Letters for the week of November 13-19, 2002 

Small schools left me a laughingstock; small theaters benefit from press coverage; small minds can't tolerate eccentricity; and small people don't need badges.

My small school held me back
While still a youth and living in Berkeley, I attended a small school called New Age Academy, which was then located on Camelia Street near REI ("Can Small Schools Make Students Give a Damn?," October 23). Its principal, Gloria Cooper, no doubt had energy and a vigor for teaching that met the unique challenges of its students. But at the same time, that was precisely the issue. The blend of students -- some troublemakers, some special-education, some real geniuses -- was definitely too much for the small staff to handle.

Because there is no state oversight for private schools of any size, Cooper placed all students, of all grades, in math classes by having them all take the same test: one sheet of multiplication problems and five minutes to finish the sheet. Meaning that despite intelligence, students who were faster were placed higher in math classes than those who took their time to answer properly.

The variety of classes I took in my eighth and ninth grades at New Age were enough to make me a laughingstock of later teachers at high school. Instead of world history, I was taught a revisionist "philosophy" that refuted many of the claims of books I would read outside of class. Above this, my supposed-freshman year was nothing more than a jumble of cartooning, computer, grammar, logic, botany, dance, gymnastics, English, philosophy, tae kwon do, "school capitalism education," a play, Latin then Spanish, math, and yoga. From that list, I can see only five of fifteen classes that would be accepted elsewhere as precepts of real high school education.

The fact that small schools think that they can graduate everyone they let through their doors is absurd and disappointing. Nowhere was that more obvious than at the school I attended. Its teachers had the same stated wish, but despite their best efforts almost a quarter of students (there were a total of 26 students my ninth-grade year) would be expelled before the year came out of its infancy.

Too often in small schools like New Age Academy, the only way some students do succeed is through social promotion, which sometimes took place before our very eyes.

I left New Age with a cumulative ninth-grade GPA of 1.9, an average that tarnished my chances of attending a prestige school, and made my dreams all the more difficult to come true. Now at the BBC, I see that despite it all, had my parents been educated to not believe pedagogic idealists, I would have been far better off.
John Parman, Kilburn Park, London, England

The coverage is the thing
I just wanted to say thank you for your review of Working for the Mouse ("It's a Small Job After All," October 30). I can honestly say that I have never had a more favorable assessment of my work put into print. It was quite a surprise! Your generosity was quite overwhelming.

I'm sure you don't hear this enough from people (or only after "good" reviews) but I just want you to know that we in the theatre community really appreciate your coverage of small theater groups. It makes ALL the difference, not just in attendance (though it helps) but also in presence and standing in the community. If Impact and companies like theirs are going to continue to grow, they need the support and yes, criticism from the media. So, good or bad, just reviewing a show really helps. So, thank you for taking the time to come down those stairs at LaVal's and check us out.
Trevor Allen, San Francisco

Order, no. Character, yes
Will Harper's foul hit piece on a dedicated civic citizen, Nancy Jewell Cross (7 Days, October 30) was one of the dumbest articles I have ever read. The article is full of unverified suppositions and hearsay. It is a thinly veiled attempt to paint a negative cartoon portrait of a dedicated advocate for pedestrians. I question Will Harper's motivations in writing the article. He is obviously writing a biased opinion piece to try to get his choice, Joe Bischofberger, elected. I find the examples he listed as his confused proof of Ms. Cross' eccentricity to be the best indicators of the childishness of his critique. He does not once mention her work and her dedication. He does not once mention any examples of her voting record or her vision. Maybe that is why it is such a mystery to Mr. Harper how she could have been elected. He stands his entire article on his extreme opinion that a person should not be able to remove chemical air fresheners from their workplace. Since many of the components of air fresheners are known carcinogens, it seems Mr. Harper's opinion is that of the eccentric.

He also attempts to say that Ms. Cross protesting being forced to remove her bike from a council chamber is somehow proof of her eccentricity. Again, this is more proof of Mr. Harper's backward perspective. Many cities and government bodies in the Bay Area are doing their best to accommodate bicycles. It is good to have people who are passionate about their perspective on the AC Transit board. Ms. Cross has a refreshing strength in the face of daunting opposition. Strength of character is not so common these days. If it is so rare that it is eccentric, then eccentrics are our only hope. Mr. Harper's goal of "restoring order to the political cosmos" is meaningless drivel. I say let's shake up the political cosmos.
Chris Weeks, San Francisco

Urinalysis Macht Frei
Scarlet letters and stars stitched to your arm as proof that you're "drug-free" ("Reading, Writing, and Urinalysis," October 16)? Are the school authorities considering such a star-bellied Sneetches method for Dublin High School students high, or what? Aside from the ludicrous nature of taking Nathaniel Hawthorne's Scarlet Letter, a literary blazon of shame under an apparently all-too-real American puritanical regime as an inverted, "positive" sign of being drug-free, the school board evokes unfortunate images of the Nazis mandating armband identification of Jews. The Board is right to carefully count the corners on their proposed "five-pointed star"; one more, and say, maybe in shades of yellow, would make this odd idea of a urinalysis badge even more historically damned.
Wrye Sententia, Director of the Center for Cognitive Liberty & Ethics, Davis

Correction
In last week's "Slow Wave," we attributed the dream about a reverse garage sale to the wrong reader. Rick Britton actually had that dream, not Joe Calzaretta. We hope this error didn't give anybody nightmares.

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