Smart Talk April 6 

A pinch of Finch

For some reason unclear to us, Republicans have taken to comparing their most impetuous, over-wrought leaders with the fictional Atticus Finch, the cool and efficient hero of Harper Lee’s novel, “To Kill a Mockingbird.” While President Bush’s handling of the port deal with the United Arab Emirates reminded most people of the proverbial headless chicken, MSNBC’s Chris Matthews opined, “Well, he looks like he’s a wise man now and a man of restraint, almost Atticus Finch.”

That quote reminded us that not long ago, we heard Donna Hutchinson compare her former brother-in-law, Asa, to Atticus Finch. Asa has spent his public life careening desperately from one misguided course of action to another — siccing federal agents on cancer sufferers seeking relief from their pain, involving himself in mysterious negotiations concerning the infamous Mena Airport, toiling Trojan-like to overthrow a popularly elected president.

There’s no real-life Atticus Finch around in either party, that we can see. Truth often comes up short of fiction in that way.

A double win at Central

The Siemens Foundation, long a supporter of math and science achievement in U.S. high schools, this week announced student and teacher winners of awards for Advanced Placement course work. Arkansas had one winner among students and one among teachers, both from Little Rock Central High School.

Don Ding of Central won $2,000 for having earned the greatest number of grades of 5 (top score possible) on Advanced Placement tests in seven science courses.

Annice Steadman, who teaches at biology at Central, won $1,000 for being one of the teachers elected nationally “for their exemplary teaching and enthusiastic dedication to students and the AP Program.”

The Mills University Studies High School in Little Rock also received $1,000 in a Siemens Foundation program to recognize its leadership in student participation and performance in AP courses.

And the band plays on

Gov. Mike Huckabee scored some space on last Sunday’s letters page in the New York Times with a ringing defense of arts and music instruction in schools. It’s “short-sighted” and “stupid,” he wrote, to trim those courses in the name of emphasis on core reading and math courses.

He boasted, “In my state, we by law now insist that every child receive music and art instruction by a certified teacher. It’s time that America force the issue and finance it fully. No child should be left behind!”

Here’s a coda to the governor’s fortissimo climax: In 2005, the governor signed Act 245, legislation by Republican colleague Shirley Walters. It watered down the 2001 law that shortly was to require 60 minutes per week of arts and music instruction. The 2005 law reduced the requirement to 40 minutes, though in each discipline, and included a clause that allowed districts a way around weekly instruction year-round. As a result, the Arkansas Music Educators Association declined to endorse the 2005 law.

A commentary on the association website says: “Many of the state’s administrators still do not want to meet the mandate of Act 245. Many of these same districts did not initially comply with Act 1506 [the 2001 legislation] even though they had nearly five years to phase-in the requirements. This was really a sign of bad faith, management and planning on the part of the non-complying districts’ administrators. …

“…Supporters of arts education in the public schools can expect attempts to water down or repeal the current law with every gathering of the State Legislature.”



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