Herald and Journal, Feb. 25, 2002

Newspapers in Education: Finding our own fingers in the cookie jar

This being Newspapers in Education (NIE) Week, there are a couple things we need to confess:

1. Our public education system is being overtaken by big business and political agendas, at the expense of our children's future.

2. As an industry, newspapers are just as guilty as many others in taking advantage of schools for their own marketing.

Tobacco does it

Schools offer a captive audience of young, developing minds.

Those with products to sell and political agendas to advance have found schools to be an efficient, effective place to spread their message.

A frequent tactic is to give schools free curriculum that looks good on the surface but comes with ulterior motives. The schools accept this, because, of course, it's free.

The tobacco industry is among the most clever at this. You may have heard of the Lions Quest program, which appears to teach kids about healthy lifestyle choices.

But when one looks closely enough, you see that the emphasis is on the "choice" rather than the "healthy."

R. J. Reynolds tobacco company has been a major sponsor of the Quest program.

The problem with these types of programs is that they present situations such as tobacco use, sexual activity, etc. as a "choice" for kids instead of firmly advising against it.

Now think about it: tell a kid that something isn't good for him, but he can "choose" to abstain from it. What's he going to do? Human nature is to desire the forbidden fruit ­ even more so when it's presented as a choice.

Research has consistently shown that "non-directive" programs of this kind actually result in higher tobacco usage, increased sexual activity, etc. than no program at all would, according to Dr. W. R. Coulson, a psychologist who promoted this type of thinking but later admitted the problems it causes.

And that's exactly why a tobacco company would sponsor such a program: because, in the end, it sells cigarettes.

Newspapers do it

Then comes along NIE ­ Newspapers in Education.

No one can dispute that the program is designed to help students - make them better readers, aware of current events, understand differences between facts, opinions, and advertising, etc.

Unlike smoking, at least reading would be considered a positive activity.

Ultimately, the goal of NIE is to have more newspaper readers when those kids grow up.

It is a terrific marketing idea.

But if we admit the truth, newspapers in the classroom are just as self-serving as tobacco companies trying to get kids to smoke.

Bottom line: getting your message or product to a young, captive audience will pay off with regular customers for many years to come.

Education's failings

Our public education system is being turned into something that we have never seen before in our country.

The Profile of Learning, School to Work, Graduation Standards, Goals 2000, etc., are all parts of a federal takeover of education that is setting up the U.S. to be part of a worldwide government and a managed global economy.

Here's just a very small sample of what's happening:

· only minimum competency levels are expected. Example: the Minnesota Basic Skills tests that eighth graders take (which are sixth-grade level quality) are essentially the only tests a student must pass in order to get a diploma.

Once a student passes these simple tests, the education system has little incentive to do anything more for him.

· There are Graduation Standards to meet, but these are largely over-emphasized group exercises in which one or two students often do most of the work. You are no longer an individual in this system ­ everything is for the benefit of the group. Some members of the group work harder than others, but everyone gets the same grade.

Worse yet, there is no way to fail these standards. It is possible to get an "incomplete," but the scoring system does not have a failing component.

No matter how poor quality of the work, everyone passes!

Worst of all, the real goal of these Graduation Standards is to instill government-directed attitudes, values, and beliefs into children rather than teaching them knowledge and giving them the freedom to achieve to their potential.

· Then there is School to Work, which has changed the education system from passing along knowledge into a training ground of "human resouces" for big business.

The problem is that unelected government bureaucrats are making decisions about what jobs will be available in certain areas in the future. Students are then channeled into these career paths to be trained for these jobs.

What's wrong with this picture? The government is making decisions about what jobs people will do.

This is directly the opposite of how our country was built - by teaching children the knowledge they need, and allowing them to find their own success.

Now, the government decides what career paths students are led to. You are not an individual but part of the group, and you must work for the betterment of the whole.

When other countries do this, it's called communism.

Few education leaders will admit it outright, but the focus is on equal outcomes for everyone, not on excellence. And in order to have equal outcomes, everyone must come down to the same level.

Putting it together

So if newspapers are involved with programs like NIE, how can we be the watchdogs we are supposed to be?

How can we objectively and fairly report the failings of the system when we have our own fingers in the cookie jar?

The Star Tribune not only allows its stories to be used for Basic Skills test, it sells a "Basic Reading Skills Test Prep Course."

The Pioneer Press is major sponsor of School to Work, publishing extensive career exploration sections.

Most of the rest of us have been coaxed into participating in NIE.

The editorial positions of the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press, as well as their coverage and non-coverage of education issues, indicate they are both big supporters of the new education system.

No surprise, though. They profit from it, so they endorse it and promote it.

With ties like that between the newspaper industry and education, our credibility - a newspaper's most valuable asset - is certainly in serious question.

Permission is granted to anyone to reprint or circulate this editorial.

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