Sunday, July 10, 2011


-- Paul Whitefield, Opinion LA/LA Times |


July 7, 2011 |  1:52 pm

"Dear (prospective employer):

I just gradated hi school and need me a job. Cud you pleese tell me if you have any jobs I can do?

Yours' truely,


Chicago, Illinois"

What? You don't think that's very well written?

Consider the source.  As the Chicago Tribune reported Thursday:

Illinois high school juniors no longer will be evaluated on writing skills during the state's standardized tests every spring, eliminating the last writing exam and saving about $2.4 million amid budgetary shortfalls.

Gov. Pat Quinn signed the belt-tightening move into law last week as part of the state's spending plan. The writing assessments for elementary and middle school students were dropped last year.

Now, to be fair, we shouldn't just single out Illinois. As the Tribute notes:

Oregon lawmakers last month suspended the writing test given to fourth- and seventh-graders, although they kept the high school writing exam. By 2013, students must show they can write proficiently to graduate, according to the state's Department of Education.

In a cost-cutting effort last fall, Missouri education officials eliminated for at least two years the detailed, written response questions that had been hand-graded in science and math. Writing exams in language arts also were suspended. Students still write some short answers as part of state testing.

It's been a while since I was in school, but I seem to recall something called the "Three Rs"?  Yes, that's it: "reading, writing and arithmetic." You know, the basics we've taught in our schools for generations.

Don't need all three anymore?  Can't afford all three? Gotta balance that budget, and we can't, shudder, raise taxes?

Really, folks, I know times are tough. But somehow, I just don't think teaching the "Two Rs" is enough. Do we really think places such as Germany, Japan, China and Singapore are saying, "Hey, the United States has a great idea; let's spend less money on educating our kids"?

But take heart, America, we still lead the world in one field. Not everyone in our schools will be saddled with a second-class education, followed by a job in the food services industry.

From The Times' Business section comes this bad news/good news report:

Starting salaries for last year’s U.S. law school graduates plummeted 20% as private practice jobs eroded, according to a report by the National Assn. for Law Placement.

The national median starting salary at law firms dropped to $104,000 from $130,000 in 2009.

Gosh, I hope they can get by on "only" $104,000 to start. (And, not being cynical, but do you suppose any of them will be able to write?)

It does makes you wonder, though:  Wouldn't we be a lot better off as a country if we were paying teachers $104,000 to start?

I shouldn't be so cynical, I suppose.  After all, as The Times reported, President Obama pointed the way to the future Wednesday:

In a presidency full of firsts, Barack Obama racked up another one: first sitting president to tweet from the White House.

Even House Speaker John Boehner got in on the action:

After embarking on a record spending binge that's left us deeper in debt, where are the jobs?" read the message from @johnboehner.

So perhaps our children don't need to be able to write. I mean, if 140 characters are good enough for the president and the speaker of the House -- who get to play political "tweetball" while states cravenly balance their budgets on the backs of our children -- I guess that should be good enough for me.

But do you suppose those legal documents will get shorter too, and the lawyers will charge less?

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