Why Does American Public Education Stink? The Answer: Incompetence, Stupidity, and Fear. The Proof: THIS…

Ah, that look that only a dedicated New York public school teacher can spark!!!

Over at Popehat, Ken has been on another roll, and his latest effort, as depressing and enraging as it is, is a real contribution to our understanding of the kind of entrenched foolishness, cowardice and incompetence in our nation’s public school administration that is gradually rendering the schools useless and our children uneducated.

Spurred by a New York Post story that seemed too horrible to be true, Ken set out to research the claim that the New York School system has compiled a long list of topics that are banned on student tests for a variety of reasons, prime among them that someone, somewhere, will be offended by them.  After some digging on the New York City Department of Education’s websites, what he found  was worse than how the Post had described it.

In an Appendix, he discovered a list of  test question topics “that would probably cause a selection to be deemed unacceptable by the New York City Department of Education… In general, a topic might be unacceptable for any of the following reasons:

  •   The topic could evoke unpleasant emotions in the students that might hamper their ability to take the remainder of the test in the optimal frame of mind.
  •     The topic is controversial among the adult population and might not be acceptable in a state-mandated testing situation.
  •     The topic has been ―done to death in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students.
  •     The topic will appear biased against (or toward) some group of people.

Using those criteria, and undoubtedly using astounding numbers of hours and taxpayer dollars, the Department came up with the following jaw-dropping list of banned test subjects. I’ll flag with red the taboos that are especially outrageous or idiotic, though perhaps I should note the two or three that might be appropriate.

Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs
Bodily functions
Cancer (and other diseases)
Children dealing with serious issues
Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or public library setting)
Creatures from outer space
Dancing (except ballet )
Death and disease
Dinosaurs and prehistoric times
Geological history
Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes
Homes with swimming pools
In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge
Junk food
Loss of employment
Nuclear weapons
Rap music
Religious holidays
Rock-and-Roll music
Running away
Vermin (rats and roaches)
War and bloodshed
Weapons (guns, knives, etc.)
Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

Just imagine the important and essential  subjects that are virtually unteachable with these limitations. The Civil War. The Revolutionary War. The Civil Rights Movement. Science. The Black Plague. Pompeii. The importance of presidential elections. How Congress works. Pop culture. American culture. The Great Depression. Hiroshima. Prohibition. Sir Walter Raleigh. Jackie Robinson. And on. And on.

But wait! There’s more!

Ken also discovered that the Department wasn’t satisfied with just topic taboos…it has banned whole ideas and concepts too, including:

  • Anthropomorphism (attribution of human characteristics to inanimate objects, animals, or natural phenomena, except in the telling of fables)
  • Bias towards or against any particular form or system of government
  • Dangerous activities for children (alone at home, swimming without adult supervision, etc.)
  • Demeaning to any group
  • Disrespectful to authority or authority figures
  • Highly controversial
  • Middle-class amenities that may be unfamiliar to some children
  • Regionalism
  • Smug, moralistic, preachy
  • Stereotyping of any group
  • Stridently feminist or chauvinistic
  • Trade names

Well, there goes the Sixties! Also Roe v. Wade, “Oliver Twist,” patriotism, American values, democracy, and, of course, ethics.

In order to avoid fights, controversy, fanatic parents, political correctness, over-sensitive kids and occasional missteps, this school system has condemned education to being incomplete, misleading, without depth or context, confusing, useless, value-free, and boring.

Can that possibly be defended as responsible, or defended at all?

It cannot.

10 thoughts on “Why Does American Public Education Stink? The Answer: Incompetence, Stupidity, and Fear. The Proof: THIS…

  1. What’s left? God forbid they ever leave their empty house. Whoops…. they can’t learn about that either!

  2. I don’t think the point is that they can’t teach about these subjects, just that they shouldn’t include them on standardized reading and math tests where they are unrelated to the subject matter. For example, if the point is to evaluate a student’s ability to comprehend the meaning of a passage, it doesn’t really matter what it is about so long as it is possible to find the key points of the passage, make some inferences, etc. If the question might make some people uncomfortable and others not, then the people who are more comfortable might have an advantage over others. I agree that the list is kind of silly in its breadth and what they think might make a student uncomfortable.

    Obviously, excluding dinosaurs, geological history, diseases, catastrophes/disasters, poverty, etc. from tests of science and social studies where these topics are relevant is ridiculous. I hope this is not what the educators intend.

    • Unfortunately, the problem is they “teach to the test” and those other things will get left out.

      btw: Google “teach to ” and see the order (popularity) of the results.

      • When it comes to reading comprehension, you don’t need to teach about what the students are going to read about, you just need to teach
        them about how interpret and understand passages of text. Teaching them about what they will be reading about might actually defeat the purpose.

        When it comes to teaching math, teaching about some common practical problems that involve the mathematical concepts is important. For example, when teaching about exponential decay, teaching about radiocarbon dating (and Earth’s geological history) is useful. It would be a shame if teachers “taught to the test” and omitted examples like this.

  3. What was intended and what happens are not usually the same. Although this list may have been created with the intention of “don’t ask questions about this stuff unless it is relevant to the course material”, that provision won’t last long. If you look at the long list of insane/idiotic actions by principals on this blog, how long do you think it would take before a principal looks at the list and decides that the biology test is inappropriate because it contains questions that:
    (1) are about evolution
    (2) are controversial
    (3) contain anthropomorphism
    (4) disrespectful to authority (as much of science is)
    (5) bodily functions
    (6) disease
    (7) sex
    (8) junk food
    (9) dinosaurs and prehistoric time
    (10) vermin
    (11) alcohol

    I imagine it would go something like this…
    Principal: “Well Mrs. Perrin, I got a complaint about your biology test recently and looked it over. The questions on this test contain over 10 topics that you are supposed to stay away from”.

    Mrs. Perrin: “Ha Ha, you got me there, it was just April 1st, wasn’t it?”

    Principal:” Mrs. Perrin!, this is serious. Your test is almost exclusively over subjects the Board of Education views as unacceptable.”

    Mrs. Perrin: “But..but… that is the biology curriculum! If you look at the book, those are the topics!”

    Principal:”I can see the need to have a few controversial topics in your class, but it seems like you have built your class exclusively out of unacceptable topics! Can’t you focus on plants? Plants shouldn’t upset people.”

    Mrs. Perrin:”Perhaps you never heard of Linneaus. You haven’t really looked at the reproductive organs of flowers, have you?”

    Principal:”That’s enough! I want you to stay away from all these controversial topics if at all possible. I don’t want any more complaints from the parents. If you can’t find an acceptable textbook, just use handouts over the acceptable material. That is all. You can go now, Mrs. Perrin.”

    Now you understand why the states started demanding that the textbook manufacturers produce books that meet their state’s standards (instead of just picking a standard book that met their needs). With that strategy failed, many school districts have abandoned textbooks and are teaching their own customized curriculum (which no books meets and which no publisher will put their name to).

  4. I applaud the inclusion of ballet as an acceptable subject. It has long been clear that their is a critical gap between America teens and their European peers in their understanding of ballet history (a recent survey showed that nearly 85% of Iowa students were unable to name the composer of “Giselle,” or acurately discuss the post-Diaghilev era of the Ballets Russes) and reportedly many school districts have severely reduced, if not totally eliminated, the amount of class time devoted to Balanchine’s career prior to City Ballet. It’s no wonder that Americans are no longer competitive in the global marketplace as dancers, critics, dance histrorians, and borderline-obsessive fans. Bravo, New York City Public Schools. Take a bow.

      • That was odd, but I thought the prohibition against mentioning Kleenex™, Coke™, or Tylenol™ was fairly strange too. Pass me a facial tissue…

        I guess talking about wine is OK, but not beer or whiskey. Snobs!

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