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Back To School: Opportunities and Dangers

Friday, August 19, 2011

This is not going to be the typical "Back To School" editorial.

Yes, you need to observe speed limits in school zones, and you need to make sure your kindergartener's backpack isn't sending his chiropractor's kids through Harvard -- but I'm here to tell you of the other joys and pitfalls that await eager parents and students this fall.

We just got our son Gideon started in second grade at Westhills Elementary, and as I looked around the school, I realized what an amazing metamorphosis a summer break can bring. Remember the weird loner kid who carried his pet goldfish in his pants last year and mumbled old Henny Youngman one-liners to himself? No, the summer hasn't turned him into a swan; but at least this year he's more popular than Congress!

Yes, it's time to wallow in irony once again. The stores are brimming with rows and rows of imported "back to school" specials, probably manufactured by kids who'll never get to know what a school is. ("You've had your pacifier break! I'm not running a spa here!")

After a short summer reprieve, it's time again to think about how cash-strapped school districts expect teachers to buy more and more supplies out of their own pockets. It's disheartening to think of all the things teachers put on the "wish lists" they give to parents: bandages, hand sanitizer, garbage bags, glitter, really long extension cords plugged into the den outlet...

It's time to buckle down to another year of squabbles over standardized testing, union demands and curriculum enhancements. I understand that the latest expectations of the "leave no valium behind" legislation are for teachers to teach every single student to read at their grade level, to get 54 miles per gallon and to turn base metals into gold. Wouldn't it be a hoot if someone would put first things first and give the teachers some standardized STUDENTS for their standardized tests?

A new school year means new wrangling over the Pledge of Allegiance, school prayer and "winter holiday" parties. The accommodation of alternative spiritual inclinations has certainly made changes in what is considered mischief. I understand there are plans to make the forming of "devil horns" in class photos MANDATORY. ("Oops. I forgot Sean lost a finger in Shop class, but we can PhotoShop that in later.")

The new school year brings to the cafeteria new configurations of the old Food Pyramid, new input from the First Lady and a renewed debate over whether the state or federal government should pay for the Hostess Twinkie-sniffing dogs. At least the "mystery meat" speculation of my generation is a thing of the past. With modern agricultural tracking, activists can now tell the students, "This veal used to be a calf named Timmy. He liked sunsets and butterflies and..."

Finally, as a news junkie, I'm glad that the 2011-2012 school year brings exciting new topics for Current Events class. I'm glad students grasp the concept of current events better than their elders do. ("Senator Clagwell's comments smack of the Holocaust! They smack of McCarthyism! They smack of 1920s American imperialism...What? He was just smacking his LIPS? Uh, Glenn Beck isn't going to be showing this clip tonight, is he? Hey, my goldfish does tricks...")

2011 Danny Tyree. Danny welcomes reader e-mail responses at tyreetyrades@aol.com and visits to his Facebook fan page "Tyree's Tyrades." Danny's' weekly column is distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons Inc. newspaper syndicate