2007-08-03 / Columnists

From the Editor's Desk

Nobody Asked Me, But … (Special Clueless People Edition)
Commentary By Howard Schwach

...The editors of the New York Times have had an epiphany. They found out that focusing on reading and mathematics so that students can do better on the standardized tests has cut the time available for teaching non-testing subjects such as science, social studies, physical education, music and art. Wow! I have only been writing about that for two years now and the Times just came to the same conclusion. No rocket scientists there on their education beat. In fact, the education writers for the Times have a standard policy of reporting just what the Department of Education wants them to report. It's much easier to copy a press release than it is to actually go out and dig up some facts. Anyway, the article, written by Sam Dillon, says that almost half of the nation's school districts have significantly decreased the daily class time spent on subjects like science, art and history as a result of the NCLB's focus on annual tests in reading and math. What Dillon should do is ask the DOE for a typical middle school class program to see what the federal law has done to education in New York City. If he knows how to read that program, his findings could turn into a six-part series on how bad the learning situation really is. The joke is, the mayor recently announced a new push for arts education, and the Times bought it hook, line and sinker. The Times reporters should ask the DOE when the kids will have the time for arts education in light of all the periods they must use for reading, math and test-taking skills.

...It has become clear, at least to me, that the members of the City Council are good for one thing and one thing only, and that is naming streets, some for heroes who deserve the designation, but many for political and civic hacks who deserve nothing more than a public note in passing. Jim Sanders even had a street named after his mom who, I am sure, was a nice person, but hardly deserved a street of her own. Another major road is named for a religious man who almost single-handedly brought the city housing projects to Rockaway in large numbers and thereby sealed the peninsula's fate forever. A third was a felon who stole from school kids. A fourth was a third-rate Irish musician. I could go on and on, but it's futile. If only the council members would stick to naming streets, a relatively harmless pastime, even though we pay each of them more than $100,000 a year to do it. Unfortunately, their title allows them to meddle in areas they know nothing about and to make laws in those areas that make little sense and that often keep the professionals from doing the job we citizens pay them to do. Two recent examples come readily to mind, but there are any number that you already know about. The first has to do with aluminum baseball bats versus wooden baseball bats. Both fulfill the same purpose. The wooden bats are much more expensive and break at a rate of 1,000 to one when compared with the aluminum bats. When a young pitcher was killed by a ball hit back at him with an aluminum bat, the council decided to ban them in all school baseball games. Experts gave testimony that there is no proof that aluminum bats are more dangerous than wooden bats, but the council went ahead with the ban anyway. The council is not an organization that allows facts to get in the way of their own version of truth. Now comes the cell phone crisis, redux. There is no question among the professionals who staff our schools that cell phones have no place in school buildings. They often distract the student from the task at hand and are used frequently for cheating. Undeterred by those facts, the council voted to overturn the DOE's ban on cell phones in schools. The mayor vetoed their law and the ban stood. Recently, however, the council voted to allow students to bring their cell phones to and from school, forcing the schools to come up with a way of collecting, safeguarding and returning the phones at the end of the day. As a retired teacher who tried to work out a plan to collect coats from latecomers, keep them for the day so they did not disturb the lesson going on in their homeroom class and then return them at the end of the day with a busing deadline to beat, I can tell you that it can't be done. It took three aides from their normal duties to collect the coats, mark them with the name and class of the student, put them into an empty book room and then take them out and return them. And, that was with only 50 or 60 latecomers. Think about 500 or 750 cell phones each day. It would take an army to get the job done, but the council obviously did not take into account how the DOE would handle the problem. Perhaps they will name a street for the person who comes up with a viable solution.

...The gun used by a Rockaway thug to kill Police Officer Russel Timoshenko last month came from a gun shop in Virginia. Guns that came from that one shop have been used in more than 1,000 crimes, according to the Brady Campaign, a gun control lobbying organization. That is mind-boggling to anybody who doesn't understand the hold the NRA has over Congress and the American people. In fact, it turns out that the shop was recently closed when Virginia State Police found once again that the owner never bothered to check the identification of the people to whom he sold the guns. The great majority of guns used in New York City by criminals and thugs come from states such as Virginia, Pennsylvania and Florida, where guns are relatively easy to buy. How do the guns get to New York? Somebody drives to Virginia and finds a local resident with a current driver's license who needs a few bucks in the nearest bar. The driver gives the local enough money to buy some guns plus a little extra for him or herself. The Virginia resident only needs a local driver's license to buy any number of guns over a short period. Then, the guns are brought back to Rockaway and sold on the street for five times the amount that was paid for them in Virginia. Everybody wins except for the person who gets shot.

...Governor Spitzer certainly faces lots of challenges early in his term of office, most of them because of the ineptness of his own staff. Not the least is a new welfare bill that the state legislature has proposed, a bill that is well-meaning, but naive. The bill sets a state-wide goal of providing jobs for welfare recipients that pay 185 percent of the federal poverty level -- about $12 an hour. What happened to "any job is a good job?"

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