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In the current issue of The Washington Monthly,three authors take aim at what they believe is a major weakness of the public school system: the bureaucracy.

"Bottom Drawer Bureau," by the New York Daily News reporter Gene Mustain, describes the central headquarters of the New York City Schools as an overly centralized, paper-pushing operation "spending most of its energy on itself."

Examples of actual memoranda sent to Schools Chancellor Joseph Fernandez reveal the pervasiveness of doublespeak. Here's one: "The management of information requires organizing and structuring data into conceptually clear and logical component ideas that can be transmitted in forms that are user-friendly." (Translation: Keep it simple.)

Susan Ohanian, in "Not-So-Super Superintendents," takes a scathing look at the annual convention of the American Association of School Administrators. She conveys what she says is its "carnival" atmosphere, one in which superintendents and product-pushers alike are more concerned with promoting business than exchanging ideas. A National Rifle Association pamphlet given out offers this novel curricular advice: "With a little imagination, [the teacher] can link some aspect of shooting with almost every subject taught in our nation's schools."

In the third story, a Newsday reporter recounts her year as a beginning teacher at a Brooklyn junior high school. She describes a system "where excellence is rarely rewarded and incompetence is rarely punished or helped."

The Monthly's editors say they hope to expose the wasted public funds and "child abuse" education bureaucrats wreak on school systems. They endorse staff cutbacks and reorganization, so that the priority lies in "improving the subject knowledge and pedagogical skills of teachers."

Utne Reader's September cover story also contains articles offering criticisms of and alternatives to the current education system.

In one, the writer Joseph Nocera, also a parent, tries to explain the reasoning behind middle-class flight from urban schools, noting that "parents aren't willing to sacrifice their children on the altar of their social principles."

A 25-year veteran teacher, recently named New York City's "teacher of the year," calls public schools a "psychopathic institution," in another article, and advocates home instruction over a system "that teaches little except how to obey orders."

Teacher empowerment, open enrollment, and peer tutoring are among the "Nine Ideas to Improve Schools," and a final story chronicles the innovative methods of so-called Waldorf schools, which emphasize the development of creativity, independence, and morality.--skg

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