A Legal Stocking Stuffer, a Truly XXX-ceptional School, and a Holiday Truce

Teacher Magazine’s take on education news from around the Web, Dec. 17-23.

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What’s the gift that seems to keep on giving this season? The lawsuit—or at least the threat of one. Across the country, Christian groups are battling school districts in court, demanding that Christmas be put back into holiday celebrations. Two or three decades ago, secular groups were demanding just the opposite, saying that Nativity scenes and overtly religious songs such as “Silent Night” had no place in school lobbies and auditoriums. But these days, with schools recognizing every other religious holiday, from Ramadan to Kwanzaa, the forced absence of “O Come All Ye Faithful” during holiday concerts strikes some as outlandish.

In New Jersey, for example, a lawsuit was filed against the South Orange/Maplewood School District, which banned all Christmas music from its schools, opting instead for seasonal tunes like “Frosty the Snowman.” Given some air time on a politically oriented Web site, an attorney who filed the suit summed up his civil rights argument by saying, “Forcing students to strip all religious content from music is like asking them to study art history while excluding paintings from the Renaissance because they contain religious subjects.”

Stripping of another sort may have played into the decision to halt construction of a school in Tampa, Florida, for behaviorally challenged teens. The school was supposed to be built in the middle of a red-light district of sorts, where shops and clubs with names like Adult World, Lipstixx Nude Cabaret, and XTC Adult Supercenter are located. Carver Exceptional School must leave its current home to allow for the widening of a highway, and Hillsborough County school officials claim that the only parcel of land available was one already owned by the district in, shall we say, the “adult-oriented” neighborhood. But the officials weren’t too worried because they’d planned to bus in the students and prohibit them from roaming the streets.

One newspaper columnist, however, pointed out that roaming wasn’t necessary: The view from the bus windows would leave little to the teenage imagination. He also noted the irony in the site choice. A few years ago, the Hillsborough district backed a new state law that declares, the columnist writes, “the wrongness of having adult businesses too close to schools.” But that didn’t stop the district from planning to build a school in a neighborhood already populated by said businesses. City and county officials now say they’ll help make sure a more appropriate site is found for Carver.

It certainly seems more than appropriate that the 430 teenagers at the private Belmont Hill School in Massachusetts be given a day off for participating in an online seminar on alcohol consumption. The 90-minute program, which included science-based lessons on the body’s reaction to alcohol, concluded with a test, which the students, all of them boys, passed. That prompted administrators at the $25,000-a-year prep school to send their charges home one day early for winter break.

Meanwhile, the American Medical Association reports that teenage girls are especially vulnerable to the allure of sweet alcoholic drinks, aka “alcopops.” On average, girls take their first drink at age 13, according to the AMA, and part of the reason are the sweet drinks, which contain 5 percent to 7 percent alcohol and have names like Rick’s Spiked Lemonade and Hooper’s Hooch Lemon Brew. One AMA survey showed that 31 percent of teenage girls said they’d imbibed an alcopop within the past six months, versus 19 percent of boys. Representatives from the alcohol industry insist that they market to adults, not kids, and that the Federal Trade Commission concurs. But one watchdog group says of the alcopop allure, “The advertising is hip, and the single-serving, ice-cold bottles have the look and feel of sports drinks.”

If stories about lawsuits, sex, and alcohol seem inappropriate holiday fare, try this: The armies fighting the “math wars” have called a truce. During a recent “peace summit” held in Washington, D.C., both the staunch fundamentalists and the liberal reformers agreed on a few basics. Relying on calculators in the elementary grades is no good, they said, while memorizing the multiplication tables is good. And all kids, they agreed, must master basic algorithms. A truce, of course, doesn’t necessarily lead to the end of a war. So it’s worth keeping in mind those experts who argue that no single approach to math is more valuable than the person teaching it. Because as we all know, a teacher who’s passionate about his or her subject and who can instill that passion in students is a gift that never stops giving.

Sources for all articles are available through links. Teacher Magazine does not take credit or responsibility for reporting in linked stories. Access to some may require registration or fee.

Because of the holidays, the next Web Watch will not be posted until Friday, Jan. 7.

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