a weight off my chest."

Yet Mohamed spoke of how difficult it would be for Iraqis of his generation — they are all in their early 20s — to think themselves out of the tyranny inside their heads. Asked what he thought about Saddam, he said: "He's my father, he's my president. We didn't understand him properly. We grew up with him around so we don't know anyone else but him."

Teaching self-government to people raised to be slaves of the Baathist state will be a challenge. Still, we de-Nazified Germany after World War II, despite the Hitler Youth. There's hope for Iraq.

For the Children

Marines freed more than 100 children from jail in Baghdad. The story says the kids refused to join Baathist youth organizations.

Rejecting Success

There's great news in California schools: Mexican immigrant students are achieving proficiency in English at unprecedented rates. But the state superintendent doesn't want to credit English immersion, which is still politically incorrect. No legislator in the Latino Caucus heralded the news that one third of "English Language Learners" have learned English; some are trying to end testing. So writes Jill Stewart, who has done first-rate work on Los Angeles schools.

"What you are going to see in Sacramento is a move away from testing because the tests show immersion English works too well — we've crunched the numbers on our own, and there's simply no debate on it," said Oceanside School District Superintendent Ken Noonan.

Noonan, a Mexican-American (despite his last name), helped launch the bilingual-education movement in California and is now an outspoken convert to immersion English. "The Latino Caucus does not want to lose bilingual education for good," said Noonan. "But if these tests remain, showing how little good bilingual is doing, there may be a movement to eliminate it totally."

Five years after the voters limited bilingual education, the state education department hasn't analyzed the progress of students who remain in bilingual (with parental waivers) and similar students educated in English. They're working on it, department officials say.

Follow the Money

One third of California's "English Language Learners" test as proficient in English on a state test. So why aren't school districts reclassifying them as fluent? Lance Izumi of Pacific Research Institute looks at the perverse incentives. Schools get more money for each student classified as limited in English proficiency. Admitting students have learned English is a money loser. If schools got a bonus for each kid redesignated as fluent in English, the rate would soar.

Latinos Prefer English

English is the dominant language of American-born Latinos. The Hartford Courant reports on a church serving Latino families:

"I ask them: Do you prefer to speak Spanish or English? It's English. English. English. English," said Julio Maturana, the head of religious education at Immaculate Conception. "I think it's their friends, the television, the schools. I think they can express in English their feelings more than in Spanish."

Why? TV gets a lot of the credit. Even in Spanish-speaking homes, children prefer the Disney Channel and Nickelodeon to Spanish-language shows.

The Poor Ye Shall Send to Community College

At selective colleges, diversity is racial and ethnic — not economic. Very few students from low-income families attend top colleges, says a Century Foundation study by Anthony Carnevale of Education Testing Service. The Los Angeles Times reports:

Only 3 percent of freshmen at the 146 most selective colleges and universities come from families in the bottom quarter of Americans ranked by income. About 12 percent of the students on these campuses are black or Latino.

At the most selective four-year colleges, only 10 percent of students come from the bottom 50 percent of the income scale.

Carnevale argues that affirmative action should be based on class, basically parental education and income. UCLA Law School tried that, and found qualified students with family incomes under $25,000 a year. However:

While use of class-based preferences aided some black and Latino applicants, it brought in even more Asians and low-income whites, including recent immigrants from Eastern Europe and the Mideast, he said.

. . . In general, the minority students with the grades and test scores that under previous rules would have qualified them for admission did not come from low-income families.

Blacks and Hispanics do bring some diversity to elite college campuses, but low-income students — of all colors — probably would contribute even more to the mix. And preferences based on disadvantage would be seen as fair, avoiding the corrosive resentment generated by racial and ethnic preferences.


Kathy Parnell writes:

I am an EBD (Emotional, Behavioral Disorders) teacher in Kentucky and have read your views about teaching students conflict resolution skills and the war in Iraq. I respectfully disagree. The primary focuses of my job is to teach children how to maintain social acceptance through appropriate behavior, apply conflict resolution skills and manage their anger without aggression.

Although conflict resolution skills are very important in our society we must also teach our children the differences of social conflict and their responsibilities when a conflict is not resolved because the other side of the conflict is unwilling to resolve. There is also a difference between conflict and crime.

With support from the parents of my students, I have taught them that not all people are willing to come to a resolution. In those cases they learn to walk away and make a choice of whether or not they want to be around that person anymore or to gain the assistance of an authority figure. If a crime is involved it is safer for a person to seek assistance from the police or law enforcement than to handle the crisis on their own.

With all of this in mind, my students and I have studied all the information we can on the war in Iraq; newspapers, Internet, magazines, etc. My teaching assistant and I have our own opinions about the war, but in discussing the war with the students we use the Fox News approach, "Fair and Balanced." Our students have chosen their own opinions about the war, but they have all decided the war is necessary. Their views of this conflict have come from the way I have taught them how to handle conflict resolution. They believe Saddam is a dangerous criminal and not willing to resolve this issue. They also believe he is capable of hurting them so they are willing to let our military forces handle the situation.

There is more to conflict resolution than talking and agreeing.

Vicki Small writes:

Thank you for the article on conflict resolution. At first, I feared it was all going to be standard P.C. stuff, anti-war, a-hug-a-day-drives-the-boogie-man-away. I love hugs, and I know they're important to all of us. But I'm quite sure group hugs in Iraq would not have solved the problem.

Zach Clayton made an excellent point about the difference between third-grade lessons and real-life challenges. Too many teachers, school administrators and school counselors have not learned that lesson. Good for Zach.

In addition, as a former college-writing instructor, I deplore the move among students to write in text-messaging style. I stopped trying to teach just before that started, at least at the college level. The vast majority of my students didn't consider standard English important, anyway. I'm glad I don't have to fight this latest battle; I would lose, and I'd have even more students whining, "You grade too hard!"

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 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