the 97% rule and american education standards (LONG)

Rohit Khare (
Sat, 6 Apr 96 21:19:21 -0500


You *sure* you weren't just being taken in by another Fool's joke, Adam? :-)

> Some criteria are so
> tough even Ph.D.'s complain they can't meet them.

Yeah, I can say I know a few PhD whiners and PhDs to be...

> READING & WRITING. Three in 4 students can't meet suggested standards. Only 7
> percent can write a persuasive essay about a topic like this: Why should
> children be allowed to watch TV?

Let's see, in 4th grade, in a school system in the middle of the San Fernando
Valley, I was already expected to write a "report" every month. A few of my
favorites were a lengthy biography of Enrico Fermi (I remember this becaus it
was the first report I did on my new Apple //c), a report on the Dodo bird
(... because I brought in a Kiwi fruit to explain the bird's color and
texture, and the class didn't pick up the fact that the *bird* is extinct),
and a biography of Charles Schulz (it was the last of the year, and I fought
with my mom about NOT showing it to her, and got a B as a result -- which I'm
quite proud of!). As a result, I was skipped out of fifth grade...

> GEOGRAPHY. Seventy-eight percent can't meet suggested standards. Thirty
> percent are unable to answer a question like this:
> 1. Which landforms were most likely created by the eruption of volcanoes?
> a. plains b. mountains c. canyons d. deltas

Duh: islands! :-) better:

cal*de*ra \kal-'der-e, ko_l-, -'dir-\ n
[Sp, lit., caldron, fr. LL caldaria]
:a crater with a diameter many times that of the volcanic vent formed by
collapse of the central part of a volcano or by explosions of extraordinary

I'd know that if I were in 4th grade today, but only because of Noorda's
Linux-based Windows-killer :-)

> MATHEMATICS. Four in 5 can't meet suggested standards, and 39 percent are
> unable to answer questions such as:
> 2. What is 108 divided by 9? <do it manually>

Personally, I proceed by ordered guessing, which is why I'm not a
mathematician and Z is: 9*10 -- leaves 18 -- aha, 12.

> HISTORY. Five in 6 can't meet suggested standards, and 36 percent cannot
> consistently answer basic-level questions such as:
> 3.Which state last became part of the United States?

Hey, that's a tough call: both Hawaii and Alaska happened a long time ago,
and I can never be sure which was 1958 or '59. I say Alaska. Alta Vista says:

ALASKA JOINED UNION: January 3, 1959
HAWAII JOINED UNION: August 21, 1959

Bzzt! see, silly me, I figured a desolate wilderness joined after the
civilization that has been thriving for centuries.

More: Knowledge Adventure, La Crescenta -- oops, now Glendale

Much, Much More:

> READING & WRITING. Advance beyond basic comprehension to know the difference
> between fact and opinion, between well-developed characters and stereotypes.
> Employ more than basic grammar and punctuation skills in writing. Have the
> ability to analyze and edit one's own work to make it more precise and
> convincing.

Hey, editing?! Sorry, Wendy, I just don't believe in that crap...

> Read at least 25 books during the year, including such works as:
> The Little Prince Princess Furball The Wind in the Willows The Lion, the
> Witch and the Wardrobe

I didn't read any of this pablum. I read ghost stories, the kid's biog
series, and the World Book. The librarian used to worry about me spending too
much time there-- those fascist fools!

For that matter, in 4th/early 5th, we had a special treat one semester where
we had a debate teacher once a week. We used to handle questions like pro- and
con- on no smoking sections, and I was quite proud of a nearly unbroken
string of victories on BOTH sides of the issue -- until the final match up,
where I was paired with some runner-up who futzed the rebuttal on my side.

> Keep a reading log with reactions to the texts--comparing and contrasting
> characters with people the student knows in real life, analyzing the author's
> choice of words and symbols, critiquing the story. <bg- how many adults do
> you know who keep a reading log with all this information? IMO, the teachers
> should be teaching the love of reading over who does what>

BG is dead right. My life changed in third grade, in the Nevada desert,
because my teacher, out of her own pocket, funded a reading contest over the
year with ribbons, coupons, and a trophy. One point was 15 minutes of reading
to your parents, and I even won the damn trophy at 150 or 200 pts (I was the
second, and last - some white kid must have beaten me (Jewish, no doubt :-)).
It's one of only two trophies I've ever one in my life, and I'm still proud of

> Produce a verse-by-verse paraphrase of a poem and an original poem that
> follows conventions of rhyme and meter. <bg- Poetry escapes me- I can't do
> this>

Yeah, but I have a feeling I was forced to do this. I still don't get iambic
pentameter, though. I know that in fifth grade, for the month I was in it, we
had a Japanese teacher who included haiku.

> Craft two different types of writing about the same subject, such as a
> personal narrative about trying out for a sports team, then an informative
> report on how to try out for that sports team. <bg- this is needed, but at
> the 4th grade level?>

BG is right -- way overblown description, but a task many could do -- but
only in the top public facilites, and with serious preschool...

Of course, I also remember running playground polls on Mondale-Reagan '84
with another kid (pie charts, etc -- re: the math stuff below). In retrospect,
I'm not surprised that the crowd was so anti-Mondale (though I am, now, too),
and not surprised that our teacher kept "just missing" putting it in the
parent newsletter :-)

> MATHEMATICS. Master basic arithmetic and more-advanced concepts involved in
> geometry, algebra and probability concepts. Be able to apply them to all
> sorts of real-life situations.

Huh? that's the friggin goal statement for most COLLEGE math courses... :-)

> Design the floor plan for a dream house in which regular rooms cost $75 per
> square foot and special rooms (indoor pools, science labs, etc.) cost $150,
> spending no more than $100,000. The house must include a kitchen, bathroom,
> living room and bedroom. <bg- I don't think I could do this till I was in
> college- and they want 4th graders to do it>

Well, BG, I think they could, but not in a single gulp. Word problems are a
decipherment problem, too. I think that this problem is beyond 4th grade w/o
personal coaching -- not likely in 35 student classrooms or w/o computers.

Myself, I remeber causing my 3rd grade class trouble by skipping ahead to do
the long division exercises during the quiz on integ. div. It's conceivable by

> Set up a system for discovering and recording all the possible combinations
> from rolling two dice and show what fraction of total possible outcomes each
> combination sum amounts to. (Hint: You can roll ``7'' six different ways; and
> six is one sixth of the 36 possible combinations of the two dice.) <bg- huh?>

Yeah, this all 4th and 5th graders in Thousand Oaks knew -- if only to play D&D :-)

> SCIENCE. Master the basics of how to formulate hypotheses and test them in
> valid experiments. Understand physical properties like light, heat, sound and
> magnetism. Start appreciating how living things interact with the
> environment.

Again, a completely vacuous mission statement. And note that once again, the
core is reading and more reading. At this age, experiment alone often proves

> Design and build a musical instrument and show how different forms affect the
> sound. <bg- I didn't study sound waves until I took physics in HS, and I
> don't think I could give a adequate explanation for how the form of the
> instrument works- and I can play 5 different woodwind instruments>

BG is totally right. In my early years, when I sucked at most everything,
music used to be one of my only good grades -- but I got nothing out of it.
This std is WAY too high, esp when most schools are missing any kind of arts

> Explain the reasons why each of the following helps keep aquarium fish alive:
> a light, thermometer, rock, snail and plant. <bg- this is a good one>

It is a good one, but it's funnier because it leads to the fallacy that these
items CAUSE the system to work -- glibly overlooking the carbon cycle, etc.
Still, realizing that fish breathe, have gills, etc. is pretty staggering.

> GEOGRAPHY. Know how to use maps and graphs. Develop a sense of the world as a
> whole and the relationships between different regions and peoples.

Yeah, but we already know ADULTS can't do this...

> Point out on a map features such as Lake Okeechobee and the Ozark Plateau,
> the Corn Belt and New England. <bg-how eastcoast centric. This is a good
> idea, but do it locally where it does the child immediate good>

Yep. We learned a lot more, naturally, about the West: Gen. Fremont, Sutter's
Mill, the Silver State. Unfortunately, I missed the part of 5th where they
tell you the state capital song... I know them, but not in that order!

> Explain how the local physical environment shapes how people live, such as
> the building materials they use and the types of plants they grow. <bg- huh?
> This is WAY too ambigious>

Yep -- and the consequences far too varied. I took a college-level course in
geopolitics after seventh grade and just *began* to understand these issues.

> HISTORY. Learn more than just the names and dates of historical events.
> Discover how decisions shape history; weigh the merits of different accounts
> of a historical event. Be able to place oneself in the shoes of someone
> living during that period.

Ooh! Storytime! Still had to live through that underinformed crap through
high school. Freshman year, they're still asking for reenactments and
dioramas. One kid did a Seder; the winning klatch of females did an ancient
greek food fest. Me and a buddy now at the Air Force Academy built an 100sqft
mideval castle, complete with catapults, seige setting, moat, and LN2 smoke.
Of course, the moat leaked a few tablespoons and ruined the Drama Department
stage, but that's another story. Besides, we had a swordfight, gruel, and hot
dogs :-)

> Compare characters and events described in historical fiction with primary
> sources of information about that period and make a judgment about the
> accuracy of the story. <bg- while this is a needed skill, is it really
> necessary at this level? Most kids at this age don't have the skills yet to
> judge the accuracy- not the mental skills, but the research skills>

What historical fiction are we exposing these kids to, anyway? I'd be glad if
they recognized the distoritions in Squanto's character alone...

> Analyze how the world would be different today if those involved in key
> historical events (the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, etc.) had chosen a
> different course of action. <bg- great what-if stuff, but I'd rather that my
> kids look at this a different way- why we are today because of what happened
> back then>

This is NOT fouth-grade anymore, is it?

> FOREIGN LANGUAGE. Don't just begin reading, writing and speaking at a basic
> level in a foreign language, but learn about a country's culture and how it
> compares with one's own. <bg- this is necessary>

Huh, BG? We are 'murricans, goddangnabit, and we OWN the world. Let em
f*ckin' speak Eenglish, ok? :-)

Started early on French in 7th, and four years of it taught me nothing but an
abiding contempt for gendered languages...

> Become pen pals (via letter or E-mail) with a student in a foreign country,
> asking and answering questions about family, school events and celebrations.

What is this, a USPS subsidy conspiracy? And what the heck does this other
kid know, anyway? Want an answer, read the friggin encyclopedia. Pen pals, my

> After listening to folk tales and songs in the foreign language, describe how
> they are similar to or different from those in this country.

Duh, they sound different. C'mon, these goals are getting real vacuous. The
context required here is totally lost in show-and-tell mode. In my experience,
the only real long-term multicultural education comes from *living* with
other cultures -- other kids, other neighborhoods, etc. Simi Valley sucks at
this, by the way...

> THE ARTS. Master the essentials of dance, theater, music and visual
> arts--then learn to improvise and create simple works in all four arts.
> Recognize how art is affected by culture and vice versa, and see connections
> between different art forms.

We did music and art, but we ALL know dance and theater is for sissies. None
of that, except for field trips to the Nutcracker...

> Paint a representation of a favorite song. <bg- I can't do this- some people
> are just incapable of doing this>

No freakin' way can I do this. What a bogus, unmeasured goal!

More to that point, we were _at most_ able to distinguish visual styles --
Impressionism, etc. Today, I think that would be best taught by Photoshop :-)

> Script a play for class that includes original music and a choreographed
> dance. <bg- how many 10 year olds can write origional music? Or choreograph a
> dance?>

Huh? 4th grade, this was the humiliation of having to wear a funny paper hat
for a nonspeaking role as a soldier in the class Nutcracker...


Now we move to Baltimore County, Maryland

> READING & WRITING. Seventy-two percent of students can't meet suggested
> standards. Just 1 in 3 can write a well-developed review of a school
> performance, and only 8 percent are able to write a persuasive essay on a
> subject like: Why random drug searches should (or should not) be allowed in
> school.

In sixth grade, we had a journal exercise, one or two pages of a comp book
each week. Man, what a pain! I got around it by commenting on stuff I saw in
Sci. Am. and writing an extended sequel to 2010.

> GEOGRAPHY. Seven in 10 can't meet suggested standards, and 30 percent cannot
> answer a basic question like:
> 4. In ancient Greece, most towns were built on tops of hills primarily
> because:
> a. it was easier to find water on hilltops than lowlands b. temperatures were
> warmer at higher elevations c. defending a hill town was easier than
> defending a lowland town d. people in early Greece did not rely on farming
> for food.

What friggin bigots, like the Greek were the only ones to figure this out!
They were just too lame to figure out how to build walled cities on river
plains, like the Indus :-)

In our 8th grade history, we got thorough anticommunist indoctrination and
world history (review of British imperialism).

I am worried that current events are nonexistent here. The next big leap for
me was the Quiz Bowl, which forced me to read and memorize all the weekly
newsmagazines and some newspapers (in 7th, at the summer geopolitics course, I
got hooked on the NYT, since two hours every morning was devoted to
dissecting the Times)

> MATHEMATICS. Three in 4 can't meet suggested standards, and 37 percent cannot
> answer a basic question like:
> 5. How long does it take to earn $45 if one earns $2 a day on Mondays,
> Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and $3 a day on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
> (nothing is earned on Sundays)? <again, don't use your calculators>

3 weeks. Jeez. $2*3 + $3*3 = 15, three weeks. And here I was wondering if we
had to pinpoint a day of the week near the step function...

> HISTORY. Eighty-six percent of students can't meet history standards. Four
> out of 10 cannot answer a basic question like:
> 6. Who wrote ``We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are
> created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain
> unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of
> happiness''?

Shoot, I still think it's fair if they miss Jefferson and guess Franklin or
Washington. They're not far apart on the Dead White Male Dartboard, after all.

> READING & WRITING. Become well-versed in many literary forms--essays, poetry,
> plays, short stories, novels--and be able to compare the style and merits of
> two pieces of literature. Know how to create complex fictional characters and
> how to build essay arguments.

Yeah, sure. Mostly through the classroom expedient of watching videotaped
versions of the books :=)

> Read 25 works, such as:
> Inherit the Wind Ryan White: My Own Story The Princess Bride A Midsummer
> Night's Dream Treasure Island The Outsiders

Inherit the Wind I got a lot out of. It taught me a lot about why I hated the
Tennesse ed. system so much in k-2. I did a large posteboard on the plot
triangle of the conflict, resolution, and epilogue of that play.

> <bg- I have only read "Inherit the Wind" and I've seen "Midsummer Night's
> Dream"- and that was in HS>

See, bg, we agree! Although, we spent a lot of time on sonnets and
Shakespeare in our 7th and 8th.

> Read in depth four books from a single genre (historical novels), by a single
> writer (like Jack London), or on a single subject (adolescent life); make
> connections between the works. <bg- this is a good one>

Yeah, but we only became experts in the 5 paragraph A-B compare/contrast. A
four-way, that's asking too much.

> Write a persuasive essay, such as an editorial on a school issue, that
> anticipates and addresses counter-arguments. <bg- I think that this is
> totally appropriate goal, however, I can see a LOT of problems with it. It
> can be way to subjuctive, and with the current attitudes towards test scores,
> how do you test it?>

I remember fondly that they wanted us to do a longish book report thing, so
in spite, I found the oldest, most useless book in the school library, and
aimed for the longest, most opaque title. It was something on the evolution of
the subsurface geographical artifacts of the greater chesapeake bay, but it
had more jargon in it. My teacher helped me submit it to the Baltimore Sun, in
the end -- it was pretty good.

> MATHEMATICS. Move from simply memorizing math rules to having a good sense
> for which of different strategies would be the wisest to solve a given
> problem. Make sense of complicated patterns and understand how math plays a
> part in endeavors ranging from music to space travel. <bg- great goals>

Move *from* simple memorization??! The only thing, at any stage, you're
supposed to memorize in math is the mult. table (and your phonics -- which
you'll note the New Reading doesn't include, and fails)

6th grade, when I transferred, was New Math algebra. Base n computations,
commutativity, the whole lot. I loved it, I guess, though I failed a few
I remember the highlight was a report on fractals and a Koch curve program I
learned in Logo from a magazine.

> If, in a school of 1,000 lockers, one student opens every locker, a second
> student closes every other locker (second, fourth, sixth, etc.), a third
> student changes every third locker (opens closed lockers and closes open
> lockers) and so on until the 1,000th student changes the 1,000th locker,
> which lockers are open? <bg- huh? I don't even know where to begin without
> doing it longhand and taking an entire day>

This is a little nasty, isn't it, folks? Frankly, it's even beyond SAT work
(which I had a 13 something on that year).

Let's see: student n changed every nth bit. So, locker k is changed by #of
divisors. And they want you to compute the PARITY of the number of divisors of
every number from 1-1000? Well, we know all the prime lockers are closed, so
we can use the prime density as an upper bound... :-)

Nutso. I mean, they tried this on Math Team, but for *everyone*? They're
kidding themselves.

> Show two different methods of answering the question: How many handshakes
> will occur at a party if every one of the 15 guests shakes hands with each of
> the others? <bg- at least this can be the hard way>

two different METHODS? there's only one answer -- the point of math is that
it's no one's freakin' business HOW you did it...

120 handshakes. (15 + 14 + 13... = N * N/2 = 16*7.5)

> SCIENCE. Develop an awareness of the many things that interact in large,
> complex, evolving systems by studying such things as heredity and genes, the
> solar system and ocean life. <bg- again, great goals>

Fine goals. The main realization, though, was dissecting 8-year old pickled
frogs (and redoing it on the Apple ][, much cleaner!), and a sci teacher who
suckered me into the four-color problem.

> Explain the lines of evidence showing that dogs and cats are related by
> common ancestors.

Couldn't do that in Tennessee until 1967! (when they repealed the
anti-evolution statue).

Frankly, I don't know any evidence about dogs and cats. I can tell you about
eukaryotes and prokaryotes, various dinos, but I have no fossil dogs in my
braindump, nosirree!

> Explain what happens to the reading on a bathroom scale if one stands on it
> while riding an elevator. <bg- I think both of these are very do able- but
> the real problem I see is how do you grade these on a objective scale, and if
> you do that- how do you keep kids from becoming walking encyclopedias who can
> tell you all sorts of information but can't synthesize information>

Well, you don't send them to Brazil or the British Commonwealth! The good
thing about our crappy schools is that the one gem who CAN answer this is
answering it because he/she loves science, is creative, and understands the
general principle on their own -- we don't even ATTEMPT to provide this
understanding to all. See current attitudes to native-born grad students...
pure selection bias -- those that are left MUST be good.

> HISTORY. See the cause-and-effect relationship between the attitudes and
> actions in all sorts of historical endeavors--social, technological,
> economic, political, philosophical and religious--and the mark they have left
> on the present. <bg- superb goals!>

Ah, SPIRE again: every damn issue, it's always "Social, Political,
Intellectual, Religious, Economic".

> Imagine yourself as the director who built Stonehenge. Prepare a plan to make
> it happen: How will the stones be obtained? How are the laborers to be
> recruited, provisioned for and supervised? How will the enterprise be
> financed? How will the structure be used? <bg- I think that this sort of
> global thinking is a little beyond most 14 year olds. Some can do it (I think
> I could) but the lack of general knowledge that they have about how things
> work would be a real detriment>

By god, we don't KNOW how it was built in the first place! And any kid with
half a technical talent would tell you it's better to deploy those laborers on
a crash program to invent Fiberglas first, and then build Stonehenge the way
Disney does it... (speaking of which, wouldn't that be a COOL additon to

I remember a panel debate saying, imagine yourself as a british imperialist.
I remember the sweet joy of being trounced by the imperialists with this
wonderful line "Why sir, if you do not realize that Chirstianity is simply the
one true answer for these heathens, well, I can only say I am sorry for
you!". The kind of enterprise *we* planned was dinner for four (see below), or
what resources we needed to destroy Pikesville in QB.

> Draw evidence from literature, biographies and other historical sources to
> evaluate the influence of the Horatio Alger stories on the notion of the
> ``American Dream.'' What do ``rags to riches'' stories tell about American
> values? To what extent is that dream alive today in TV or modern novels? <bg-
> excellent questions>

Oooh, comparative media analysis! And pray tell, WHY are we encouraging MORE
tv-watching? :-)

Still, archetypal classification of stories across forms and cultures is an
excellent goal. However, it presupposes the ability to hold one's own in
intelligent conversation, a quality absent from the majority of adults to
begin with...

> GEOGRAPHY. Gain a more sophisticated appreciation for how human and physical
> elements interact, for better or worse, and begin to formulate solutions to
> current problems (like pollution and acid rain).

PC garbage... I'd much more like them to explain the critical elements of the
Tristate transport infrastructure, or Robert Moses: Moses or Lucifer?

The last thing we need is another batch of zealot 8th graders out to save the

> Write a set of instructions on what your family should do in case of a
> natural disaster such as a hurricane, earthquake, fire, tornado, blizzard or
> flood. <bg- what does this really have to do with Geography?>

Er, at least in California, this is elementary school material :-)

> >From memory, draw a map of the world on a single sheet of paper. Outline and
> label major physical features (including continents, oceans, mountain ranges,
> large rivers and deserts) and important human-devised features (including
> major cities, the equator and the prime meridian). <bg- I had to do this in
> 7th grade, and I am eternally grateful for it>

This sounds like fun, and the results ought to be even funnier! "Sorry,
Sally, you forgot Madagascar. And Sam, WHERE ARE THE ALEUTIANS?!"

Seriously, it would work wonders. On the other hand, don't knock
memorization. I could still tell you all fifteen Soviet republics :-)

> FOREIGN LANGUAGE. Advance to a deeper level of thinking in the language. Move
> from describing tangible things to expressing opinions and experiences and
> understanding more subtle ways of communicating.

I believe foreign language training barely BEGINS in middle schools with most

> Keep a journal (in the foreign language) with four entries per week. Include
> reactions to literature and newspaper articles.

Wow. Never got that far in 4 years.

> Write an essay (in the foreign language) on the differences between nonverbal
> gestures in another culture and American gestures and how the differences
> might have come to exist. <bg- if the kids start early enough, these should
> be no problem. BUT, if they are allowed to move between languages, or they
> don't start early enough, etc. this will be a REAL problem>

It IS. I couldn't do it in French, which is learned, but probably could in
Hindi (if I ever learned how to write in it).

> THE ARTS. Hone a unique, personal style in artistic creations. Grow better at
> discriminating between good and great works of art and be able to learn from
> art works about other times and cultures. <bg- WAY too subjective. What is
> good art? I love some stuff that everyone else seems to hate, and the other
> way around. The part about learning from art works about other times is
> excelent>

Way too subjective. A "personal style"? Well, I have one, and it is an art
form, but it sure as hell isn't artistic: tweak the system. In the same vein
as my report on limestone in the Bay, I did successful large-scale sketches
and studies of soda can pop-tops and buckles on shoes...

> Recognize the historical period and genre of famous works of art, then
> compare and contrast them and explain what makes these art works excellent.
> <bg- again, what is excellent? Otherwise, pretty good>

"What makes them excellent" is so orthodoxist. It encourages prattling.
Classification is good, though, and plausible.

> Accurately evaluate one's own and classmates' creations or performances,
> offering suggestions for improvement. <bg- nah, too easy. I can just see the
> backroom politicking that will take place- "you give me an A and I'll give
> you an A as well.">

Well, even if you're not grading, it's the temptation to tear down and mock.
Constructive, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.

You know, they skipped the only two bits of coursework I learned from in all
of middle school: Industrial Arts and Home Economics (both req'd). Outside of
that IA class, I never *built* anything before, and it was immensely
satisfying to build lamps, injection molded screwdrivers, and write reports on
transistors. In home ec, I lead the winning dinner team, learned that one
actually CAN bake from scratch instead of Pillsbury, and was initiated to the
secret that you Sew Stuff Inside Out (I still used that lime-green carry all
through HS...) To top it off, both these extras were possible because of
Federal largess: WWII era surplus IA lathes, etc, and USDA cheese.

And furthermore, nowhere in the list do they handle anything approaching
career skills. One of the good things about MD is it requires work skills to
graduate: a written resume, a successful job interview mockup with local
executives, and so on.

> READING & WRITING. Two in 3 students can't meet suggested standards.
> Forty-five percent cannot craft a well-developed essay on an object and what
> it would reveal about current times if placed in a time capsule. Just 12
> percent can write well on a subject like: Why students should be required to
> do community service.

What about those of us truly intelligent folks who would rather subvert such
overt parochialism and write about why students should NOT be required!? One
of the great outrages is that right after I graduated, MD was the first to
require "volunteer" service. It immediately diminishes, for example, the
entire National Honor Society and other ventures to encourage true

> GEOGRAPHY. Seventy-three percent can't meet suggested standards. Three of 10
> cannot answer a question like:
> 7. What do Rome, Jerusalem, Mecca and Benares have in common?

That's VARANASI, to you BUDDY! That's my hometown, and don't be so fucking
British about it, you NEA loonies!

> a. capitals of highly industrialized nations b. the world's four most densely
> populated cities c. areas of highest elevation d. religious centers.

And if you want to understand it as a religious center, it's Kashi, the name
it has had for millenia before the Raj and Independence.

> MATHEMATICS. Eighty-four percent can't meet suggested standards. Over a third
> can't answer a basic question like:
> 8. If x can be replaced by any number, how many different values can the
> expression x + 6 have?

Er, aleph-null (infinity)? Holy shit! I bet they can't identify "irrational
number", either.

> HISTORY. Eighty-nine percent can't meet suggested standards, and 57 percent
> can't answer basic questions like: 9. Many American colonies believed the
> Stamp Act (1765) was a form of:
> a. taxation without representation b. colonial self-government c. compromise
> with the British Parliament d. limitation on international trade.

Ouch! But indeed, it WAS c) as well as a), and did have the effect of
d).Lousy question!

> READING & WRITING. Read with enough insight to surmise the political and
> social influences on a piece of literature, and to detect the biases present
> in nonfiction. Know how to marshal persuasive evidence to support
> controversial conclusions.

Yeah, "read recent Nobel winners and identify the oppressor" -- sure. I read
all the way through Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" and managed only to
learn that there was a pillow embroidered with a very amusing word for "kiss"
-- and managed NOT to learn that the title itself is homage to a great English

W.B. YEATS 1865-1939
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

_The Second Coming_

> Read 25 books, including works such as:

in what, a year, the whole of HS? One book every two weeks is not enough for
a truly educated populace, and far beyond the majority. To top it off, the
establishment refuses to even cater towards what little youths DO read -- ever
tried to file a report on Michael Crichton? (the Andromeda Strain will teach
you far more about the nature of government than Julius Caesar)

Why is it you have to get to college to properly study bestsellers? (like my
freshman summer research on Allen Drury's political fiction)

> For Whom the Bell Tolls Julius Caesar I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings A Brief
> History of Time
> <bg- I haven't read any of these- I've seen Julius Caesar tho, and I consider
> myself well read>

HAWKING? He who Time estimated to be the most-purchased and least-read author
of the decade? Sheesh, the latter parts are tough going for Techers! You may
as well ask them to explicate the whole of Godel, Escher, Bach. In reality,
we're luck to expose them to Cosmos or Nature...

> Compare two works on the same theme from different periods.

Now, this was fun. We had an absolutely stellar humanities department at our
high school (now, in Columbia, Md). One of my favorite exercises, as a
conservative in an Am. Hist class taught by an ex-hippie, was understanding
historiography (imputing the ideology of a narrative) by role-writing. It was
mainly because in a random draw of roles for the exam, I got stuck with
writing a *Marxist* view of the Boston Tea Party -- and I surprised myself...

Of course, I got back at him that year, because they had us write a
year-long, multi-chapter thesis ("The US Space Program", "Medicine in the
Civil War"), and I spent it defending "The Report From Iron Mountain", a
pro-Cold War satire advocating militarism, UFOs, and aliens, by turning it
into a psychohistorical and economic manifesto for peacetime
military-industrial complex (see the chap<N>.txt files at )

> Produce an investigative piece that could run in a newspaper, using a variety
> of sources.

Well, I *ran* the school newspaper, so that's not a fair one to bat down. But
still, an admirable goal, if even the frosh remedial's teacher's insistence
on having her charges write a "letter to the editor" for real.

> Write a reflective essay--such as an analysis of a proverb's significance.
> <bg- all good for Seniors in HS>

Of course, we all know how pathetic this is compared with a French Bac --
"Explain the nature of God in the 19th century. Now. And If You Can't You'll
Be Pumping Gas Like Uncle Jacques!"

> MATHEMATICS. Have a full command of advanced theories and formulas like
> quadratic equations and the Pythagorean theorem. Use knowledge from geometry,
> trigonometry, algebra, statistics and calculus to solve real-world problems.

Trigonometry? HA! In the best of schools, this reaches a bare majority of
students. Probablity, perhaps, but statistics, other than the baseball-card
variety? Never!

Three or four percent of ALL HS students ever take an AP exam, and Calculus
is one of the very least popular.

> Explain which is a better fit, a round peg in a square hole or a square peg
> in a round hole. (Hint: Think in terms of ratios.)

one is ~75% efficient (pi/4), the other is a square 2/sqrt(2) on a side,
2/pi, 66% efficient. Not a bad question. Just don't depress me by saying how
few get it...

> Ann tells you that under her old method of shooting free throws in
> basketball, her average was 60 percent. Using a new method of shooting, she
> hit on 9 out of her first 10 throws. Should she conclude that the new method
> really is better than the old method? (Hint: Advanced statistical formula
> must be used.) <bg- What the fuck is an advanced statistical model. I barely
> passed algebra III/Trig>

Well, it's comparing the 90% to the null hypothesis that the 9 out of ten is
just the 60% rate and luck: confidence intervals appear, and so on. Definitely
beyond current HS stds.

> SCIENCE. Delve into current scientific mysteries using the same approach as a
> career scientist: Design useful experiments and analyze the results.

Er, Waay too open as a goal. And where's "understand the role of science in
modern life" and "science and engg. as careers -- for boys AND girls!"?

> Design modifications to in-line skates, skateboards or bicycles which make
> them safer, faster or less expensive. <bg- although I think that this would
> hold students attention, I'm not sure if I want this in business or science
> classes>

Huh? SCIENCE is NOT INVENTION. This tripe doesn't have controls, refinement,
independent replication -- it has precisely no elements of the scientific
method. Aargggh!

> Explain how DNA testing works. Take a position about including it as evidence
> in a trial.

And then let's lurch towards dramatic oversimplification again. This
question, if pursued properly, is the pinnacle of several months' study in
instrumentation, biology, genetics, and field trips to forensics labs (another
great extracurricular program we had in middle school -- criminology!)

> 3. Write about both the positive and negative consequences of a
> technological innovation that has occurred during your lifetime. <bg-
> excellent question. I think that this is totally appropriate for a Sr. In HS-
> at least one on a college track>

Wonderful. And we should be doing it time and again, since science is not a
ghetto. But no, no English teacher will accept an analysis of Chomsky, or an
overworked history teacher an analysis of the technical inevitability of an
H-bomb in the polical debates of '48-'58.

One very nifty question I was faced with only as a senior in college: In the
same vein as the ineffable distinction between Invention and Discovery, what
is Technology? Is a spoon? Is aerobic exercise? Is a chair?

> HISTORY. Be able to identify the influences of multiple, competing voices
> throughout history and take account of the many unforeseen consequences, for
> better and worse, generated by historic events.

Nice mission statement.

> Create a chart of important technological advances through history such as
> the bow and arrow, the wheel, weaving, the sail, bronze casting, the plow,
> etc. Explore their possible origins; discuss the impact each technology had
> on the social organization and political power of the time.

Good integration of themes. Of course, the thesis as stated has a strong
hidden sentiment, that technology advances externally and drives
civilizations. The subtleties are understanding why societies developed
certain technologies and then expolited them (or failed to).

> Draw upon ideas of religious groups such as Virginia Baptists, mid-Atlantic
> Presbyterians and millennialists to assess how religion became a factor in
> the American Revolution. <bg- I was a history major at a very religious
> college, and I don't think I could do this. I can do it on the constitution,
> and on a lot of other stuff, but on the revolutionary war?>

Wow. Ya got me on this one, too! Damn Christians running around through
history acting like the own it...

And isn't 1776 a little early for millenarianism? :-)

> GEOGRAPHY. Grasp the reality and consequences of global interdependence, and
> explain the many reasons people form themselves into regions and why those
> regions inevitably change over time.

Fine, but let's not get too touch-feely about the boundary between
"geography" and "ecology," the latter of which is the obvious agenda.

> Name three places in the local area that have been affected by pollution.
> Identify the sources and types of pollution and explain how each type affects
> the people living there. Suggest solutions. <bg- excellent>

Fine, but how are we teaching them this? The overhyped evening news? Science
magazines? Digging out the Global 2000 report (something I did for that
geopolitics seminar that revealed wonders about the folly of early 70's
Club-of-Rome Chicken Little thinking). Are we going to assign them copies of
"Earth in the Balance"?

> Write an essay about the geographic differences between developing and
> developed regions of the world and how those differences alter the way of
> life. <bg- again, excellent>

Yes, and the main lesson ought to be "they're NOT" -- it's purely economic
and cultural imperialism that has suppressed econ. and cultural devt. :-)

> FOREIGN LANGUAGE. Reach a high fluency level. Comprehend subtle nuances and
> literature and understand how the language itself shapes ideas. Become
> well-versed in the history, traditions and current events of the country.

Totally out of scope, if we're still trying to discuss reachable goals.

> Write an essay in the language about idioms and phrases that have no direct
> translation to English. Form a hypothesis about their origin and what they
> say about the culture.

Such as? I mean, almost all memes have translations -- the trick is *why* we
choose to reference them in the original -- how "joie de vivre" becomes
submlimated into an opaque handle to a meme. Explain how English has won
cultural wars because of its openness to integrating other idioms.

In that vein, there was a neat book reviewed this week in the Times (Cultural
Evolution (?), Basic Books, $26) about how luminaries appear in spurts, and
are purely products of cultural hagiography -- it's not about Shakespeare's
innate greatness, it's his revival among the elites in an era that British
culture was being spread worldwide by conquest. It's a nifty Darwinian thesis

> View a film in the language and write an essay (in that language) summarizing
> personal reactions to the film's themes. <bg- reread my comments about the
> 8th grade foreign language>

Same. Although I did get a lot out of being forced to watch Truffaut's Belle
et la Bete four times when I saw the Disney version :)

> THE ARTS. Specialize in at least one of these four arts--dance, music,
> theater, or visual arts--creating complex works. Begin to convey more
> abstract themes in artistic works.

Everyone? Yeah, the arts are for everyone, but the resources to support and
the willfullness to demand that everyone pick a personal art are sorely

I mean, I *never* conveyed an abstract theme in a visual or musical work
(except perhaps through angry typography), and I'm doing just fine. More
importantly, I learned to see it when it's there, and that's quite enough of
an achievement.

> Create a work of art that deals with a current social theme. Revise it
> several times, explaining the reasons for each artistic decision and saying
> what was lost and gained by each decision.

Whoa... way out. We did still lifes :-)

> Identify genres (in music, dance, etc.) that show the influence of two or
> more cultural traditions and race the historical conditions that led to their
> coming together. <bg- again, this is way too subjective, and it is written by
> people who already know art, and probably have always known it.>

Time to write yet another paper on Jazz :-)

> answers 1. b 2. 12 3. Hawaii 4. C 5. 3 weeks 6. Thomas Jefferson 7. D 8.
> Infinitely many 9. a

Whew. I'm too tuckered out to draw general conclusions at this point.
Basically, we have to realize one thing about the world:

Think about how dull the average citizen can be.
Half of us are duller.

Thus, we're much better off with REALISTIC goals than playing an other
political pinata game with another generation of American kids. Yeah, testing
is somewhat stultifying, but let's set national standards and start somewhere.
America's spirit of creativity, individualism, and openmindedness can only
thrive under such objective standards -- testing alone will not make robots of
us. The threat is not a minor one: the stratification and paralysis of
elitist "testing" societies is truly a tragedy (India, Japan, France...), but
one that America is, frankly, immune to. So let's stopp running from standards
as a homogenizer. It can only help...

Rohit Khare