The Irascible Professor SM
Irreverent Commentary on the State of Education in America Today

by Dr. Mark H. Shapiro

"...To see what is in front of one's nose needs a constant struggle."....  ....George Orwell.

Commentary of the Day - August 22, 2007: The Fourteenth Annual Emperor Awards.  Guest Commentary by Poor Elijah.

As we gear up for September, our Emperor Awards celebrate the outstanding education achievements of the preceding twelve months.  They commemorate both the monarch who posed proudly in his underwear, and his admirers, by honoring their kindred spirits in the education world.

Our first presentation, the Archimedes Eureka Honorarium, spotlights the lively field of education research.  Last year's Eureka hailed the startling revelation that students who can comprehend "complex" high school reading are more likely to be "ready for college reading."  Eureka 2007 recognizes a British team's groundbreaking investigation into adolescent decision-making and "why teenagers act the way they do."  These intrepid scientists determined not only that children's brains "develop" as they grow up, but also, in a finding certain to shock both parents and teachers, that puberty involves "a whole new wave of development."

Consistent with education experts relentless pursuit of the obvious, the Emperors Academy also presents its companion Sisyphus Prize for Perpetual Research.  This year's finalists include the authors of a daring study which found that kids who choose to wear hats and shirts advertising alcohol are "more likely to begin drinking" than kids who don't choose to wear hats and shirts advertising alcohol.  Based on this landmark revelation that advertising influences consumers, Anheuser Busch is reportedly considering airing commercials during the Super Bowl.

This impressive contribution notwithstanding, the 2007 Sisyphus salutes researchers who determined that preschool kids whose parents drink and smoke are more likely to choose alcohol and cigarette accessories for their Barbie dolls than preschoolers whose parents don't drink and smoke.  Honorable mention goes to the "mostly college educated" parents participating in the study for being "surprised" that four-year-olds "mimic" their parents' behavior.

In a special class action award, the Narcissus History Cup fêtes astute respondents to a recent Gallup Poll.  Fresh from their appearance as Time magazine's Person of the Year, contemporary Americans were asked to flex their history muscles and name "the greatest President ever."  Democrats reached way back into our national past and came up with Bill Clinton.  Republicans ventured a decade further and named Ronald Reagan.  Abraham Lincoln was the only President in the top five who appears on Mount Rushmore and occupied the White House before the Great Depression.

Mount where?  Great what?  George who?

The Academy wishes to acknowledge education activists tireless efforts to inject political ideology into academic curricula.  In Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers, for example, chapters like "Sweatshop Accounting" enable students to "discuss integers and inequality in the same lesson" by "combining standard math subjects like ratios and geometry with pressing social issues" like "sexism" and "class discrimination."

That kudo aside, the inaugural James G. Watt Diversity Citation applauds publisher McGraw-Hill's policy governing photographs in its social studies textbooks.  In an effort to unshackle students from the constraints of actual history and geography, ethnicity quotas require that forty percent of the people pictured must be white, thirty percent Hispanic, and twenty percent African-American.  Seniors and the disabled are each allotted five percent, although consistent with the editorial board's penchant for reality, "most of the disabled students pictured are able-bodied kids sitting in wheelchairs."

The Paris Hilton Activism Navel Ring celebrates undergraduates who "learned about the homeless experience the hard way."  The "hard way" consisted of camping out on the college green for a night in an exercise similar to what was once known as camping out in the backyard for a night.  Cardboard boxes were situated on and under tarps "to ward off raindrops," and in a sacrificial effort to replicate the "plight" of the homeless, students were permitted only sleeping bags and their pillows and forced to survive until dawn without "cell phones or other electronics."

In the realm of school security, one Wisconsin lawmaker, citing Thailand's example, proposed legislation that would arm teachers and other school personnel with handguns.  The safety spotlight, however, belongs to the Texas district that's training its students to fight back "if a gunman invades their classroom."  The new protocol for dealing with armed intruders calls on the children "to react immediately," "rush him," and throw books and pencils.  In addition to chucking school supplies, students are directed to "make as much noise as possible" and "take him down."  This pioneering, throw-Bics-from-the-hip strategy earns its sponsors the Sylvester Stallone C4 Headband.

While some experts prepare kids to combat pistol-wielding assailants, others are concerned that too many students lack the stamina to get up out of their chairs.  As a remedy they prescribe removing chairs from classrooms altogether, with students alternately standing, lying on mats, and balancing on exercise balls.  One Mayo Clinic specialist's "dream class" features kids learning to spell as they are "shooting hoops."

Outshining even that brilliant suggestion is the nationwide "Walk to School" campaign, in which twenty-first century students take a day to re-enact what twentieth century students used to do every day.  Promising to boost academic achievement by enhancing physical fitness, promoters typically find time for walk-to-school activities by canceling academic classes, since naturally no one can be expected to walk to school before school on their own time.  Instead, educators devise creative alternatives, like taking a short walk to nowhere on the street in front of the school.  To these guardians of the student body, the Academy presents its Distinguished Priorities Cross.

In the technology arena, innovators have finally solved the thorny problem teachers face when they have to pick a student to answer a question.  Yes, you could just move from row to row.  You could tailor the questions you ask to each student's ability.  You could keep track in your head of which kids you've already called on.  You could even put their names in a hat.  But now, thanks to a former teacher and current "anthropologist specializing in issues of gender and ethnicity in math education," we have software for a handheld computer that randomly picks kids names so teachers don't have to.  This vital advance merits the prestigious Order of the Tempest in a Teacup, with Silicon Clusters.

Our final presentation, the coveted George Orwell Creative Use of Language Award, always prompts fierce competition.  An Arizona junior high principal scheduled slang training for her faculty so they could communicate using words and phrases like "dawg," "pimp," and "Don't clown me, playa, or I'll bust you in the grill."  A restructured Philadelphia junior high broke new ground by arranging students in cutting-edge groups called "cohorts" that spend the school day together, a format that's vaguely reminiscent of what educators used to call a "class."  Meanwhile, across the Pacific education officials authorized the use of "text speak" on New Zealand's national exams, as in "hi skul students wiL b abl 2 uz d mob fone txt msg lngwij."  This year's Orwell honors their bold stroke in the cause of literacy.  They richly deserve it.

Remember, though, that everyone probably deserves an Emperor for something.

Even you and me.

© 2007 Peter Berger
Peter Berger teaches English in Weathersfield, Vermont. Poor Elijah would be pleased to answer letters addressed to him in care of the editor.

The IP comments: Once again we find that Poor Elijah has no shortage of material for his annual Emperor Awards!


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© 2007 Dr. Mark H. Shapiro - All rights reserved.
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