September 2, 2009 THE VILLADOM TIMES all the time who do badly on the SATs because they just will not read. What do they think they are going to be doing in college: strumming their ukuleles? Most colleges that are not overgrown high schools expect people to read multiple books per course, and to know what is in them. The colleges that are overgrown high schools do not have the networking or clout to get their students serious jobs. While tutoring some of the nicest kids I ever worked with, I discovered there are colleges for people who do not belong in college. I hope taxpayers are not subsidizing these schools. College is about furthering an expectation, not doing what everyone else does. Some people do not belong there. That does not mean they are bad people, it just means they do not belong there. What kind of jobs are available for college graduates who were born here and cannot read or write an English sentence? Shouldn’t the tuition money have been put in some sort of trust fund? During my brief foray as a managing editor at a newspaper that self-destructed, I interviewed a man for the job of sports writer. The guy came in, dressed in a suit, wearing a tie, and told me how much he loved sports. He was a college graduate. I sat him down at a quiet desk, gave him some sports scores from a local high school, and told him to write up a short news story based on that information. Forty-five minutes later, he was still staring at the sheet of paper. He had not touched the typewriter. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “I love sports,” he said. “I really love sports.” He could not write a story about a subject he knew far better than I did. He could not write at all. He was a college graduate. How many people lied to this poor guy before I got stuck telling him the truth? Then there is math. I can make change and estimate prices when I shop, but that does not get you anywhere on those big bad SATs. I don’t attempt to tutor math. I have two accomplices who do it for me. People who go to some schools where the parents are always patting themselves on the back about how “great” the schools are encounter the two Asian women in question and walk away pastyfaced and in a state of shock. The number of high school math teachers who can teach math must be a fraction of the number who are employed at salaries approaching six figures. Both tutors started working with me when they were still in high school, and the people who studied with them assumed they must be about 25 because nobody they have ever encountered had any similar knowledge of SAT math. There are some good math teachers, most of them focused in one particular high school. The others are there for the paycheck. One school used to be known as “the III • Page 17 “School bells ring and children sing, ‘It’s back to Robert Hall again.’” If you are old enough to remember that ditty from the early days of television, or if you are old enough to remember Robert Hall as a discount clothing retailer, you are probably sending your children or grandchildren off to school this week. Here’s what to tell them to take. First, they should take a totally realistic attitude about what kind of education society can afford to give them, even right in Northwest Bergen County where some people are still rich and many other people are still pretending to be rich. People in Allendale – not exactly a poverty pocket, and known for the excellence of both the K-8 school and the local regional high school – are still shaking their heads in amazement over the fact that both the K-8 budget and the regional high school budget were defeated at the polls. Wyckoff made so many cuts that the teacher’s union voted “no confidence” in the superintendent, who probably wasn’t responsible for the collapse of the stock market. Even mighty Ridgewood had to reduce programs and staff due to a lack of money. This may not have happened in our lifetimes unless we are World War II veterans who remember the Depression. People who have come to Northwest Bergen over the last 10 years have brought the towns a lot of money and a lot of vital energy. However, some have brought the mistaken notion that, as long as they pay their staggering property taxes, the community owes them a school that provides babysitting from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. and they can drop the kids off on the way to work and pick them up on the way home and that’s about the end of their responsibility as a parent. That’s not how it works. Those older people who want to stay in their houses after the kids finish high school or college are about taxed out. With the losses in retirement funds and bank account interest, some of them cannot afford to keep paying so younger people do not have to face the consequences of having brought more kids into the world. None of the older folks ever expected that a half-million in the bank plus Social Security would not cover their property taxes and utility bills once they paid off the mortgage. That day is here. Younger people will now have to learn that using the schools as backup when they don’t want to pay for a live-in nanny is no longer viable. This will shortly become more obvious. It is apt to be a tough lesson because most people do not even want to take care of their own parents, and taking care of somebody else’s parents is clearly outside their perspective. Those silly old guys should have stayed home and saved more money instead of fighting to save the world from Hitler or from communism, right? Second, adults should understand that kids do not necessarily love school once they have to learn something difficult. I routinely ask the American-born people I tutor whether they are happy to be going back to school, and the answers generally come down to the fact that they will be glad to see their friends again and take part in sports, but the rest of it is a drag. The part that is a drag is the part that is supposed to be important: academics. I bump into people of better-than-average intelligence What to take to school country club.” Once my tutors saw what the math program there had done to average and above-average students, they called it “the buffalo pasture.” Their eyes gleam when the name of that school is mentioned. Before graduation, a lot of the tutors’ money was going to the mall; now it’s going for college expenses. Believe me when I say they earn every penny of it – and they cannot believe some of the things other kids have not learned from the teachers who get health benefits and insurance and do not have to stalk buffalo. When you are a teacher, the buffalo come to you – not always by choice. Last but not least, we have the humanities. I scan the horizon every year to see if light has dawned on the schools, but the darkness remains. Two of the favorite school plays of all time seem to be “Inherit the Wind” and “The Crucible.” These are supposed to be intensely relevant. They aren’t. “Inherit the Wind” is set during the Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 and “The Crucible” is set during the Salem Witch Trials of 1692, but both are really about the McCarthy Era of the early 1950s when Senator Joe McCarthy told everybody that the government was full of communists. When McCarthy took on the U.S. Army, he made himself look ridiculous attacking “communists” who had served against North Korea and Red China in the Korean War. He was censured, and he drank himself to death in disgrace. Guess what: At the end of the 1990s, the U.S. Army revealed that it had been secretly reading Soviet code since the 1930s under a program known as Venona. The Army didn’t tell anybody about this, because they were obviously waiting to make sure that World War III was not being premeditated. The program took a hit just after the end of the war when Eleanor Roosevelt told the Army to cut it out. They blew her off, but a Soviet agent got wind of what was going on and penetrated the decoding operation and the Soviet coding system was changed. When the Venona transcripts were released after the collapse of the Soviet Union, it turns out that the government really was full of commies, that Alger Hiss and the Rosenbergs were guilty, and that a lot of guilty people escaped, and very few innocent people suffered. Books about Venona have been coming out for the past decade, but I have yet to see any school texts or any teachers comment on the guilt of most of the accused or the fact that the “hysteria” and “paranoia” of the McCarthy Era was triggered by genuine espionage. What I think kids should take back to school is a willingness to learn, a willingness to read, and a healthy skepticism about any system that claims it can prepare them for life when deficits in reading, writing, math, and the true facts of history are routinely ignored. That is not what the rest of us are paying for. It’s not fair to the kids, either. Main Street to be paved this week The Bergen County Engineering Department has coordinated its paving of Main Street in Ramsey so it will not interfere with the opening of the borough’s public schools on Sept. 2. Weather permitting, the milling work is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 1 and the paving will be carried out the night of Thursday, Sept. 3. “On Thursday night, they will resurface from Cherry Lane to Spruce Street,” Ramsey Borough Administrator Nick Saros confirmed late last week. “The new traffic lights should be installed shortly thereafter.” Bergen County began the two-month major construction at the intersection of Main Street and Central Avenue in July. The project includes the widening of the intersection and the addition of dedicated left turn lanes, new and improved traffic signals with left turn signals, lane widening, new curbs and sidewalks, improved pedestrian crosswalks, and pedestrian signals. The county will also install a traffic signal at the intersection of Darlington Avenue and North Central Avenue. The new traffic signals will be coordinated with the railroad crossing in order to avoid stacking of vehicles to the tracks when trains are approaching Ramsey’s station. Ramsey Mayor Christopher Botta approached Bergen County about this project when he took office. The goal, he said, was to alleviate traffic congestion and improve safety along the busy Main Street corridor. Vehicles often back up to the train tracks on one side, to the library on the other, and along North and South Central Avenue. New crosswalks, which will be funded by the borough, will reportedly improve pedestrian safety on Main Street, since the red brick will contrast with the pavement and striping on Main Street. Bergen Highlands Rotary (continued from page 8) #7490, which includes 54 clubs in several surrounding counties. The Bergen Highlands-Ramsey Rotary Club is a member of Rotary International and sponsors activities that benefit both the local community and international public service projects. The club provides extensive support locally for the Center for Food Action and Habitat for Humanity, and awards scholarships to local students. Members also run the children’s rides at Ramsey Day, Upper Saddle River Day, and Mahwah Day with all proceeds going toward the club’s charitable activities. The Bergen Highlands-Ramsey Rotary Club holds its weekly meetings on Mondays at 12:15 p.m. at Houlihan’s in Ramsey. For more information about club activities or becoming a member, call Bob Baron at (201) 934-7441, email Bob@MarBar.US, or visit