Take Your List and ... , Close to Senator Byrd’s Heart, and Gunning for Dollars

By Rich Shea — December 10, 2004 3 min read

Ah, lists. Magazines love to publish them—for two big reasons. First, they’re easy, entertaining reads, which tend to draw as-yet-untapped readers. And they’re also advertising magnets. (“The 25 Best Chain Restaurants!”) But they’re often ill-advised. Take, for example, Popular Science’s second annual “worst jobs in science” list, with public school science teacher at Number 13 (out of 17). The quotation marks are necessary because even the magazine admits that those employed in these positions “probably wouldn’t want your job any more than you’d want theirs.” But gigs like anal-wart researcher (Number 1), tampon squeezer (4), and tick dragger (9) sound truly horrible, don’t they?

Yes, they do, and that’s the problem: “When I read that [article], it seeds a perception that teaching isn’t an honorable profession,” says one California science teacher who, among others, objects to Popular Science’s crass assessments. They do concur with the magazine on one point: Thanks to a standardization movement that puts math and reading atop the academic heap, science department resources are drying up. But that doesn’t mean educators don’t dig their gigs.

Case in point: Judy Reeves, a 57-year-old high school instructor in Alabama who’s won more than $100,000 in grants for an outdoor learning center and a weather station, among other projects, many of them built and operated by her students. And Reeves has done this by shunning textbooks and lectures and letting the kids choose their own pursuits. The result: Problem-solving students who enjoy science and consider it a potential career—the kind of thing Popular Science claims is not happening in American schools.

What Democratic Senator Robert Byrd, of West Virginia, would like to see is passage of a federal law requiring that all public schools teach the U.S. Constitution. The ivory-crested, aptly-surnamed senator, who reportedly carries a copy of the historic document in his breast pocket, recently slipped the provision into a spending bill and prefers that lessons take place on September 17, the anniversary of the Constitution’s signing. As common-sensical as this may seem, critics believe that the feds should stay away from the curriculum. Mary Kusler, a legislative specialist for the American Association of School Administrators, says of those who have yet to turn the bill into law, “We hope that members of Congress will remember the Constitution itself when they make policy. And the 10th Amendment clearly states that education is a state’s right.”

Another amendment, the one that establishes the right to “keep and bear arms,” comes to mind when considering a fund-raiser in Lampasas, Texas. It seems the town of 6,800 or so has had enough of bake sales, so the Hanna Springs Intermediate School parents’ association is raffling off two rifles instead. “If you’re going to do a fund-raiser, make it something people want to buy,” one mother explains. She’s right. In the Lampasas region, gun ownership and hunting are givens; so it’s no surprise that the two highly valued prizes—one of which includes a scope and two boxes of ammo—have generated more than $10,000 in ticket sales.

It’s hard to imagine the same kind of event going over well in New York City, where an awareness-raiser of sorts is taking place at Carnegie Hall. As part of an ongoing educational series called Global Encounters, 450 NYC students and 200 in New Delhi, India, participated in a live simulcast featuring the music of both countries. The students had been studying each other’s cultures for weeks, and during the videoconferencing event, complete with 22-foot-wide screen, musicians in New Delhi and New York played tunes on native instruments and students asked each other questions. During the final jam session, they collectively played “Sweet Georgia Brown” as kids, teachers, and administrators clapped along. Comparing the event to a typical classroom experience, one social studies teacher called it “an apotheosis.”

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