Time Creates 'Report Card' for Bush

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Holding George Bush to his vow to become the "education President," Time magazine has created a "report card" to grade the President-elect periodically on his performance in addressing the problems of schools.

Announcing the new feature in its Dec. 5 issue, the magazine gives Mr. Bush a B+ for retaining Lauro F. Cavazos as U.S. Secretary of Education.

While suggesting that it would have been "politically foolhardy" for Mr. Bush to drop a supporter who had campaigned for him throughout the Southwest, Time notes that Mr. Cavazos was probably the President-elect's top choice anyway.

The magazine characterizes the Secretary as a "consensus builder" who has "gained a reputation for relaxed geniality--and a backbone of steel."

In citing his "low key" approach, Time also writes that Mr. Cavazos offers a "stylistic counterpoint to his pugnacious predecessor," William J. Bennett.

And in a Nov. 14 cover story, Time concludes that the nation's 2.3 million public-school teachers are struggling against odds that are almost--but not quite--hopeless.

The article lays out the standard litany of problems facing teachers: inadequate pay, school violence, stress and burnout, and growing demands from society.

Its mock want-ad for the profession reads: "Applicants must be willing to fill gaps left by unfit, absent, or working parents, satisfy demands of state politicians and local bureaucrats, impart healthy cultural and moral values and--oh, yes--teach the three R's."

But the dedication and determination of some teachers give reason for hope, the magazine suggests. "You can make $2 million a year working at some corporation," comments one teacher in the article. "But who really cares? When you teach, a lot of people care."

With profiles of eight teachers, Time illustrates the thousands across the country who in their own ways, it says, are "each a miracle worker."

Photographs suggest the nature of the work: A young instructor in Los Angeles leaps into the air to demonstrate a sword fight from The Three Musketeers. A petite Chicago teacher emerges warily from a school door covered with graffiti. A teacher in Hartford, Conn., sits at his dining-room table, grading papers into the night.

And vignettes reveal much about the profession's large frustrations and small rewards. The Chicago teacher, struggling to bring Beowulf to her students, must ask a visitor to hold the plug for her tape recorder in a wall socket. The Hartford teacher rushes through his day without time to go to the bathroom. A 1st-grade teacher in rural Mississippi recalls having to buy with her own money the disposable diapers needed for a severely handicapped student.

Still, the satisfactions that keep teachers at their jobs, the magazine concludes, are timeless. "The moment the light bulb goes on--that, say teachers, is what they live for ... The look in a young person's eye: I got it! I understand it!"

In the context of the 1988 Presidential election, U.S. News & World Report questions the commitment of politicians to the improvement of child care.

"Too often America's children are all but forgotten once the baby kissing has ended and the ballots have been cast," the magazine writes in its Nov. 7 cover story.

Notwithstanding the high visibility given child-care issues in this year's campaign, the article contends, "federal programs for troubled and impoverished children have generally fallen short of their well-intentioned goals."

Both candidates outlined plans and made extensive promises to help children, the magazine notes.

But before the rhetoric of the campaign trail can be translated into real programs, it says, a host of "antichildren barriers" will have to be surmounted.

Topping the list is a lobbying liability on Capitol Hill--children's advocates' lack of financial and political clout.

And Democrats and Republicans differ over what policies deserve the ''prochild" label, the article says. This philosophical dispute, according to the magazine, "routinely asphyxiates efforts to help children."

Other factors that the article indicates will impede the next Administration's efforts to enact prochild initiatives include disagreement on how to help parents; the questionable ability of government policy to affect a reversal in the growing numbers of unwed mothers; and uncertainty about the kinds of programs that can best serve poor children who have already entered school.

Optimistic talk about helping children is also undercut by the reality of a $152-billion federal deficit--and of polls indicating that "1 out of 2 taxpayers is willing to pay about $25 extra a year to expand a few well-regarded programs such as Head Start--but not much more."

A "success shortfall" and the "copycat shortage" must also be overcome, suggests the magazine: Even the best national programs yield only modest results, it says, and the very characteristics that make model programs successful--such as charismatic leaders and community and parent involvement--also make them difficult to replicate.

But the hurdles facing prochild initiatives should not prompt despair, the article concludes, saying: "While the federal government's attempts to help children have a mixed record, the proliferation of innovative state and local initiatives is encouraging."

Programs designed to teach small children how to prevent sexual abuse are roundly criticized by Neil Gilbert in the fall issue of The Public Interest.

The author, professor of social welfare at the University of California, Berkeley, writes that such programs at best are "a social placebo that may only bewilder small children while soothing parental anxieties; at worst, it leaves youngsters as vulnerable as ever but psychologically on edge--a little more aware of the dangers around them and a little less able to enjoy the innocence of childhood."

Surveying five sexual-abuse programs designed for children in preschool and kindergarten, Mr. Gilbert reports that all use material that could confuse, rather than enlighten, their intended audience.

"Definitiveness and simplicity are required to convey ideas to children this age, but the subject of sexual abuse is necessarily complex,'' he observes.

The primary goal of the programs he studied, Mr. Gilbert notes, was to encourage children to rely on their intuition to distinguish between "good" and "bad" touches.

"However, 'empowering' 4-year-olds, whom we normally forbid to cross the street alone, defies common sense," he writes.

By defining "good" and "bad" touches, the programs may also unintentionally fly in the face of the norms of the child's family, he states, noting that only one of the curricula he analyzed distinguished between spankings administered by parents and "bad touches."

He adds that "the lessons do more than transmit a sense of touching as perilous; they try to establish narrow boundaries that do not reflect the diversity of American family life."

"Depending upon the curriculum, a parent's affectionate pat on the behind of a 4-year-old child may appear as an act that violates the dictum against touching private parts, or as one to be consciously appraised by the child to determine its goodness or badness," he writes.

Mr. Gilbert concludes by recommending that the money spent on these curricula be transferred to programs that "sharpen the vigilance of parents, teachers, and other responsible caretakers of children."

Vol. 08, Issue 15

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