Page 10 THE VILLADOM TIMES IV • September 2, 2009 I bump into people of better-than-average intelligence 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 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. “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. What to take to school Letters to the Editor Dear Editor: As a resident living off of Olney Road, I would like to thank the Mahwah Council for continuing to do the right thing by moving to close Olney Road again. For those not familiar with the situation, Olney Road is exceedingly narrow, in one portion in particular. Engineering firms have supported this view and the New Jersey Department of Transportation deemed Olney Road to be substandard. Add to this the fact that Olney Road, since being reopened, is extensively used to access the very busy A&P shopping center and to avoid the lights on Franklin Turnpike. There are numerous bus stops for both public and private schools on this very narrow, busy, street, which is without sidewalks. It is truly an accident waiting to happen: one that would clearly jeopardize the finances of the township given the fact that we have been put on notice that the road is substandard. While widening the road and adding sidewalks may resolve the safety concerns, it would also cost the taxpayers of Mahwah a fairly sizeable sum of money. Certainly, if there are other roads in town that fit the same criteria -- too narrow, in a location that draws a sizeable volume of traffic, and is used by pedestrians without an available sidewalk, then by all means, let’s look at potentially closing those, too. But because there may be other similar situations does not make keeping Olney Road open the right or prudent thing to do. Two wrongs never make a right. Fortunately, we have a town council wise enough to see the issue clearly and that council puts the safety of its residents first, despite legal pressure. It is truly unfortunate that our tax dollars may have to continue to be spent on legal fees pertaining to this issue, Resident thanks council particularly when it seems that those opposed to the closure of Olney Road cite personal convenience or some false sense of injustice or inconsistency as the basis of their argument -- all of which they put ahead of the safety of their neighbors, particularly the children, not to mention our tax dollars! Robin Larsen Mahwah Dear Editor: Over the past few months, every time I read Mahwah’s local papers, there are invariably large, colorful, attractive ads for Pilot Travel Centers that extol their own virtues. Quite the public relations feat from where I stand! More recently, a trip through the paper depicts our “good neighbor” Pilot giving money to the Mahwah Municipal Alliance to help support the Leadership Academy. In the picture, our mayor, chief of police, and a member of the Mahwah Municipal Alliance accept a check from Bill Mulligan of Pilot. I am forced to wonder, “Where is our township’s sense of propriety?” There is a large group of parents who have been fighting Pilot’s expansion for four years now. There are dozens of reasons why the expansion of the Pilot site is not good for our township and especially not good for our school children. Pilot had its first application denied by the zoning board of adjustment, with that ruling upheld in court by Judge Conte in the Bergen County Superior Court upon Pilot’s appeal. Pilot’s second application was denied by the planning board. That decision didn’t get the chance (continued on page 16) Says perception is reality