Saturday, December 20, 2008

No Child Left Behind Dead

We should be thankful for what we have in this country. Regardless of what criticism people have of President Bush's No Child Left Behind education reform (NCLB), keep in kind that in Egypt education reform means NCLD--No Child Left Dead.

Look at this story about a 23 year old teacher who beat a child to death for not doing his homework. ("Egypt Teacher Tried Over Beating," BBC News, December 20, 2008.)

Cairo's Al-Ahram has a more complete account. "The trial on manslaughter charges of Haitham Nabil Abdel-Hamid, a 23-year-old mathematics teacher at Saad Othman school in Alexandria, begins on 16 November. Abdel-Hamid is accused of causing the unlawful death of 11-year-old Islam Amr on 27 October. When Amr refused to hold out his hand to be hit with a ruler along with 15 other students who had failed to do their homework Abdel-Hamid took him outside the classroom and beat him so severely that the 11-year-old died. In his defence Abdel-Hamid says he was only trying to 'discipline the boy, not to kill him.'"

The nation is outraged, not only at the "teacher" but also at the state of public education in Egypt.

This reminds me of a story my grandfather told me about a horrible incident in his classroom when he was a boy in Scotland, perhaps a few years before World War I. (For those of you in the public school system, that would be around 1912.) Do you remember the pointers that teachers had in the classroom? Perhaps they still have them. Well teachers would administer corporal punishment with those rapier weapons. WHACK across the seat of the pants or the hands. On one occasion the teacher had become so frustrated with this one ill-behaved lad that she jabbed him in the back of the ear with it. (I still recoil at the thought.) This is also called stabbing. He was taken to the hospital, and my grandfather didn't know what happened after that either to the boy or the teacher. He was just a little boy.

Of course, today we have no discipline at all, neither in the schools nor in the homes. Children take full advantage of this unilateral disarmament, and as a consequence the learning environment has given way to classroom chaos and teacher despair in many instances.

Perhaps the problem lies in the very notion of a government school system, especially one that is run increasingly from state capitals and even from the nation's capital, and especially still in a nation which, as officially administered, has abandoned every philosophical and spiritual foundation for distinguishing between right and wrong. Public schooling is an impossibility for a people with no cultural consensus, and even less so for a people philosophically opposed to the very idea of a cultural consensus.


DenisEugeneSullivan said...


I was lucky enough to have parents that not only sent me to Catholic schools for 13 years but were not averse to using corporal punishment themselves.

In the seventh grade, I had Sister Mary Robert who, besides being the largest Sister of Mercy in the world, had a strip of Neo-Lite (the shoe sole replacement material) that went about 18"x4".

Personally, I always found just the the walk to the front of the class spiritually cleansing in the way that only intense embarrassment can initiate. The added suspense of is this a one, two or three strikes opportunity likewise reinforced the necessity for eternal vigilance of one's behavioral proclivities. Finally, there was the internal warmth as your "non-writing" hand reddened and swelled from the Neo-Lite's impact(s).

But, on a somewhat more serious note, one of the things that continues to intrigue me is how rarely, in this time of educational failure, the Catholic parochial school system is identified as an alternative worthy of at least study if not emulation.

I grew up in the Bronx and remember my father, who had been born in Ireland, telling me about how the Catholic Church developed their education system. Ever since, I have had a deep appreciation of their enterprise as an example of a not-particularly-welcome minority putting its hands in its own pockets, as opposed to whining to the government for assistance, and allocating its resources to educate and benefit its children.

David C. Innes said...

It is well known that the Catholic schools provide at least as good an education at a fraction of the cost of the government schools. I don't know what the responses are from reformers, scholars, and aparatchiks has been.

You're right about the admirable sacrifice that those people made to provide religious education for their children. It is common to see a huge Catholic church attended by a generously appointed Catholic school. The Dutch Reformed have also been good at this.

Sadly, I have been less impressed by the Roman Catholic under standing of what constitutes Christian education. I went to graduate school at Boston College. There it was secular education with theologically liberal chapel if you want it. The same thing at Assumption College in Worcester MA where I taught. The chapel was more conservative, I think.

The classic Protestant work on Christian education is The Idea of a Christian College, by Arthur Holmes. But that's the university level.