THE NEW STANDARDS

 12/1/97

The membership of the Plainview-Old Bethpage Congress of Teachers has a long and proud history of supporting rigorous academic standards, defending them often at great cost. We were talking about raising our standards before Commissioner Mills got blinded by the snows of Vermont. Yet, as we supported higher academic standards, we did not lose our compassion for those who even though they give it there best shot are unable to perform as we wish they could.

The current mania to increase the graduation requirements for the children of New York will have a pernicious effect on those children who through no fault of their own are unable to meet the new requirements. To glibly state as Commissioner Mills does that perhaps some of our children will need to spend more than four years to complete the new requirements is to condemn numbers of children to the ranks of outcasts or losers. To fill their programs with academic courses there is every reason to believe they cannot master is to make school into a place of failure, failure inflicted on those who already see school as a hostile environment that daily confirms their feelings of worthlessness.

It used to be that we sought to create comprehensive high schools, places with something for everyone. These schools did remarkable things that will be lost in the years to come if we don't wake up quickly. One of the weakest English students I ever taught in Plainview, he could barely read and write after our strongest efforts, found in his autobody shop courses an oasis, a place where he could shine - where he could be somebody whom others could look up to. I ran into Pat a few years ago, after I had a bit of a fender-bender. He was running his own shop and employing five other mechanics and proud a hell to show his old English teacher that he had amounted to something. We don't have that auto-body program anymore. We no longer have wood shop or other programs where students who have a talent for working with their hands can find fulfillment in school. While we still have an auto repair class, it is hard to understand how students who must meet the new requirements, with all of the remedial periods we must build into their schedules to give them at least a chance to pass the Regents, will find the time to take it in the future.

It's not just for students like Pat that these new requirements are so unhealthy. Although I was an academically capable student, when I look back to my high school days, one of my fondest memories is of the year of wood shop I had to take and of Ben Gold, my teacher, who each day gave me a period of relief from the tedium of the academic curriculum and who taught me skills that have saved me thousands of dollars on home repairs over the years. I see myself in many of my students as they approach meeting the new requirements.

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