12/19/11, No. 11
Times-Union stokes melancholy: The Roman poet Horace taught us that the purpose of a local newspaper is to entertain and to edify.
However, your news reports about the Duval County Public Schools (DCPS) here in Jacksonville are so incongruous as to hardly be edifying. Nor are they entertaining. Instead, these reports stimulate in the brains of your readers cognitive dissonance, which induces something very different from humor. Humor occurs when conceptual incongruities are juxtaposed in such a way that tension must be released through laughter. I know I have a sense of humor because it developed from watching Sesame Street. However, the cognitive dissonance your paper arouses does not lead to laughter but rather to uncomfortable feelings, the most prominent of which is melancholy. So I am writing to ask you to please stop.
To quote the part of my mind that is hard-wired to Wikipedia: “Cognitive dissonance is an uncomfortable feeling caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously.”
In just the past 12 days your paper has published four stories that elicit uncomfortable feelings because they don’t add up.
In the first, several students at Raines High School stole cell phones from the opposing team’s locker room during an athletic competition. Raines Principal George Maxey allegedly lied to police during the investigation, doing so with the intention of disciplining the students himself, obviously believing he could impart a life lesson better than could the criminal justice system:
Pratt-Dannals fired Maxey because he said Maxey was a liar. However, isn’t this a case of the pot calling the kettle black?
The second, the “Exception is overused” editorial, explores how 28,000 students in Duval have used grade recovery, which entails a student who fails a nine-week class being able to spend a short time, a few hours, a day maybe, online turning the F into a C and, thereby, avoiding summer school. According to your editorial, Pratt-Dannals “says grade recovery is a modern device that lets students focus on the areas in which they need improvement without having to retake an entire nine weeks of school.”
Joey Wise could not have said it better. Indeed, through grade recovery, or the academic Mulligan, students learn a valuable lesson—how to game the system. This will be a useful skill for when they begin working on Wall Street and start bundling together subprime mortgages into collateralized debt obligations. Assuming, of course, that they could do the math after using grade recovery to pass their calculus course.
Third, the Times-Union published an editorial remarking on the “Major strides on graduation,” noting that DCPS is graduating more high school seniors than ever before. Will wonders never cease? Twenty-eight thousand high school students have figured out how to game the system through grade recovery. What happens later to these graduates of the DCPS system? The ones who go on to post-secondary education enter their first-year classes at FSCJ, JU, and the University of Norflaland thinking that World War II took place before World War I and that “verb” is a synonym for “word.”
And finally, there is the story “Education group criticizes Florida’s spending restrictions, unfunded mandates.” Who are these people anyway to criticize? These are people who think you can solve a problem by throwing money at it. Here is what they should be criticizing: a principal who lies, a superintendent who lets students get out of taking courses, and a system that lowers standards to churn out more diplomas.
These stories stir up uncomfortable feelings because they force readers like me to consider contradictory ideas simultaneously. So, let’s simplify. The real issue here is funding and taxes. Florida may rank 51st (including Washington, DC) in the U.S. in per-pupil K-12 funding, but I think we can do better. Why should Florida only be compared to DC and other states? Aren’t there a bunch of American territories like Puerto Rico, Guam, and American Samoa? Aren’t there Indian reservations? Which spends more, do you think, per capita on its students: Florida or the Sioux reservation? Florida or Palmayra Atoll? I bet Florida in both cases spends more, but we can fix that. Once we reach 61st, I’ll know taxes have settled to the right level, and I will feel better.
Until then, your stories on DCPS neither amuse nor edify. They simply induce melancholy. So please, Times-Union, please stop. Stop reporting on DCPS until you can deliver a series of stories that makes sense.