Tuesday, March 22, 2011

VA: Middle schoolers suspended for oregano possession

A harmless prank gets a vicious response from kid-haters

A few Virginia parents would probably like to know what local school administrators are smoking.

Seventh-grader Adam Grass and three other students at Hickory Middle School in Chesapeake, Va., were suspended last week after being caught with what teachers initially thought was a bag of marijuana but turned out to be a stash of oregano, The Virginian-Pilot reports.

Unfortunately for the disciplined boys, now facing expulsion, there isn't much of a difference between Italian herbs and Mary Jane, at least in the state's eyes. According to school board member Christie Craig, Virginia has a zero-tolerance policy against "imitation controlled substances."

Adam is a straight-A student and National Junior Honor Society candidate, achievements his father, Patrick Grass, doesn't want to see go up in smoke all because of a childhood prank. "I know times have changed, and you can't do [just] anything in schools anymore," Grass said. "But I think there needs to be a certain amount of common sense applied to their policies."

The elder Grass also explains that his son was merely holding onto the oregano for a friend, meaning he's really just an innocent spice trafficker. "So he was in possession of it for maybe 30 seconds," Grass said.

Seeking legal council, the Grass family turned to the Charlottesville-based Rutherford Institute, which specializes in defending people who believe their human rights and civil liberties have been violated.

The organization's president and founder, John Whitehead, calls the oregano bust yet another case of an overenforced zero-tolerance policy.

"If you're a good student and you have some oregano, they kick you out of school," said Whitehead, who sent a letter on Friday asking the school to reverse its decision. "And it means you can't go to the [college] you wanted to, because of oregano."


What's the Constitution? Don't bother asking 70% of Americans

Alarming number of U.S. citizens don't know basic facts about their own country. But if non-Hispanic whites only had been asked, the result could have been different

First Christina Aguilera forgot the words to the national anthem. Now it has emerged that 70 per cent of Americans do not know what the Constitution is, and six per cent don't even know when Independence Day falls.

Newsweek recently gave 1,000 Americans the U.S. Citizenship test and found that their knowledge of the history and running of their own country was seriously lacking. Although the majority passed, more than a third - 38 per cent - failed, and some of the basic questions surrounding citizenship were answered incorrectly.

The U.S. citizenship test is administered to all immigrants applying for citizenship. It is comprised of 100 questions across five categories - American government, systems of government, rights and responsibilities, American history and integrated civics.

Newsweek found that there were huge discrepancies in the kinds of civic knowledge Americans collectively possess. A mark of 60 per cent was needed to pass.

The questions that Americans could not answer went from the more challenging - how many justices are in the Supreme Court? (63 per cent did not know) To the most basic - who is the Vice President of America? (29 per cent did not know)


Q. What happened at the Constitutional Convention?

A. The Founding Fathers wrote the Constitution.

Q. Who did the United States fight in World War II?

A. Japan, Germany and Italy.

Q. What did Martin Luther King Jnr do?

A. Fought for civil rights and equality for all Americans.

Q. Circle Independence Day on the calendar.

A. July 4.

An alarming number of Americans did not know basic information about the Constitution, namely that it was the supreme law of the land, that it was set up at the Constitutional Convention and that the first ten amendments are known as the Bill of Rights.

Newsweek reported that civil ignorance is nothing new. Americans have been misunderstanding checks and balances and misidentifying their senators for as long as they have existed.

And their ignorance is only highlighted by the knowledge of their European peers. In March 2009, the European Journal of Communication asked citizens of Britain, Denmark, Finland and the U.S. to answer questions on international affairs.

Europe came out on top. Around three quarters of British, Finnish and Danish people could, for example, identify the Taliban but just over a half of Americans could, despite the fact they led the charge in Afghanistan.

Many blame it on the complexity of the U.S. political system. Michael Schudson, author of The Good Citizen, said: 'Nobody is competent to understand it all, which you realize every time you vote. You know you’re going to come up short, and that discourages you from learning more.'

Others blame it on economic inequality in the U.S. as the top 400 households have more money than the bottom 60 per cent combined.

NYU socioloist Dalton Conley told Newsweek: 'It’s like comparing apples and oranges. Unlike Denmark, we have a lot of very poor people without access to good education, and a huge immigrant population that doesn’t even speak English.'


Children 'should read 50 books a year', says British education boss

I used to read 3 times that when I was a kid -- JR

Children as young as 11 should be expected to read 50 books a year as part of a national drive to improve literacy standards, according to Michael Gove.

The Education Secretary said pupils should complete the equivalent of almost a novel a week because the academic demands placed on English schoolchildren have been “too low for too long”.

In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, he said the vast majority of teenagers read just one or two books as part of their GCSEs, normally including John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men.

Mr Gove said all schools should “raise the bar” by requiring pupils to read large numbers of whole books at the end of primary school and throughout secondary education.

It follows the publication of a report in December showing that reading standards among British teenagers had slumped from 17th to 25th in a major international league table.

His latest comments came after a tour of high-performing “charter schools” – state-funded institutions that are run free of Government interference – in the United States.

One primary in a hugely deprived area of Harlem, New York, set pupils a “50 book challenge” over the course of a year and children also competed to read all seven Harry Potter books in the quickest possible time.

The Infinity School is currently ranked higher than any other in the city, even though more than 80 per cent of its mainly African American and Hispanic pupils are from poor families eligible for free and reduced lunches. It is among almost 100 schools run by the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP), a charity established by two teachers in the mid-90s.

Speaking in the US, Mr Gove said: “KIPP have far higher expectations of their students than we have had. We, the Coalition Government, have attempted to raise the bar but, I think, haven’t been ambitious enough. “Recently, I asked to see what students were reading at GCSE and I discovered that something like 80 or 90 per cent were just reading one or two novels and overwhelmingly it was the case that it included Of Mice and Men.

“Here, kids at the end of primary school are being expected to read 50 books a year. I think we should, as a nation, be saying that our children should be reading 50 books a year, not just one or two for GCSE.”

A recently launched review of the National Curriculum is expected to specify the key authors children should study at each key stage of their education.

As an interim measure, Mr Gove said he wanted to ask leading children’s authors to set out the 50 books each child should learn. The results will then be posted on the Department for Education website, with schools urged to issue the 50 book challenge to pupils.

Mr Gove suggested that authors to be studied by pupils of all ages should include JK Rowling, CS Lewis, Philip Pullman, Kenneth Grahame, Rosemary Sutcliff, Alan Garner and Ursula Le Guin.

He added: “One of the biggest problems in the English state education system is that only a minority can follow an academic education and that only a minority can go to university. Quite wrong. “Our expectations have been too low for too long.

“The aspiration for someone to read 50 books a year isn’t from a school in the poshest part of Manhattan where they are all going to have bound copies of CS Lewis, this is a school where 83 per cent of the kids are on the equivalent of free school meals, but they still expect them to read 50 books a year.”


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