April 01, 2004,
Whenever I start to wonder what, exactly, the public-school system does other than provide abundant opportunities to purchase Sally Foster gift wrap my elementary-school kids dump out their backpacks, and I am freshly reminded.
Happened just last week.
My 11-year-old emptied his backpack and began the usual mind-numbing description of the day's activities. "And we did fractions and percentages, and I had nachos for lunch, and in science, we scrubbed oil off of feathers, and we're going on a field trip on a bus that will have VCRs, and I can bring any video I want, as long as it's family friendly!"
I snap to attention, and it's not over the field trip.
"Whoa, back up there," I said. "What was that about oil and feathers?"
"Oh, it was just a science experiment," he said. "We had these feathers I think they came out of pillows and we dunked them in oil, and then we tried to get the oil to come off. Here I've got a worksheet."
He sure did.
In the experiment, entitled "Oil Spill," the fifth-graders were asked to dump cooking oil in a pan of water, sweep the surface with a feather, and then, "with a paper towel, try to clean the feather."
The test questions included:
Oil is the most visible pollutant to find its way into our coastal and ocean waters. How does it get in the water? (Presumably correct answer: It is dumped there by evil, profit-obsessed oil companies that employ drunken captains who club baby seals for fun.)
Were you able to clean the feather? Why? (No; because I was only using a stinkin' paper towel, that's why!)
What effect will oil have on birds and marine animals? (They will die, or else get extremely sticky, breaking the food chain and eventually resulting in the extinction of all life as we know it.)
What can you do as a fifth grader to help protect the environment? (Ride my bike more, be kind to ducklings, protest loudly if Mom pulls into an Exxon.)
Now, as the daughter of a career kindergarten teacher, I am more inclined than your average conservative to cut the public-school system some slack. Just weeks ago, this same fifth-grader brought home a test for me! on HIV-AIDS. It was part of the euphemistically named "Family Life" class, in which the boys and the girls are separated for an hour, and your previously un-self-conscious child comes home with a stick of deodorant and a newfound concern about body odor. Apparently, the school decided that it is not enough to educate the kids; they have to educate the parents, too.
Now, some parents might have taken offense at this. I just found it funny. Public schools provide me with a lot of mirth, like when they send home worrisome pamphlets on childhood obesity while serving kids nachos for lunch. Or, when they fashion a science lesson around what happens when rich, white guys dump eleven million gallons of crude oil on bald eagles in the Prince William Sound.
Now, I don't know if there was an accompanying unit on the evils of Halliburton, and why we should all be driving soybean-powered Geo Metros. Probably not. Most teachers seem to know their limits. But could it be just a coincidence that this experiment took place on the 15th anniversary of the Exxon Valdez spill?
Again, probably not.
The leftward tilt of the government-school system is so well documented that conservative consumers of their services best not pay it too much attention. It'll just make you crazy. It's far better to treat these episodes as much-needed infusions of humor in between the gift-wrap sales. It's kind of a Joke-of-the-Day service, delivery via backpack. We should thank them.
And, frankly, any attempt to indoctrinate an eleven-year-old boy frequently threatened with Ritalin into the Cult of the Environmentally Friendly probably isn't going to work. I asked Mencken (yes, that's his name, talk to his dad about that) if he knew what the Exxon Valdez was, and he said and this is a quote "I'm not sure, is it a tiger?"
Well, son, close enough for government work.
In order to teach our kids liberal policies, public-school teachers first would have to teach. So, fellow conservatives, do not worry; we have a safety net there.
Or at least we do until high school, when they pay more attention in class.
On Sunday's episode of The Sopranos, Tony Soprano presents his teenaged son with a bright-yellow SUV, incentive to do better in school. The boy grudgingly accepts it even though, he says pointedly, SUVs do harm the ozone.
Neither parent asks where he learned that. Nor, regrettably, need we.
Jennifer Nicholson Graham, an NRO contributor, is a writer in Virginia.