Honoring America's many miseducators

Posted: May 29, 2002 12:00 AM
Now that the school year is ending, it's time to award some miseducational Oscars or Emmys -- let's call them Dopeys -- to those who have messed with kids' minds. I suspect readers have their own nominees, but here are several that appeal to me. My Dopey nomination for grammar school mischief goes to Innisbrook Wraps, which this academic year gave children, as a "reward" for selling school fund-raiser wrapping paper, a colorful "Environment Q&A Book" titled "When Is It Great to Turn Green?" Here are some of those Q's and A's: -- Q: Can trout be burned by a raindrop? A: Not literally, but fish and other living things do get "burned" by acid rain all the time. -- Q: Could I get bitten by a peach? A: Yes, if it has been sprayed by pesticides. ... Suggest that your parents buy organically grown products. -- Q: Could the sun light up the world at night? A: It sure could. Solar energy is quite powerful. ... It doesn't pollute the air the way fossil fuels can, and it won't run out anytime soon. So what are we waiting for? -- Q: When is it great to turn green? A: Any time. ... Planet Earth needs government agencies, large corporations and organizations to be green. Yes, when raindrops burn and peaches bite, what are we waiting for? Out with oil and gas, in with solar energy and the environmental left. My high-school Dopey award nominee is Prior Lake High in suburban Minneapolis, if the account of Elinor Burkett, a former Miami Herald reporter and college professor, is anything close to reality. Burkett went to work at that high school and told Julia Duin of The Washington Times what she found: "A malaise, a low-lying depression all the time. What passes for rebellion is a kind of nagging, unpleasant passive-aggressiveness. There's no life, there's no energy, there's no spark of excitement or interest. But there's a kind of deadening. ... They've had careful self-esteem training since they were 2. They're told exactly what to feel about everything, and they have to be happy all the time." Burkett's book, "Another Planet: A Year in the Life of a Suburban High School," goes beyond what she calls "shards of half-truths about music and style and adolescent angst" to show how teen-agers are bored and teachers blind not only to cheating and copying, but to warfare among the school's factions: "Jocks, Wiggers, Preps, Punks, Burnouts, Rednecks, Sluts and Goths." From the banners that vapidly proclaim, "You Are Unique," and, "A Mind is a Terrible Thing to Waste," to the emphasis on (unearned) self-esteem, this high school is a mess. I have two nominees for college Dopeys. One goes to Southwestern University, a Texas school that last fall and for the next two falls is proud of paying a radical feminist, Bell Hooks, author of "Teaching to Transgress," to be its guest scowler. (That's not a typo; I've read some of her strident essays.) "She's made a lot of people angry, and that's good," said Shannon Winnubst, chairwoman of Southwestern's women's studies program. According to the Austin American-Statesman, Winnubst said she knew the program was successful when a male student told her that Hooks frightened him. My other Dopey college nominee is for a lecture course that should be frightening, Yale University's Philosophy 119b: Death. Professor Shelly Kagan's goal is "to get at what is the truth concerning the nature of death -- and at what is the truth's significance for our lives." Not a bad idea, except that Kagan tells his 200 students that "you're wrong to believe in a soul," and, "I find this country's moral taboo against suicide irrational." Why doesn't Yale at least allow a diversity of opinion -- perhaps even a similar course taught by a biblically orthodox Christian? A course on death wouldn't be bad, if students first learned something about life.