Thursday, February 22, 2007

My Window Faces the South

If not, I'm gonna have to move it.

I'm not saying the mysterious South is perfect. Last night, my daughter obliged me to stop at the ugliest diner on God's green earth, with a group of people who matched it perfectly. And there was a condom machine in the men's room, so someone is entering that joint and feeling lucky.

The whole southern concept of breakfast seems to depend a lot on grits, which don't much resemble food. Waffle House and Huddle House, two identical chains of dark, greasy, cramped breakfast joints, seem to draw customers from everywhere.

On the other hand, here in the USA, where we produce the best music in the world, some of the very best musicians are hidden in the mountains around Asheville, NC, from where I'm writing this.

But there's no need to come that far if you want to see real southern wisdom. In Virginia, people are starting to defy NCLB. It seems they've determined it's unfair to give the same tests to people who don't speak English.

A hundred years ago, people used to routinely give IQ tests to non-English speakers, who were often classified as mentally retarded. This was due to a failure to factor in the reality that these folks didn't speak English. Now, with a hundred years of progress behind us, we no longer label non-English speakers as retarded. We simply say their schools are unacceptable and need to be closed. Oh, and their teachers, like me, are incompetent for failing to press a button and make them magically fluent.

What does Uncle Sam have to say? He was unavailable for comment, but Aunt Margaret has little sympathy:

U.S. Education Secretary Margaret Spellings said Virginia is "dragging its feet" and called the testing provision, the law's Standards Clause, a necessary measure to counter "the soft bigotry of low expectations." In a Feb. 4 letter to The Washington Post, Spellings said: "It's time to remember that yes, Virginia, there is a Standards Clause."

Spelling's comments incensed school division officials.

"We're all so angry," said Arlington County School Board chairwoman Libby Garvey. She called the required test a "painful and humiliating experience" for children who haven't grasped English.

Similar disagreements will arise in other states that have many students who aren't proficient in English, said Reggie Felton, lobbyist for the National School Boards Association. The association has asked that the federal education department grant each state flexibility "for real-life situations to ensure that the test is valid and reliable for each student."

In Arizona, where there are many Latino immigrants, school officials also are grappling with testing language learners.

"We believe that English language-learner students come to school with different levels of competency," said Panfilo Contreras, executive director of the Arizona School Boards Association. "They may not be proficient in their own language, let alone English."

That's very true, and it's absurd to blame American schools for this. Also, momentarily disregarding its effect on schools, there's no way such idiotic regulations keep kids from being left behind.

Anna Nicole update: as of this morning, still dead.

Britney update: as of today, still bald.
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