Belle of Liberty

Letting Freedom Ring

Sunday, May 13, 2012

The Secrets of Spying Educators

For several generations, it’s been an open secret among schoolchildren that teachers will ask prying, personal questions about secrets children may be keeping.  Most younger children are faithful to their families, and even if there is a secret, they won’t divulge it.

According to a report in the N.J. Star Ledger, with assistance from the Associated Press, one New Jersey father learned the secret that secrecy questions were part of exams for his twin eight year-old sons.  This enquiring father wanted to know just why children were being asked to divulge secrets and by what authority the school system made such intrusive incursions into their children’s lives.

The article states that the educational establishment’s justification is that they want to be able to uncover any problems with abuse or other disruptions in the child’s family life that could affect their ability to learn.  Never mind that the educational establishment already diverts their attention with such politically-tinged issues as gay marriage and climate change.

Most kids just make stuff up, the story notes.  A dangerous solution given the increasing totalitarian, not to mention litigious, nature of our society.  Had I told my teacher back in 1968 that my parents left us at the local movie theater for the whole day because they couldn’t afford a babysitter while they and all our relatives went to our cousin’s wedding (hence, no one to babysit us), a social worker would have been called.  Today, they’d be arrested for abandonment.   ‘Making stuff up’ could get innocent parents in a world of trouble.

My parents warned us not to answer our teachers' prying questions.  These interrogations were part of the communist agenda to undermine the family, they said; it was what children in the Soviet Union had been to taught to do for years – fink out their parents.  Soviet children would tell their teachers something a parent had said that was contrary to the party line and when they came home, the children would often find their parents had vanished, never to be seen again.

The Star Ledger story revealed other interesting tactics used on the tests, such as including incomprehensible story passages.  I remember reading such passages and being told I couldn’t understand them because I was slow or stupid.  Math tests, it was also acknowledged, bore incorrect answers.

When my older brother wrote down the correct answer for when Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic – 1927 – he was marked wrong.  He challenged the teacher’s marking.  When that attempt at justice failed, my mother went to the school.  She showed the teacher a page in an almanac that indicated when Lindy hopped the pond.  Still, the teacher was unmoved.  She insisted that my brother’s answer – and the page in the almanac – were wrong, and that Lindy crossed the Atlantic in 1928.

To add insult to injury, the teacher went on to note that she felt my brother was “slow” and that he probably belonged in a special needs class.  Mom was outraged (as she should be).  She’d had a math teacher with an agenda when she was in high school, taught the class poorly, and failed my mother.  Mom had to take a remedial math course.

Fortuitously, my grandfather was an electrical and mechanical engineer.  On shore leave at that time, he taught Mom algebra in one night.  She answered every question in the remedial class, and had perfect scores on every test.  She was so good, the remedial teacher had to ask her not to answer any more questions so he could help the students who were struggling.

One of those students, she says, was Georgie Timmerman.  Even with help, he was having trouble.  He sat next to Mom, and when she found he was looking over at Mom’s test paper, she slid it over further so he could see better.  Georgie would die a few years later on Utah Beach during the D-Day invasion.  Mom says his name is on a memorial on a square somewhere near 233rd Street and Pratt Avenue in the Bronx.  Since, he’s gone, no one can expel him for “cheating”.  He already paid the ultimate price for us and freedom.  Georgie is not only a testament to the courage to fight for freedom, but to succeed in spite of incompetent, agenda-driven teaching.

Their teacher, suspecting something was amiss, gave them the chance to take one last test which, if they passed, would settle the score for them for the year.  Their failing mark in algebra would be wiped out and they wouldn’t have to repeat the algebra course the next year.

So it’s no secret that Mom had no use for my brother’s teacher.  This teacher went on to predict that my brother would barely graduate from high school (he was in the 6th grade at the time) and would never go on to college; that he would probably wind up working in the local rubber factory.

The rubber factory is closed and Big Brother not only graduated from college, but earned his MBA as well, with excellent grades.  He produced a son who is graduating this month from a top school with a graduate degree in mechanical engineering.

How do you teach your kids to tell the teacher to go jump in the lake if they ask personal questions?  That’s the proper answer to intrusive queries.  I did.  I defended my parents to the bitter end.  Not every student is that brave.  Those without the necessary temerity can just leave the question blank.  However, when the truth is on your side, you may speak with impunity.  When the right to privacy is on your side – and it always is, in school – your children should speak with boldness and tell the teachers to mind their own business.


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