2002-02-13 / Editorials


Bloomberg Makes The Grade

Among the proposals put forth by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to remedy the present disastrous state of public education in New York City are two that we find especially meritorious: eliminating bilingual education and an emphasis on the basics in all subjects, especially in mathematics.

Aside from constituting an exercise in futility, bilingual education is completely unnecessary. Generations of immigrants to these shores sent their children to public schools expressly so those children would come home and teach their parents the English in which they had been totally immersed at school. Meanwhile, parents spoke any language they pleased in the privacy of their own homes. The result in many cases was parents who were, if not fluent, at least able to make themselves understood in English and children who were able to advance in their new land because they could speak and write its language.

Back in the bad old days when students were expected to be able to speak and write English correctly by the time they graduated from elementary school, they were taught grammar as well. Teachers understood that before students could express themselves they needed to understand the rules that govern the use of the language. This maxim has even more validity now in the age of computers: without mastering the simple logic of subject-verb agreement it is impossible to understand how a computer works on even the simplest level.

We would also argue that teaching the basics means occasionally relying on pencil and paper rather than computers and their calculator cousins. The reasons for this are twofold: for one, batteries can die and power can fail, rendering electronic devices useless, and for two, the basic rules of arithmetic and mathematics do not change and once learned can always be relied upon.

We are not among the disciples of Ned Ludd, who in the early 19th century thought they could hold back the Industrial Revolution by smashing factory machinery. Without computers, for example, publishing this newspaper would take a lot longer and be a lot harder and we count ourselves fortunate to live in an age when such conveniences exist. But relying excessively on such devices means one is handicapped without them. We know of several instances when electronic cash registers malfunctioned, leaving clerks unable to calculate change, for example for a 79-cent purchase when tendered $1.

Calculators and computers are the tools of the business and commercial world and we agree that children should be made acquainted with them. But we believe that introducing them too soon does serious harm to the learning process. As with native tongues versus English, if parents want to introduce their children to these devices themselves, that is their right. But we feel that their use should be reserved for upper grades, after children have learned such rudimentary arithmetic functions as multiplication tables and long division. Likewise, children should be taught that English grammar and syntax are necessary foundations for expressing oneself on paper. A school system which fails to provide these structural components of language and mathematics and do so in the English language, knowledge of which is necessary for success in any field of endeavor in this country, has no reason to exist and should be abolished.

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