Subject: "Advanced Placement" Gets a Bad Rap
From: Jay Mathews
Date: Fri Mar 10
The "Guest Chatterbox" (i.e., James Fallows) critiques my article on efforts to make high school courses more demanding (which was accompanied by an updated version of my list of the 476 most challenging public schools in the country). The Guest Chatterbox said he liked the article but thought the list was "zany." His principal complaints were that (1) schools influenced by the list would try to force as many students as they could to take Advanced Placement (AP) tests, and that (2) the list did not allow for the disparity in the socio-economic makeup of American high schools. On count 1, I enthusiastically plead guilty. I want schools to encourage as many students as possible to take AP and International Baccalaureate (IB) tests and pay all the testing fees. On count 2, I am guilty of inadequate prose. The list does allow for socio-economic differences in what I think are simple and elegant ways, but I failed to explain this in the article.
My writing about high schools began in 1982, when I stumbled across a remarkable experiment in introducing AP courses to an inner city campus. The faculty at Garfield High School in East Los Angeles, led by the mathematics teacher Jaime Escalante later celebrated in the film Stand and Deliver, decided to expand AP courses in mathematics, English, biology, history, Spanish and other subjects and welcome any student who wanted to try. Escalante went further, dragging students into his classes who were not very motivated but in whom he saw a spark of ability.
Most American educators, then and now, would say such children had no business taking such courses. About 75 percent of the Garfield student body was poor enough to qualify for federally subsidized lunches. More than 95 percent of the students were Hispanic, and the vast majority of their parents were grade school dropouts. But the results of the experiment were spectacular. In 1987, 129 Garfield students took AP calculus examinations and two-thirds received passing scores. That was more students in calculus than all but four U.S. high schools—Andover, Stuyvesant, the Bronx High School of Science and Alhambra (a majority Asian-American school in Los Angeles County).
When I tried to expand the reach of AP classes in well-off, suburban schools, I was appalled to discover that most of those schools rejected the approach. Their reputation-conscious administrators and teachers wanted only the A students in AP courses so that the schools could have very high AP passing rates and impress colleges. The fact that such courses would also help B or C students was lost on them. The pecking order ruled.
(To read an un-edited version of this post, or to reply, click here.)
[To read Guest Chatterbox's reply to Mathews, click here.]
Subject: Correcting the Fray
From: Jim Morrison
Date: Fri Mar 3
A.O. Scott writes:
By the way, one of my favorite things about this book is the way Updike peppers his text with echoes of Shakespeare's: The elder Hamlet tells Gertrude she "protests too much"; Claudius and Gertrude exchange "reechy kisses"; and also, as a Fraygrant points out to my great embarrassment, that line about the spicy sausages I twitted yesterday as being Updike's failed attempt to sound Shakespearean is a quotation from the play. Go to the back of the class, Mr. Scott.
I did a search of an on-line concordance of the complete works of Shakespeare and couldn't pull up anything like the quote that Fragrant Adrian Mihalache claims is from Shakespeare himself. ("Those little spicy sausages for which the peasants have an obscene name.")
[To read Fraygrant Adrian Mihalache's explanation for his post, click here.]
Subject: Presbyterians Are "Born Again" Too
From: David L. Carlton
Date: Mon Mar 6
Re: "Born Again," and the contention that mainline Protestants like Methodists and Presbyterians "don't believe in it." That's news to this Southern Baptist turned Presbyterian. Note that both the Methodists and (American) Presbyterians are rooted in the Second Great Awakening, and thus are basically evangelical themselves. The difference between them and more evangelical groups is one of degree, not kind. Methodists and Presbyterians place more emphasis on the nurture of the church, and less on individual experience as the be-all and end-all; Presbyterians also distrust open displays of emotion as shallow and possibly fraudulent. But I know of no mainline Protestant denomination that rejects the clear command of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the Gospel of John, to be "born again." Many present-day Methodists and Presbyterians may find the doctrine an embarrassment—but that's a function of class rather than theology.
Subject: Dumping on Bradley
From: sen bradley fan
Date: Wed Mar 8
Obviously I'm biased, and in mourning, but Rosin's outburst about Bill Bradley still seems to be a bit much. It's pretty hard to exit one of these races with any grace and dignity, and I think my guy's doing a pretty dang good job of it. Regarding "you just lost, nobody liked you"—Bradley picked up a fairly consistent 30 percent of the vote nationwide, but many more didn't hate Bradley but simply thought Gore was the better candidate. Could you imagine if Gore hadn't gone through a primary? Six months of getting killed in the press every night by the GOP? And certainly Bradley did raise a number of issues that the veep wouldn't have prioritized—including universal health care, race relations, and, yes, campaign-finance reform.
[To read Rosin's response to this post, click here.]