Sunday, December 18, 2011

Penn State grad supports JoePa no matter what

Originally published in the Tuscarawas County edition of the Bargain Hunter.

Following up on a couple of things this week…

A few weeks ago, I asked and then answered: “Is Joe Paterno (longtime head coach of the Penn State football team) a father figure? Hardly.”

Psu4ster took me to task with his/her online comment posted under my commentary on the Bargain Hunter’s Web site.

“I am a graduate of ‘thee’ Pennsylvania State University and I'd like to first make it completely clear that my thoughts, prayers and biggest concerns lie with the victims and their families,” he/she wrote.

“With that being said, I do not agree with your comment about Paterno not being a father figure. I grew up in Pennsylvania and know the unbelievable amount of good Joe Paterno has done for the state, Penn State students, faculty, staff as well as student athletes he has coached and molded into productive citizens.

“He has donated millions of dollars to the university and the last time I checked, the university figures that Coach Paterno and his wife have helped raise $3.5 billion for the university. You, as well as the rest of the media, have condemned Coach Paterno before any official facts have been brought to light…”

Well, Psu4ster, I didn’t condemn Paterno. I said he was hardly a father figure and I based that on available information – some of it official (i.e. grand jury indictment of alleged abuser Jerry Sandusky) – and some of which came to light in the aftermath.

And last Monday, a team of Associated Press reporters posted a story that concluded the culture of Penn State was to protect its football program above everything else, including, apparently, the rogue ex-coach who was abusing children over at least a 12-year period.

“And while the official allegations, so far, target only three people – Sandusky, along with the school’s athletic director and a since-retired senior vice president, who are both charged with perjury and failure to report a 2002 sexual abuse complaint – an investigation by the Associated Press suggests that blame also rests on Penn State as an institution and the entrenched traditions of now-fired head football coach Joe Paterno,” the AP said.

“In addition, the AP investigation, which included scores of interviews and a review of the limited number of available documents, also reveals new details in the Sandusky case: the special handling of a 1998 sexual abuse complaint by child welfare workers; a clash between investigators over what the evidence showed at that time; extraordinary retirement perks that gave Sandusky access to places on campus where he is accused of abusing children; a determination by a nearby county child-welfare agency that Sandusky sexually abused a boy in 2008 in a case that sparked the state criminal case; and a passionate defense of Paterno's role by his wife and her vigorous assertion that his university superiors are responsible for any mistakes in the handling of the 2002 abuse complaint.”

So, despite Psu4ster’s impassioned defense of Paterno, I remain convinced that JoePa is a rather lousy father figure.

It’s in vogue these days to blame the public schools for all the ills in the education system. I have maintained that the anger is misdirected and that by far the biggest problem lies not with teachers or their schools, but with students’ parents and homes.

Or lack thereof.

In other words, all the talk about “No Child Left Behind,” charter schools, district report cards and all those hot button issues politicians are prone to talk about are actually a lot of hooey.

In an op-ed piece in the New York Times recently, Helen F. Ladd a professor of public policy and economics at Duke, and Edward B. Fiske, a former education editor of the New York Times and author of the “Fiske Guide to Colleges,” argue that policy makers have missed the point.

“No one seriously disputes the fact that students from disadvantaged households perform less well in school, on average, than their peers from more advantaged backgrounds,” they wrote.

“But rather than confront this fact of life head-on, our policy makers mistakenly continue to reason that, since they cannot change the backgrounds of students, they should focus on things they can control.”

In fact, Ladd and Fiske point out that poor children do worse academically in all countries than their counterparts who are members of well-to-do families.

“Results of the 2009 reading tests conducted by the Program for International Student Assessment show that, among 15-year-olds in the United States and the 13 countries whose students outperformed ours, students with lower economic and social status had far lower test scores than their more advantaged counterparts within every country,” Ladd and Fisk reported.

“Can anyone credibly believe that the mediocre overall performance of American students on international tests is unrelated to the fact that one-fifth of American children live in poverty?”

And not known to the general public, your typical public school educator in Tuscarawas and Holmes counties is donating hard cash at this time of the year so the most disadvantaged of their students can return to their respective schools in January in shoes that don’t leak, dresses that aren’t torn and a coat that actually zips up.
By the way, those are far more important issues to those children than a good grade on a test. We’re talking about survival here.

And yet the public demands accountability on test scores by those same youngsters who come from homes best described as organized squalor where no one ever read to them before bedtime, or took them to the zoo, or told them they are loved.

No child left behind?

We don’t have an education problem in this country. We have a poverty problem. Why can’t we get that?

 Follow me on Facebook and Twitter (dfarrell_dover).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You conclude that problems in education are rooted in poverty, not in the failure of teachers and schools. The facts show that students from wealthier families out perform those from poorer families. The US is the wealthiest nation on earth and spends more on education than any other country. Yet we lag behind many other countries in student performance, graduation rates, and just about every other measure. Why so?

I see a parallel with healthcare. The US spends more per capita than anybody else for healthcare but by most standards of measure, health outcomes on average lag behind other countries.

American education and healthcare are similar in that our best is the standard of the world...students come from around the world to attend our colleges and universities...just as people come from around the world to our best hospitals for heart surgery, transplants, and cancer treatment. The problem is that the best education and best healthcare is related to wealth...outcomes decline as you move down the economic ladder.

You point out that the public wants accountability from schools and teachers for student performance. I suppose that's easier than holding parents accountable for their kid's performance. The US has spent billions...perhaps the 'War Against Poverty' and yet there's more people living in what we define as poverty today than 50 years ago. It is a chicken or the egg corundum...reduce poverty and those students will perform better in school. But it appears that we need better educated people to lift themselves out of poverty.

In healthcare we spend billions to save people from heart attacks, strokes, and diabetes that result from their choice of lifestyles (too much food, not enough exercise). We want doctors and hospitals to fix what our lousy lifestyles have done to us rather than expecting Americans to be accountable for their own poor choices.

In education we want schools and teachers to fix what lousy parenting has created. Why can't we expect parents to clean the house, take out the trash, buy food instead of HBO, and read books to their kid? What does the household income have to do with that? We've deluded ourselves into thinking the lifestyles of the rich and famous can and should be ours. Otherwise it's not fair.

As ye sow, so shall ye reap. From its foundings up through World War II this country sowed a culture defined by self-sufficiency and sacrifice We reaped a country that saved the world from tyranny and established a remarkable standard of living for its citizens (at least the white ones). Since then we've sown an American culture based on entitlement and self indulgence and now we're reaping a harvest of selfishness and dependence.

Are we going to learn from our mistakes? Probably not. Instead we'll probably raise taxes to pay for more standardized testing and to fund bypass surgery for poor people.

Have a nice day.