Suzanne Fields

Everybody talks about education -- the politicians loudest of all, until they get bored with the subject -- but the education, and the miseducation, of our children continues as the concern dearest to the hearts of parents.

Everyone, Republican and Democrat, liberal and conservative, male and female, agree that "somebody has to do something." The argument, angry and contentious, is about the who and the what.

Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City who has solutions to problems we don't yet have, arrived fresh from his first election three terms ago with the announcement that he wanted to be "the education mayor." He has since decided that he wants to be the "the gun-control mayor," or the "soda-pop mayor," meddling with his millions in congressional races in places like Arkansas and Missouri, more than a thousand miles from Gotham.

Yet, by one estimate, nearly 80 percent of New York City's high-school graduates need help learning to read well enough to master other subjects when they apply to one of the community colleges in the City University system.

The state of New York spends $18,126 on every child in its schools. A dollar is not what it used to be, but that's still a lot of taxpayer money, even in New York. The City Department of Education says it's raised high school graduation standards by 40 percent since 2006, but the number of students who need remedial work has declined by only half of a percentage point.

It's easier to blame global warming than doing something real and effective about failing schools. Comparisons are odious, particularly of time and place. Take the eighth-grade graduation exam used in Bullitt County, Ky., in 1912. While more than a century ago, it's enough to make a parent long for the old days he or she never knew.

Bullitt County eighth-graders were required to calculate the cost of painting a room, if the paint cost 12.5 cents per square yard, the room was 20 feet by 16 feet by 9 feet, and deducting one door measuring 8 foot by 4 feet, 6 inches and two windows 5 feet by 3 feet, 6 inches.

They were required to locate the Erie Canal, explain why it was important and identify the waters a ship would pass through on a voyage from London to Manila via the Suez Canal. And this one: Tell where the liver is located, and compare it to other organs of the body, and identify the secretions of all. Define the cerebrum and the cerebellum.

Suzanne Fields

Suzanne Fields is currently working on a book that will revisit John Milton's 'Paradise Lost.'

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