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Cashing in on Sports, Sugartime, and Down-Home Cooking

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, Jan. 21-27.

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For school communities scraping to come up with money for basic resources and programs, South Gwinnett High in suburban Atlanta may offer a helpful lesson in educational fund-raising: Get yourself a really good basketball player. South Gwinnett senior Louis Williams—deemed by scouts to be the best high school basketball player in all the land—is expected to rake in some $140,000 for the school before he graduates. The windfall comes largely from a $35,000 athletics-supplies contract the school signed with Nike (which took note of Williams' potential when he was just a sophomore) and a premium season ticket package for South Gwinnett home games that goes for $1,000. (In addition to being guaranteed choice seats from which to watch Williams in action, holders of "platinum club" tickets get to enjoy refreshments in a special hallway.) Some onlookers have questioned the school’s decision to reap profits on the back of a student athlete. But South Gwinnett head coach Roger Fleetwood argued that it’s all part of the free market system. "It’s supply and demand," he said. "Why is it different than anything else in America?"

America hasn’t been a particularly easy place for Clark County, Nevada, Superintendent Carlos Garcia to get around in recently. In July, the school official discovered that his name was on the official U.S. list of suspect travelers, meaning he’s singled out for additional security checks every time he flies. After missing one flight already as a result, Garcia is concerned about facing travel delays during Nevada’s upcoming state legislative session in Carson City. Officials at the Transportation Security Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said the superintendent's name may resemble that of someone else they’re monitoring—to which Garcia retorted that there are 13 "Carlos Garcia" listings in the Las Vegas phone book alone. "My generation grew up in the era of the Cold War and all those things that happened in the Soviet Union," said Garcia, a former civics teacher. "And now they’re happening here."

Some educators in Illinois worry that such fine political distinctions may soon be lost on many students in their state. Seeking to focus on the math and reading goals of the No Child Left Behind Act, the state recently dropped its standardized assessment of social studies. Observers fear that as a result, schools—particularly those struggling to meet federal standards—will devote less and less time and resources to subjects like history, politics, and civics. "I think the saying is, 'What you treasure, you measure,' " noted Hilary Rosenthal, a teacher and co-director at the Glenbrook Academy of International Studies. Others hold out hope that social studies can be effectively integrated into reading and writing lessons.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., the new U.S. Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings, made it one of her first acts as the nation’s top educator to denounce a PBS cartoon portraying lesbian parents. The precise source of Spellings’ ire was a yet-to-be aired episode of Postcards From Buster—a spinoff of the popular Arthur series that’s partially funded by the federal Ready To Learn program. Titled "Sugartime!", the segment shows the eponymous bunny encountering two lesbian couples while visiting Vermont to learn about making maple sugar. Spellings, who took office on Monday, told PBS officials that "many parents would not want their young children exposed to the lifestyles portrayed in the episode" (presumably meaning those of lesbians, not Vermont sugarmakers). Besides, she added, the episode does not satisfy the intent of Ready To Learn—under which shows are expected to be oriented around “research-based educational objectives, content, and material.” Other programs that currently bear Ready To Learn's stamp of approval include Arthur, Clifford the Big Red Dog, and Dragon Tales.

Speaking of questionable educational objectives, students in a life-skills class at Ledgemont High School in Thompson Township, Ohio, recently got a lesson on how to skin and cook a guinea pig and a rabbit. It seems that after students were assigned to prepare a meal of their choice in class, one student, described as an active hunter, decided he would demonstrate how meat is harvested from wild game. After failing to bag any actual wild game in time for class, however, he ended up buying the domesticated animals from the local pet supply store. Details are sketchy, but it’s clear that the animals’ meat was carved, cooked, and sampled in class. Now both the local police and humane society are investigating the incident. "Something irrational and wrong happened," said Geauga County Humane Officer Sarah Westman.

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