Thursday, May 11, 2006

Course Requirements

Boston politicians are always clamoring about a half-dozen disputes from local suburbs, and one of the present topics is Joni Jay, principal at the Joseph Estabrook Elementary School in Lexington. Jay has decided that kindergarten students should be taught about homosexual families.

By all accounts, Jay is both respectful and professional. She obviously cares about her students, and she genuinely believes her decisions reflect their best interests. She told the Boston Globe, "It's not our intent to be on the forefront of one of the most controversial issues in the country" — and while that lacks a ring of credibility, I suspect it's probably true. She began this tack seven years ago; if she had been seeking a spotlight, she could have found one earlier.

Nevertheless, she's wrong.

Last week, National Geographic and Roper Public Affairs released a joint study assessing the geographic literacy of adults between the ages of 18 and 24 in the United States. They conducted 510 interviews which averaged 26.8 minutes apiece, and the results were disappointing. Here are some highlights.
  • 88% could not locate Afghanistan.
  • 63% could not locate Iraq.
  • 70% could not locate North Korea.
  • 74% believe that English (rather than Mandarin Chinese) is the most commonly spoken language in the world.
  • 71% did not know that the United States is the world's largest exporter of goods and services.
  • Fewer than half could locate New York or Ohio on a map of the United States.
The reason that Jay is wrong has nothing to do with homosexuality — whether it's wrong, whether gays should be allowed to marry, whether they should be permitted to adopt. Jay is wrong because it's not her school's job to teach children what defines a family. Her job is to teach children to read, to write, to perform arithmetic and to understand history. Our schools aren't performing those jobs adequately — so why the hell are teachers spending time lecturing kindergarten students about families?

School is an important part of our children's education. It is part of that education, and just because our children should learn something doesn't necessarily mean they should learn it in school. We have a problem with teachers who believe that if something is important for children to know, then it's their job as teachers to impart that knowledge — and that may be well-intentioned, but it's arrogant and it's misguided and it's wrong.


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