Monday, September 30, 2002

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

What to Do About Grade Inflation

There may not be a school in the country that has avoided the temptation to inflate grades. A generation ago in the typical high school, three times as many “C’s” as “A’s” were given out. Today, that has reversed. In some high schools there are so many students with a 4.0, if every one of them got to give the valedictory address, as they should, graduation would last two days. Well, almost.

There are several reasons why grade inflation is so rampant: to make parents feel that schools are providing a good value for the several thousand dollars per pupil that schools costs today . . . to encourage students and teachers into thinking they are doing very well . . . and most of all, to carry out the widespread distorted attitude about self-esteem that no child should ever feel “not as good” as another, even when objectively measured on an academic basis by assignments and tests.

Why is grade inflation bad? For the same reasons it is so common: it gives parents and the public a phony idea about how well schools really are delivering on the expensive process of public education . . . it discourages true scholarship and intense effort among students and discourages teachers who would rather push students to do their personal bests than give out “A’s” just for showing up . . . and it ends up hurting the self-esteem of the two-thirds of the student body who “make” the Honor Roll, since the Honor Roll suddenly is a sham, and everybody knows it.

When there is grade inflation, the incentive to achieve academically is destroyed. That’s the bottom line of why it should be stopped.

And here’s how:

At Curriculum Night, at Open House, at the Parent-Teacher Organization meetings, when visiting with other parents, when you talk informally to your child’s teachers, at formal parent-teacher conferences, or even in a nice letter to the principal, school board and superintendent, ask whether the school has grade inflation.

If they say they don’t know or don’t think so, ask for the grade average of your child’s entire classroom and grade level, subject by subject.

It’s one thing to have a 3.9 on a 4.0 scale in algebra class. It’s quite another if your child’s algebra classroom grade average for all 20 students is a 3.9 and the average of the entire grade level, of all algebra students, is a 3.7.

To be fair, every child’s report card should be reporting the grade average of all students by classroom and by teacher, too. That information should be made available to all parents so that they can evaluate the honesty and integrity of the grades their children are receiving.

There’s no reason today’s report cards shouldn’t carry that information to help parents more accurately evaluate how their child is doing in relation to his or her peers. Not only that, it would be a fair way to keep schools accountable for the No. 1 tool parents and students have to measure progress and school’s effectiveness, grades.

Exposing grade inflation is the only way to correct it. And correcting it may be the only way to reverse the growing specter of students who got A’s and B’s in math and English in high school who can’t even pass a remedial college course in those subjects. That’s happening all over, even to graduates of the finest high schools in the state.

Don’t let schools tell you they don’t have grade information on a bigger scale than individual students. They do. Why do you think we bought them all that computer equipment? For better-quality information reporting, just like this.

Dig into this, and get it stopped before your child experiences the heartache of having nearly all A’s . . . and then mysteriously absolutely bombing the nationally-standardized college admission tests, because a lot of those grades were inflated and gave everyone the wrong impression about how well your child was really learning.

The only thing that should be inflated in schools is trust between parents and school employees, and grade inflation does more than anything else to keep that from happening.

Sunday, September 29, 2002

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

Bad Flowers

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
— 1 Corinthians 13:7

This is the time of year that parents of pretty girls love. Teenage boys are rutting — not antlers, but football helmets. That can only mean one thing: the Homecoming Dance is near.

When the typical boy comes over to pick up your daughter, your typical American home suddenly morphs into the Addams Family mansion, complete with harpsichord doorbell. You open the door to them, and instead of pudgy, normal, middle-aged parents, they see Morticia and Gomez.

It doesn’t help that my husband always borrows a shotgun this time of year and is conspicuously cleaning it as the boy arrives, brandishing it with a confident squint like Chuck Connors on “The Rifleman.”

When the beautiful daughter appears in her lovely dress, the boy’s eyeballs usually pop out and bounce and roll on our hardwood floors. That’s how we tell they’re still plumb. At this point, the boy usually turns to me with pleading body language and shaking, like a dog at the veterinarian’s who got shots there last time. I can tell how desperately the boy wants me, instead of him, to pin the flowers onto the molecule of fabric available on her bodice by the degree of oscillation of the baby’s breath on the flowers he’s holding. I mean, it’d make a great physics project.

Eyeballs retrieved. Flowers on. Pictures taken. Off they go. Whew!

Bringing flowers to a pretty girl for a big dance is a wonderful American tradition, especially if you’re a florist. And if you’re a florist, you’ll REALLY like the flower-giving tradition of the men in MY family. They go all out.

Flowers are supposed to symbolize the boy’s honor and esteem for the young damsel. But analyze this: the men in MY family give bad flowers.

My older brother had a big date for Homecoming one year, and brought a promising white corsage box into her home. Her parents lined them up in front of the fireplace and beamed as he opened the box and started pinning on the flowers. Much to everyone’s surprise, though, the flowers were dry, crusty and brown.

Her father took one look. “But they’re DEAD!”

Her mother saw, too, but figured my brother must be poor and able to afford only a recycled corsage. Or on sale or something. She elbowed her husband to shut up.

The girl was confused and felt sorry for her date, thinking the florist had made a terrible mistake but it was too late, so just grin and bear it.

Her father pointed the camera at the young people, but continued to exclaim, “But they’re DEAD!!!”

Her mother felt sorry for her, anticipating the long evening of pitying stares at the dead corsage. But she continued to elbow the father to shut up.

The girl was thinking, “And here I thought this boy was such an ace. Oh, well. Maybe it’ll fall off. There are worse things than going around with dead flowers pinned to your chest.”

The young people went out the door. The father stood on the step with his pronouncement echoing after them: “But they’re DEAD!!!!!”

But there’s more. On her seat in his car was another promising white corsage box. Inside was a gorgeous flower arrangement, fresh and colorful and alive. She took it out and looked at him. They burst out laughing.

They have been married for over 25 years now. Bad flowers make good marriages. And they run in families:

When my mom and dad were in college, a big dance was coming up. It would be their first formal date. My mom instructed my dad that she would be wearing an aqua dress and so flowers that would go with an aqua dress would be appropriate. Aqua. Not really blue, not really green, not turquoise. But aqua.

Well, at noon on the day of the dance, the doorbell rang at her sorority house. Flowers for her. She opened the promising white corsage box.

Red carnations, an elaborate corsage.

Eww. What a bad choice. He didn’t get it. Oh, well.

At 2 p.m., the doorbell rang again. Flowers for her, again. Maybe he remembered her instructions in time, and was sending something color-coordinated. She opened the box. This time, it was another corsage of red carnations that had wilted and badly smashed, as if run over by a car six months ago. Bad flowers, really bad. Whaaaaat?

At 4 p.m., the doorbell rang again. This time, it was a dozen long-stemmed red carnations.

She put on the aqua dress and her friends helped her pin on the red carnations all over her dress. Word spread and a crowd gathered in the sorority lobby. When he arrived to pick her up for the dance, she came down the spiral stairway with the red carnations pinned on her aqua dress helter-skelter . . . and one long-stemmed one between her teeth.

He met her at the bottom of the stairs with white orchids. Their eyes met. They burst out laughing.

So naturally, they were married. And through all the big events of their lives, from their wedding to all the anniversaries to his funeral a few years ago, the flowers were . . . what else? . . . red carnations.

So tell your sons, this Homecoming season, to relax and have fun with the flower part of the evening. You never know: what could be blossoming is true love.

Saturday, September 28, 2002

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up

Forgiving the Norfolk Four

The murders of five innocent people in a robbery at the U.S. Bank in Norfolk, Neb., on Thursday, followed shortly by the tragically related suicide of a state trooper, can only be met with one proper response:


The tragedy hit the city of Norfolk and the state of Nebraska even harder than the murders of the innocents in 9/11 hit the nation. Proportionately, this was worse. It drops like a ton of lead on each Nebraska heart. But there’s only one way to answer:


The four young men charged in the crime, Jorge Galindo, Gabriel Rodriguez, Jose Sandoval and Erick Fernando Vela, are accused of shooting four bank employees and a customer in the head, at close range, in cold blood. It is one of the bloodiest crimes in Nebraska history, if not the bloodiest. They risk the death penalty or life imprisonment as the official consequence of the justice system. But what must be the sentence from the rest of us?


It’s not what we should do. It’s what we have to do.

In loving memory of the dead — Lisa Bryant, Lola Elwood, Jo Mausbach, Samuel Sun, Evonne Tuttle and despondent state trooper Mark Zach — and in honor and support of their grieving husbands and wives, children, parents, brothers and sisters, other relatives and friends, the Bible says the only way to turn this horrible episode into good is to treat those four men the way God treats us, for although we do not deserve it, God offers us . . .


And so the Biblical response, the difficult response, but the right response, is to resist the anger, bitterness and fear that no doubt are raging in many hearts right now. Make the sacrifice to forgive, as you have been forgiven countless times. Reach out and care for the women and children who love the four men who stand accused of such a heinous, inhuman act, just as Norfolk and the entire state are sure to reach out and care for the survivors of the innocent victims.

The response that will overcome this enormous evil in our midst, and turn it into a thing of beauty that glorifies God, is to give love and grace to all who’ve been hurt, no matter whether their loved one was standing behind each gun, or in front of it.

I hope and pray that all of us, even the survivors, will forgive these four men, if they truly are the perpetrators. Even the wife of the despondent trooper, who is left with six small children. Even the new bridegroom, married just over a month. All the children, stripped of a parent. All those whose lives will never be the same.

No. But maybe they can be better than ever before. If all of us can respond with love and grace to this most challenging of events, it’s possible that our lives will be better off in the long run for rising above the natural tendency toward hatred and vengeance. If we can rise above, then others will witness the spiritual strength that comes only through humility and forgiveness. And all of our relationships can be enriched and refreshed.

I hope and pray that every single Nebraskan will from now on end every conversation with a loved one as if they knew it would be their last. That means a hug and a sweet “I love you” at every parting. Do this, in memory of the ones who died in Norfolk. Their loved ones will never have another chance.

And I hope and pray that U.S. Bank, or a church in Norfolk, or some civic group will organize a fund to meet the needs of all those concerned . . . all the widows and orphans of victims and perpetrators . . . to show them that even in the face of the most senseless depravity, helping hands and hearts can overcome evil with good.

Forgiveness: it’s the only thing we’ve got. And when you get right down to it, it’s the only thing we need.

For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you;

But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

— Matthew 6:15

Friday, September 27, 2002

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom

The ‘I Can Do It’ Box

If there’s one bad thing TV and computers have caused, it’s that kids don’t know how to mess around any more. They don’t play with their hands and make things just for fun. No costumes, no box-and-sheet forts, no gizmos to give as gifts . . . it’s too bad. Sitting there passively staring at the tube does nothing for your brain and muscles during the years that you need to be exercising both with good, old-fashioned play.

Moms who want their children to have fun, build their imaginations and get hooked on creative expression can fight back with one simple idea: an “I Can Do It" Box.

Get a big cardboard box or a clean garbage can you don’t need. Put it in the garage or basement. Show your child, when age-appropriate, how to lay down newspaper to protect working surfaces, and how to use tools, scissors, duct tape, screws, nails, staple guns, glue guns, spray paint, fabric paint, glitter and other essentials that you store elsewhere in the house. If there’s something slightly dangerous that you would prefer to do for them, let them know: sawing, nailing and hot-gluing come to mind.

Then remember to fill and refill that box or can with fun stuff from around the house, garage, yard and neighborhood.

As you go about your daily routine, just keep things that could be put to creative, constructive use, instead of throwing it away. Keep that box filled up. Then there’ll always be stuff your kids can get their hands on, any time there’s something they want to build, do or be, just for fun:

Scrap wood
Old bedsheets
Old towels
Fabric swatches
Cloth ribbon
Old ribbon and wrapping paper
Old broomstick or mop handle
Old tennis balls or small rubber balls
Old clothes that could make costumes
Large buttons
Shower curtain rings
Toilet paper and paper towel tubes
Corrugated cardboard
Drywall scraps
Coated wire
Coat hangers
Chicken wire
Large popsicle sticks
Dryer lint in a zip-lock bag
Plastic lids from milk bottles
Empty egg cartons
Empty cereal boxes
Old appliances to take apart
Anything anyone thinks your kids might be able to use!

Thursday, September 26, 2002


Have You Sent a Note to School?

Schools are shooting at your children. That’s right, shooting at them.

What are they shooting? Psychological paintballs. They are trying to identify and tag those children who have anything other than the left-wing establishment’s Politically Correct points of view on an amazing range of issues.

You see it the most in high-school “health” classes in which they “assess” your child’s opinions and history about everything from your child’s sex life, drug use and attitudes about homosexuality, to your family’s religious beliefs and practices.

For a good background piece on this issue, go to and click on the Minnesota education advocacy group’s MREdCo update for Sept. 26, “Assessed for Bias.”

Nosy data collection on our kids isn’t limited to teenagers. It’s happening in “guidance class” with the little bitties in grade school, too. Those who are most vulnerable to questioning from outsiders are being exploited for their very innocence. Just remember: there’s a reason for asking every question, and for every bit of information that is exchanged in a public school building, there is a record made and kept.

With those “confidential surveys” that are often given to assess drug and sex attitudes in a given school district, there is a huge difference between “anonymous” and “confidential.” Actually, your child’s answers are neither. Your child’s answers are generally detectable and recordable, down to the level of an individual question:

Have you ever smoked marijuana?

Do you have a preference for homosexual people?

Have you ever snuck out late at night and gotten away with it?

Do you doubt that schools are really asking children questions like that? Why would you? Have you ever gone to school to ask? Have you ever even laid eyes on one of these tests or surveys? By far, most parents haven’t. It’s time we did.

If you start politely demanding to see what your child is being asked and exposed to day after day in school, you’ll see that the old “in loco parentis” rule, that schools are standing in the place of parents and doing what we would do if we were there, is no longer being followed.

Most of the time, educators don’t even realize that what they are doing is wrong. They are just following orders: trying to comply with federal regulations, or just delivering the canned curriculum that has been set in place.

Now, most of the time, it’s a good thing when a child is obedient in school. Most of the time, we want children to answer questions that teachers and counselors ask them in school.

But these days, the nosy, intrusive, value-laden psychological questions are more and more slipping in besides normal academic ones. There is a widespread misapplication of federal regulations requiring schools to teach kids to appreciate “diversity.” That’s just the cover story. What’s really going on is something else.

So they’re asking your child a lot of questions behind your back, and in a lot of cases, the simple act of asking the questions is disturbing and damaging. Remember, questions teach. Wasn’t that the schtick of a guy named Socrates?

I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the question in writing on my ninth-grade daughter’s health class assignment at Westside High School a few years ago. “Have you ever regretted having sex?” I had to rub my eyes. Sure, my daughter was sleeping with someone at the time . . . HER TEDDY BEAR, TONY!!!

What a vulgar, shocking question. Ick. And only one of many.

Did I have a chance to OK that sort of question before it was put to her? No.

Did it plant some kind of a seed of doubt in her mind that she was abnormal for being a totally G-rated kid with a life goal of not having sex outside of marriage? Probably.

Did that violate everything that we hold dear about the public schools working FOR us parents and our values, not AGAINST them? Yes, it did.

That’s one of the reasons we left Westside. It was so disappointing.

And now, in school districts all across the land, you see questions like that one, and even worse. But only the talkative kids with good relationships with their parents are revealing what they are being asked.

How do schools get away with this? They do it with surveys, questionnaires, quizzes, videos, guest speakers, assignments, worksheets, computer Q&As, evaluation forms . . . any number of devices to collect your child’s personal opinions, attitudes, values and beliefs without your knowledge.

The law says they can’t do this, if they take even a dime of federal funds. But they’re doing it anyway.

The law says they have to run anything by you that might undermine your parental rights. They’re doing it anyway, and it’s happening in darn near every school a lot more frequently than any of us realizes.

So this is what we parents have to do to protect our kids:

Send a note to school.

Print out this letter, which is based on a very good one that is posted on the website of writer Beverly Eakman at (Parental Informed Consent Notice) or draft one of your own, and send it to school. Do it today.

Let me know what happens.

In the meantime, teach your child this general rule:

If you wouldn’t want the whole world to see how you answer something you are asked in school, do not answer it. Instead, take the paper or survey or questionnaire home and show it to your parents. Let them take it from there.



Mr./Ms. ____________, Superintendent of Schools


City, State Zip

Dear ________________:

This is to inform you that we require prior written notification from our child’s school concerning any intent to provide physical, mental health, or social services/counseling to our child, (NAME).

Similarly, we hereby state that the school must obtain our written consent prior to providing any of said services.

Except for emergency medical care involving sudden, traumatic physical injury or illness, and then only when we cannot be immediately located, we are hereby exempting our child from participation in any health care or social service programs/activities, whether provided directly by the school or through a connected resource/family/youth center.

The requirement for our written consent extends to any non-emergency physical or mental examination/procedure and also to any effort to place pressure (such as referral by a school counselor to another agency) on our child for the purpose of circumventing our prerogatives of determining the manner and means of satisfying our child's health care needs.

Activities by school staff or through school programs that encourage our child to bypass our authority and advance consent will be met with legal action.

Concerns by school staff relating to our child's immunizations, vision, hearing, eating habits, etc., are to be brought to us for my attention and assessment.

School staff members are not to take it upon themselves to obtain a diagnosis or to provide treatment.

Assessment and testing are to center on academic, knowledge-based factors.

The informed consent requirement encompasses, but is not necessarily limited to, the following typical school services:

-- Nursing health assessments and/or school-based physical examinations.

-- Personality testing and school-based counseling related to physical or mental health.

-- Behavioral or physical screening and/or diagnostic instruments (i.e., emotional factors such as anger or peer relationships, so-called psycho-sexual indicators relating to sexual activity or orientation, and chronic physical conditions such as anemia, diabetes and tuberculosis). This restriction applies to all "EPSDT" (Early and Periodic Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment) services, which typically are provided via state funds.

-- Lectures, presentations or school assemblies relating to sex and substance abuse.

-- Anger management, "self-esteem," and conflict resolution courses.

-- Individual, group and family counseling of any kind.

Thank you for your cooperation in this matter. For our mutual protection, a copy of this letter is on file with our attorney.


Mr./Mrs./Ms. _________________


_______________, President, Board of Education

_______________, Principal, ______________ Elementary/Middle/High School

_______________, Esq. (your attorney)

Wednesday, September 25, 2002


Your Ball Struck My Foot

There’s a funny scene in the movie “Happy Gilmore” in which the bad-guy golfer hits his ball onto the foot of a tall, scary guy who looks like “Lurch” on “The Addams Family.”

The fancy-pants golfer comes up to the big oaf to retrieve the ball. With a mean grimace, the brute towers over him and growls:

“Your ball struck my foot.”

It was so intimidating! I think he even bared his silver teeth.

Well, there’s a girl on our daughter’s softball team who kind of looks like Lurch on a good-hair day. She is 6’1” and a great athlete. She’s the pitcher. When she strikes someone out, the other infielders run to her for a group hug, then fan back out, and since Christine’s so much taller than the other girls, it looks like a mother hen with her chicks.

She is gentle, meek and funny, pretty mature for a 14-year-old girl. Last spring, she broke her ankle sliding into base. All fall, it has been tender and she has worn a very conspicuous brace on her left leg.

Well, last weekend, when Christine came up to bat, the opposing pitcher hurled a fast ball right onto that brace.

Christine winced, but took her base without a word.

The second time she got up, the exact same thing happened.

Christine again took it like a good sport. But later, she and my daughter nearly expired with laughter when Christine said that what had flashed through her mind was that “Happy Gilmore” scene. It was all she could do to keep herself from stomping up to that opposing pitcher, who was a foot shorter, and tower over her and growl:

“Your ball struck my foot.”

But she didn’t. She kept her self-control. Pitchers need it . . . and a sense of humor to keep themselves standing tall.

Tuesday, September 24, 2002

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes

Zero Tolerance Right Back Atcha, Baby

I don’t like zero tolerance policies in schools. They take authority and power away from front-line teachers and counselors and hand them over to overpaid, ivory-tower, pointy-headed administrators. That’s asking for it.

Recently we’ve had a zero tolerance scandal in the Omaha Public Schools involving an eighth-grader who got a five-day suspension from school for not turning in some marijuana he intercepted in class fast enough. He got in big trouble for doing the right thing, in other words. There’s more about the case below.

The aftermath has gotten so ridiculous that it has inspired me to call for immediate imposition of five-day suspensions without pay for the following acts by school officials. All of these happen every day, including in OPS, and break the zero tolerance policies of us parents and taxpayers:

-- School officials acting as if these are their children in their schools being educated with their money, instead of our children in our schools being educated with our money.

-- Inability to resist adding more and more nonacademic expenses and employees to the school budget to the point where they are taxing little old ladies out of their homes and forcing young mothers to have to work and miss or muff their children’s childhoods.

-- Criticizing any parent or taxpayer who dares to speak out against any school policy or action by labeling them a “troublemaker,” “right-wing fundamentalist wacko,” “enemy,” “unstable” or any number of other bad names.

-- Criticizing anyone, including the news media, who dares to do anything but fawn over them and praise their spending patterns and their test scores . . . while at the same time these school officials shamelessly manipulate the media into helping them get better jobs and more money, and “spin” accountability for their own problems and shortcomings onto the students and their families.

-- Insisting that parents and students spill their guts about every conceivable personal problem, income source, value choice, religious persuasion, etc., while if anyone dares to question their own views on what’s right and wrong, they hammer you.

-- Trying to tell parents and the public that we have no moral authority over our own children in matters of character development, including sexuality and substance abuse education, and yet within their ranks there are many highly-paid people in positions of great power who have had one or more divorces and adulterous affairs and drug and alcohol problems aplenty, and their own children have had serious problems far worse than the vast majority of students.

-- Institutionalizing rotten reading instructional methods that create learning disabilities, not solve them, then come crying to us for more money to deal with the learning disabilities they created.

-- Institutionalizing rampant grade inflation and test-score manipulation, deceiving parents into thinking their children are getting a top-notch education compared to the rest of the country.

-- Failing to make sure that the documents that ensure our freedoms, including the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence, the Federalist Papers and the U.S. Constitution are taught to students, and then mistaking the exercise of the freedoms those documents ensure as “vicious attacks" on schools.

-- Failing to do any semblance of a cost-benefit analysis on any of their programs.

-- Falling for every “fad du jour” that comes down the pike.

-- Retaining dead-wood teachers by misapplying the state teacher tenure law instead of doing what’s best for students, which is to strive for the best teachers and prune out the ones who don’t fill the bill.

-- Failing to have in place any semblance of a reliable, meaningful measurement of teacher performance and effectiveness and violently opposing any attempt to put merit pay programs in place.

-- Negotiating across the bargaining table each year making multi-million dollar union contracts with the former buddies of the school administrators and the key political campaign contributors of the school-board members, and yet telling the public that they are representing them.

-- “Stacking” every conceivable school advisory and policy committee and board with their own paid people whose opinions they tightly control, citizens who do business with the district or have relatives who do, or clueless shills who have never had an original idea, instead of a fair cross-section of the parents and taxpayers who are footing the bills.

Boy! Add up all the five-day suspensions without pay for all the school officials who have been doing these things, and presto! We would save so much money on salaries for intolerable school officials that we would have no more spending crisis in our public schools!

I have more, plenty more, things for which we should have zero tolerance. But you get the idea.

I just want to see the end of zero tolerance policies.

Why? They kick kids when they are down instead of offering them a hand up out of the confusing complexities of life today. They punish without offering a better way. They don’t teach; they hurt. They don’t make kids respect authority; they inflame emotions and cause resentment and bitterness.

Zero tolerance policies are a major cop-out, dehumanizing and discouraging. They also are a red flag of poor school management: Buck Passing 101.

They are a symptom of the same managerial cluelessness that has schools claiming to be so careful with our money, and yet we find out that each year’s budget socks away 20 to 25 percent into “cash reserves,” the old cya slush fund. It’s the same talking out of both sides of official school mouths that sees them claim to have strict, G-rated, “abstinence only” sex ed policies, while making their sex ed teachers demonstrate how to stretch a condom over a banana, refer kids to abortion clinics,and allow their female teachers and student dance teams to dress like . . . well, not like ladies, let’s say.

Where do these zero tolerance policies come from? Total Quality Management, the factory-style quality-control philosophy that started with the rebuilding of Japan after World War II. TQM and zero tolerance makes a lot of sense in assembly lines and industrial plants, where a little mistake can cost a lot. However, bonehead educators decided that THEY would institute Total Quality Management for the educational process, even though they are supposed to be turning out nicely-educated citizens of good character, not widgets. So TQM has infested school strategic plans, mission statements, conduct codes and everything else that’s supposed to be people-friendly in our schools. TQM and zero tolerance are making school districts all over the country mishandle human relations situations repeatedly . . . because guess what? Children are people, not machines.

And now that the Omaha Public Schools has embarrassed itself, bigtime, right before a big tax override vote Nov. 5, in the sad, strange case involving Morton Middle School student Joshua Erdkamp, zero tolerance policies have been exposed for what they are: stupid.

Here’s what happened: The eighth-grader intercepted some marijuana that one student was going to sell to another, within school walls. He waited an hour for a trusted counselor to be available to turn it in so that the kids who were drug-dealing would get into trouble, not him. Well, surprise: if you go by the book, Joshua was supposed to have turned in that marijuana immediately, if not sooner. For waiting an hour to do it the way he deemed best, he got slammed with a five-day suspension.

His mother and grandmother got disgusted and complained to the media. And then it was off to the races with horrible PR mistakes:

-- The school PTA called around trying to get people to come to a meeting defending the suspension with an incredibly exaggerated claim that the district had been “viciously attacked” in the news media, when there had been one or two very tepid stories.

-- School district employees “stacked” that meeting by more than three to one versus people in attendance, such as parents, who do not earn their livelihood from OPS.

-- OPS Superintendent John Mackiel said at that meeting that people have a “neurotic need” to believe the worst about public schools and an obsession with scapegoating them for problems schools didn’t cause . . . sidestepping the real issue, which was the fact that kids were dealing drugs on his watch in our schools.

-- He said OPS would seek to get a law passed to allow districts to “defend” themselves against “attacks” in the media.

-- Last but not least, OPS officials including School Board President John Langan insinuated that there were privacy concerns and problems with the boy and his story that prevented OPS from thoroughly discussing the case.

This regrettable incident is just one more thing going on in public schools today distracting everybody’s attention away from academics, improving the delivery of quality curriculum, showing kids how grown-ups can all get along and treat each other fairly, and building our future with all of our might.

I know it’s a complicated world and most people who work in schools are doing the best they can.

But this wasn’t right and it wasn’t fair to the boy.

How much should we tolerate that? Zero.

Monday, September 23, 2002

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

(M + i) + nd = l + e + (s x 2) M + (a + th)

Have you ever tried to convince a young checkout clerk that gum, milk, a can of beans and a loaf of bread can't possibly total $58.90?

But she frowns, and says, "That's what the MACHINE says." So you show her, on paper, that the items actually add up to $5.89? Which is 10 times LESS?

But she can’t understand it, because she can’t add up those four numbers by herself and has to rely on what the machine says, even if it’s obviously wrong?

So you leave, because you can't afford it?

That would be bad math. They teach it in school. We can't afford that, either.

Go to the website, and see why . . . and what people are doing to try to stop mindless math all over the country.

Parents must research this issue and demand quality math instruction. If it isn’t addressed aggressively within a year or two, think seriously about moving your child out of that district. It takes a long time to fix the mindless math mindset, and your child has no time to waste.

I once went to a math quiz bowl with eight “whiz kids” in fifth and sixth grades competing. They were supposedly the math superstars of the district. The moderator tossed out easy math problems like "5 + 7 - 3." I was astounded at how many seconds went by before any of the students hit the buzzer. Reason: even the sharpest kids can't do simple math in their heads, because of the degradations of “whole math.” They had to work the simple problems out laboriously, on paper. Secret: at school, they “get” to use calculators, and memorizing math facts and working out problems in your head are frowned upon. It’s to the point where students are helpless without calculators. And if it’s bad with the top students, imagine how it is for those in the bottom third or so.

A smart teenager I know took geometry in summer school after eighth grade algebra, because he was so fired up to get to Algebra II. He aced the geometry final after just two weeks. So he had one week left. He asked for an advanced geometry proof. The teacher, perturbed because the kid was so far ahead of the rest of the class, gave him a really hard one, figuring that would keep him busy the rest of the class period. Instead, the boy was back up at the teacher's desk in a few minutes, asking for another one. The teacher exploded in rage, "SIT DOWN and SHUT UP!"

Moral of the story: don’t learn well and don’t learn fast. Instead, play around with “manipulatives,” do today’s math assignment in tempera paint and glitter, and don’t confuse yourself with math facts: just guess, or let the calculator do the math for you.

And so it goes: your second-grader can get 100 percent on your fifth-grader's math quizzes, which shows how easy the curriculum is. . . .

Or your 17-year-old still has to do math with little dots on his paper even though that wacky style of new new new gnu math was discredited years ago but was the only way he ever learned. . . .

Or you have to pay your kid $5 to never multiply the tens before the ones even though that's what the teacher wants. . . .

And you have to try to convince a teacher that it's not a good idea to give full credit for wrong answers if the student processed the problem correctly but "merely" made computation errors. They think correcting wrong answers hurts a child’s self-esteem. But what do you suppose it does to your self-esteem if you can’t survive in college or get a good job because you can’t do math?

You can't be just a little bit pregnant. "Close" only counts in horseshoes. Kids need to learn right from wrong, and how to make what's wrong, right. They need MATH.

Kids need a healthy combination of oral repetition, drill, competition, real-life applications and fun to make those numbers come alive. Work their minds, not calculators.

Ironically, school reform advocates decry drill and oral memorization of math facts as not being "higher-order thinking skills." John Saxon of Norman, Okla., who has written the country's most sought-after math textbooks (, pooh-poohs that. Here's why:

Research shows daily drill when you're young pays off later. Math facts are the building blocks of complex mathematical and logical thought, on down the road. You have to be as facile with math facts as possible; they should be absolutely automatic.

Fundamentals. Why does a pianist play scales, or a quarterback throw past dusk? To develop skills that are automatic. It’s the same thing with math. But schools don’t get it.

Parents who can afford it are sending their children to private tutors to give them the automatic math skills they're not getting in school. That's nuts. We can do better:

• The first principle in good math instruction is to make sure your school has good reading instruction. If children don’t learn how to read text in a systematic, logical way, they will be weakened in their mathematical thinking basics as well. If there are a lot of students with “learning disabilities” in the upper grades in your school, that is a red flag of poor reading instruction. Think about moving to a different school, if so.

• Parents, advocate for systematic math textbooks that teach one skill at a time, even if you have to search out old, out-of-print books. Order a Saxon book and show it to other parents and teachers. Compare it to what your children are using; compare the number of problems presented, and how skills are taught. Straight-up comparisons will always favor the tried and true textbook, but schools rarely use them anymore.

• No grade school child should ever use a calculator, even on standardized tests. Calculators are inappropriate until algebra.

• Buy supplementary math books for your child at a school supply store and encourage after-school math work at your child’s own pace.

• Use "functional math" every day. Go over your grocery receipt or checkbook balance with your child. Put coins in a box lid and practice making change. Tape numbers on checkers and do math facts on them as you jump.

• Play with your kids using numbers. Use whatever's at hand: baseball box scores, the weather report, road maps, how much grass seed you’re putting down per square foot. Have fun with it.

Life is math. If only schools knew that. Then maybe what they're doing in math class would . . . add up.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams


Behold, I show you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed.
— 1 Corinthians 15:51

My nephew Mark is tall and blond, a junior in college who’s a computer genius. He’s nice to his elders, has made a pile of money with his own lawn care business, and has the most dazzling dark brown eyes you ever saw.

All I can say to you eligible young ladies is: gentlewomen, start your engines.

Mark has always been cute. When he was little, he looked like Humpty Dumpty with a Dutch Boy haircut. He was roly poly and had stout legs that would chug-chug-chug all day. Somebody gave him a magic set once, and his goofy smile just got wider and wider, trick after trick; he thought he was astounding us and we were all helplessly laughing because he was so adorable.

He smiled that goofy smile all the time. He was such a ham that my father, his grandfather, nicknamed him “Hambone.” It was something special, just between them.

This past summer Mark had to do one of the hardest things of his life: say goodbye to our family’s summer cabin on a wilderness lake in northern Minnesota.

The great-grandparents who built it are gone. The grandfather who nurtured him and the other grandchildren up there is gone. The deed to the property is gone, too: it was taken through eminent domain by the federal government on a 25-year lease-back, which runs out in a few months. Why? Our cabin happened to be right in the middle of what is now Voyageurs National Park.

Mark was smart to bring along three close friends to cushion the pain of his last trip. They “batched” it for a week, doing a lot of hiking and boating and fishing. They tried to copy the grandest feat of my generation, a waterskiing pyramid. They didn’t make it — whew! some records should never be broken — but they had a ball making lifelong memories in the incomparable land of sky-blue waters.

“Everything tastes better up there,” Mark says. “Everything smells better. It’s so quiet and peaceful. There’s no phone, no TV, no cars going by. Nothing can disturb you. You sleep 10 hours a night.”

He said it’s priceless to stay in a place that has been in your family for four generations, to encounter bear and deer and eagles and beavers, and to know all the family lore and inside jokes built up over the years. Like the outhouse hole dug by a guy named Puny. And the brick under a certain bush by a certain rock that has his great-grandfather’s name on it, but we’re the only ones who know it’s there.

He remembers the time he and his grandfather went down to the dock early one morning and caught enough walleyed pike to feed the whole family.

There’s a picture of Mark in full Hambone regalia, wearing an orange life jacket as big as he was, ready to go out in Grandpa’s boat. He can remember Grandpa holding him on one knee and his sister Julie on the other, telling them tall tales on the cool screened porch.

Holding each other close: that’s what family summer cabins are all about.

At week’s end, packing up was “the saddest moment of my life,” Mark said. “I thought, ‘They’re taking away my favorite place in the world.’”

He said he had a strange but comforting feeling, deep down, that someday, one of his friends will become a U.S. senator from Minnesota or something, and somehow he will get it back.

But that would be far off in the future. This was now. It felt as though a vital connection to his past was being chopped off with one of the old lumberjack axes in the cabin’s workshop.

This was where he had interacted with his grandparents and learned to love nature. This is where he felt closest to God. This was where his family rested and renewed. Would the memories fade? Would he ever feel so good, anywhere else? Grandpa, this is so hard! What can I do? Help!

As the boat pulled away from the dock, he couldn’t look back. “I just thought to myself, ‘This is the most beautiful place in the world. Remember it.”

Tears welled up in his eyes. His friends understood.

They packed up the car. They started down the road. Mark started getting choked up.

He had brought a newspaper with him to pass the time. It was folded in his lap. Maybe that would help.

He looked down at a puzzle on the comics page. He saw:


The puzzle’s solution was “boneless ham.” But Mark reads so fast he’s slightly dyslexic. To his eyes, it said:


You can imagine how it felt and what it meant to him. What are there, 750,000 words in the English language? Mark and his friends were in awe.

He has that puzzle on his bulletin board now, at college. He plans to frame it and keep it forever.

“I always felt like both of my grandpas have been watching over me,” Mark said. “Somebody always is.”

Did the experience deepen his faith?

Mark’s a man of few words. He just smiles a Hambone smile, as wide as a walleye and as deep as the sky-blue waters of the most beautiful place in the world.

Saturday, September 21, 2002

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up

Eye-Rolling Evolutionism

Here are three quick examples to help you refute someone who claims that God didn’t create the universe and everything in it, but that it all just “evolved” by random chance:

1. Eye-rolling.

Every time you tell a teenager what chores to do or how things used to be in YOUR day, you get a spectacular show of human eyes rolling practically backwards in their sockets. Think about the anatomical mechanics, the incredibly complex interplay of nerves and muscles, that make that possible. Look at an anatomy book and see the angles and loops and tucks and connections in the tissues surrounding the eye that make such a wide range of eye movement possible. Look up, down and all around . . . and then imagine that eye movement just “evolved” on its own, feature by feature. That’s not just ridiculous. That’s eyewash! Next time someone claims evolution is true, roll your eyes heavenward . . . and say mildly something like, “We just don’t see eye to eye on that.”

2. Giraffe cardio coolness.

Evolution is a tall tale, and the cardiovascular system of the tallest mammal, the giraffe, proves that nicely. A giraffe heart may be two feet long, weigh 25 pounds and have walls several inches thick. This is to support the highest blood pressure of any mammal, at 280/180 more than twice the human rate, with double our beats per minute, too. Why? To pump blood hither and yon, of course. But it’s not just bigger because the giraffe’s body is bigger. There’s more: the long carotid artery is elastic-walled to force the blood up several feet, but it also swells to absorb excess fluid when the giraffe lowers its head. The one-inch wide jugular vein has a series of one-way valves to prevent back-flow when the head is down, too. Meanwhile, with six-foot long legs, one would think the giraffe would suffer from swollen ankles because of sheer gravity, but in contrast to the elastic arteries up top, the giraffe’s vessels down below are thicker and don’t balloon as much, but are still powerful blood conductors. The legs also have special arterial muscles to prevent fluid buildup. This may be familiar to support pantyhose wearers, but the giraffe’s skin is extremely tight, too, to help with this wonderful cardiovascular system. Last, but not least, fetal giraffes in utero have thin blood vessels in their legs because they are suspended in fluid . . . but once they’re born into this gravity field called earth, those vessels begin to thicken. All just by happy natural coincidence, eh? Sigh. So if someone tries to say that there’s no scientific evidence for intelligent design of living things, tell them that the unique features of giraffe circulation prove they’re on the short end of a tall tale.

3. Do the molecular math.

Evolutionists through the decades have fully expected that their theories and sub-theories would be proven out once scientific understanding advanced enough to provide the new techniques and information. Telling, isn’t it, how the exact opposite has happened? Advancements in biochemistry provide a good example. Take “chirality,” the term for the unexplained phenomenon that all amino acids in DNA, the building blocks of life, have the same molecular orientation. If they didn’t, DNA couldn’t be made. But they do, and it’s inexplicable how it happened. It is mathematically impossible that it happened by chance. Ask anyone who pontificates that DNA research backs up evolution to produce even one journal article that refutes chirality. They can’t. Therefore, the theory of evolution is mathematically impossible. Game, set, match, and evolutionists lose by a lot more than a molecule.

Time and time again, you find that the people who dogmatically claim that the theory of evolution is true have simply never looked at the big picture, the whole body of evidence, including what’s staring them right in the face in the form of their own teenagers’ eyes or what’s going on inside those graceful giraffes at the zoo. Maybe they don’t know evolution is eye-rollingly wrong yet, because they haven’t asked themselves the right questions . . . but you can help them get started by asking them a few of your own.

Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.
— Matthew 7:7

Friday, September 20, 2002

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom

When Babies of All Ages Go to Bed

Slip a little baby powder in between bedsheets whenever you change them, with a little sprinkled under and over the mattress pad, too. Everyone in your family will sleep like a baby . . . or at least smell like one.

Thursday, September 19, 2002


Tax Ax Should Cut Both Ways

Nebraska’s two largest school districts plan to increase their spending by nearly 7 percent and nearly 5 percent, respectively, next fiscal year, according to the Nebraska Taxpayers Association.

The Omaha Public Schools board approved an operating budget of $326 million for next fiscal year, up nearly 7 percent. No major new programs are being put in place and most of the increase will go for staff salary raises.

Lincoln Public Schools is increasing its spending by 4.9 percent, to $233.7 million, giving its staff a 6 percent raise next year and 6.2 percent the year after that, with an increase in benefits as well.

It can be frustrating for taxpayers to see these steady spending increases without much, if any, justification and accountability from the school staffers, other than “we want more.”

For example, why shouldn’t these districts be telling us if:

1. Enrollment rose by 5 percent to 7 percent.
2. The graduation rate rose by 5 percent to 7 percent.
3. The dropout rate fell by 5 percent to 7 percent.
4. Standardized test scores rose by 5 percent to 7 percent.
5. The percentage of OPS and LPS graduates who did NOT need remedial classes in college as a result of inadequate preparation in high school fell by 5 percent to 7 percent.

School officials might be able to make a very good case for their constant spending increases every year.

Or maybe not.

The point is, school spending is a double-edged sword that taxpayers have not been wielding with very much skill. If schools want more money, they should be making the case for it. Taxpayers have to make them make that case. If we don’t, we deserve the constant increases.

And if they can’t persuade us, then the tax ax should fall on their budget increases.

It’s an old saw . . . but it cuts true.


Omaha Public Schools budget note: in the last 10 years or so, the daily absentee rate at OPS has risen from 6.7 percent of enrollment to 8.2 percent. In the 2000-01 school year, 3,538 students were absent, on average, each school day. That’s important because school districts are paid by enrollment, not actual attendance, so taxpayers are paying for 3,538 students every day who aren’t there. Also significant is that a rising absenteeism rate is a sign of declining quality, and a red flag that the district isn’t preparing students very well for the workforce. Figures were obtained by subtracting the 39,501 students reported as Average Daily Attendance from the 43,039 listed in Average Daily Membership from the enrollment figures on the OPS annual financial reports on file at

Wednesday, September 18, 2002


One More Minute

There’s a teenage boy who loves to linger in his warm beddy-bye in the morning instead of getting ready for school like a good little boy. It drives his mother bonkers.

Getting him to school on time used to be a keystone kops caper. She felt as though she practically had to haul him out of bed by his ankle, prop him up, brush his teeth and kick him in the southern portions to get himself and his stuff together in time for the arrival of the carpool.

Now he drives himself to school. But it’s still touch and go, lots of mornings. She comes to the door and announces the time, sometimes, with that patented Mom Tone of Voice that’s part loving, part exasperated.

“Oh, Mom,” he’ll moan, throwing an arm over his eyes. “One more minute!”

Well, one morning not long ago, she came to the door. “You’re going to be late!”

He turned over in bed, and mumbled, “Mom, how much is a keg? And where can I get a tattoo?”

Shocked, she backed into the hallway . . . and he got his one more minute.

That’s how long it took her to get his car keys and pretend to swallow them if he didn’t swear he was kidding.

Tuesday, September 17, 2002

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes

Pro-Life Street-Smart Pillow Talk

I have an idea that might help get a breakthrough in the always-tense culture war that’s going on over the issue of abortion.

Some pro-lifers in Omaha got some static lately for boldly holding up some really atrocious photographs of a really atrocious sight, an aborted baby, not far from a funeral gathering for a prominent pro-choicer.

On the other hand, some pro-choicers have written some pretty offensive and obnoxious letters to the editor lately in which they expose their depravity in not seeing that a fetal human being is a full-fledged human being, and experimenting with the bodies of babies killed on purpose in the abortion mills is as despicable as the Nazis experimenting with Jewish bodies during the Holocaust.

Heavy duty, isn’t it?

Both the pro-lifers and the pro-choicers are claiming the moral high ground as caring a lot more for people than the other side does.

Well, you have to come down on the side of the pro-lifers as being the true good guys on this one. No doubt about it: babies trump everybody else, and that’s just the way it is.

The trouble is, they don’t always come off as the clear-cut good guys. They don’t act very street-smart sometimes about how people will react to some of their, shall we say, more vivid tactics.

They need to start having a little fun. Then the fence-sitters who might like their cause, but not their tactics, will have a lot easier time slipping off that fence and into the pro-life fold.

And now the pro-lifers have the perfect situation to have that little bit of fun and attract some good PR and good feelings for the pro-life cause. It has to do with charges of reckless driving, theft by unlawful taking, and disorderly conduct filed in Douglas County Court against Omaha abortionist C.J. LaBenz.

Here’s what happened, and how the pro-life community might respond with salt and light:

Last June 7, a pro-life demonstrator, Sharon McKee, was standing on the public right-of-way at the Women’s Services abortion facility at 46th and Douglas Streets in midtown Omaha. According to a newspaper account published Sept. 7, all of a sudden, abortionist LaBenz, a medical doctor, drove his Jeep Cherokee over the curb up onto the grassy area and struck her with his car, knocking her to the ground.

LaBenz told police he was talking on his cell phone as he turned into the clinic parking lot and lost control of his vehicle.

According to the newspaper, LaBenz then grabbed a videocamera that was being used by Ms. McKee’s 73-year-old father, John Kelly, and wrestled with him for it. A security guard intervened and gave the camera back to Kelly, but LaBenz reportedly left with a clipboard, telephone and $350 in cash that belonged to the woman he allegedly struck with his car.

LaBenz told police he gave the items to his staff for safekeeping.

According to news reports, police retrieved the clipboard, but the cash was gone and the phone was destroyed. Clinic staff told police no one tampered with the phone and no one saw any money.

OK. Here’s what the pro-lifers should do:

At rush hour morning and evening in front of that clinic, they should all wear bike helmets and strap large pillows all over their bodies with belts. Do you know how funny they would look?

Then, as people slow down their cars to stare, they could hand them a photocopy of the article about the charges filed against LaBenz, with a short but sweet statement such as:

“Helmets and pillows are to protect us in case this happens again. We just wish it were this easy to protect the lives of unborn children. Help us! Join the pro-life cause!” and put a phone number people could call to get involved.

What do you think? Would it help?

Humor: it might just be the cushion that could get people to relax and sit down and really think about abortion . . . which is like a runaway car that’s jumped the curb and knocking people’s souls to the ground.

Monday, September 16, 2002

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

Seven Traits of Good Writing Instruction

The fad in writing instruction these days is “Seven Traits.” I call it “Seven Traits of Instructional Philosophies That Will Nuke Your Child’s Ability to Write Even a Simple Declarative Sentence.”

“Seven Traits” writing instruction is another example of how the Total Quality Management philosophy that makes sense for making widgets in a factory has stupidly been applied to the education of young human beings. It has replaced the tried and true, inexpensive, reliable and kid-friendly principles of quality writing instruction. And it has ruined the writing ability of a generation of pupils, thank you very much.

Teachers are no longer allowed to have professional judgment and freedom to teach writing the way they’d like to, adapting their methods to the children in their classrooms. Instead, they have been forced to become number crunchers and scorekeepers.

They are taught to assess a piece of student writing the same way a factory manager would assess an assembly line. Instead of teaching children how to transfer knowledge and ideas effectively from their brains to the printed page, “seven traits” instruction focuses on ideas, content, voice, word choice, organization, sentence fluency and, if you’re lucky, conventions (grammar, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, proper paragraph construction and so forth). Some districts actually skip conventions and get huffy if you call them on that.

At any rate, all the traits are weighted the same and assessed on a numerical scale, or “rubric.” Of course, that’s ridiculous, because you can’t explain what quality writing is with numbers instead of words. And you certainly can’t teach quality writing to young children with a subjective numerical score. Writing that is labeled “satisfactory” in this system is quite often atrociously bad, because major flaws and errors are ignored if the scorer thinks the child has mustered a “creative” response.

Satisfactory? What’s satisfactory, one chocolate chip or a pound of Godiva? You tell me. Would a design for an airplane engine be “satisfactory” if it were creatively drawn . . . but the plane plunged to the earth on its first flight because of so many errors in the “creative” design?

See how far writing instruction has fallen, because of this boneheaded system?

You also can’t have inept writers, which most primary-level teachers are today due to the crummy training they received in teacher’s colleges, telling young children that they are inept writers. A lot of the writing I’ve seen from today’s teachers make me wince, it’s so bad. A couple of bad scores on these rubrics, and I just don’t see how the typical child could fight off the anxiety and writer’s block when asked to write again “for score.”

Very little writing in the real world is loosey-goosey fiction along the lines of “what I did on my summer vacation.” The real world requires factual, expository writing . . . but that’s not what is being fostered with “Seven Traits.” Instead, it’s “creative” writing. Translation: “easy” and “subjective.” But it’s not very creative for the teachers. They are either given canned “writing prompts” from the state that they have to use, no matter how dumb they are, or they use really, really simplistic ones — “Describe your school” — so that the kids won’t feel too nervous and challenged.

Vocabulary and writing complexity thus drops four or five grade levels beneath the level of writing that teachers used to see, because the kids summon words and ideas from their everyday experience, which isn’t much.

Scoring is totally subjective, usually manipulated so that the kids look like weak writers the first time around, and then “miraculously” improve in the next round, making the teachers look brilliant and the district administrators look underpaid . . . if that’s conceivable.

Worst of all, the parents never, as far as I can tell, get to see the actual writing. They just get the score. It’s meaningless. If you ask to see your child’s writing and some other examples so that you can see for yourself in what ways your child’s writing is weak or strong, your request is denied. Why? Don’t ask me. ASK THEM! I suspect that it has something to do with the fact that the average red-blooded American parent would ride these educators out of town on a rail if he or she sees what is really going on with writing instruction these days.

Are you alarmed? You should be. But fear not: here is a list of a different “Seven Traits” that you can bring to your child’s teachers and school officials, and request. No, demand. And if they won’t give them to your child, write yourself a note . . . to look into homeschooling or a private school.

Seven Traits of Good Writing Instruction

1. Start children off right with traditional phonics, K-3, so they know how our language works, can think logically and write accurately. Get rid of the whole language philosophy; it stinks, and the kids’ reading and writing performance prove that.

2. Dump "child-centered education" in the early grades and go back to traditional classrooms with desks and chairs. The undisciplined, unorthodox, chaotic classroom philosophy in which kids hop from learning center to learning center, and sprawl on the floor with their pencils in their fists trying to write, is causing the epidemic of functional illiteracy, phony special ed and learning problems that make sitting down to write even a sentence or two so difficult for so many children.

3. Teach penmanship properly. Children need automaticity in letter formation so that they can physically write words fluently. If you have to pause to remember how a “b” or a “g” is shaped, your writing gets bogged down and you get frustrated a lot faster.

4. Parents probably need to go through their school’s assigned reading curriculum grade by grade, and throw out almost all of the books, because they’re almost all crummy. Replace them with quality books. The surest way to become a good writer is to be a good reader. Schools right now are denying children the reading skill necessary to read classic books . . . so they can be neither good readers nor good writers, unless parents intervene.

5. Teachers should circle children’s grammar, spelling, punctuation and capitalization errors and have them correct those errors, beginning in kindergarten. It’s the only way to form good habits. It is very, very difficult to dislodge a bad writing or spelling habit once a child has picked it up. But it is shocking how few teachers today correct writing errors in student papers. Quit letting them get away with this.

6. Spend staff development dollars more wisely by dumping the nonacademic nonsense inservices on topics like “seven traits” and instead, teach teachers how to teach with phonics. Guess what? They really, really don’t know how. They think they know how. But they don’t. And again, it shows in student reading and writing performance which has declined so much in the last couple of generations since phonics was squeezed out of schools.

7. Throw out two worthless education courses in teachers’ colleges and replace them with an extra year of English composition. Young teachers have such poor writing skills themselves, it makes them sitting ducks for bonehead programs that trivialize their role in writing instruction, like “Seven Traits” . . . which I’m sure some educator, somewhere, has spelled “Seven Trates,” and, I’ll bet, none of the OTHER educators even noticed, or if they did, scored it high for “creativity.” Sigh.

Sunday, September 15, 2002

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

The Neighbor and 9/11

And ye were now turned, and had done right in my sight, in proclaiming liberty every man to his neighbour. . . .
-- Jeremiah 34:15a

The best thing about hurting my shoulder while whitewater kayaking this past summer is that it forced me into an exercise program for the first time in years.

I go to the warm-water therapy pool three mornings a week, at dawn. Everyone else is older than I am, with much more serious injuries and conditions. Jerry's Kids Go Geriatric.

I've enjoyed talking with my fellow exercisers, and best of all, I have lost three inches off my waist. Literally a handful! I spend a lot of time in front of my bathroom mirror now at home, admiring the sculpted flab around my middle. My abs still look more like a beer keg than a six-pack, but progress is being made.

Anyway, at dawn on the anniversary of the 9/11 massacres, as I was pulling out of the garage to go work out, I was thinking that even though my shoulder injury was bad, at least it had a silver lining: I was exercising again.

I drove down the hill as usual and around our pond. Yes, our neighborhood has a pond. It's in a little meadow that we all share, a little open space. Up until last fall, the pond was tiny and had about a foot of scum on top. You'd never want to dangle your feet in it, and if your dog jumped in and came home and shook, you'd have a mess.

But after 9/11, some of our neighbors were so mad and disgusted, they wanted to do something constructive with their energy. They wanted to express what was important to them in the wake of 9/11.

And so they got together and fixed up that pond.

Last fall, they scheduled several work sessions on Sundays. They worked their hearts out. Boys and Their Toys, we called them. They brought chain saws and clippers and trucks and axes and shovels, and cleared all kinds of brush and weeds out from the rundown area.

They contracted to have the pond tripled in size and dredged into a prettier shape. They formed a treed island and trenches that would be necessary for fish spawning. They raised all the money for this on an ad hoc, neighbor to neighbor basis, enough to lay in the equipment for a pump and, soon, a fountain.

All summer, that pond has been a focal point for our neighborhood, a thing of beauty with blue water, rustic grasses and whispering cottonwoods. I've seen kids fishing down there, and people pushing baby strollers all around. I've seen picnics and flag football games and power walkers and people just sitting in the sun.

That pond symbolizes what we cherish in America: family, friends, peace, beauty, nature, and most of all, freedom.

So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, the morning of the 9/11 anniversary, when I drove by the pond, and in the dawn's early light, I saw that someone, some neighbor, had put hundreds of American flags all around our pond.

Not just one. Not just a couple. Hundreds of them. The kind on wooden sticks, flapping over the grasstops in the morning breeze. It was breathtaking.

The sky overhead had a lot of pretty clouds that were fired into orange by the rising sun. The red, white and blue flags dotted around the deep, blue pond, set in a field of green grass topped by whispering cottonwoods . . . and my throat went tight and tears formed in my eyes, at the beauty and meaning of the scene.

I had been dreading Sept. 11. I didn't want to relive the agony, the hurt.

But one of my neighbors proclaimed liberty that morning. It felt wonderful.

There are 240 households in this neighborhood, and I'm not sure who put the flags in. I'm just grateful for the inspiring reminder of the bonds we share as Americans . . . as neighbors . . . beside the green pastures and still waters all across our land.

Yes, I hurt my shoulder. But now I'm getting back into shape. What seemed bad has turned out for my good.

Yes, America was hurt by 9/11. But it has made us shape up and focus on what we have, who we are, and what's important.

When you've got good neighbors, bad things don't stand a chance.

Saturday, September 14, 2002

SATURDAY: Lookin' Up

9/11 Out of the Mouths of Babes

A friend’s daughter attends a public high school in Omaha. She is a ninth-grader. There is a girl from a Third World country in one of her classes, a Muslim. This girl went back to that country over the summer to “pick out” her husband.

The girls in their class found out about it, and buzzed all around her asking questions. Is he cute? When will you be getting married? Will you live here, or there?

After class, my friend’s daughter asked her privately, “Was it difficult for you to be back there, as an American, after 9/11?”

To her shock, the Muslim girl said, “No. They deserved it.”

Meaning . . . the victims of 9/11 deserved to have been murdered.

My friend’s daughter is 14. She couldn’t think of anything to say. She just ended the conversation and felt bad about it.

Her mother is afraid to call school to report the comment and risk being labeled a bigot or something. So all of us are worried that that little girl is going to repeat that comment to the wrrrrrrrooooooong people someday and get hurt.

But if there’s one thing this incident shows, it is the differences between the world view of Christianity and the world view of Islam. That’s not all bad. The terrorism, while horrendous, still provides an opportunity to promote understanding, especially among children. We can only hope that Christian parents are teaching their children the former world view, not the latter.

With Christianity, we know we all deserve death because we are all sinners. But we look to Jesus Christ as our savior and intermediary with a righteous God to forgive those of us who repent of our sins out of love for Jesus. Salvation is a free gift from God, for which in return we don’t have to do anything but believe in God’s Word, and obey His few commandments. You can’t “earn” your way to heaven. Good deeds are evidence of healthy spiritual condition; that’s important to God, but not essential for salvation. Significantly, when people sin against us, we are commanded not to hurt them back or set out to kill them:

But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you. — Matthew 5:44

With Islam, on the other hand, salvation is earned through deeds. Each Muslim is viewed as having his deeds weighed on a giant scale. If the “good” deeds outweigh the “bad” deeds, he will be allowed in to paradise. Salvation is never assured, just hoped for. This is called “works righteousness,” as opposed to Christian “grace.” Atonement through a savior, like Christ, is not necessary in the Muslim view because every Muslim human is supposed to be atoning for himself. Because entrance into paradise is based on what man does, not what God does, it has led to the application of the Qur’an’s concept of “jihad.” This in turn has made hurting other people who you decide “deserve it” for religious reasons seem OK, because dying in a “holy war” makes you a martyr and gives you a ticket to paradise.

Remember, more than a million people died in the recent Iran-Iraq war. That was Muslim vs. Muslim. If Muslims can determine that their fellow Muslim believers “deserve” to die, why should we be shocked if Muslims today determine that American Christians or anybody else “deserve” to die?

The differences between the two religions provide a golden opportunity for Christians to talk with Muslims about Jesus, what He did on the cross, and why His guidance through His Holy Spirit in our hearts today is the only way humans can get what they need. Not deserve. Need.

Talk to your family members, especially children. Prepare them. Maybe next time an innocent Muslim child makes a comment like that, it won’t end the conversation . . . but begin what could be the most important one in that child’s lifetime.

Friday, September 13, 2002

FRIDAY: Vitamin Mom

What’s Ringing In Your Child’s Ears?

When something happens that might sap your child’s self-esteem, it’s good to talk about it and acknowledge the sad and bad parts of the situation. But don’t end those heart-to-heart conversations on a negative note.

If the last thing you say to your child is a rebuke, an expression of disappointment, or something negative, like “I told you so!” or “Now you’ll never make the team,” that is what will ring in your child’s ears for a long time.

That’s not what you want.

Make your last comment to your child positive, something to instill hope for the future and encourage renewed effort and a better result. “You’ll get it next time,” or “Hang in there,” or “I’m proud of you” will resound in a child’s heart and brain with a positive “ring” and help heal the hurt.

Thursday, September 12, 2002


Where Does the Money Go in Education? Here's Where:
Itemized List of Omaha Public Schools Expenses

You know what I'd like to see? Schools giving us itemized invoices for what they spend.

I did it for Nebraska's largest school district. I can do it; why can't they?

Here's how: I got a copy of the 155-page budget book for Omaha Public Schools. The proportions spent in the various categories are fairly similar to other Nebraska school districts far and wide. The numbers will be slightly different for the coming school years, but again, the proportions are about the same.

For the current school year, the district planned to spend $305.9 million for its general-fund operations. Remember, the recent quarter-of-a-billion dollar bond issue is accounted for separately from the general, or operating, fund. That's a whole 'nother story.

Here are the six main spending categories in the OPS operating fund:

Salaries: $206.2 million, 67.4%

Fringe Benefits: $49.7 million, 16.3%

Professional and Purchased Services: $34.6 million, 11.3%

Supplies and Materials: $7.6 million, 2.5%

Capital Outlay (Non-Bond Issue): $5.2 million, 1.7%

Other Objects: $2.6 million, .8 of 1%

I divided the $305.9 million by the 45,199 in projected enrollment. That figures to $6,767.83 per pupil. That, in turn, breaks down this way in spending per pupil:

Salaries: $4,562.59

Fringe Benefits: $1,100.33

Professional and Purchased Services: $764.83

Supplies and Materials: $167.59

Capital Outlay (Non-Bond Issue): $115.27

Other Objects: $56.85

Finally, I itemized each category. Results are shown below.

This is the kind of "truth in spending" we need, and should demand from our schools. Why did we buy them all that high-falutin' computer technology for, if not to improve their accountability and report back to us in detail how they're spending our money?

One thing's for sure: if we demand better-quality financial information from our schools, we're likely to get better-quality management from them.

See what you think:

Omaha Public Schools

2001-02 General Fund Budget: $305,899,044

Itemized Per-Pupil Spending: $6,767.83


Basic Instruction Teachers

Special Education Teachers

Full-Time Custodial Staff

Full-Time Paraprofessionals

Student and Community Services
(counselors, nurses, discipline, etc.)

Regular Full-time 12-month Staff

Vocational Education

School Administration

Special Benefits, Certificated Staff

Full-time, 12-month Office Personnel

Full-time 10-Month Cafeteria,

Instructional Staff Support
(Student Information, media,
technology, etc.)

Extra Pay — Certificated Staff

Substitute Teachers

Full-time 12-Month

Part-Time Paraprofessionals

Full-Time 10-Month Office Personnel

Full-time Maintenance

Early Childhood Special Ed

Department Head/Division Leader

Full-Time 12-Month Transportation,
Mechanics, Truck Drivers,
Supply Clerks

Regular Part-Time

Part-Time Custodians, Maintenance,
AV Repair, Supply Clerks, Truck
Drivers, Transportation, Mechanics

Overtime Salaries — Classified

Gifted & Talented

Half-Time Certificated

Extra Pay — Classified

Part-Time Office Personnel

Supervision at School Activities

Early Childhood Non-Special Ed

Special Benefits — Other Classified


Full-Time Other Equipment
Repair Staff

General Administration &
Board of Education

Student Paraprofessionals

Special Benefits — Office Personnel

Special Benefits — Paraprofessionals

Full-Time 10-Month

Adult High School Teachers


All Staff


Contracted Transportation

Other Contracted Professional
& Technical Services



Contracted Repair Services

Contracted Student Services

Tuition Paid to Other Agencies —
Special Ed

Vehicle Leases

Legal Services

Gas and Oil

Rental/Lease of Equipment/Buildings

Oher Communications

Property Insurance

Telephone — Local


Tires and Parts

Security of Buildings


Sewer Use Fees

Removal of Trash

Contracted Repairs/Maintenance

Advertising and Public Notices

Contracted Printing Services


Parent Reimbursement for
Transportation to OPS School

Telephone, Long Distance

Other Contracted Services,


Parent Reimbursement for
Transportation to Non-OPS School



Textbooks — Replacements
and Consumables

Printing Supplies/Services

Computer Software

Textbook Adoptions


Library Books

Heating, Air Conditioning &

Lumber, Glass & Synthetic
Building Materials

Duplicating Services/Supplies


Other Supplies

Audio Visual Materials



Paint & Floor Finish Materials




Mower, Tractor & Vehicle Supplies/Parts

Musical Instrument Repair Materials

Audio Visual Repair Materials



Equipment Over $200

Site Improvements

Furniture & Equipment Under $200

Vehicle Acquisition Other Than Buses

Architects & Engineers - Buildings

Furniture Over $200

Other Furniture & Equipment

Computer Peripherals

Abstracts, Titles & Appraisals - Sites

Tools Under $200

Furniture & Equipment Non-Eligible
Special Ed

Architects & Engineers - Sites

Legal Notices & Other Fees - Buildings


Liability Insurance

Conferences, Workshops, Training,
Hearings, Meetings

Car Allowances

Redemption of Principal

Reimbursement to Schools
(Except Supervision)

Money Security

Dues & Fees

Travel - Recruitment

Student Conferences, Contests
& Commencements

Refunds - Regular

Fidelity Bonds

Board of Education - Other

Other Expenditures


(*total is off by 38 cents because of rounding)

Wednesday, September 11, 2002



There’s an anonymous person who writes in frequently to the feedback column of the local newspaper’s online version. This person is always lecturing the rest of us on the importance of public education (translation: teachers’ unions) and exhorting us to spend more and more money on the edubureaucracy and all its trimmings.

You get the impression this is a teacher, a school district employee or a government bureaucrat.

The latest message from this person provided comic relief on an otherwise rather humorless week, given the 9/11 anniversary.

The person apparently wants gambling expanded in Nebraska so that there will be still more money for government schools. He or she didn’t like the recent court ruling banning a proposal on gambling from the November ballot for technical reasons.

In lamenting the court decision, this feedbacker misspelled the key word throughout:

“There has always been gamboling in Nebraska.”

“The only thing legalized gamboling does is make it difficult for organized crime to run the show.”

“Gamboling exists and it won’t go away.”

“Open gamboling can be somewhat controlled by the state.”

The word “gamboling” means skip about, frolic, frisk, caper, romp . . . so what is this person saying? If Nebraskans want to frisk and frolic around and play and jump on one foot, they’ll have to do it in the casinos of Iowa or the slot-machine halls of South Dakota?

Mass exodus to private schools . . . it’s only a hop, skip and a gambol away.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

TUESDAY: Hot Potatoes

The 9/11 Sign in the Sky?

Now, look. I’m no intelligence expert. I can’t even find my socks. But I did see something in the sky one year ago tonight, on the eve of the Sept. 11 massacre at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.

We live in outer suburbia. There are no streetlights. One of the best benefits is that you can see a lot more of the night sky out here. Well, late in the evening of last Sept. 10, I was coming home from somewhere and happened to look up at the moon.

It was forming a crescent “C” with a bright star outside the points of the “C,” off to the right. The next morning was Sept. 11 and the events that day kind of took precedence in my mind for a while along with everyone else’s in the world.

Well, weeks later . . . TOLD you I’m no genius . . . I realized that a crescent moon with a star in the middle is the symbol of Islam. You see it on the flags of Islamic countries and at the top of mosques.

Don’t believe me? Go to this website and search for the moon phases of September 2001:

Now, even though I am not a brilliant scholar or CIA detective, I do know a little bit about symbols. The crescent moon is the symbol of Islam because Allah’s name was taken from a pre-Islamic moon god, one of the original 360 gods of the people who lived around Muhammad’s home. The name still connotes a supreme being, but it’s far from the God of the Bible, etymologically speaking. Throughout the Qur’an the moon and its phases are mentioned a lot.

Quoting from the reference book, “Dictionary of Symbols” (Jean Chevalier and Alain Gheerbrant, Penguin Books, 1996, p. 672):

“The Koran itself employs Moon symbolism, the phases of the Moon and the crescent Moon being used to suggest death and resurrection.”

Quoting from the book, “Answering Islam: The Crescent in the Light of the Cross” (Norman L. Geisler and Abdul Saleeb, Baker Books, 1993, p. 16):

“Quoting from the book, “Fast Facts on False Teachings” (Ron Carlson and Ed Decker, Harvest House Publishers, 1994, p.106):

“The term ‘Allah’ is a purely Arabic term used in reference to an Arabian deity. In fact, Allah was known to pre-Islamic Arabs. He was one of the many deities that already existed in Mecca. The tribe into which Muhammad was born was particularly devoted to Allah, which was the moon good. It was represented by a black stone which was believed to have come down from heaven.”

It goes on and on: the combination of the crescent moon and star represents paradise to the Muslim mind . . . the star that night was apparently the planet Venus, another name for Lucifer, the devil, also known as Satan. . . .

Was it a coincidence, that sign in the sky and the 9/11 attacks?

As if things aren’t complicated enough . . . the next time the crescent moon with the star in the middle shows up in the sky will be the first week of October.

Monday, September 09, 2002

MONDAY: Show 'n' Tell for Parents

Triple-Smart Read-At-Home Strategies

Preschool and primary teachers do a very good job of encouraging parents to read to their young children, each and every day.

The advantages of a dependable nightly snuggle time with Mom or Dad are obvious. Children need the warmth and attention of sitting in your lap or next to you, enjoying a good story and pleasing pictures together.

But schools could do a better job of telling parents the “whys” and “hows” of reading to young children, in order to maximize the process. Instead, parents are left on their own, to wing it. Reading at home sometimes falls by the wayside because of hectic family schedules, but it should be a top priority.

Here are three strategies to keep in mind to help your child be an early-bird reader, and an eager and accurate one, too:

1. Make sure your child can see the text as you read. If not, it’s no better than listening to the television. It doesn’t build your chlid’s reading ability. Your goal is to give your child lots of experience with text and the sounds letters make. What you’re after is for your child to make the connections between the sounds the letters make, and the symbols on the page that stand for the letters. That’s the best way to build fast, accurate decoding.

2. When your child is ready to read to you, make sure YOU can see the text this time. Then you can spot errors your child may be making, and correct them gently on the spot before they become habitual. Schools that use whole-language reading philosophies let children “construct” their own substitutes – in the olden days, we called it “guessing” -- for unfamiliar words. These children often skip words, reverse letters, and leave phrases and sentences out, too. You need to be watching as your child decodes the text. Resist the temptation to do two things at once – put those dishes away later, and fold that laundry tomorrow. You need to focus on the words your child is supposed to be reading. If your child makes a lot of mistakes, can’t pronounce a lot of the words, skips words or lines, stutters or reads in a monotone or haltingly as if not understanding what the words mean, you need to talk with the teacher about why that school isn’t using systematic, intensive, explicit phonics. How do you know? Because young readers who read almost perfectly are being taught with phonics. Young readers who make a lot of mistakes are in whole-language settings.
3. Many parents make the mistake of stopping the nightly read-along sessions once the child appears to be in the swing of reading pretty well, around second or third grade. Don’t do this. Keep it up until the middle-school years. Most children can read the simplistic books from primary classrooms easily because the words and constructions are so easy. It usually isn’t until about fifth grade that the damage done by whole-language reading instruction becomes apparent. That is the grade level at which the reading starts becoming a bit more challenging, with a few more complex words and a few more unfamiliar ones. It is at that point that many, if not most, whole-language trained children begin to show a lack of pronunciation skills, grammar awareness, spelling strength, automaticity and fluidity, and so forth. That’s why parents who want their children to be the best readers they can be, must stick with the regular read-along sessions as an early-warning system for reading problems. If they show up, get them tended to. If they don’t show up, congratulations: you’ve done a fine job!

Sunday, September 08, 2002

SUNDAY: Radiant Beams

A Song to Sing When the Towers Fall

In the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fall . . . ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept; and gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe to come into the mountain of the Lord, to the mighty One of Israel.
— Isaiah 30:25b, 29

I don’t think any of us thought we would ever sing again in the day of the great slaughter, when the towers fell, last Sept. 11.

It’s hard to sing when your heart is in your throat and fear weighs down your arms and legs like lead.

Towers fall in our lives all the time. Towers fall due to death and divorce, disease and depression, deceit and disappointment. The towers fall down on us and around us, and smoke billows up, and there is darkness and confusion and panic and pain.

There is a time for shock and weeping, for anger and mourning. Those are essential and natural, and I’m glad our country went through all those complex emotions after 9/11. We needed to.

But sooner or later, you’ve got to make room again for the joy and the music of life. And I learned that this morning in Sunday School with Miss Madeleine Badeleine Lolla Lee Lou.

She’s our 2-year-old, our joy child, thunderously busy all day, every day. She can be baaaad, but she’s so cute we’re helpless in her clutches. She has her father’s eyes and my thighs. She wears her hair in a top-of-the-head tendril that reminds you of that silly, frilly bird, “Lolla Lee Lou,” in the Dr. Seuss story, “Gertrude McFuzz.”

I was one of her teachers this morning at Sunday School, sponge-painting and singing and playing down on the floor with a room full of 2-year-olds, every one as cute as Madeleine Badeleine.

Then came storytime, my specialty. We were supposed to be learning how God made the world. I was having a lot more trouble explaining how He did it than He had doing it.

Nobody was paying much attention. Zach was ramming the wall with a toy vacuum cleaner. Katie was taking off her sandals. Carlson and Cooper were struggling over a tugboat. Danielle was pointing a toy remote control at me, trying to change my channel, I guess. Luke had tears welling up in his eyes. Not even Madeleine Badeleine was listening.

But then I brought out the navy-blue bedsheets. To show the little ones how in the beginning, there was only darkness, I thought it would be fun for them to get under the dark sheets and see what it was like when the world was “without form, and void.”

What was this? Something different. Their curiosity got the best of them. They came over and plunked down on the ground here and there, and we adults whiffed the sheets into the air, to gently fall on their little heads and cover them completely.

I expected the giggling. I expected the chattering. But what I didn’t expect was the way the little lumps gradually moved in close together, into one large lump.

When darkness is all around you, the natural tendency is to get close to other people. Of course. That’s what happened last year, the day the towers fell. In the darkness, we found each other. We gathered. We huddled. We hugged. It helped a lot.

We whisked the sheets off the children: “And God said, Let there be light!”

They shrieked with joy and danced around.

It reminded me so much of my favorite Sunday School song, the one you sing with your chubby index finger posing as a torch for the flame of the Holy Spirit:

“This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. . . .”

You covered it protectively with your other hand for the verse: “Don’t you try to WHUFF it out; I’m going to let it shine.”

Then you held your chubby index finger even higher, showing the world that nobody was going to interfere with God’s light that was shining into you, and through you, and out of you into the cold, dark world. Nothing and nobody could WHUFF it out. Ever.

As I watched the little Lolla and Larry Lee Lous huddle close together in the dark, and break forth with joy in the light, I knew:

Americans have put the darkness of 9/11 behind us. We did it the instant we turned toward each other and came together. Towers fell and more may fall. But now we know that staying close together is the way to get through the dark. Any kind.

America’s song is back.

And this little light of ours . . . we’re going to let it shine. †