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D-U-M-B and Dummer, Plus a Darn Good
Cup of Joe

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, Jan. 28-Feb. 3.

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How do you spell NCLB? Kids in Lincoln, Rhode Island, probably know the answer—but almost lost the chance to showcase their articulacy after school officials opted to cancel the district’s annual spelling bee, arguing that the competitive event wasn’t in keeping with the federal law. “It’s about one kid winning, several making it to the top, and leaving all others behind,” said assistant superintendent Linda Newman. “That’s contrary to No Child Left Behind.” After the predictable parental outcry, talk show monologues, and what they called “thoughtful reconsideration,” school officials reversed themselves days later. So the bee is back on, without further e-m-b-a-r-r-a-s-s-m-e-n-t.

Were he still alive, William Dummer would probably be a bit embarrassed about recent events at the Boston-area school that’s borne his name since 1763. Believed to be the country’s first independent boarding school, Governor Dummer Academy was named to honor the 18th century Massachusetts leader who donated the land for the institution. But after two and a half years of deliberation, school officials are planning to change Dummer’s name, since to those not versed in the state’s history, it sounds ... well, less than erudite. “Rightly or wrongly, first impressions make a difference,” headmaster John Doggett explained. Alumni aren’t shy about calling the decision dumb—“It’s a horrible move,” one said. The school’s board of trustees will decide on a new name in May.

Parents rarely shy away from defending their children’s good names, but few go as far as one North Carolina father. After a five-month battle with teachers, administrators, and state officials, Luping Qu sued the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, asking a judge to overturn a bad grade given to his daughter, Jing, because of a missing homework assignment during the 2003-04 school year. The move surprised officials at the residential school for gifted students, which Jing no longer attends. “Most people are not going to file lawsuits over a grade,” said president Gerald Boarman. The state attorney general’s office will defend the school against Qu’s suit, which alleges “capricious grading and false presentation.”

That same sense of justice apparently doesn’t extend to the Bill of Rights. When more than 112,000 high school students were quizzed on their feelings about the press and its First Amendment rights, nearly one in three said that the media has “too much freedom.” What’s more, 36 percent of students believe that newspapers should receive “government approval” before publishing stories. The intriguing part of this story, though, is the utter lack of surprise it’s engendered among First Amendment experts. It “confirms what a lot of people ... have known for a long time,” said Jack Dvorak, director of Indiana University’s High School Journalism Institute, who notes that the First Amendment is often overlooked in history, civics, and English classes. “It’s part of our Constitution, so this should be part of a formal education.”

While high school students may not know the intricacies of constitutional law, some apparently do know their cuts of meat. In Lucas, Ohio, four female high school students are the talk of the town after placing third in a national meat-judging competition sponsored by 4-H. “We had to look at carcasses from top to bottom,” 17-year-old Tara Boggs said of the experience. More important, their ag teacher said that by identifying different cuts of meat and completing a written essay, the four girls broke into a traditionally male-dominated arena.

And finally, we all know teachers are an underpaid, underappreciated lot. So it’s with some sense of justice that we note the story of Russell Christoff, an Antioch, California, kindergarten teacher. Nearly 20 years ago, the then-actor was paid $250 for a two-hour photo shoot involving a cup of instant coffee. Little did he know that the coffee was Nestle’s Taster’s Choice or that his smiling face would ultimately adorn the product’s labels in the United States and 17 other countries. Christoff, who gave up his career as a model and actor two years ago to teach, wouldn’t learn of his international superstardom until 2002, when a woman standing in line with him at a store mentioned that he looked a bit like the guy on her coffee jar at home. This past week, a jury awarded the 58-year-old teacher a $15.6 million share of Nestle’s profits. How does Christoff feel about the product he unwittingly endorsed? “I only drink ground coffee,” he said, “and most of the people I know do ground coffee.” For now, though, Nestle’s is planning to appeal, meaning Christoff hasn’t seen a penny of the money—“I’m just as poor as I was,” he says.

He just might have to switch to instant.

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