Stupidity is the theme of the week. Here’s a national round-up.

Illiterate in Iowa 

Des Moines public schools should give diplomas to students who can't read, argued Jim Patch, a candidate for school board. A shop teacher for 40 years, Patch was endorsed by the teachers' union.

"How can we take a bright kid that is having trouble reading and tell them, "You can't graduate?" Patch asked. "If they are doing well in other subjects, are we going to tell them they can't get a high school diploma?" 


If diplomas are withheld, "we could have a lot of future architects and doctors out there that aren't going to graduate," Patch said in an interview.

Um, isn't that a good thing? Who wants an illiterate doctor?

In a radio interview, Patch said that CEOs of major corporations don't need to read well because they can dictate letters. Illiterate police officers could use a Dictaphone too, Patch said. Later, he decided that maybe cops should be able to read.

Patch believes that students who can't read well are dyslexic, and therefore can't be held to normal standards. Actually, most poor readers aren't "word blind." They just haven't been taught properly. True dyslexics also can learn -- if they're not just passed along. Patch would like to pass them on with a worthless piece of paper, a Des Moines high school diploma. Then they'll discover they don't have the skills they need to function in society. Not even as a CEO of a major corporation.

Eight percent of registered voters turned out for the Des Moines school board election Tuesday. Patch was elected.

Remedial Reading

To serve the subliterate, 78 percent of colleges offer remedial classes. At California State University, which allegedly serves the top third of students in the state, only 54 percent of entering freshmen are proficient in both English and math, reports the Christian Science Monitor:

It's a long way from the goal of 90 percent proficiency in math and English by 2007. And it's not satisfying to Ralph Pesqueira, a San Diego businessman and a member of CSU's board who spearheaded the policy after hearing complaints from faculty during campus visits. 

"These professors kept saying to me, 'What can we do about these students who just can't read and write -- they come here, sit in class, and don't have the foggiest idea,' " he recalls.

CSU now limits students to one year of remediation. After that, they’re “disenrolled.”

Teacher Harassed for Teaching 

Remember the North Carolina teacher who was forced to apologize for teaching fourth graders that "niggardly" is a synonym for "stingy?" Now the school board has sicced the superintendent on the poor teacher. The board's attorney says the board is "very concerned about the situation" and wants a "quick and immediate resolution." The teacher was reprimanded and forced to apologize. How could it be more resolved except by firing a woman for trying to do her job?

The complainers -- a mother, the minister who heads the local NAACP and a few others -- are unhappy because the school board discussed the matter in closed session. They know the board members are sitting in private laughing at the idiotic notion that teaching a word that sounds like a racial slur is the same as teaching a racial slur. But they want the board to pretend to take the complaint seriously, even at the cost of hounding a dedicated teacher out of the classroom.

Who's Buried in Grant's Tomb? 

American students don't know much about history, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. But what about adults? You can test yourself on fourth, eighth or 12th grade history questions here. I think the 12th grade questions are absurdly easy, but some of the fourth grade questions are challenging -- for fourth graders. And, yes, I got 100 percent.

A Day That Will Live in Apology 

JunkYard Blog imagines a news story on Dec. 7, 1942 in an alternate universe.

America commemorated the tragedy of Pearl Harbor today, one year after the terrible day that changed the nation forever. In San Francisco, closest U.S.-held territory to the site of the incident that the National Education Association has said should not be blamed on any group or nation, sailors rowed by a mockup of the sunken wreck of the USS Arizona in lifeboats, dropping wreaths and handwritten poems dedicated to their fallen comrades. It was a moving, tearful scene...

In Washington, Congress observed a moment of silence. Then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt...pledged to seek out the root causes of Japan’s apparent hostility toward the U.S., vowing to “make things right,” adding that he would probably review our relationship with China’s beleaguered military with an eye toward ending it... 

...CBS radio, meanwhile, played somber music most of the day, mixing it with tearful testimonials from those who lost loved ones, pausing only for a moment of silence. This was followed by a brief newscast detailing events in Europe, which look grim for the increasingly bellicose English and their shrill, portly leader, Winston Churchill. 

The Colonel, a new blogger who teaches at a Virginia college, gave JunkYard's fake story to a colleague, who showed it to freshmen in his next class. "All of them thought it was actually a clip from the 1942 paper," the Colonel reports.

Lightening the Academic Load 

Will California buy schoolbooks by the pound? Peter Schrag of the Sacramento Bee mocks a newly passed bill to set a weight limit on textbooks.

It was an adult act of stupidity -- really two acts -- that got us into this fix in the first place.

The most obvious, of course, was the contagion of locker-removal, apparently in the belief that it would increase school safety, save money and reduce drug use: Get rid of the lockers, and the kids wouldn't have them to hide the stuff anymore. They'd have to carry it around in their backpacks along with all those books. 

The other act of stupidity is the collective professional decision that in order to get the kids to look at the textbooks at all, they had to stop being texts and become picture books -- great fat things printed on heavy glossy paper with hundreds of color photographs and other illustrations that threaten to choke out the last remaining words entirely. Each book costs $70 and up. 

Japan's excellent math books are slender and inexpensive, Schrag points out.


Ken and Kim Matteson: 

For Gerald Newberry to state that those of us opposed to the NEA's proposed lesson plan are afraid of diversity, and that it is a thin disguise for intolerance, is idiocy at its best.As Col. Potter from MASH would say: "HORSE HOCKEY!"

My family understands that people are different, and that no two are exactly alike.  I also know that I desire my children to know the truth, even as it relates to history. For a teacher not to lay out the facts of what happened on Sept. 11, including the fact as to who was responsible, would be a dereliction of duty. If one is going to take this approach then why bother instructing kids on the horrors committed against the Jews by Hitler? Should we now begin to teach that the Jews had it coming to them, and that we need to tolerate people like Hitler?

As Mr. Newberry so adequately proved, today's message of tolerance does not apply to himself or the NEA, as obviously they cannot tolerate opposing views to their ideology.

Larry Conley: 

Thanks for giving voice to the feelings of so many Americans who are deeply offended by those who imply that patriotism is synonymous with "hate" or "bigotry" or "intolerance." I love my country and I see no reason to believe that overt patriotism -- the outward display of love for one's nation, automatically excludes fair thinking or encourages "intolerance" (whatever the hell that means). My family will be flying Old Glory proudly on the front porch in defiance of those intolerant, hate-filled, bigoted bastards who brutally murdered thousands of innocent people on Sept. 11, 2001.

Craig Bradley of Austin, Texas:

What do I want my children to learn about Sept. 11? Not how "they" feel. Not relating their feelings to colors. I want them to forget about themselves and be reminded of our visit to Bunker Hill, Appomattox, Valley Forge and Gettysburg. To remember the words of Lincoln that as a nation and a people we cannot hallow, consecrate, nor dedicate any portion of Ground Zero. That it is simply our lot to remember, and with unwavering resolve seek justice for them.

I want them to understand the price of freedom is not free. That freedom is not an inalienable right in most of the world. That our system of government, our system of justice, our economic system all work. It works because of our belief in the sanctity of life, our liberty to choose from our desires, and ultimately, that we are accountable for how we choose to pursue life, liberty and happiness. We are accountable to our fellow citizens, literally, our liberty in law. We are accountable to our families, and while it shouldn't be taught in school, we are accountable to our God. As they discover these truths, they will cherish this great nation, and be worthy of their sacred American heritage.

Michael Demers: 

The modern concept of tolerance is that all views have equal merit, and none should be considered better than another. This is so bogus: Based on the modern “liberal" definition, we need to forgive Hitler and let Charley Manson out of jail. If all views have equal merit then why do we try to stop pedophiles and rapists? Is not this an elitist, intolerant, bigoted mindset?

Roger Dominguez, Miami, Fla.:

We would better serve our children by clearly explaining the pitfalls of religious intolerance.  In my view Sept. 11 is all about intolerance and fundamentalism on the part of many of the followers of Islam.  There lies the real danger: blind intolerance and disregard for human life in the name of God.

John Januszewski, Fla.:

Teaching "feelings" is a parental responsibility. Mom and Dad should talk to their kids about Sept. 11. They should comfort them and let them look at it in the context of their home. But it appears that some folks don't have the time or maybe they don't get it. Anyway, they leave it to the teachers to handle instead of teaching the three Rs. No wonder we have kids who can feel but cannot communicate or compute.

Steve Hayes, Utah:

It seems to me that a great many people in our society today have heads full of mush, and we have lost all perspective. And nobody seems to be responsible for it. But, whatever we do, we must not criticize or make judgments about the value of anything or anybody. And so, we get ridiculous responses from people like Mr. Newberry at the NEA who spout some knee jerk drivel about bigotry as if someone pulled a string at the back of his neck and he says whatever is next on the recording.

What are we to think of  Sept. 11? We are to understand that there are people in this world who do not see the universe the same way we do and who want to kill us. We seem to be in a quandary about being misunderstood, and we just can't imagine why. So we come up with all these idiotic ideas about how to deal with our feelings and have our children talk about colors. We have lost the ability to think or to think clearly. We live in a world of unreality brought to us on our TV screens every night. Even the news has an unreality about it. Bombs do not blow up here. If we're just a bit more understanding and caring, everyone will see what truly fine people we are, and they will cease to hate us.

We can spend some time trying to understand our enemies after they're defeated. Right now we have to survive.

Brian Miller: 

As a former soldier who lived in the Middle East (now retired) and someone whose friend lost her husband in the Pentagon attack, I most sincerely thank you from the bottom of my heart for your words, and those others you have gathered, to put forth in the face of the public the truth.

The United States didn't "bring it on themselves" as so many of these foolish academics will cry. I'd love to see them try and teach things like this in Pakistan or Oman. They'd be dead in the street by the end of the first day.

Kathy Yager, California:

You have no idea how alone I've felt over the last 13 years as my children were going through public school. Not only did I not relate to so many of the teachers, I didn't relate to tons of parents who thought what their children were being taught was more than adequate.

My one daughter and I had screaming matches each night as we would try to work through her homework. She always wanted the answers, like the teachers gave her. I would always make her think through the process of coming up with her answer. All those long hard nights, and my prescription medication for high blood pressure, paid off the other night when my daughter told me that she was so happy and grateful for all I had done. She now realized how right I was. I was so touched.

I just told her to remember when she had children to either get them OUT of the public arena or be prepared to spend many a long night teaching. Can this system be saved?

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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