August 14, 2005

Back to school?

Without benefit of statistics, I would argue that the red states -- specifically south of the Mason-Dixon line, from when that line meant something -- have lower educational standards than the blue states north of the line.

It is mid-August. It is 95 in New York, with humidity to match. The public schools here, as I recall, start the Wednesday after Labor Day. Private schools begin a week or so later. In Alabama, my brother's step-daughter, Michelle, went back to school last week.

It is 95 in the shade there, just as it is in Texas, another state that sends its students back to school at the height of the air-conditioning season. The pavement steams, and it's too hot to concentrate on anything more than lowering the thermostat. Michelle's school does not have central air.

The people in charge of the educational system in my brother's town in Alabama seem to think it's just the ticket to try to teach in this weather. I think not. I think it shows a distinct lack of awareness of something so commonplace as how well students learn in different climates -- in short, the inmates running that particular asylum are people who can't comprehend the weather report, never learned what heat stroke was. May all their offspring faint and hit their heads. Darwin, where are you when we need you?

Michelle is, for reasons that are beyond me, enrolled in a ROTC class this term. It counts for "physical activity." The idea of ROTC -- ostensibly leadership training -- for ninth-graders -- for anyone -- scares me shitless, particularly since the principal of Michelle's school is not allowed to so much as censure the alcoholic head of her ROTC class. He runs around swigging Listerine all day, and not for his breath. Nothing exemplifies a better example of Southern minds melted from the heat for me. The synapses aren't moving, not until the weather changes.

Fortunately, there's nothing like a war to keep the ROTC folk from effective recruiting. However, Michelle's high school has a shooting range, and in Alabama, you can join the rifle team before you can drive, much less drink legally.

In New York, everyone who enters a public school must go through a metal detector. Yes, we live differently up here in the blue states.

At 14, Michelle recognizes the absurdity of the drunk ROTC situation and so many more: in her high school, she only has to take one semester of "physical activity" in four years. The hallways are laden with vending machines from junk food, inc. No wonder obesity in teens in reaching record numbers. Call me old-fashioned, but isn't school supposed to have a health-ed class? Where they teach about nutrition? Supersize what?

Or is a Southern thing: fry now and fry again later. I'm sure "oversized" is a big department at the local Wal-Mart. I've never found a breakfast consisting of fewer than four courses at the Cracker Barrel, never seen anyone tout low-carb Krispy Kremes from the chain my mom loved as a child in North Carolina or low-cal BBQ.

In my book, the guide to navigating life after 40, vitamins cover a multitude of nutritional sins. Yet even I know some of the basics: the four basic food groups have given way to a food pyramid, which has yielded to some revision I didn't get the memo for.

I don't have to feed children. I don't have to feed a partner. I can pick and choose my foods as I like (or am capable of preparing). But these Southern schools....WTF is going on there? Who's brilliant idea is it to teach children how to shoot a gun?

I don't think there's a city big enough in Alabama to interest terrorists, and if there were, it seems evident from the school system decisions how that encounter would shake down. Any guesses? Or can I hold this truth to be self-evident?


Anonymous MetroDad said...

Jesus...North, South. Red States, Blue States. We're all screwed, aren't we?

But being a loyal New Yorker (or "Yankee" as it may be), I'd like to state for the record that I'd rather walk through a metal detector to get to class than start school in August and have gym class run the ROTC.

Call me crazy!

11:57 PM  

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