Sixteenth annual Emperor AwardsNot that SmartBoard is helping much with fractions.
By PETER BERGER - Published: August 20, 2009
Before embarking on the new school term, it's helpful to review the past year's magic education moments. The Emperor Awards annually commemorate the monarch of underwear fame and his devoted admirers so we can profit from their example.
With American math students trailing peers in many industrialized nations, including England, our first award, the Distinguished Priorities Cross, honors an Ivy League professor for his long-standing campaign to stamp out teaching fractions and for recently expanding his hit list to include multiplication and long division. When the American Mathematical Association blasted his approach as "absurd" and one reason American math achievement is "so abysmal," the professor refined his position, suggesting that teaching fractions at least be "delayed until it can be understood, perhaps after a student learns calculus." Apparently unaware that most people find calculus a lot more daunting than dividing a pie into six equal pieces, he also left unexplained how fraction-free students would be able to comprehend calculus, which involves very complicated fractions.
His British co-honoree is magnanimously doing his bit to keep America competitive. Arguing that math must be more "democratic," he contends that "social responsibility" demands a "total rethink" of British math instruction. He claims students are discouraged by the reality that solutions are either "right or wrong" and proposes that math answers "allow for shades of opinion."Gee, Bill. Way to go. If you can't succeed at convincing people that your computers are changing their children's education for the better, simply change the definition of education. There are enough stupid people that a significant fraction will believe anything you say and descend on their schools with demands of "more technology" and let's get every kid in front of a computer. Maybe those flat-panel screens are what they meant by "death panels"?
The 2008 Nathan Bedford Forrest Prize recognized a California district for holding segregated pep rallies to "inspire students" while "being honest" about ethnic groups' test scores. Forrest 2009 belongs to an Illinois state senator. Concerned about funding for poor school districts and committed to shrinking the achievement gap between white and minority students, he urged minority children to start the year on the right academic foot by boycotting school. His plan was endorsed by Al Sharpton, whose characteristic wisdom earns him an honorable mention.
The Bill and Melinda Gates Silver Star salutes researchers who concluded that kids who spend hours on MySpace aren't really "wasting a lot of time." Among the "contemporary" skills children are developing via laptop and cell phone, experts listed "how to manage a public identity" in a "full-time intimate community" of "friends" who frequently never meet and often don't use their real names. The study cited vital instant messaging exchanges, including the girl who posted, "hey…hm.wut to say? iono lol/well I left you a comment…u sud feel SPECIAL.haha," and the boy who replied, "hello there…umm I don't know what to say, but at least I wrote something."
In a related field, the Academy acknowledges Family Circle's invaluable assistance helping mothers manage household and "school commitments." The editors advise that instead of jotting down grocery lists on paper, moms should "create" the list via computer keyboard and then "send it to your cell phone by text," which you can then download at the supermarket. While this 21st century procedure requires several thousand dollars in equipment and reliable cell phone reception, Family Circle maintains that it simplifies shopping because there's "no notepad needed." For their support of paperless mothers everywhere, we award the June Cleaver Golden Bundt Pan with Silicon Clusters.21st Century Skills - in a nutshell.
The 2009 Archimedes Eureka Honorarium spotlights Science magazine findings predicting that, despite No Child Left Behind's "universal proficiency" mandate, every American student won't be academically proficient by 2014. Equally breathtaking, researchers revealed that low-income students who don't speak English are less likely to succeed academically than middle-class kids who do speak English.Yup. I've heard that one, too. Although, to be fair, it was "kids who eat breakfast do better on tests than kids who don't" forgetting that kids who eat breakfast are also more likely to be the ones with a stable home life / caring parent / proper amount of sleep. The doughnut shoved in the face of the bleary-eyed tardy-boy once a year isn't going to do much for his overall achievement.
In a field trip touted to "expose students to French language and culture" and allow them to "use their skills in a real world situation," a New England French class traveled 150 miles to a "French" restaurant where the wait staff doesn't speak French, the menu isn't in French, and the bill of fare features such traditional Gallic favorites as grilled turkey BLT, Maine crab cakes, ravioli of the day, and beer batter fish and chips. School officials' flair for boldly fictional press releases earns them our Phineas T. Barnum Citation. Honorable mention goes to the Maryland principal who distributed 3,600 peppermint candies on testing day because she heard they "increase performance and raise grades."
In the past when students showed up without lunch money, Albuquerque cafeterias served them on credit. However, when many parents of these students, who incidentally were not eligible for free lunch, refused to pay their tabs, the district faced a $300,000 deficit. Rather than bankrupting the lunch program or letting anyone go hungry, officials decided to give kids with unpaid tabs a less expensive cold plate consisting of a sandwich, fruit, and milk. Rather than paying their bills or expressing their gratitude that their children were being fed a nutritious lunch that they weren't paying for and to which they weren't entitled, irate parents chose to complain that their kids weren't getting the same meal as kids whose parents were paying. For their principled refusal to accept a free lunch, we bestow the inaugural Even Greater Generation Entitlement Trophy.I'm equivocating on this one. I've long been an advocate of schools providing lunch for every kid. I know it's an expense, but a manageable one. Just a thought.
The Order of the Tempest in a Teacup is headed for the Big Apple, which had previously installed safety mats at all its playgrounds. Now advocates are complaining that the mats can get too hot and burn children's bare feet. Playgrounds already post signs advising users to wear shoes and caretakers to make sure their children comply, but protesters aren't satisfied. One advocate wants the city to "do more" to "ensure that the signs are helpful," presumably by dispatching caretakers to read to the caretakers. Another watchdog group demands that the city "pressure the manufacturers to come up with a solution." Since dimming the sun isn't an option, he's proposing the city install canopies over all playgrounds. Similar future projects could include requiring seaside communities to install beach sprinklers for when the sand gets hot.Pay up, chump. Of course, they'll get hot feet when they walk home down the streets covered with really hot concrete and asphalt ... oh wait, they've got shoes on for that. Give me a minute to figure this out. Yes, this is a very deserving award.
As always competition for the George Orwell Creative Use of Language Award was fierce. Candidates included the new credential "certified lifestyle counselor," which apparently means someone who puts you on a diet and isn't Valerie Bertinelli, and researchers who determined that people with "grit are more likely to succeed in school" because they're "doing something [they] love" and want to do, a problem for anyone who cares about words since grit generally involves persevering at something you don't love or don't want to do. However, we present Orwell 2009 to People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and their crusade to start calling fish "sea kittens" in the hope that people will stop eating them if the have a cuter, furrier name, a tactic that's worked wonders when it comes to saving lambs. As part of their campaign, PETA officials contacted the principal of Whitefish High School in Montana to urge him to rename his school Sea Kitten High. Though the principal inexplicably declined, the Academy wishes to honor PETA for its venture into Orwellian territory.
The Academy also wishes to remind us that everybody deserves at least one Emperor for something.
Even you and me.
Except that I'd probably get an Emperor from Poor Elijah for giving out too many awards just so that no felt left out by not receiving an Emperor Award. (Mobius alert.)