Give me an F

Politics + Other Mistakes  
By AL DIAMON  |  May 23, 2013

I was educated in Maine public schools. Here's what I learned:

My fourth-grade teacher explained to my class why the best way to settle the civil rights unrest then gripping the nation was racial segregation. "Having white and colored separated is the way it's supposed to be," she said. "It works in all big cities."

In eighth-grade English, I was reprimanded for being disrespectful, because the sample job-application letter I was required to write listed my references as "Mr. Oliver Sudden," "Mrs. Lucy Tooth," and "the Rev. I. M. Ambivalent."

My high school guidance counselor rejected my request to take typing. "It's a waste of time if you're going to college," he said. "Once you graduate, you'll have a secretary to do that for you."

That was decades ago, and I doubt the state's schools have gotten much worse. How could they? On the other hand, nothing during the ensuing years indicates they've done a whole lot of improving.

Sure, overt racism is no longer part of the curriculum, mild satire is generally overlooked, and everybody learns to type faster than I ever could — using only their thumbs. But reading is still imposed as a chore, rather than a pleasure. Writing is taught by creatures with the stylistic skills of Chewbacca. And math is a theoretical exercise with no apparent practical application.

I know this because I've talked with any number of high school graduates with an interest in journalism careers (apparently guidance counselors still believe such jobs exist) who can't write a simple declarative sentence, haven't read anything more complicated than Iron Man comics and couldn't sort out the financial implications of Republican Governor Paul LePage's budget priorities for their towns' school systems with a whole classroom full of laptops.

To be honest, when it comes to that last one, neither could I (accounting being another course considered beneath the intellectual standards of college-bound students). But at least I admit I got a lousy education. When LePage told Maine teachers and administrators in early May that 75 percent of them were average or below, nobody believed him.

The governor's school rankings took major heat from the education establishment, which complained that they were based mostly on how students performed on standardized tests. Because everybody knows tests don't measure anything. And even if they did, test scores are always higher in wealthier communities, because, um . . . I dunno, maybe they bribe the people giving them. Of course, it couldn't have anything to do with prosperous municipalities hiring better teachers, overseen by innovative superintendents, and offering more options for students. That would be, like, elitist.

"My concern is that [grading schools] leaves too much to the imagination of the parent or the taxpayer," Portland school board Chairman Jaimey Caron told the Portland Press Herald. "We don't want people to spend a lot of energy on things that are not real."

Speaking of which, legislative Democrats promptly announced they were developing their own school rankings, that spokeswoman Ericka Dodge told the Press Herald would be based on "a fair evaluation system that involves education stakeholders and is based on student progress and local improvement measures."

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