Weekly Wire
Weekly Alibi When "Almost" Doesn't Count

By Captain Opinion

MARCH 13, 2000:  We used to have a saying: "Almost" only counts if you're throwing hand grenades, dropping atomic bombs or playing horseshoes.

The expression meant that if you were engaging in these activities, you didn't have to really know what you were doing or be especially skilled at them. You didn't have to be precisely on target: Any mope with a strong arm could lob a few grenades in the general direction of the boss's house or company headquarters and be assured of raising a commotion and scaring the hell out of people. With A-bombs, it was even better. You could be off-target by a mile or two and still be satisfied that you had incinerated the loud neighbors, the nosy mailman, the jerk who cut you off in traffic that day and the kids who come to the front door at night selling candy. And with horseshoes, anyone who could hurl a 1,000-pound mammal through the air with its shoes on -- no matter where it landed -- would impress a lot of people.

But almost being on target, almost getting it right, almost being precise only applies to a few things in life. Few people would be overjoyed to learn that the doctor who was about to cut them open on the operating table got "Ds" all through medical school and could almost distinguish a heart from a gall bladder, a spleen from a kidney, a big toe from a brain.

Some things you have to know exactly. You wouldn't want teachers in classrooms who think that two plus two is five, that taking a match to a tank of compressed hydrogen is a healthy recreational activity and that polar ice caps are things a dentist puts on your teeth.

Thanks to the state Board of Education, though, we will wind up with teachers who think that the U.S. Constitution is named after a street in Alabama and that zero plus zero equals "double zero." A few weeks ago, the Board of Education's Accountability Committee said that, in order to be certified as a teacher in New Mexico, applicants need to know almost nothing. The committee said that to be certified as a teacher, one needed only to notch a score of 64 percent on a test of general knowledge. A score of 64 out of a potential 100 percent will get a kid in Albuquerque's public schools a "D" grade. When I was in school, a score that low got you a big fat "F."

After a lot of people and parent groups screamed that a 64 percent standard was too low even for New Mexico, and that having teachers that dumb is an insult and a disservice to school kids, the Board quickly agreed. In a move it undoubtedly considered bold and courageous, the Board raised the passing score to the lofty level of 69 percent. That's right, score a 69 percent on the general knowledge test, and you will be allowed to enter a public school classroom in this state to pass your ignorance on to children. If the Board doesn't realize it, the message given is: Being dumb is unacceptable. You must rise to the level of being stupid.

The 64 percent standard was an outrage. The 69 percent level is a disgrace. The whole crazy exercise shows just how depressing education is in New Mexico. While teachers are screaming for higher pay plus more money for this and more money for that and demanding that we loot the state's permanent funds to get it, the Board of Education is making a mockery out of the very idea of education.

If teachers are held to embarrassingly low educational standards, what do you think they'll hold the kids in their classrooms to?

Education is the key to success in this modern world and global economy. Gone are the days in this country when, if you dropped out of high school, you could work as an apprentice machinist or glassmaker or steel worker and wind up earning a middle-class salary. Those skilled industrial jobs, for the most part, don't exist in this country as they once did. They're gone. You nearly need a master's degree to fix a car these days.

We need higher standards -- actual high standards -- for teachers and kids in this state. That's one way to put our children on the road to success. The Board should require higher passing scores on its tests. Teachers who just barely pass them should be retested every year. If they don't score "As" or "Bs" within three years, they shouldn't be allowed to teach here. Period.

It appears from their attitudes on this issue that many Board members were educated in public schools. So they need to know this: An "F" doesn't stand for "Fantastic," it stands for "Failure."

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