The De-Valuing of America: The Fight for Our Culture and Our Children

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9781561792245: The De-Valuing of America: The Fight for Our Culture and Our Children
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A provocative and personal study of the crisis in American values discusses the problem of educational standards, drugs, AIDS, and sex education; racial strife; the controversy over values; and the debate on affirmative action and quotas. 50,000 first printing.

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About the Author:

William J. Bennett served as director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy under President Bush and served as Secretary of Education and chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities under President Reagan. He has a bachelor of arts degree in philosophy from Williams College, a doctorate in political philosophy from the University of Texas, and a law degree from Harvard. Dr. Bennett is currently a John M. Olin Fellow at the Hudson Institute, a Distinguished Fellow in Cultural Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, and a senior editor of National Review magazine. He, his wife, and two sons live in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

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Chapter 1


There's a Chuck Berry song that goes in part, "I got a chance, I oughta take it." Well, I got my chance when President Reagan asked me to be Secretary of Education in 1985, and I was going to take it. I didn't want to leave that job and say to myself, "Boy, when I was Secretary, I wish I had said such and such." I've always tried to say what I really thought while I held a post, not later; to speak truthfully and not to leave with a lot of "l should have saids." I hate it when you don't find out what government officials really think until after they leave office and write a "revealing" memoir. "Retirement candor" cheapens the currency; it makes people suspicious of what people say when they are in the job. At least I can say that when I had my chance I took it.

"How can anyone who [cares] about children not feel terrible about Chicago schools?" This was the question I put to the city during a November 1987 visit while I was Secretary of Education. For about $4,000 per student per year, Chicagoans were supporting a public school system in which nearly half of the children who entered the public school system dropped out before graduating from high school, many to become involved in lives of welfare dependency, drugs, or violent crime. When the scores of the American College Testing (ACT) Program (a standard college-entrance exam) were disclosed, more than half of the city's public schools reported high school senior scores in the bottom 1 percent of schools nationwide.

The Chicago public school system -- the nation's third largest after Los Angeles and New York -- was "the worst in the nation," I said. "You have an educational meltdown." (An employee of the Chicago public school system later insisted, "We are not the worst public school system in America. Detroit is worse." I told him that he was guilty of what Justice Holmes called "low aspirations.")

And practically everyone in Chicago -- parents, employers, other teachers, and the schoolchildren themselves -- knew it. In recent years we've seen some efforts at improvement, but the seventies and eighties in Chicago saw countless thousands of young lives ruined, and still today, tens of thousands of children are not being educated. According to the Chicago Tribune (in a full-page editorial written at the end of a tough, unflinching investigative series in 1988), "The Chicago public schools are so bad, they are hurting so many thousands of children so terribly, they are jeopardizing the future of the city so much that drastic solutions must be found?"

The Tribune series charged school administrators with "institutional child neglect."

Here are but a few of the many horror stories documented:

* All 22 students in Grace Currin's 4th-grade class were supposed to attend summer school in 1988 because, their principal said, Currin did not teach the children enough to pass to the next grade. Currin did not hand in a lesson plan all year. Four principals tried unsuccessfully to have Currin fired. "It's a terrible shame," said Dyanne Dandridge-Alexander, a principal. "Those children have suffered because they have a totally inept teacher that no one has been able to fire." Parents who sat in on her classes said they were at a point where they thought it was hopeless. Currin said she did not deserve the negative ratings. "I still think they did not really get to know me as a teacher," she said. "I am part of the problem, but remember, you can't expect miracles when you have low achievers." Currin told the Tribune that her career goal was "to retire at full pension."

* Deborah Harris was suspended from Chicago's Shoop Elementary School after she consistently refused to go to her 7th-grade classroom. Each day she gave the principal a doctor's note saying that she should be given "light duties." Harris was told daily, in writing, by the principal and the district superintendent, to report to class. She hid in the boiler room, according to testimony. The hearing officer ordered Harris reinstated because the board had not given her written notice that she would be fired if she did not go to class. Harris took a leave of absence the day she was reinstated to Curtis Elementary School and never returned. The board appealed the ruling but lost. "We were shocked," one attorney said. "Hearing officers view this as a man's or woman's livelihood. The hearing officer barely mentioned the children."

* In 1987, ten weeks into the first semester, typing students at Du Sable High School had gone through four substitutes, none of them trained to teach typing or certified in any business subject. During the 11th week, a certified typing teacher arrived, and only then did the students learn where to place their hands on the keyboard. Four weeks later, she took a job in private industry. "It's a shame that we have been in this class a whole semester and they still can't find us a teacher," according to one fifteen-year-old, who spent most of one teacherless class putting on makeup and fixing her hair. "We'll probably have to take it over again." Chicago School Superintendent Manford Byrd, Jr., was surprised that such a situation existed. "I'm not aware of that kind of imbalance," he told the Tribune. "Our aim is to get regular certified teachers in all the openings. But I don't know if we've ever been in a better shape than we are now."

* The Chicago Board of Education headquarters, called "Pershing Gardens,' by school critics, is in a former warehouse that was renovated at a cost of $22 million. The nearly 3,000 people who worked at the offices on the South Side listened to piped-in music, walked on thick carpets, and enjoyed a panoramic view of the city from their 5th-floor cafeteria.

The late Harold Washington, then mayor of Chicago, was outraged by my criticisms of the city's public school system. "Mr. Bennett has a lot of gall to be criticizing Chicago public schools -- or any other school system," he said. Chicago Board of Education president Frank Gardner added, "We hope the impact of his statements do [sic] not further demoralize teachers, who are doing an excellent job."

Jacqueline Vaughn, president of the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU), one of the most powerful teacher unions in the country, told a group of teachers, "I resent your efforts being taken for granted and [people] saying we are responsible for the ills in education because, without us, they would have none.

"We are tired of being given mandates, dictates, instructions and directions from everybody when we are not asked to give our input," she said. "We don't tell them [parents and others] what to do in their kitchens, so why should they tell us what to do in our classrooms?" Vaughn elicited frenzied applause from the assembled school employees.

During a joint press conference with Vaughn, I said I'd be more impressed with her union if it made some effort, any effort, to get rid of its bad teachers while rewarding its good ones.

Her reply was Chicago didn't have any bad teachers.

In 1983 the National Commission on Excellence in Education released the landmark report A Nation at Risk, the closest thing we have had to a national education grievance list. It cited among other problems, poor performance by American students on a variety of international education tests; a decline in scores on most standardized tests; and a decline in student knowledge in crucial subjects such as English and physics. It gave voice to the growing public sense of crisis about our children and their schools. "The educational foundations of our society are presently being eroded by a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people," the report said. "We have, in effect, been committing an act of unthinking, unilateral edu

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ISBN 10:  0671797190 ISBN 13:  9780671797195
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