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Demographics, Nerves, Valedictorian, Vouchers

Number 2 Pencil discusses two related issues: A school district in Pennsylvania is trying to turn recess into an adult-directed, competition-free Peaceful Playground Project; college women now outnumber men by a four to three margin, with black women having a two to one edge over black males.

In the Bucks County Courier Times, J.D. Mullane describes plans for "purposeful playtime" to replace free play:

First, something called a "peace maze" will be painted on each playground. Kids at loggerheads with each other will walk the maze's seven steps of "conflict resolution."

Instead of kickball and soccer, aides will lead small groups in games that require no physical ability. That way no one can be excluded.

Also, kids will be encouraged to plan their recess activities.

"Kids with nothing in mind before recess tend to get in trouble if they don't schedule their recess," (violence prevention coordinator Marcy) Spigler said.

. . . Neshaminy is trying to tame recess, to make it accessible to nerds, to make it a place where there are no skinned knees or bloody noses or hurt feelings. No one's really better than anyone else at anything. Everyone's "sensitive."

This is fine, if you want your kid to grow up to be Hans Blix.

Increasingly, schools are designed for wusses who can't play tag without filing a lawsuit -- or do recess without a datebook. Schools are becoming a hostile environment for physically active, competitive, independent-minded children. Boys are more likely than girls to rebel, and try to get out of the classroom as soon as possible.

The fear of violence is turning into a fear of normal, active, non-Blixified boys.

Wussification, II

American youngsters are nervous nellies who need to be told what to think and how to feel, say the experts. Knight Ridder reports that a panel of educators and physicians is calling for a "national dialogue" to help traumatized children cope with the Sept. 11 attacks and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Several of the speakers on the "Students and War" panel sponsored by the National Press Club warned that American children are repeatedly viewing graphic pictures of war on television, without getting proper guidance from parents and teachers to help calm their fears.

Why not tell them the war is over. We won. Without inflicting mass destruction.

Dishonors

No matter what, Blair Hornstine will be valedictorian of Moorestown High in New Jersey. She will go on to Harvard -- or Stanford, Princeton, Duke or Cornell. If the high school names a couple of co-valedictorians -- straight-A students who didn't get the chance to earn weighted grades in all their classes -- Hornstine will suffer no harm. So why is the judge's daughter dishonoring herself by suing for $2.9 million?

This week, a federal judge issued a temporary restraining order barring Moorestown officials from naming co-valedictorians, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Court papers filed on Hornstine's behalf said that in November, School Supt. Paul J. Kadri and other school administrators met with Hornstine's parents at the latter's request to discuss concerns about her medical condition and courseload. The conference led to an independent review by the school's physician who concluded that a "reduction in courseload is medically appropriate due to her exhaustion and overextending herself."

The suit charged that Kadri suggested that Hornstine drop all advanced placement courses and take a standard curriculum. "This suggested approach would have drastically reduced plaintiff's weighted grade point average and jeopardized her admission to selected colleges," the suit said. It labeled the proposal a "malicious and intentional act" designed to reduce Hornstine's chances for academic success.

The girl is supposed to have a sort of chronic fatigue syndrome, yet she's taking a killer courseload plus allegedly running a community service project, and competing in Mock Trial. (She made the five-day class trip to Disney World too.) Maybe urging her to cut back was an act of kindness, an attempt to save an exhausted girl from her parents' driving ambition.

(School officials) say that the student's father, New Jersey Superior Court Judge Louis Hornstine, told Kadri during a meeting that he would "use any advantage of the laws and regulations" to give his daughter "the best opportunity to be valedictorian."

"In the end, he flatly told the superintendent that he was going to manipulate rules designed to protect disabled students for the purpose of allowing plaintiff to win the valedictorian award," the papers said.

. . . Court papers said Kadri also discovered occasions that when it appeared Hornstine would be unable to earn a high grade while enrolled in a difficult class in school, she withdrew and sought home instruction. Kadri found that some teachers in school had tougher grading standards than Hornstine's tutors, most of whom had not taught advanced placement classes and did not confer with teachers at the school about implementing the same grading standards.

Posters claiming to be Moorestown classmates and parents comment on Number 2 Pencil and Unlearned Hand. The words "brat" and "cry baby" come up a lot. One poster asks why Hornstine was the only AP Latin student to earn an A+ but got the lowest score in the national Latin exam.

Well, Hornstine got 1570 on the SATs. She's no dummy. But does she have the character that Harvard wants in its students?

Vouchers in D.C.

Washington, D.C., Mayor Anthony Williams supports vouchers to enable students to attend private and parochial schools, reports the Washington Post. Some traditional Democrats were shocked, since Williams is signing on to President Bush's plan. (More fallout from Iraq?) But even black liberals are fed up with dreadful schools.

Former D.C. council chairman Sterling Tucker (D) led a group that sought to push a voucher bill through Congress in the mid-1990s. The effort was thwarted mostly by fellow Democrats, including the politically powerful teachers unions.

"Hundreds and hundreds of parents would call us," Tucker said yesterday. "There's no question in my mind how the people feel. People want to get their children the best. . . . They know that's the key that unlocks them out of the ghetto."

Councilman Kevin P. Chavous, who chairs the education committee, is a rival of Williams. But he's ready to consider vouchers, if there's enough federal aid attached.

"The really big problem with public education has been its unwillingness to look at itself and change," Chavous said. "No school bureaucracy will reform itself internally. It only comes through pressure. And the most effective form of pressure is choice."

Like Williams, Chavous was educated in the Catholic school system.

While vouchers typically provide a fraction of what's spent on public school students, D.C. students could get vouchers worth as much as $11,000. That's a bit less than what the District is spending now -- without educating many students. By contrast, the average parochial school charges $4,000 in annual tuition.

Letters

Greg Wilson writes:

I really enjoyed your article on the dumbing down of the educational process. I am 50 years old, and, in my youth, had to live and grow under an educational system that required me to think (gasp!) and to be compared to others in my same grade (how horrible!). We even played dodgeball. How I lived through that violence I can't imagine!

More to the point, I am amazed to the point of disgust at groups of supposedly educated adults who have as much common sense as a clump of dirt. I shudder to think what political correctness will do to our society and world in the next few decades. Keep exposing their attempts to reduce our entire educational system to the level of a pre-school. In my gut, however, I fear it's a lost cause, because the ones in charge of our educational system are the ones most in need of educating.

L. Alan Kudravy in Hawthorne, CA writes:

I am really getting scared of the future. Not because of bio-terrorism or nuclear holocaust. I am afraid because the world is becoming populated with stupid people.

What is being cultured now in our schools is stupidity. Don't let a kid think about Washington or Jefferson owning slaves. Don't let them decide on their own it was wrong. Deny children the information and the problem goes away, right? Sounds like neo-book burning to me.

Mary F. Christie in Jackson, TN writes:

I can only say that I am profoundly grateful that my grandchildren are being educated in the backwoods of West Tennessee.

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.

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