A FAILING GRADE (PART ONE)

“Albie, come here, please.”

Shuffling towards the matching chair across from his mother’s, the blonde, eleven-year-old’s blue eyes darted around the living room before settling onto the coffee table that would divide parent from child. He stood slouched, sullen, motionless.

“Sit down, Honey. We need to talk.”

“We need to talk!” the boy repeated silently . . . that statement universally a warning. Something bad is afoot. Cautiously, he replied, “Yeah?”

“I received your report-card today.”

“So? Like I made the honor-roll again, didn’t I?”

“Yes.”

“So? Like what’s the ‘beef’?”

“The ‘beef’, as you say, relates to my inability to understand what this so-called honor-roll signifies.”

“So, why ask me? Ask Brown. Like he’s the principal.”

“It’s Mr. Brown to you, and I did ask. All I received was a bunch of gobbledegook about self-esteem and each pupil’s finding his own way.”

Albie smirked. “Don’t you mean ‘his or her’ own way? Like everybody’s not a boy, you know.”

“The dual meaning is implied by the masculine alone. Using only the masculine is a more parsimonious and efficient manner of communication.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Never mind for now. The issue I’m addressing is this so-called honor-roll. What percentage of your classmates achieved such a questionable distinction?”

“Like who cares?”

“I care. Mr. Brown told me that it’s ‘substantial’. He refused to give me an exact number, however.”

“So?”

“It has no real value.”

“So, I know that. It’s not supposed to.”

“What’s its purpose?”

“To make us feel good about ourselves.”

“Does it?”

“Not really. I think its like kinda dumb.”

“I do, too. Feeling good is one thing. Doing well is quite another. Feeling good about doing well has real value. In life as in Heaven, we’re judged based upon our behavior and its consequences .  . . not upon how good we feel about ourselves (www.inescapableconsequences.com). As we age, we’re valued increasingly for our behavior and its consequences and decreasingly for ourselves. ‘Toes once kissed and counted now go unwanted.’”

His mother’s words drew a blank stare followed by a question. “Can I go now?”

“You can. You may not.”

Albie’s eyes rolled upwards. He let an audible sigh. “You oughta be teaching English again.”

“I’m satisfied with the traditional role of wife and mother. Besides, no school would hire me . . . well, maybe a few might. I’m too demanding that my pupils learn their native language adequately and use it properly. I grade based upon performance not psychobabble.”

“So, it’s not my fault nobody will hire you. Like I can’t change the system.”

“I know, Sweetheart. Because neither you nor I can change the governmental school . . . .”

Albie’s eyes rolled upwards again. “You mean ‘public’ school?”

“Yes. Anyways, because we can’t change the system, your father and I are considering transferring you to a private school next academic year.”

“What kind of private school?”

“An Orthodox Jewish one.”

Albie turned pale. His voice failed then exploded, “I won’t go!”

His mother nodded sympathetically. “I think I understand how you feel. Let me explain the reasons to go. Then, you decide. Okay?”

“Go ahead.”

His mother paused, looking at her son, asking herself three, basic questions from Psychology 101, “Who is this boy? What is he? Where is he?”

Who was Albie? A pre-adolescent boy. The last of three children born to Avery and Evelyn Eden, representing what sometimes is called an “afterthought”. His sister was ten years his senior; his brother, twelve.

Albie’s sister had become a lesbian. She was residing with her “partner”, a “trans-sexual”, and their five dogs. The two women operated a daycare-center for toddlers. Most of the parents were “single moms”. The women themselves were trying to adopt a baby from Haiti. Albie’s mother had rejected his sister’s lifestyle and his sister herself. Albie’s father was more accepting.

“It’s the times, Honey,” Avery had told his wife. “America is a declining culture, so is Western Europe. The decline is reflected in our cultural lifestyles. Accept them. We can’t change them.”

Albie’s brother had attended a nearby, “public” college then enrolled in a local “diploma-mill” training aspiring lawyers to pass the bar-exam. Afterwards, he joined a law-firm notorious for its aggressive tactics in the area of personal injuries. Every time that Evelyn saw his angry face on a billboard, she would remember that the law dating from 1908 prohibited advertising by lawyers . . . that is, until the U.S. Supreme Court had declared the law unconstitutional.(1) Lawyers’ instructing Americans to sue other Americans. The consequences? Fattening lawyers’ purses . . . setting Americans against one another. Then, she would cry, “My son is a promoter of that horrid system,” vowing, “Things will go better with Albie.”

What was Albie? A disaffected pupil attending governmental schools, he was becoming what his mother viewed as a pawn of a misguided government . . . a government, she believed, that issued educational mandates to transform children into unthinking, ignorant, human robots serving the system under the guise of hollow self-esteem and tolerance of the intolerable. She had convinced herself that Marxist-oriented renegades from the 1960’s had usurped control of the educational system from top to bottom, instilling their idiosyncratic brand of ideology into young minds, undermining America for generations to come.

Where was Albie? Biologically, pre-pubescent. Geographically, living at home with his two parents. Behaviorally, under the control more of his school, his peers, and his electronic devices and less of his parents.

At the moment, sitting across from her son, Evelyn Eden tried to speak gently but persuasively; a difficult balance. “Sweetheart, I love you. I want the best for you, so let me give you some facts about the American, educational system. You’re old enough to understand what I’m about to say.”

Albie looked unimpressed but remained silent. His mother continued.

“This nation spends more than five hundred billion dollars per year to educate young people such as you. That’s a million multiplied five hundred thousand times! No other country spends close to that amount. Per-pupil spending has more than doubled since 1970 . . . pupil-teacher-ratios have declined from 22:1 to 15:1. Yet, American youth such as you . . . especially as they mature . . . fare poorly against the youth of many other countries. In addition only 70% of pupils here graduate high school. After two-trillion dollars in federal funds, we have nothing to show for the expenditure.”(2)

“So, like what’s the good news?”

“The good news, Albie, is that 72% of fourth graders, 63% of eighth graders, and 60% of twelfth graders have a rudimentary grasp of science . . . unfortunately, not including behavioral science.”(3)

“So, that’s not so bad.”

“The bad news is that when the knowledge needs to be applied consistently, American pupils don’t fare so well. By the twelfth grade, only 20% can do it. Overall, in science and mathematics, American pupils rank 48th among 133 nations. Worse, on Advanced Placement exams, the percentage receiving the lowest grade is rising. It’s now 23% . . . ten years ago, it was 14%.”(4)

“So, like maybe we should be paying teachers better?”

“We already pay them rather well. The average teacher in so-called public school receives 36% per year more than the average, non-sales, ‘white collar’ worker . . . and 11% more than the average technical worker. Chemists earn 5% less than these teachers, and mechanical engineers 6% less. Teachers in public schools receive 61% more money than teachers in private schools and work 36 hours per week compared to 38. The City of Detroit offers the highest salaries in the nation . . . yet, its rate of dropouts is 75%.”

“Seventy-five percent?”

“Yes. The unionized system makes terminating incompetent teachers almost impossible. I read that the State of New Jersey, over a period of ten years, terminated fewer than 50 among 100,000 teachers. Do you still think that pay is the problem?”

“I guess not.”

“Another thing, Albie . . . proficiency in the governmental, educational system has lost all meaning . . . as is the case with your so-called honor-roll. Tests become progressively easier for pupils to pass. Standards become progressively lower.(5) Worse, pupils who are unruly or retarded are kept in classes with other, more well-behaved, and normal children.”

“Yeah, we’ve got some of them in our class. The teacher gives them most of her attention.”

“Even the parents of these unfortunate children recognize the foolhardy nature of these federally-mandated programs.(6) Does failure stop the politicians? No. “Head Start” is but one example.”(7)

“So, what does all that have to do with me?”

“A lot . . . a whole lot. I’ll be candid with you, Albie. Your sister and brother have been bitter disappointments to me . . . admittedly, not as much to your father. We blame ourselves. As do many parents, we shifted the rearing of our children to the governmental educational system while we both worked to afford more material goods. We were wrong. I should’ve been here at home with them as I am with you. Studies show that children reared in families with two parents when the parents attend to their children’s moral and intellectual upbringing do best. Understand?”

“Yeah.”

“That’s why I’m here with you now. I’m trying my hardest to battle the pernicious influences of some of your teachers, most of your peers, television, video-games, and the Internet. Judging from your current attitude, I’m afraid I’m losing the battle.”

Albie looked at the floor and shrugged. “So, like maybe you are.”

References
1. Bates and O’Steen v. State Bar of Arizona, 433 U.S. 350, 1977.
2. Coburn, TA: “Investing $2 Trillion in Education with No Result.” The Washington Times (National Edition), 25 October 2010, page 33.
3. Simmons, D: “U.S. Education Still Found Lax In Science, Math.” The Washington Times (National Edition), 31 January 2011, page 18.
4. Banchero, S: “More Students Fail Advanced Placement Tests.” The Wall Street Journal, 10 February 2011, page A3.
5. Finn, CE, Jr: “Dumbing Education Down.” The Wall Street Journal, 05 October 2007, page A16.
6.Tomsho, R: “Parents of Disabled Students Push for Separate Classes”.  The Wall Street Journal, 27 November 2007, page A1.
7. Charen, M: “Impervious to Evidence.” The Washington Times (National Edition), 14 March 2011, page 36.

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