Balloons in Baghdad

Last year, Iraqi teachers were getting in touch with Saddam's secret police to turn in their students' parents. Now, teachers are getting in touch with their feelings in a UNICEF-sponsored training seminar. The Los Angeles Times reports:

BAGHDAD -- Three dozen Iraqi teachers and guidance counselors came to a hotel seminar here recently seeking tips on how to improve the nation's schools. They got balloons.

"Now I want you to take your balloon," an upbeat seminar instructor coaxed them soothingly, "and blow everything that makes you sad and everything that makes you mad into the balloon. Blow it all inside."

Unaccustomed to such touchy-feely seminars, several teachers shifted nervously in their seats. A few giggled, and others looked confused. But after some shoulder shrugs and smirks, they complied. Soon, several balloons were so over-inflated they threatened to pop.

Teachers say Saddam let Iraq's schools fall apart, even as praise for Saddam dominated the curriculum. Schools reopen Oct. 1. Bechtel is rehabbing more than 1,000 schools; the U.S. and British military are fixing another 230 and UNICEF is working on 180 schools.

At the hotel seminar, the teachers were given magic markers and asked to write on their balloons a list of the things that make them most mad and sad. War and devastation, they wrote. The loss of loved ones. The lack of electricity. Crime. Child labor.

But nobody could bring themselves to mention Saddam Hussein.

Fear of Saddam is too strong for balloon therapy.

Flunking Mom

Mom passed on providing pencils and answering phone calls, but she's got a nagging Needs Attention on homework completion. Philadelphia’s public school teachers are grading home support on students' reports cards.

Teachers will assess several areas: Does the child appear rested? Is he or she getting proper attention for vision and hearing problems? Do parents respond to notes and phone calls? Does the child have the necessary supplies, including pencils and notebooks? Does the child complete homework assignments?

"The feeling was, we should have a checklist of gentle reminders that would be helpful and instructive to parents," (school CEO Paul) Vallas said.

Parents can expect to get either a "Satisfactory" or a "Needs Attention" grade for each question on all student report cards for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

I'm in favor of teachers communicating clearly with parents about what they want them to do. But framing this as a report card is patronizing and needlessly antagonistic. A "how you can help at home" section would be a gentle reminder. This is more like a slap in the face.

Ritalin Gag Rule

School employees are banned from suggesting Ritalin or similar drugs , under a new Texas law. A second law says school officials can't file a neglect report on parents if they "refuse to place a child on psychiatric drugs, or refuse psychiatric or psychological treatment or testing."

The gag rule strikes me as overkill: A school counselor should be able to make a suggestion, as long as parents have the right to refuse. I hope the second law is unnecessary. Are they really reporting parents who won't put their kids on drugs?

Classroom Classics

Why do some books, such as Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm, become classroom classics ? Well, they're short and there's no sex. (That is, no sex sufficiently blatant for students to pick up on it.) That's my theory.

Lousy Children

In Scotland, principals have been told not to send letters to parents warning them of lice outbreaks . The Scotsmen reports:

According to the Scottish Executive, raising the alarm "stigmatises" infected children and could cause them long-term psychological damage.

Principals and teachers said the directive was ridiculous. Head lice is common in primary schools. Social class has little to do with it.

During my daughter's elementary school career, I was traumatized by several head lice outbreaks and suffered long-term psychological damage, principally paranoid fears of head scratching. Once a child is infected, only a determined campaign of chemical warfare can ride a house -- blankets, pillows, couches, clothing -- of lurking lice. And don't get me started about nit-picking.


Keith Weiner of Mesa, Ariz., writes:

Dave Brown writes that at least some teachers work hard and are highly competent. He admits that, like members of other professions, some teachers are lazy or incompetent.

The difference between teachers and members of other professions is that one is not forced to do business with a non-teacher who's unprofessional.

A parent is forced to turn his child over to the control of a bad teacher for six hours a day, five days a week, all year! The fact that a teacher in another classroom is good doesn't help.

This just serves as one more reason for a restoration of a free market in education (as opposed to vouchers).

Carson Sasser of Crestview, Fla., says:

Is it possible that someone has reached the conclusion that the widespread problems with out-of-control students is related to the lack of corporal punishment in today's schools?

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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