December 13, 1995

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Vol. 15, Issue 15
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After four years of intense work involving hundreds of people, the National Academy of Sciences last week quietly released the final version of the national science standards.
Thanksgiving has always been one of my favorite holidays--simple and straightforward, an uncomplicated day where the main goal is to get together with family and friends and eat a good meal. In my personal life, Thanksgiving remains the same relaxing holiday. But in my professional life as a teacher, consultant, and school administrator, Thanksgiving and most other holidays present a neverending dilemma: What--if anything should be celebrated in school?
In the fourth week of my first term teaching the preparatory composition course at the University of California, Davis, I was leading a class discussion about an essay on the difficulty of speaking against popular opinion. Offhandedly I mentioned lemmings. When a student asked what lemmings were, I explained what I assumed everyone knew: Lemmings are rodents that blindly follow one another, and when one goes over a cliff, they march to death en masse. From the back row came a question, full of skepticism: "Where do lemmings live?"
Theodore R. Sizer ignores it, though more educational compromises are made in its name in one school year than his fictional Horace will make in his career. Ernest L. Boyer does not mention it in his Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching report High School. Albert Shanker, in his numerous polemics about standards and international comparisons, avoids any consideration of it. Neither Chester E. Finn Jr. nor Dennis P. Doyle writes a line about it. From A Nation at Risk to "Prisoners of Time," not one major reform document refers to it. William J. Bennett, who left few educational stones unturned, is rock solid for it. Governors, legislators, and even those who want to be known as "education presidents" are silent on the subject. Yet, interscholastic athletics--there, I said it--interscholastic athletics, that most holy of sacred cows, may well be the single largest impediment to educational improvement in the American school system.
FOUNDATION SUPPORT: Coverage of specific topics in Education Week is supported in part by grants from the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundation, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the CME Group Foundation, the Carnegie Corporation of New York, the Jack Kent Cooke Foundation, the Joyce Foundation, the NoVo Foundation, the Noyce Foundation, the Raikes Foundation, the Wallace Foundation, and the Walton Family Foundation. The newspaper retains sole editorial control over the content of the articles that are underwritten by the foundations. Additional grants in support of Editorial Projects in Education’s data journalism and video capacity come from the Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust and the Schott Foundation for Public Education. (Updated 1/1/2017)

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