Thursday, December 10, 2009

Refining Educational Terror One School District at a Time

About a month ago, I wrote a satiric entry called Why Torture Doesn't Work at Guantanamo but Works in Public Schools.

Today I received a comment to this entry that transcends and legitimizes the assertions of the original post (OP).
The Hillsborough County, Fla., public school district has introduced a ninth-grade "reading" course that actually is an SAT-prep course that grades high school freshmen on their ability to improve on SAT practice tests.

Not only does this strike me as highly unusual, but the grading scheme makes little sense.

Children must score higher on each practice to get an A. If they score high and repeat that but don't improve it, they get a B. No matter how high their score, if the score drops next time around, they get a C.

Thus, my straight-A daughter, who is taking challenging courses and has always scored highest in reading-related subjects, is flirting with a C grade that will affect her grade point average. I am curious as to whether other public school districts are doing something similar.


The theme of this should be familiar. It is the punishment the Greek Gods bestowed upon Tantalus whose name is the origin of the English word tantalize.

The punishment is described in the Homer's Odyssey, Book of the Dead [Robert Fagles translation].
And I saw Tantalus too, bearing endless torture.
He stood erect in a pool as the water lapped -
parched, he tried to drink he tried to drink, but he could not reach the surface.
no, time and again, the old man stooped, craving a sip,
time and again the water vanished, swallowed down,
laying bear the caked black earth at his feet -
some spirit drank it dry. And over his head
leafy trees from high aloft,
pomegranates and pears, and apples glowing red,
succulent figs and olives swelling sleek and dark,
but as soon as the old man would strain to clutch them fast
a gust would toss them up to the lowering black clouds.


And so as educators who know better continue to eternally raise expectations like the fruit above Tantalus' head and remove the access to recess, art, phys.ed. and all the things children crave more than the next test, we need to ask ourselves what we've become and why our educational policy reads like a recipe book for torture written by the gods.

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