WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Those words are a noble goal. George Bush made them a key part of his presidential campaign. They defined his first legislative initiative. And last Tuesday evening, in his first State of the Union address, President Bush used them again to emphasize his administration's commitment to education in this country.
The president praised those who had joined him in passing an education reform bill -- and then levied the challenge: "a quality teacher in every classroom." Unfortunately, he may find it easier to defeat Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda than the tutorial Taliban who hold sway over America's educational establishment.
Back in antiquity, when I was a public high-school student in upstate New York, we were really shortchanged in our education. The faculty and administration forced us, against our collective will, to read Chaucer, Shakespeare, "The Iliad" and "Paradise Lost." We had teachers who made us learn algebra, geometry and trigonometry, and memorize Newton's laws and Bernoulli's Principle.
We started each school day with the pledge to the flag and a prayer, and were taught that Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, et al., were honorable men and the nation's Founding Fathers. And then, after beating all this information into our thick heads, they had the audacity to test us on how much of it we had actually learned! Worse yet, if we didn't know enough, we would, dare I write the word, fail!
Modern "educators" generally scoff at the idea of teaching high-school students the classics. The archaic notion of actually failing a student can get a teacher hauled in for a "performance evaluation." And as for "reading, writing and arithmetic," they just can't compete with other "more important" subject matter. Like sex.
During his State of the Union address, President Bush graciously commended Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy for his efforts in passing the $26 billion federal aid to education bill. But if that means we're going to educate the rest of America the way they do it in the Bay State, we're all in trouble. According to a recent report in The Boston Globe, the ninth-grade health text at Silver Lake High School -- in Plymouth County -- teaches that, "testing your ability to function sexually and to give pleasure to another person may be less threatening in the early teens with people of your own sex."
And a Newton, Massachusetts high-school principal recently told parents that attendance in the school's condom distribution program is mandatory and must not be missed because "it is too important." No mention was made as to the importance of attending courses on calculus, physics or chemistry. And it's the same around much of the country.
This week, The Washington Times reported that Maryland standardized test scores for math, science, social studies, writing, language and reading have dropped by 1.6 percent since 2000 -- and now, only 43.7 percent of students perform "satisfactorily."
In California, where students scored dead last in last year's nationwide test of science literacy, Delaine Eastin, the state's superintendent of public instruction, has a novel excuse: Science is simply "not taught very much" in California's school districts.
Then what do they teach in the Golden State? Well, seventh-grade students in the Byron Union School District now have a mandatory course on Islam, where they must participate in prayer "in the name of Allah the Compassionate the Merciful," chant praise to "Allah, Lord of Creation," dress up like Muslims, take a Muslim name and stage a mock Jihad. John Walker Lindh didn't have to run off to Afghanistan, he could have stayed home.
Parents in an Oklahoma City school district complain that the "Black Pledge of Allegiance" -- representing the Black Liberation Movement -- appears on the Millwood District website. Written by the founder of United Slaves, a Marxist group birthed in the '60s, the pledge begins, "We pledge allegiance of the red, black and green/Our flag, the symbol of our eternal struggle/and to the land we must obtain." School Superintendent Gloria Griffin refuses to remove the pledge from the site, because students "may get the wrong message."
In New Jersey, it's a case of no message at all. The state Department of Education's revised history standards don't require students to know anything about George Washington, Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin. And in lessons covering the early settlers and America's beginnings, threatening terms like Pilgrims, the Mayflower and war -- now called conflict -- are obsolete. Gone as well are most historical accounts of the inhumane treatment endured by America's soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines in World War I and II, Korea or Vietnam. Instead, students are required to know that slavery, the Holocaust and conditions in modern Iraq are examples of "cruel and inhumane" treatment.
In his address to the world last Tuesday, President Bush eloquently challenged the people of this nation to the demands of what he called "a decisive decade in the history of liberty." Hopefully, those who are supposed to be educating our next generation of leaders will rise to the task.