Page 14 THE VILLADOM TIMES II • October 7, 2009 score below a 500 on a math SAT at any age was known as “a golf club” because that’s what they used to beat you. We cannot, I think, import this particular tradition into the United States, and we shouldn’t want to. Success in school followed by the arrest of the parent or the suicide of the student is not the goal of the public school system. The second taboo factor in the Hokum Sweepstakes: teachers who can’t teach. They exist. They are not common around here, but in the schools that need the most help, they are a staple. People less adroit with their fists than the average Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant, Army Ranger, or Navy Seal run the risk of getting mugged by their own students, and those who are exceptionally able generally relocate to other districts once the joy of combat wears off with the systemic production of testosterone or adrenaline. The brighter students, also, may feel their learning abilities challenged by the need to get home safely past bullies eager for their blood, or “classroom cut-ups” who literally fit that description. You shouldn’t need a black belt to teach high school math. One of my accomplice math tutors has one, but it is not really necessary most places in our area. A more benign problem, without mentioning fear of bodily harm, is that people with high qualifications in math or science, especially those who belong to the nonAsian minorities, are in such demand in private industry that they can find lucrative and comfortable employment outside the school system, and generally choose to do so. If you cannot find teachers who know the material and know how to convey the material to the students, no amount of time spent sitting at a school desk is going to improve the students’ ability to master trigonometry or calculus. People cannot teach what they do not know. The math tutors I work with are certainly not dumb, but they are frequently dumbfounded by the fact that the course levels and grade levels their students describe bear absolutely no relation to their abilities to score well on standardized tests. The problem may not be the amount of class time. The problem may be that the teachers pass people on to the next grade without making sure they know the material they are supposed to have learned. Have you ever seen a native speaker of French confront someone who has taken two, three, or four years of French classes? It is usually “funny video” material. People try this on me a lot. They find some French speaker and sic him or her on me to find out of I can really speak French. The people usually back away smiling and complimenting me on my excellent accent when I tell them I perfected my French “in the Legion.” I am referring to the American Legion, which was kind enough to have admitted me. But as Hemingway taught us, you can make a better impression if you leave out the adjectives. The third taboo topic for hokum: the mainstream culture and the subcultures versus academics. There are schools where it is cool to be dumb. There are families where intelligence is seen as pretentious and irritating. Unless you completely separate the kid from the family and put him or her in a barracks where the TV is left on PBS and classical music is piped in, no amount of time in class is going to help these people aspire to be any less “dumbed out” than the people around them. In some neighborhoods, smart students may need dumb students to stick up for them in fights, but the posse that nobody messes with doesn’t do homework, and would probably kill anyone who mistook them for the Math Team, even in jest. You are not going to turn these kids into competitors with the over-pressed students of Tokyo, Seoul, or Beijing by keeping them in school a few hours a day or a few extra days of the year. You could probable save a sizable number of them by one new law: Any student who harms or threatens to harm a teacher or another student who hasn’t engaged in violent provocation goes to prison and stays there until he or she finishes high school based on a standard GED test. The schools would then be safe so that even mediocre teachers and challenged students could complete as much learning as possible without fear of bodily harm. If the tough types see successful testtaking as a way to get back on That Street, some of them may finally apply themselves. I’m not a racist – ask the guys in the American Indian Movement I helped beat 400 years of hard time on eight federal charges – and I’m more than welcome in America by the rightful owners. I am, however, a taxpayer, and I’m tired of paying out money for stuff that won’t work, but will, taken to its logical conclusion, separate the country into a small minority of economic predators and thrifty heirs and heiresses and a big multi-racial majority of people who are totally dependent on the government for education and medical care if not for food and shelter. The people who care about helping the poor are not the government officials who live off other people’s money – those people want to perpetuate poverty so they can skim the taxes intended to terminate poverty. The people who care about helping to poor are those at risk of becoming poor themselves by funding programs that cost too much money and just don’t work. Make no mistake about it: I have no sympathy and no desire for contact with the kind of people who turn every Internet article about anthropology, archaeology, or astronomy into an attack on President Obama. The sort of racist garbage they churn up, along with the junk from people selling discount fashion apparel and work-athome jobs that will make you a millionaire may ensure the survival of newspapers through the duration of basic literacy. It’s worth recycling some old newsprint into new newsprint trees to get away from that bunk. Much as I dislike these people and don’t want to encounter them over coffee, I probably owe them some civility for saving my job. There are some people who don’t like my column, but I think none can display any evidence that I start to snarl and go into the attack mode at the sight of a person of a different race in a responsible job. Having said all this, I have to point out that the idea that we can make American students competitive with people from Singapore or Tokyo by keeping them in school for a few minutes a day or a few extra weeks of the year. It’s hokum. It would be hokum if it came from a blueeyed, silver-haired Navy pilot, a soccer mom who can see Russia from her back window, or the odd couple who kept China on the Most Favored Nation list despite lead-based paint on toys or the Chinese government’s previous abuse of Chinese Christians. It’s not hokum because of Obama’s race. It’s hokum because it’s hokum. The first taboo factor in the Hokum Sweepstakes: race. Most of the countries with really great math scores are made up of full-blooded Mongolian Asians: Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Japan are mentioned, though somebody left out Korea, also a forcing-bed of math prodigies. Singapore, a partial exception, also has a large component of high-caste Asian Indians, a section of an ethnic group also noted for high intelligence. People can argue endlessly over whether Asians are better at math than whites or blacks because the have a “math gene,” because they come from cultures that encourage introspection and concentration, or simply because mathematics is the one subject where grades cannot be adjusted downward for factors like class participation. I once had a serious talk with a couple of lead players on the Ridgewood Math Team – a Chinese three years out of Beijing and a Korean educated partly in Tokyo and partly in Seoul. These students came up with three conclusions. First, the Asians in the United States legally represented a selective migration from professional families and not a representative sampling of an entire culture. “There are plenty of dumb people where we come from, but they don’t show up in America.” Second, you put your best efforts into math because it was the one place a teacher could not lower your grades because he or she did not like you. This apparently happens from time to time, sometimes due to inter-ethnic hostilities, sometimes due to personal issues. Third, you didn’t bring home a bad grade in math because your parents would kill you. Any The Obama school plan and why it will not work Graydon discussions continue (continued from page 3) fix the pump because the technician was on vacation, which led to pool closings. Mayor David Pfund said Brandes may have misinterpreted the letter. “I feel that your insinuations that the (Ridgewood) Parks Department didn’t do what it should have done was a mischaracterization,” Mayor Pfund told the resident. He asked Brandes to conclude her statement, which ran somewhat over the time limit, but the next two speakers he recognized both agreed with her. The letter concluded, as council members had said, that Graydon should eventually be replaced with a concrete pool – but also clearly stated prior to that conclusion that more adequate chemical treatment should control water quality problems on an interim basis. The council also heard from Marcia Ringel, co-chair of the Preserve Graydon Coalition, after Councilman Patrick Mancuso criticized the Preserve Graydon Coalition for not sending delegates to the pool study group that he and Mayor Pfund have formed in response to protests from Preserve Graydon against the $10-million multi-pool plan proposed by the Ridgewood Pool Project, another citizen’s group formed three years ago. “If you want to sit back and not participate, then you have no right to complain,” Mancuso said last week, not speaking to Ringel in person but commenting on the fact that the Preserve Graydon Coalition had once again turned down his invitation to send delegates to meet with council members and delegates from the other pool group. “There is no pre-decision making – we’re taking it from scratch. Come to the meeting with one goal in mind: what’s good for Ridgewood.” Ringel then came before the microphone and said the group would join the committee if the proceedings were open to the entire public and televised and if the Ridgewood Council would agree to postpone a Request for Proposals on the plans for multi-pool concrete construction for at least a year, to see if the water quality – which both sides admit is the single greatest problem – could be dealt with by better use of pump filtration and chemicals. Pfund said that neither public proceedings of the committee nor a guarantee that the RFP be delayed for a year was agreeable to the council. “This is a very hot issue,” Pfund said. “It might take us a year, or it might take us two years, or it might take us six months. We’re going to work deliberately and we’re going to get the best answer we can.” He said, however, that he did not want to resolve the question of the best pool for Ridgewood with placards or shouting. One recent meeting turned out so many supporters from both groups that the public was directed into two rooms on the first floor and the fourth-floor courtroom, and statements by both sides lasted more than three hours – before the council had a chance to move on to day-to-day matters of government. “Let’s all get together in a room where there will be no pressure, and no petitions, and no yelling,” Pfund said. He said that members of Preserve Graydon are still invited to send delegates, but that there would be no TV coverage and no advance stipulation that the proposal for whatever design was decided upon would be withheld for a full year or more. “We don’t want to do it the fastest way, we want to do it the best way,” Pfund said. “I don’t want someone to come in after it’s done – the idea of the committee is to work together.”