Jewish World Review Sept. 29, 2003 / 3 Tishrei, 5764

Joanne Jacobs

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Consumer Reports

Flunking mom; classroom classics; ritalin gag rule; lousy children | Last year, Iraqi teachers were getting in touch with Saddam's secret police to turn in their students' parents. Now, teachers are getting in touch with their feelings in a UNICEF-sponsored training seminar. The Los Angeles Times reports:

BAGHDAD -- Three dozen Iraqi teachers and guidance counselors came to a hotel seminar here recently seeking tips on how to improve the nation's schools. They got balloons.

"Now I want you to take your balloon," an upbeat seminar instructor coaxed them soothingly, "and blow everything that makes you sad and everything that makes you mad into the balloon. Blow it all inside."

Unaccustomed to such touchy-feely seminars, several teachers shifted nervously in their seats. A few giggled, and others looked confused. But after some shoulder shrugs and smirks, they complied. Soon, several balloons were so over-inflated they threatened to pop.

Teachers say Saddam let Iraq's schools fall apart, even as praise for Saddam dominated the curriculum. Schools reopen Oct. 1. Bechtel is rehabbing more than 1,000 schools; the U.S. and British military are fixing another 230 and UNICEF is working on 180 schools.

At the hotel seminar, the teachers were given magic markers and asked to write on their balloons a list of the things that make them most mad and sad. War and devastation, they wrote. The loss of loved ones. The lack of electricity. Crime. Child labor.

But nobody could bring themselves to mention Saddam Hussein.

Fear of Saddam is too strong for balloon therapy.

Flunking Mom

Mom passed on providing pencils and answering phone calls, but she's got a nagging Needs Attention on homework completion. Philadelphia’s public school teachers are grading home support on students' reports cards.

Teachers will assess several areas: Does the child appear rested? Is he or she getting proper attention for vision and hearing problems? Do parents respond to notes and phone calls? Does the child have the necessary supplies, including pencils and notebooks? Does the child complete homework assignments?

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"The feeling was, we should have a checklist of gentle reminders that would be helpful and instructive to parents," (school CEO Paul) Vallas said.

Parents can expect to get either a "Satisfactory" or a "Needs Attention" grade for each question on all student report cards for students in kindergarten through eighth grade.

I'm in favor of teachers communicating clearly with parents about what they want them to do. But framing this as a report card is patronizing and needlessly antagonistic. A "how you can help at home" section would be a gentle reminder. This is more like a slap in the face.

Ritalin Gag Rule

School employees are banned from suggesting Ritalin or similar drugs , under a new Texas law. A second law says school officials can't file a neglect report on parents if they "refuse to place a child on psychiatric drugs, or refuse psychiatric or psychological treatment or testing."

The gag rule strikes me as overkill: A school counselor should be able to make a suggestion, as long as parents have the right to refuse. I hope the second law is unnecessary. Are they really reporting parents who won't put their kids on drugs?

Classroom Classics

Why do some books, such as Lord of the Flies and Animal Farm, become classroom classics ? Well, they're short and there's no sex. (That is, no sex sufficiently blatant for students to pick up on it.) That's my theory.

Lousy Children

In Scotland, principals have been told not to send letters to parents warning them of lice outbreaks . The Scotsmen reports:

According to the Scottish Executive, raising the alarm "stigmatises" infected children and could cause them long-term psychological damage.

Principals and teachers said the directive was ridiculous. Head lice is common in primary schools. Social class has little to do with it.

During my daughter's elementary school career, I was traumatized by several head lice outbreaks and suffered long-term psychological damage, principally paranoid fears of head scratching. Once a child is infected, only a determined campaign of chemical warfare can ride a house -- blankets, pillows, couches, clothing -- of lurking lice. And don't get me started about nit-picking.

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JWR contributor Joanne Jacobs, a former Knight-Ridder columnist and San Jose Mercury News editorial writer, blogs daily at She is currently finishing a book, Start-Up High, about a San Jose charter school. Comment by clicking here.

09/22/03: Order, disorder
09/08/03: No Child Left Behind: A Primer
08/29/03: The Decline and Fall of Social Studies
08/18/03: F is for valedictorian
08/14/03: Start-up success
08/11/03: Subliterate Superintendent
08/04/03: Alternative High School
07/28/03: Out of the System
07/21/03: Too Snobby for Shop
07/14/03: Be very afraid
07/09/03: Know-nothing nonsense
06/30/03: Affirmative action reactions
06/23/03: Overdressed Students, Underdressed Teachers, Dressed-down Exams
06/16/03: Paper 'Is-ness,' Excluding Awards, New Racial Consciousness and Politics
06/09/03: Racist math, red tape for charters, potty reading
06/02/03: Teacher Pay, Illiteracy , No Republicans Allowed
05/27/03: Research papers, athletics, reading
05/19/03: Soft America, plagiarism, Minutemen and Jets
05/12/03: Demographics, nerves, valedictorian, vouchers
05/05/03: Gender Bias, Banned Words, Helen of Troy
04/28/03: Tests, home-schooling, self-esteem
04/25/03: Lessons, American Pride, Iraqi Schools
04/14/03: Iraqi Textbooks and the English language
03/31/03:Teachers, hugging, text messaging
04/07/03: War talk at school
03/24/03: Watching the war
03/10/03: Classroom chaos
03/03/03: Teaching tales
02/24/03: Segregation stories
02/18/03: Writing Essays, America, Beyond Bert and Ernie
02/13/03: Size matters
02/10/03: Parental homework, cheaters and memoirs
02/03/03: Diplomas, academics, preschools and Ritalin
01/27/03: Head Start, Social Studies, Marx, Africa and Math
01/22/03: Teachers as targets
01/13/03: Big Bully's Feelings
01/06/03: School of 60's Whining and Communal Destruction
12/23/02: Teaching in
12/16/02: Chocolate city?
12/10/02: Mandatory Victimhood --- and when cleaning up a school is 'racist'
11/25/02: Multi-colored math, sensitive science
11/20/02: How to leave no child behind
11/18/02: The tummy track
11/11/02: Dysfunctional documents?
11/04/02: Why go to college? Why test schools?
10/28/02: Pride goeth before an F
10/21/02: Diversity adversity
10/14/02: Bad hat day
10/07/02: Inflated sense of worth
09/30/02: The Royal road to knowledge
09/24/02: Sierra's Club
09/20/02: Stupidity Watch
09/03/02: First, win the war
08/26/02: Out of their field, out of their minds?
08/20/02: Fun with failure

© 2002, Joanne Jacobs