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Editorial: Preparing our kids for the 19th century

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After listening to a principal at one of the city's finest junior high schools describe in detail the courses offered next year to advanced students, a frustrated parent couldn't resist asking his question. "Why in the year 2000 does your school continue to only offer Spanish and French? Shouldn't you be at least offering Chinese, Japanese and Korean? What are you preparing these children for, the 19th century?"

The reaction of this principal speaks volumes about what's wrong with public education. Not only did the principal act as though what courses were offered was none of the parent's business, he appeared to think it was none of his business as well. "I have no say over what courses are offered," he said. "Besides, he added, where am I going to find teachers who can teach Chinese?"

How about Flushing? Or Chinatown? In fact, there are numerous skilled people teaching English as a second language to Chinese- and Korean-Americans. Many of these teachers are fluent in Mandarin and Korean and would be an asset to the language program in any public school..

The foreign language curriculum is a holdover from a time when French was the language of diplomacy and France had colonies in every corner of the globe. Spanish was equally practical in a city with a growing Latino population. Both languages still have their place in a modern educational system. However, in the 21st century, we should be preparing the best and brightest for the opportunities that will open up in the Far East. Consider that one third of the world's population speaks Chinese. And yet, outside of Chinatown, you will be hard-pressed to find a public school that offers Chinese.

It was with this in mind that a group from Flushing sought to open a charter school in College Point that would offer Chinese from grade one to grade 12. Unfortunately, the Board of Regents failed to see the value of such a school.

Perhaps more disconcerting than the failure of the public school system to discover the Eastern Hemisphere is the reality that parents are not invited to play a role in academic planning. Even principals have little control of the curriculum. This is decided deep within the secret chambers at 110 Livingston St.. Parents are welcome to help children with their homework and even, on occasion, to ride shotgun on a classroom. But parents are not expected to question the curriculum offered their children.

It could happen here

When Tony Avella would call a press conference every time he found a hateful sticker on a public wall, more than a few people in the College Point and Whitestone area thought this was much ado about nothing. After all, how much harm could even the stupidest and intolerant sticker do?

Last week Avella was vindicated when police arrested an alleged white supremacist in College Point. Police say the man had an AK 47 assault rifle, other guns, silencers, bomb-making materials, a swastika and, yes, hate stickers.

Suddenly, we are left to conclude that there are dangerous people behind the hate stickers, people with a potential for doing real harm.

What we do not know is how many, if any, more people like this are hiding behind the woodwork in Queens. Even one is a tragedy looking for a place to happen. Avella is right: these stickers are worth worrying about.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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