Jeff Kuhner

Sometimes you read a story that makes you wonder what the world is coming to. This was the case for me regarding the Chicago Sun-Times piece about the school bus driver and his aide, who got their kicks taunting and verbally abusing disabled students.

Cathy and Richard Bedard suspected that something was wrong on the bus being taken by two of their three special-needs kids. To find out, they placed a tape recorder in the backpack of their 13-year-old daughter, Tiffany. They were stunned at what they heard once Tiffany returned home and they pushed play.

"F---ing little monster," a man shouted at their 17-year-old son, Rick, who has Down syndrome. They also heard jokes about placing kids on the roof of the bus and threats to break a child's finger.

The driver and his "monitor" were subsequently suspended for six weeks. But First Student Inc., which was contracted by the school district to drive eight disabled children to a special-needs school in Chicago, thought it was appropriate to reassign the two men to another route following the suspension. In other words, they got a slap on the wrist.

When the district learned of this, it put First Student on notice that school authorities were reviewing the $1.5 million annual contract and would try to bid the contract out by the end of the school year. Now, First Student has suddenly gotten serious: They have decided to fire the two men.??????????

"We took...

Liam Julian

Florida Governor Charlie Crist stands with the state legislature, which just passed an anti-bullying law. "I'm against bullying, too," he said.

And I'm against purposeless laws that waste everyone's time.

Liam Julian

Today in The Gadfly, I write about George Orwell's claim that bad writing and bad thinking are mutually reinforcing. I focus on the most egregious cases: sentences punctuated by text-message spellings and abbreviations and plagued by rotten grammar and rampant ambiguity.

What I didn't have space to comment on are the other forms of poor writing that Orwell's "Politics and the English Language"??lambastes, many of which??appear daily on the op-ed pages of America's best newspapers. One of the??sharpest observations in??his essay is that so much writing isn't actually an assortment of words; rather, it's an assortment of hackneyed phrases that people have simply been trained to string together when the appropriate circumstances arise. A writer who follows this training doesn't make his own meaning. He instead allows boring, overused sentences to construct meaning for him.

If you haven't read "Politics and the English Language," you should really turn away from your work for 20 minutes and give it a perusal.

Liam Julian

The newest edition of The Gadfly is out and jammed with choice offerings, especially an essay that concludes "that for long-term sustainability and academic success, a charter school has better odds if it enrolls at least 300 students. " The small-school crowd won't like it.

As for Coby and whether paying students is the right thing to do, I summarily disprove all his assertions thusly:

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That seems to be the premise of this Washington Post op-ed by a first-year Yale Law School student (and Princeton grad) about high achievers at America's elite universities.

I'm saying that sometimes some of these students will denounce world hunger but be unfriendly to the homeless. They will debate environmental policy but never offer to take out the trash. They will believe vehemently in many causes but roll their eyes when reminded to be humble, to be generous and to "do what is right."

Never mind the vacuousness of the author's writing. (What does it mean to be "unfriendly" to the homeless? Maybe she's referring to Liam, who once put some change in a beggar's coffee cup only to discover that it still had coffee in it.)

What's more interesting is that the Post--a redoubt of Ivy League grads with Ivy League guilt, surely--would choose to publish such silliness. It's not really too surprising; America has a long history of bigotry against the best and brightest; this piece just fits the narrative. And its hardly alone. On the pages of Education Week, "mulitiple intelligences" guru Howard Gardner argues that affluent, high-achieving suburban kids are ethically deficient. Maybe so, but isn't that the case for inner-city and rural students too? (He doesn't seem to think so.)

Some cultures celebrate their highest achievers. We could learn something from them....

Liam Julian

Greg Toppo has a thorough piece in USA Today about school lunches. Long story short: They're disgusting. A little competition in this arena would do a body good, but the politics (yes, messing with the school lunch program is political) are such that allowing schools to do the smart thing--i.e., find local purveyors to supply their cafeterias with decent food--isn't currently feasible.

Plus, as long as students are responsible for paying only about a dollar or two of their daily lunch costs, they're going to eat preprocessed garbage.

Jeff Kuhner

If you need further evidence of the coarsening of our culture, then read Ian Shapira's piece in Monday's Washington Post. The latest fad among some young teachers--meaning those in their 20s--is to post profiles on social networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace. What's wrong with that, you might say? Nothing, if one's intent is to post professional or responsible private information (resume, education background, hobbies, favorite movies, music ... etc.). The problem is that many teachers are using the sites, which are marketed heavily toward immature teens, to post outrageous comments or indecent personal acts. In other words, they are acting very much like the immature, sex-obsessed, alcohol-guzzling and profanity-spouting students many of them are supposed to be teaching--and serving as role models for.

Mr. Shapira writes that the epidemic of improper postings is now causing serious concerns among principals, parents, and other fellow teachers trying to maintain basic standards of civilized decency in the classroom. Take the case of Stephen Murmer, a Richmond area high school art teacher, who had to be fired last year for painting canvasses--I am not making this up--with his buttocks in images on You Tube.

Then there is Erin Jane Webster, a 22-year-old long-term substitute teacher in Prince William County, Maryland, who has posted this witticism on her personal profile page: "you're a retard, but i love you." There is one little problem: Ms. Webster teaches students with learning disabilities. Perhaps it never occurred to her that the...

In his latest riposte, Liam argues that I've ignored the ethical dimension of the student-pay debate. When one considers the difficult moral questions that paying students for performance invariably poses, he says, it becomes clear that principals should not be given free reign to try it out in their schools.

He goes on:

Parents have a right to a public-school education for their children that is unencumbered by controversial incursions unrelated to teaching and learning.... They can reasonably object to having their children exposed to a culture of cash payment for achievement... which is not indubitably part of learning and completely restructures the culture of achievement to which we so desperately cling as the hope for inner-city schools.

A potential flaw in Liam's reasoning, as I see it, is that the education that today's public school pupils receive is necessarily encumbered by "controversial incursions unrelated to teaching and learning." In today's politically-correct public sphere, nearly everything that goes on in the classroom can be and is made into a controversy.

Let's take Liam's claim but leave it open-ended: "[Parents] can reasonably object to having their children exposed to a culture of X." Now think of all the things we could plug in for X and ask yourself what we'd have left over if we simply banished them all from the classroom, as Liam would like.

Liam might respond that the term "reasonably" precludes a whole host of possible values for X, but "reasonableness" is a...

No, not Reverend Wright, but our favorite ed school professor, Bill Ayers.

* Friend of Barack Obama

Liam Julian

The New York Times offers a piece today about the progress of providing good??public??education in New Orleans.

And this bill , backed by Gov. Bobby Jindal and fighting its way through the state legislature, is promising.