Key word in that last paragraph is "normally."
I was definitely not in documentary heaven last Wednesday night, when I viewed the first hour of a film called "The War on Kids." I only viewed the first hour because it was all I could bear.
I had to Google the film's title to see exactly who was responsible for this monstrosity. The culprit is some guy named Cevin Soling, who starts his film with this premise:
All kids are wonderful, well-behaved, adorable, incredibly bright little dears oppressed by authoritarian public schools that are more like prisons than educational institutions.
There is only one problem with such a premise: It won't fly with those of us who live in the real world.
All kids are not wonderful. They are not all well-behaved, adorable and incredibly bright, either.
Soling filled his documentary with instances in which students were suspended or expelled for some pretty ludicrous reasons under the zero-tolerance policies of some school systems. Missing from his documentary are the anecdotes of public school teachers who've been harassed, disrespected and even assaulted by students who are anything but adorable, wonderful, well-behaved and incredibly bright.
A Baltimore student's assault of a teacher several years ago comes to mind. And keep in mind that it only made the news because another student captured the incident on a cellphone and the video went viral. There are plenty of incidents in which students assault teachers that neither make the news nor documentaries like Soling's.
When the dust settled and the controversy was dying down, whom do you think Baltimore school officials blamed for the incident? The student? If you believe that, you're living in the same alternate universe that Soling lives in.
No, they blamed the teacher. So much for Soling's belief that students are "oppressed." And I'm not putting words in the guy's mouth. Here's a comment he made about his film when it premiered on the Documentary Channel back in May:
"Children have no voice and childhood has become pathologized. Kids in America are horrendously oppressed and we have systems or propaganda that obscure the fact. The complaints people have about kids -- they don't want to read, they watch too much TV, they have no respect for authority, etc. -- are all a reaction to repression."
Odd, isn't it, that this "repressive" school system that Soling is fuming about doesn't seem to have done HIM much harm? But it might have damaged the critical faculties of one commentator in the film who concluded that the problems with public education are twofold:
1. Evangelicals, and their insistence that sex education be banned.
2. Conservatives, and their insistence that tests matter.
I'm proud to be among those conservatives that believe tests matter. Here's why:
When students graduate from public high schools, they'll have to face some sort of test. It might be the SAT or the ACT to get into a college or university.
Assuming the student goes to one of those colleges or universities whose administrators have put on the wimpy pants and abolished test scores as criteria for admission, here's what the student will face upon graduation:
1. A GRE test to get into graduate school.
2. An LSAT test to get into law school.
3. An MCAT test to get into medical school.
4. Some other test to get into a postgraduate institution.
After law or medical school, prospective lawyers or doctors might have to take the bar exam or medical boards. Those students that majored in accounting and want to become certified public accountants will have to take some really brutal CPA exams.
A school system that doesn't test students is a school system setting those students up for failure.