Katie Sierra wanted to organize the anarchy at her West Virginia high school. The sophomore transfer student hoped to start an anarchy club to discuss peaceful change, perform community service and dispel the myth that anarchy means chaos.

Principal Forrest Mann said "no" without reading her pacifistic "manifesto" and club constitution. He suspended her for three days for letting a classmate see her club flyer and wearing T-shirts with anti-war and anti-patriotic messages she'd written. As a good American, Sierra sued. Court TV reports:

"I pledge the grievance to the flag 

Of the United State of America 

And to the Republicans whom I can't stand

One nation under smog, indespicable 

With liberty and justice for some, not all."

When 15-year-old Katie Sierra wore T-shirts bearing this version of the American pledge as well as other sayings that showed her opposition to the war in Afghanistan, teachers and students at her West Virginia high school were outraged.

A jury ruled Mann was justified in banning the slogan shirts because they were disruptive, but not in rejecting the anarchy club. Sierra transferred to another high school to escape the furor but plans to return to Sissonville High for her senior year. Mann retired.

I've got to admire the anarcho-pacifist kid, even if she does sound like an indespicable nuisance.

Waving the Flag 

In "Confessions of a Flag Waver" on Education Gadfly, Diane Ravitch argues that sometimes it's appropriate to demonstrate and teach allegiance to our core values.

Ravitch was a flag-waver as a small child during World War II. Uncle Herman was fighting in the South Pacific; her parents' relatives were being murdered by Nazis in Bessarabia and Poland. On Sept. 11, her Brooklyn neighborhood was covered in ash; a neighbor who worked for Morgan Stanley died.

Overnight the flags began to appear in my neighborhood. This is a neighborhood that typically votes 90% Democratic. People who never owned a flag suddenly had one hanging over their front door, attached to their car antenna, pinned to their chest.

Most of the flags remained in place all year. They all came back again as the one-year anniversary of the attacks approached.

Why are people wearing and displaying and "waving" the flag? They are saying, in the shortest short-hand that they know, that we treasure our nation's ideals. We are part of a national community that has struggled to achieve its rights and freedoms, and we are determined to support and defend that national community and those rights and freedoms.

Part of the ongoing struggle involves teaching our children what those rights and freedoms are, how precious they are, how easily they have been lost in the past, and how important it is to understand and defend them.

I think "part of a national community" is especially important.

Ken Goes to War

On Sgt. Stryker's blog, CPO Sparkey tells a few stories about the kiddies. Daughter Number Two is nine years old; her brother is seven.

Darling Daughter 2: “Daddy, Shelia and I are going to her house and get her Ken dolls.”

Clueless Dad: “Why do you need her Ken dolls?”

Darling Daughter 2 (irritation in her voice): “Because, Daddy, we need the Ken dolls to fight the terrorists.”

Clueless Dad (choking back a laugh): “Well, why don’t you get GI Joe for that?”

Kid down the street known as Shelia (rolling her eyes): “Because, my brother has them on Afghanistan covert ops in our back yard.”

Clueless Dad: “Oh, right, of course...”

He also has a scene set in a second grade classroom in a north Texas elementary school.

Teacher of Minds Smarter than Hers: “Now class, how do we stop this fighting from repeating?”

That’s My Boy: “I know, I know, I know...”

Teacher of Minds Smarter than Hers: “Yes?”

That’s My Boy: “Kill all the bad guys!”

Not Worth 1,000 Words

High school students can design a book jacket, a collage or a map in English class, instead of writing an essay. High school teachers are urged to use children's picture books and read aloud to their students. If students do write, they keep journals about their own feelings.

All (okay, some) of my pet peeves are the topic of a USA Today column, "Crayola curriculum" by a college English teacher whose students can't write. She says many didn't get enough practice writing in high school, even if they got good grades in honors classes.

Talk to teachers, review messages posted on e-mail groups and browse professional journals, and you'll find high school assignments that are long on fun and remarkably short on actual writing. 

For example, someone who teaches an honors class for high school freshmen posts a short-story project that allows students 13 options, only a handful of which involve actual writing. Among the choices students are offered: create a map to illustrate the story's setting, make a game to show the story's theme, put together a collage from magazine photographs, or assemble a scrapbook or photograph album for the character.

Teaching Arthurian literature? Have your students design a coat of arms. Need an alternative to a book report? Have students draw the design for a book jacket.

My daughter did this sort of thing in middle school, but it tapered off in high school. Except for the posters. I think she was doing posters up through 11th grade.

It's not just that it's easier for the teacher to grade artwork than to read a stack of essays. Teachers also are trying to teach to "multiple intelligences." But there comes a point when students have to communicate with words. It takes practice to do it well.

My daughter’s friend just left a message on her answering machine: “I’m a senior at Berkeley, and I just spent the evening making paper dolls for a model of the siege of Sebastapol,” she said.


Mary Beth Voelker responds to the item on Jim Patch, newly elected to the Des Moines school board, who thinks reading shouldn’t be a high school graduation requirement because students who can’t read well are dyslexic and can’t be held to normal standards.

Dyslexics can, with proper instruction by a strict phonics method and somewhat more effort than a "normal" person, learn to read fluently. I speak from personal experience as I am a dyslexic who learned to read via phonics and who, as a homeschooler, taught my dyslexic older son to read via phonics. In fact, I read so well as a child that my dyslexia was not discovered until I was a junior in high school!

Yes, I have to laboriously sound out unfamiliar words. Yes, I spell poorly and could not type a clean page without a word processor. But I can read anything I choose to and so can my 11-year-old son. He's on his 5th or 6th time through The Lord of The Rings right now. 

Despite my disability I am not merely literate, I am a writer. Proper instruction, patience, and the will to learn is what's needed, not some ludicrous redefinition of what education means. 

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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