Paper 'Is-ness,' Excluding Awards, New Racial Consciousness and Politics

Is-ness Is All

A New York Times reporter, Tamar Lewin, tries grading SAT II essays and discovers that she's out of step with the veteran graders. What they think is a top-scoring 6, she thinks is empty blather.

Our instructions don't help me much: Ignore the handwriting. Read holistically, not analytically. Do not reread. Read supportively, and grade what's there, not what's missing. If the paper is absolutely illegible, or completely off-topic, give it to your table leader. Read the whole thing before making any judgment, since some papers improve greatly once the student gets going ...

What is most helpful to me is a particularly cryptic piece of advice: "We sometimes say you have to grant the "is-ness" of the paper," said Dr. Agnes Yamada, an English professor at California State University, Dominguez Hills.

No wonder empty blather scores a 6.

Nothing for Everyone

Lone Dissenter says her small private school no longer gives junior book awards.

. . . there were about twenty of them, and they were cut because that meant that a significant portion of the class would get an award, which meant that the rest of the class would feel really crummy about not getting anything. Then, the index in the yearbook was cut. Apparently, if one looked at one's name and didn't have as many page numbers listed next to it as someone else, one feels really, really bad about oneself.

Perhaps they should run the same yearbook photo for every student to protect the unattractive from ego-shattering comparisons.

Letter From a Teacher

A fifth grade teacher writes:

About seven years ago our district required that we call in every parent whose child was "at risk" and warn them that lack of improvement would lead to retention. Parents were greatly concerned and we saw much more involvement and concern but at the end of the year, no child was retained, despite many who did not show much growth.

The following year we were required to meet with parents again. We spent hours and hours calculating "at risk" scores and data, hours meeting with the families, and again, no retentions.

The third year we were told to continue with the meetings and we revolted. We were then told to say that students would possibly be retained by the 6th grade. This language later became "sometime in the future."

Most teachers stopped making retention threats. Teachers who did retain students "were called in for a meeting by our assistant superintendent and reamed for not doing enough for their students."

When parents complain -- usually about a child's suspension for violence -- the superintendent doesn't back up teachers and principals, the teacher writes. There's little tolerance for meaningful punishments.

. . . Students are routinely "benched" (miss a recess) for violent language, punching other children, destroying property and threatening. Our (new and young) principal actually told our school bully that if he came in her office a FOURTH time for violence, he would have an in-school suspension for a day. OH NO!  She felt she was being firm. We (teachers) felt she gave him permission to be violent three times.

Not surprisingly, there's much more fighting at the school, the teacher writes. Four boys beat up another boy, bruising him badly. The principal “met with all the boys and suggested that if they worked out their problems and became friends again, she wouldn’t call the parents.” A few days later, the chief perpetrator “accidentally” socked another boy.

If there are no consequences for poor schoolwork or bad behavior -- if threats are just empty blather -- the kids are going to figure it out. They're not stupid.

Different Colors, Same Politics

College students praise the racial and ethnic diversity on their campuses, though they say that programs for minority students sometimes foster self-segregation. But they told the Philadelphia Inquirer that there's little political diversity.

"There's definitely a liberal bias. Conservative opinions are shut down and dismissed offhand," said John Anderson, a Swarthmore senior. "When a conservative point of view is brought up, there's a knee-jerk reaction that it can't be valid."

Students suggest that the overwhelming liberalism fosters a self-censorship among conservatives who are unwilling to speak up in class or in social settings to provide the conservative view on issues.

"Haverford might look diverse, but everyone thinks the same," said Jennie Gibson, a sophomore who doesn't like to mention her conservative positions on campus. "I like debate, but there's a difference between that and having people call you stupid when you say you support President Bush."

Students also say there's not much economic diversity. And they have mixed feelings about racial preferences in admissions.

According to a Marist College survey, Americans like diversity on campus, but don't like racial preferences in admissions: 80 percent of Americans, including 64 percent of minorities, oppose race-conscious policies. Most support an admissions break for low-income students, and oppose favored treatment for children of wealthy parents or alumni.

Post-Ethnic Youth

Young Americans are moving beyond traditional ethnic categories, argue Joel Kotkin and Thomas Tseng in the Washington Post.

Roughly half (of young Latinos), according to the 2000 Census, consider themselves white and, on many critical issues, such as abortion and the war in Iraq, their views are often similar to, or more conservative, than those of their white counterparts. Viewed in this light, Latinos do not fit the mold of a permanently aggrieved minority on America's left. Similarly, their linguistic preferences would seem to challenge the continued viability of programs such as bilingual education, with their emphasis on preserving a distinct culture or "easing" Spanish-speaking youngsters into an English-language mainstream they appear to be diving into headfirst.

About "30 percent of second-generation Latinos and Asians now wed people from outside their own racial groups," and one of seven California newborns in 1997 had parents of different races.

At least in California, young people don't see race and ethnicity the way us baby boomers do. They take for granted that they live in a mix-and-match world.

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.

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