Be Very Afraid

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A Santa Rosa Junior College instructor told U.S. government students to send e-mail to an elected official with the phrase "kill the president." One student sent the death threat to a congressman, who sent it to the Capitol Police, who called in the Secret Service.

In the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, Michael Ballou blames a "growing police state” for the resulting investigation.

Ballou said the goal of the exercise was to get students to think about what could happen if they did send the e-mail or make such a statement.

"Just the act of saying that and knowing your e-mail could be tapped and your phone listened to, you get a wave of fear over you and you realize we're actually afraid of our own government," he said.

..."the point of the assignment was to experience fear of the government," said Andrea Joy of Windsor, adding that she didn't send an e-mail.

..."The reaction really validated his point," Joy said.

Yes, if you threaten to kill the president -- which is a felony -- you may have to fear the government will investigate.

Defining Dangerous Down

California has no "persistently dangerous" schools. Nary a one, reports the Los Angeles Times.

California education officials declared Wednesday that not one public school in the state should be called "persistently dangerous," a federal designation that would have allowed students to transfer to new schools to escape crime.

That's because states get to define dangerous, and education officials make it hard to qualify. A school must catch at least one student with a gun three years in a row, and must expel "at least 1 percent of its students each year for hate crimes, extortion, sexual battery or other violent acts."

It's a common dodge. North Carolina and Florida also came up with definitions that lead to zero "persistently dangerous" schools.

Alan Kerstein, Los Angeles Unified's school police chief, says campuses are safe. Pay no attention to those surveillance cameras.

"We do acknowledge that we have combat, or the occasional knife and gun. But there are so few incidents."

...Kerstein cited Washington Preparatory High School in South Los Angeles, which was the scene of a brawl in March involving several hundred students who confronted baton-wielding officers. The incident resulted in 11 student arrests, and several students and officers suffered cuts and bruises.

"People will see [an article in] the paper and think, 'Gee, Washington is tough,' but overall, there were few violent incidents on that campus last year," he said.

According to district data, there were eight batteries, five instances of weapons possession, and one assault with a deadly weapon at Washington Prep during the 2001-02 school year.

But some teachers wrote to their union last year that the school was "OUT OF CONTROL" and complained, among other things, that students were regularly beaten and robbed there.

As long as Washington doesn't expel the perpetrators, it can stay off the dangerous list.

Bush Stands With Black, Brown Parents

President Bush's support of vouchers (renamed "scholarships") for D.C. students puts him on the side of black and brown parents, writes columnist Ruben Navarette Jr. On the other side, trying to keep students from leaving dangerous, ineffective schools are teachers and school administrators, most of whom are white.

The president now stands on the side of Latino and African-American parents who--having discovered that the public school ship is sinking -- are simply trying to get their children into a lifeboat. In cities like Milwaukee and Cleveland, where voucher programs are under way, the leaders of the choice movement are African-American women. Latinos, in poll after survey after study, express strong support for school choice.

Catch the color scheme. It matters that most of the parents who cheered Bush at that D.C. charter school were black. It matters that Bush's allies on this issue include Washington Mayor Anthony Williams, an African-American Democrat who was once opposed to vouchers.

School choice, writes Navarette, "is the new civil-rights movement." I think we're going to here this more frequently.


Sol Stern, a former Ramparts writer, sent his children to the best public schools in New York City, seeking an egalitarian education. Stern ended up writing Breaking Free: Public School Lessons and the Imperative of School Choice, which calls for breaking the public school monopoly.

Stern got his children into P.S. 87, highly regarded for its "child-centered" approach, writes William Tucker in his New York Sun review of Stern's book.

At one point Mr. Stern encountered what he thought was a homeless derelict wandering the schoolyard. The man turned out to be a tenured teacher permanently shunted to playground duty...yet union rules made it impossible to get rid of him.

What troubled Mr. Stern even more was the “progressive” curriculum that offered the children no coherent body of knowledge but professed to make them “lifelong learners” who had “learned how to learn.” Well, they were taught a few things. African-American heroes were drilled into their heads along with feminism, gay rights, environmentalism, world peace, and the whole liberal panoply. When Mr. Stern asked his son, a third grader, what he knew about George Washington, the boy responded innocently, “Do you mean George Washington Carver?”

Middle school was no better. The French teacher fell asleep in class and eventually left on medical leave. He was followed by a string of replacements, all of whom couldn’t speak French or, alternately, English. When, after two years, the school finally landed a delightful young woman who made up a whole year’s work in three months, she was quickly bumped by a returning teacher with greater seniority — the original narcoleptic.

So it continued for eight years through Stuyvesant High School, supposedly the most elite school in the country. “Advanced” math classes were taught by teachers who barely knew the material...Everywhere Mr. Stern found “an institution running on bureaucratic rules and the rhythms of the union contract.”

Stern, the child of immigrant parents, was educated himself in New York City's public schools. These days, he writes, children from disadvantaged families can find opportunity in Catholic schools, but rarely in the bureaucracy-choked public system.


Robyn Bailey Orchard writes:

A child attending the most nurturing of schools who returns home to an environment of apathy is not likely to achieve success; many people become what they live. I suggest one way to break the cycle of poor communities and poor schools is to create public boarding schools.  Students who complete work and demonstrate self-discipline (including regular attendance) attend the local school; those who do not attend a boarding school that will create the environment those students need.

Local schools would be improve  by removing those who are obstacles to other's learning by their behavior.

Another idea: Get the NEA and AFT to create their own review boards in the mold of the Bar Association and the AMA.  Teachers should not protect incompetent or lazy colleagues (those unable or unwilling to fulfill the responsibilities of teaching) with silence.

Finally: In order to have testing have any real merit, let every student report show the test score, the student's ability index, course grades, and attendance percentage. These scores together will provide a clearer picture of the individual and his or her school.  Surely a school cannot be blamed for the below-average scores of students who do not attend regularly, whose grades show poor performance and completion, and/or who are below average ability. I do agree that graduation should be contingent on passing the test: otherwise, where is the student's accountability?

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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