Jewish World Review
June 23, 2000 /20 Sivan, 5760
http://www.jewishworldreview.com -- SUMMER VACATION is upon us. Do you know what your kids accomplished in school this year?
If they're anything like Jene Stonesifer's daughter, they spent many of their days goofing off in school - with the enthusiastic approval of administrators and teachers. Stonesifer, an outraged mom in Fairfax County, Va., recently wrote a short essay in the Washington Post exposing such public school chicanery as "Pajama Day, "Crazy Hair Day," and "Hat Day."
On Pajama Day, Stonesifer explained, "elementary school students take their physical education, spelling and sex-education classes while wearing sleeping attire and scruffies." Almost everyone, including the principal, shows up in a bathrobe and slippers. Stonesifer's daughter told her about one classmate "who opted for a pant set with a winking smiley face strategically placed on her hindquarters. She shook her hips and chanted for the class, 'Winky butt, winky butt,' according to my daughter. Then she flopped on her back, legs lifted overhead and chanted, 'Frownie face, frownie face.' Even my daughter was appalled."
"Another mother went so far as to purchase a pair of pink mandarin-style Chinese pajamas for her daughter in anticipation of the day," Stonesifer wrote. "On Hat Day at my daughter's school," she continues, "one young man wore a Cat-in-the-Hat three-foot-high red-and-white striped number."
Across the country, public school administrators are putting pointless entertainment above education in a misguided attempt to boost students' spirit and self-esteem. I found countless other variations on theme days held throughout the academic school year, from "Austin Powers '70s Day," "Hawaiian Day," and "Hollywood Star Day/Decked Out Day," to "Toga Day" and "Lazy Day." During "Senior Cross-Dress Day 1999" at Schenley High School in Pittsburgh, Pa., the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that "many males imitat[ed] Klinger from television's 'M*A*S*H.'"
In Fort Myers, Fla. last year, one middle school held a cross-dressing day to motivate youngsters. "My son said he wanted me to take him to Wal-Mart to buy him a dress or he wouldn't go to school," parent Dave Ganger complained to the Sarasota Herald Tribune. "I think it's the wrong direction to morally steer the students."
Students from Port Charlotte High School in Florida were encouraged to "mud" wrestle in cake mix on "Wild-n-Wacky Day" a few years ago as part of Homecoming Week. And as a reward to students with behavioral problems in Marshfield, Mass., one teacher showed R-rated movies during class - including violent adult pictures such as the gang flicks, "Juice" and "Friday," and horror film, "Pet Sematary."
What's wrong with a little schoolroom fun and fashion, you ask? Nothing -- if it actually serves to promote learning. Theme days, however, squander precious class time, diminish parental authority, and undermine discipline. Many principals defend such Animal House antics as harmless rewards for good behavior. But as sociologist Barbara Coloroso noted in her research on disciplinary incentives, "Kids who are consistently bribed and rewarded are likely to grow into adults who are overly dependent on others for approval and recognition, lacking their own self-confidence and sense of responsibility."
Moreover, one mother told Coloroso: "The way we choose to motivate people says a great deal about how we feel about them. When we have faith in someone and respect for the task, enticing them with treats becomes unnecessary. This 'treat for tricks' technique may work well for animal trainers, but I doubt it serves us well in raising a future generation of thinkers and problem-solvers."
Jene Stonesifer, who plans to remove her child from the Fairfax County, Va. public school system as a result of her disgust with theme days, explained her opposition simply: "Encouraging such distractions in school, distractions that have no educational value, is harmful and ridiculous...Administrative decisions such as these attest to the fact that the system has strayed from its mission of educating children."
Learning can and should be its own reward. Just ask the growing number of home-schooled kids who are now dominating national academic contests and outscoring public school students on standardized tests in every subject and at every grade level. Like Stonesifer, home-schooling parents have grown sick of the rigor-free pajama party that masquerades as public education.
How much longer will the rest of the nation tolerate the monopoly system of
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