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Jewish World Review Nov. 2, 1999 /21 Mar-Cheshvan, 5760

Cal Thomas

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School daze --
THE AMERICAN FEDERATION OF TEACHERS is sponsoring a television commercial that suggests concern over the quality of public schools once may have been legitimate, but conditions are better now. Are they?

In Cleveland last week, four white students were arrested and seven others questioned in what authorities say was a racially motivated plan to shoot up a predominately black high school. Police say the planned assault was patterned after last spring's Columbine High School massacre in Colorado.

In Detroit, as many as eight girls have been sexually assaulted over the past two months while walking to school.

In Chicago, ABC News found that the public school system owns 24 cemetery plots to be used as needed when one of their students dies from gunshot wounds.

In Joplin, Mo., an elementary school teacher said she was only being funny when she taped a bag containing cat feces to the desk of a misbehaving student. The teacher was responding to the 11-year-old student, who reportedly told school classmates to "suck a turd.''

But it is in heavily Baptist and conservative San Antonio, Texas, that the continued failure of public schools to shape character and improve minds became personal. My daughter and son-in-law recently moved to San Antonio with their four children. Since 1980, no child or grandchild of mine has attended a public school. Because they arrived near the end of October, the private schools were filled. The children were forced to attend public schools. Some cried over the prospect.

This note from my 13-year-old grandson, Chris, shows why our family decision in favor of private education has been correct: "Public school was very uncomfortable my first day. The first thing I heard out of someone's mouth was profanity. I'm not saying I never heard it being used in a private school, because these days anything can happen anywhere .... I asked someone in the school if they were ever under the threat of bombs and he said yes, just this year! So I went along to gym class and one of the kids opened up the locker and there was gunpowder. He took it to the coach and the coach said absolutely nothing. He threw it in the trash and told the kid to go and sit down.

"The other issue is that the teachers use profanity and I am not comfortable with that.''

Indeed one might expect teachers to model not only the things that are true -- but also the things that are virtuous and promote civil discourse.

Chris concluded: "I still feel a lot safer in private school, knowing that (here) any second, any hour or any day someone can come in and kill us all.''

This young man has such a well-developed sense of right and wrong that when an adult asked him this past summer if he and his classmates had discussed the tragedy at Columbine, he said, "Yes, ma'am, and we concluded that the two boys were personally responsible for their actions and could not blame anyone else.''

At a public elementary school, a younger grandson told his mother that during calisthenics his classmates appeared to be making mantra-like sounds to pagan gods.

Thankfully, slots in private schools opened up for all of them the following day, prompting expressions of relief from the adults and a note expressing love and gratitude from Chris.

The Democratic presidential candidates want to trap kids in public schools because they are beholden to the teachers unions and the cash that fuels their campaigns. Republicans are right to make education choice a part of their campaigns for the White House. No child should be in fear of his or her life while in school. No teacher should be allowed to use profanity in class.

The television commercial is designed to distract us from what is occurring in public schools. But news reports and one shocking personal experience in one school system for one day are enough to convince me that all of the money we've sunk into private education is working.

President Bill Clinton and Vice President Al Gore claim to support public education. But when confronted with a choice, they chose private schools for their children while continuing to deny an equal opportunity to parents of lesser means and influence. Aren't Democrats supposed to care for the little guy?

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