2002-08-31 / Columnists

From the Editor’s Desk

By Howard Schwach

By Howard Schwach

I was only two years old when Japanese dive-bombers sucker-punched the Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, but I have done enough research for my textbook series to know that none of the schools in the United States were teaching on December 8, 1941 that we had to be sensitive to the people who attacked us and that it might have been somehow our fault that we were attacked.

Yet, that is what is happening today. In this politically correct world we live in, the schools in this city are going to address the anniversary of September 11 without mentioning the religious group who viscously killed thousands of Americans at the World Trade Center, without talking about how that group trains children their own age to hate Americans and to believe that they should be killed, and without talking about terrorism at all, even in the abstract.

According to the Board of Education, the curriculum developed for the city schools should "focus on hope, healing and heroism," and downplay "the evils of terrorism."

In the lower grades, the curriculum focuses on "feelings gardens" and "flower faces."

In grades two through six, the curriculum focuses on "hope chains" and recipes for "cooking up some hope," as well as placing "leaves on the Hope Tree."

In grades seven to twelve, an age where kids can really discuss the issues and understand how terrorism has changed the lives of all Americans, the curriculum focuses instead on creating murals, placing "their wishes and hopes in a Hope Chest," and researching people in the past have lived through hardships. Others will be asked to make "tribute ribbons," and to do community service.

The curriculum also specifically tells teachers how to deal with the question of who did this, should the question arise. Students are to be told that they should not discriminate against Muslims and Arabs just because the terrorists were Islamic.
"Just as there are some Americans who do great things and some Americans who do terrible things, there are all kinds of Muslim people," the kids are to be told. "We should act towards all people the way we want them to act towards us."

At least our city’s curriculum is better (by degree) than the curriculum put out by the National Education Association.

That curriculum would tell older students, "People of all ethnicities were hurt by these attacks," the NEA curriculum says. "Some of this country’s darkest moments resulted from prejudice and intolerance for our own people."

The curriculum then goes on to recommend that students should be directed to "find historical instances of American intolerance."

The NEA says that among the lessons to be learned by students are "Appreciating and getting along with people of diverse backgrounds," "the importance of global awareness" of America’s role in the world and "the importance of anger management."

Younger students are to join in a "circle of healing," where each student’s "can have the opportunity to share their feelings and have those feelings validated by the group in a nonjudgmental manner."

Suppose a graduate of Taliban U stands up in the circle and shares his feeling that all Americans are infidels and should immediately die? Should the teacher validate those feelings in a nonjudgmental manner?

What are these people talking about?

I was a curriculum writer for the Board of Education’s Special Education Curriculum Development Unit (CDU) for many years.

While our curriculum focused on skills development rather than on values clarification, I did edit a teacher’s guide on Multicultural Education.

In the mid-1980’s, "Values Clarification" was the educational buzzword of the time.

Kids were asked to do the "Lifeboat" exercise, where they were told that there are 25 people clinging to a lifeboat and that only 15 could fit into the boat. Choose fifteen or everybody dies.

The students are given the biographies of the 25 people and asked to choose the 15 who will live and to defend their choices.

Should the scientist with a Nobel Prize live or should the backwoods expert who will probably help keep the others alive on a desert island?

Is a teacher’s life more important than that of a cleric?

Many kids chose those who would live based on the skills that would be needed on a desert island. Others chose those who would live based on their religious beliefs. Still others chose who would live based on the values they had been taught at home, who was more important on a pecking order dictated by race or class.

The fact is, there were no wrong answers and kids were forced to think about hard choices.

The debates over who should live and who should die that were generated by the exercise were often acrimonious, but most of the time the kids came to respect the decisions of the others in the class even though they did not believe they were correct.

Were the schools teaching a specific value base through this exercise? Of course not. Were the schools teaching that values exist and are important to maintain a civilized society? They certainly were.

Today, in our values negative society, we teach that there are no societal values worth talking about, that one person’s value is as good as another, even if that value is keeping women in a subservient position, killing people in the name of religion, selling kids into slavery, deforming young women, putting bombs on school buses, hijacking aircraft and running them into buildings.

Should our schools be teaching that one values system is better than another? Of course not, that is why we do not allow religion in the classroom. That is why we do not allow public money to be used to fund the education system of those who extol one religion, one values system over all others.

We should, however, be teaching values to our students.

Should the convicted killer be allowed in the lifeboat because he believed that he had a good reason to kill? Should a woman be thrown from the lifeboat simply because she is a woman? Should the man who believes so fervently in his religion that he professes that he will kill all others on the lifeboat who do not believe as he does be allowed to stay in the boat because he is a religious man?

It is time for our schools to allow kids to think for themselves once again. Educators know that kids can do that if they are given a chance. We cannot spoon feed them pap and expect them to grow into productive adults.

Muslim terrorists destroyed the World Trade Center because they do not like the way we live, do not like who we are. They destroyed the Trade Center because we support the only democracy in the region and they want to push that democracy into the sea.

Those are simple facts and the kids can handle that. They can then decide for themselves what those facts mean. They can, if we allow them to do so.

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