Just because trends are unfolding together it doesn’t mean they have common cause. It doesn’t even mean they’re related. But they might be. Three items pertinent to America’s schools are orbiting in and out of the headlines and maybe we should consider whether they might have a dangerous common denominator.
Let’s start with a story appearing in the Dec. 17 issue of the Washington Post. We all remember the 7-year-old second grader suspended from school for chewing his pop-tart into the shape of a gun. He was suspended from school for “the offense,” served that suspension and is now in the third grade.
His parents requested the Park Elementary School of Arundel County, Maryland, grant a hearing to consider whether the school record should be amended. The boy’s parents want to prevent him from being stigmatized by some administratively approved label suggesting he might somehow be guilty of threatening school violence. Hearing on the parents’ request is scheduled for Feb. 7.
The next story relates to the Dec. 2 release of the 2012 results of the Program for International Student Assessment. This report, published every three years, analyzes the relative scholastic capabilities of students across the world. The 2012 report covers test results for about 510,000 15-year-olds from 65 countries. The subjects considered are math, science and reading.
According to this most recent report, US student performance is flat. Compared to their international peers, American students are clinging to a tenuous hold on an “average” rating. The star pupils are found in China, Singapore, Japan and Korea who score near the top in all categories with the Netherlands and Switzerland not far behind.
In the 2009 report, 23 countries outscored American students in math. According to the 2012 report, that number jumps to 29. Among the nations “leapfrogging” over our students were Latvia, Australia and Vietnam.
In reading, nine countries surpassed the United States in 2012. In 2013, 19 were ahead of us — including Poland, Germany, Estonia and Ireland. This anemic performance by American students vis-a-vis their international counterparts is even more disappointing because the United States is near the top in terms of per student expenditures.
The third story deals with the cynical attempt to sever all connections between American schoolchildren and traditional schoolhouse celebrations of Christmas.
The Wausau School District of central Wisconsin boasts an award-winning high school choir. In October, the choir director was ordered to delete most of the carols from the performance list and replace them with secular substitutes. The mandated ratio required five secular songs for each carol on the list. The director refused threatening to disband the choir. Overwhelming public support for the director forced the school board to back down. The choir was permitted to re-establish the original playlist — including Christmas carols.
As I write this column, the school board has scheduled another meeting to discuss potential litigation liabilities that might crash down on them if they allow the singing of carols to proceed as planned.
Likewise, fearing the threat of litigation, Superintendent Constance Bauer banned all religious music from the McFarland Intermediate School of Bordertown Township New Jersey. Again, community outrage was so overwhelming that Dr. Bauer rescinded the ban. As this column is being written, the McFarland Intermediate School Christmas program will proceed — Christmas carols at all.
So what is the common denominator here? All three of these trends have the net effect of leaving our schoolchildren with an education less valuable, less secure and less fun than the one experienced by their parents.
What we may be witnessing is the transformation of the American citizen into a timid, mouselike creature afraid to explore or play for fear of drawing the wrath of authorities who have power to label you for life. We may be seeing the creation of a citizenry whose education puts them at a disadvantage in a global economy at the very moment when America must be at its best. We might be standing idly by as holiday traditions so instrumental in binding together our families, our communities and indeed, all nations are being bullied out of existence.
There was a time, when schoolchildren were encouraged to fight back against bullies. They were encouraged to get involved when the underdog was being overwhelmed by violence. There was a time when American students took pride in being the best in the world. And there was a time when Christmas celebrations were occasions for joyous outpourings of goodwill to everyone in the community. It will be a tragedy we leave our children and grandchildren a sad copy of the secure, competent joyous nation we treasured. I’m Hink and I’ll see ya.
MIKE HINKLE is a retired attorney and Edmond resident.