Friday, February 18, 2011

Following Wisconsin Protests, Georgia Public Schools Seek Reform -- Spurred by Alan Jackson’s Problem with World Geography

MADISON, Wis. -- As many schools in Wisconsin remained closed for the third straight day, and as protesters packed the Capitol hallways, Republican lawmakers continued to push legislation that would slash collective bargaining rights for public workers. Democrats, along with the thousands of workers, oppose the bill, which would limit collective bargaining for state employees and teachers to base wages, while also requiring them to pay more for pensions and health care.

With President Obama recently unveiling his platform to bolster academic success and strengthen America’s failing educational system, Wisconsin illustrates the political and economic challenges facing vital public services that the GOP seeks to cut. Despite the grim developments, however, schools in Georgia are poising themselves for massive overhauls, inspired by a local celebrity’s ignorance of geography.

Georgia Receives Troubling Grade
In a recent report issued by the Institute of Southern Studies, teachers in south have become the largest casualties of the recession. According to researchers, the study “finds that many schools, especially in the South, are slashing school budgets -- and teacher positions -- in the wake of the recession.” The three states expected to make the deepest cuts in education are Georgia, Florida and North Carolina. Even more troubling is that the state received a “C” on the national report card measuring academic success for consecutive years.

Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Department of Education surveys offer even more discouraging data. Nearly three out of four fourth-grade math and science teachers do not have a sufficient understanding of their subjects. In high-poverty middle and high schools, most did not even major or minor in math or science. “Too many middle school students are being taught by a generalist,” says U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan.

Serious reform is needed. But to drive such reform, there must be a catalyst. That catalyst came in the form of country music sensation Alan Jackson.

Alan Jackson Needs Google Maps
Alan Jackson is a Newnan, Georgia, native and enjoyed prominence as one of the most popular country singers of the 1990s. His fame quickly turned to infamy following the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center when he released his song, “Where Were You (When the World Stopped Turning).”

In the song, Jackson declares, “I’m just a singer of simple songs / I’m not a real political man / I watch CNN but I’m not sure I can tell you / The difference in Iraq and Iran.”

Despite climbing to the top of the Billboard country charts after its debut at the Country Music Association’s annual awards show on November 7, 2001, the song garnered a tremendous amount of criticism.

“It really shocked us to discover that one of our state’s leading voices had never learned the regional, social and political differences between Iran and Iraq,” said Abner Railback, a Georgia educational authority. “He couldn’t even locate them on a map. For some reason, he kept pointing to New Zealand and Rhode Island. In many ways, I began to view this as a failure of the state’s school systems.”

Aside from geographical and political ignorance, other educators in Georgia expressed frustration with Jackson’s apparent failure to grasp the basic principles of elementary physics.

“Of course the world didn’t stop turning; it doesn’t make any sense,” quipped one community college dean.

In a recent interview with The Bennington Vale Evening Transcript, Jackson admitted that he still had no knowledge of the whereabouts of either country in the world. He also stood by his assertion that the world had stopped turning in 2001. He attributed global warming to the fact that the sun is now constantly trained on the polar icecaps, and that the problem would resolve itself if the world started moving again.

The positive byproduct of Jackson’s strange outlook, however, is that Georgia is now taking aggressive steps, independent of government regulators and financing, to rectify the problems inherent with its educational system.

Georgia plans to release details of its innovations to the Department of Education, which include counting rigorous computer science courses as mathematics or science credits toward meeting graduation requirements. The state will also be changing the teacher credentialing process to allow computer science and other professionals to become adjunct teachers, ensuring that skill-specific educators, and not generalists, are guiding students in those programs. Additionally, officials in Georgia state that they will more strategically source their geography teachers.
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