Thursday, September 07, 2006

Classical curriculum the focus of new charter

Forget "new math" and start brushing up on your Latin. There's a new charter in town and its focus is on a classical education.
Washington Latin, in the 3800 block of Massachusetts Avenue NW, will have 192 students in grades 5, 6 and 7 and will eventually run from grade 5 to 12. Students will don uniforms and be required to study six years of Latin, four years of modern foreign language, and learn about old-school Greek and Roman humanities heavyweights such as Socrates and Cicero.

Parents from Anacostia in Southeast to American University Park in Upper Northwest have enrolled their children. The student population will be about 50 percent white, 30 percent black, 15 percent Hispanic and the remaining, Asian American, Ahlstrom said.

But not everyone welcomes Washington Latin to the city's educational landscape. Capitol Hill parent Gina Arlotto, a co-founder of the public school advocacy coalition Save Our Schools, said that she supports a rigorous education but that Washington Latin caters to elite parents, making it easier for them to abandon their local public school and, by extension, their community.

"It allows people to opt out of a system where its strengths are that it could be a diverse school with all different kinds of kids," said Arlotto, whose three children attend public schools.
Note to Ms. Arlotto. A strength of a school isn't in its diversity. Its in its ability to educate. Diversity is nice, but it alone won't teach Johnny to read. A restaurant may have a diverse menu, but if every dish bares more than a passing resemblance to the kind of food prison riots are started over don't expect it to stay in business long.


Anonymous said...

Completely unrelated, but take a look at the meaningless tag line at the bottom of the first page of the WTU/DCPS contract -

It should be "An Historic" NOT "A Historic" - this from the folks who are responsible for edumacating DCPS students?! Frightening.

Anonymous said...

Diversity in any public school in DC, charter or not, would be extraordinary. 50% white is not diverse in DC, though. In a city where all but 3 high schools are more than 2/3 black, it sounds discriminatory. Where did this mix come from? I have a hard time believing that a lottery would yield that kind of racial mix. Or is this one like Two Rivers, where the "founders" get special preference for their (white) kids while they squeeze more money from the "diverse" (black) students?

Anonymous said...

Perhaps that "diversity" comes from the Headmaster interviewing students and looking for that "intangible spark." I thought charters weren't allowed to do interviews. You either get in by application OR if there are too many applications for spaces, you have a lottery. So what's up with the interview?

Anonymous said...

And the neighbor of the year award goes to ... Gina Arlotto. See what she has to say about parents who send their 3 year olds to school.

--- In, gina arlotto < >

> It just kills me that here on the Hill, we have all these new
> who are clamoring for free all day age 3 programs as if they were
> struggling to make ends meet, and they somehow deserve free all
day 3yo
> programs! Rather, they want to get rid of the nanny, and save a
few bucks
> on childcare so they can more easily make the payments on the
houses they
> really couldn't afford! I am certain that in the next 5-10 years,
> public schools will only have the absolute poorest of the poor,
and then
> it will be all that much easier for our politicians to make cuts,
sell off
> the school buildings or whatever. As Crystal noted in her
testimony last
> week, what a commentary on how sick our society is! Gina

Anonymous said...

Gina Arlotta, the original nosy Neighbor, wants to make decisions for what everybody around her wants to do, under the guise of "Save Our Schools," and then arbitrarily calling anyone who disagrees with her a racist. If you want your kid to learn in the classical method, where should you send them? Now we have an option. It's the family's choice, and it always should be. If Gina Arlotta really cared about helping all the "poorest of the poor," perhaps she should find them informative brochures on all the choices their students have rather than forcing them to live with the neighborhood school they may not approve of.

Anonymous said...

Just FYI, "informative brochures" proposed in the last comment will not reach some of the neediest kids. I see many students who would benefit from the charter schools in the city, but who suffer because their parents do not have the ability to read "informative brochures". Students whose parents lack basic literacy or who do not speak English as a first language should not be denied a quality education based on the education or background of their parents. Relying on parental involvement to save the students in the city biases the system in favor of the children from only some households. This is one of the biggest problems with the movement toward charter schools.

Yes, it would be nice to blame the parents, but the city has an obligation to its children as well.

Anonymous said...

I believe we should just go after the real problem, DCPS, rather than suing the schools that attempt to create more positive learning environments. The idea of "informative brochures" is a general idea of getting more information out about the variety of schools to families. I wholeheartedly agree that whatever system is implemented to provide the most information to families about the multitude of choices available in schooling in the District is fabulous. All families should know that they do not have to accept substandard education! DC luckily has so many options, and I know many families choose to take a variety of transportation to make sure their students receive the best! It should not have to be this way, but since it is, at least there is an alternative.

Anonymous said...

I am a founder of Two Rivers and I am preference was given to founders children. Trust me, I stress about what and where my child will go to school when she finishes her Montessori schooling after fourth grade because traditional education is not an option, Stuart Hobson is not an option, and there is no guarantee my child will get a spot at Two Rivers, even as a founder's child. So next time, get your facts straight!

John at AFT said...

If a commenter is going to try to use grammatical quibbles to take an anonymous cheap shot, the commenter shouldn't be...wrong.

Anonymous wrote, "It should be 'An Historic' NOT 'A Historic' - this from the folks who are responsible for edumacating DCPS students?! Frightening."

But according to the AP stylebook and other authoriative sources, "a historic" is correct. As NPR's ombudsman puts it, "The use of 'an historic' is in fact, not technically incorrect but is now considered archaic and pedantic."

Anonymous said...

A Historical? An Historical?

by Tina Blue

Once again Julie Lewis has asked a question that has led me to write an article for this website.

Here is her question:

As is usually the case, Julie's question highlights a difference between American and British usage--though even British usage is moving away from using an in such phrases.

In Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay,* Richard Lederer and Richard Dowis are quite dogmatic about whether or not one should use an before such words as historic and historical:

an historic (never)
"This is an historic occasion," intoned Senator Pfogbottom.
"I don't care to listen to this windbag," said the cynical reporter. "I think I'll go to McDonald's for an hamburger."
. . . When the aitch (h) is silent, as in honor and hour, use the article an. When the aitch is pronounced, as in house, hamburger, history, and historical, use the article a. (33)

Well, sort of.

There is a significant difference between multisyllabic words like hamburger, where the accent is on the first syllable, the one beginning with h, and historical, where the accent is not on the syllyble that begins with h.

The problem is that the h is a bit of a wuss as a consonant. When it occurs in an unaccented syllable and is followed by a vowel, it tends to soften to a vowel-like mushiness.

Say these words out loud: hot, hear, how, hurt, hateful, holiday.

Although the h in each of these words is followed by a vowel, the syllable the h + vowel combination occurs in is fully accented, and the h is aspirated (completely pronounced, in all its consonantal glory). All of these words would, of course, be preceded by a, not an.

But now say these words out loud: historian, historical, hysterical, heredity, habitual.

Do you notice how much less, well, pronounced the h is in these words? Now, put a or an before each one (the adjectives should be paired with nouns so you can get the full effect):

a historian
an historian
a historical reference
an historical reference
a historic occasion
an historic occasion
a hysterical display
an hysterical display
a hereditary disease
an hereditary disease
a habitual liar
an habitual liar

Notice that when you use a before the words, you fully aspirate the h, but when you use an, you do not--and the h sound very nearly disappears into the following vowel.

At one time, an was the preferred usage before an unaccented syllable beginning with h. This is what the grammarian's grammarian, Henry Fowler, has to say on the subject:

. . . an was formerly used before an unaccented syllable beginning with
h and is still often seen and heard (an historian, an hotel, an hysterical scene, an hereditary title, an habitual offender). But now that the h in such words is pronounced, the distinction has become anomalous and will no doubt disappear in time. Meantime, speakers who like to say an should not try to have it both ways by aspirating the h. (1)**

Since the early twentieth century, those unaccented h sounds have been more commonly pronounced than not, especially in American English. But when Lederer and Dowis insist that an historical should never be used, they are promulgating a rule that is not yet carved in stone.

To many Americans, an historical reference probably sounds pretentious and unlikely. But to many of us who are middle-aged or older, that phrase sounds better (and is easier to pronounce) than a historical reference.

Keep in mind, by the way, that in spoken language similar sounds tend to elide--e.g., to slur together into an indistinct vocal soup. An unaccented h between two vowel sounds is notably unstable. It will eventually collapse into its phonetic environment and become a vowel.

Widespread but half-baked literacy is probably responsible for the fact that the formerly unaspirated h in such phrases is now commonly pronounced, as is also the case with the word herb. When people see such words spelled out, they tend to pronounce the silent or near-silent letters. (Think of how often you have heard the word often mispronounced as of-ten, with the t, which should be silent, improperly articulated.)

Similarly, when most people see the word historical, they fully pronounce the h, so an historical sounds somewhat inappropriate, while a historical sounds fine. However, if you forget that you are looking at an h and simply pronounce the phrase, you will find that the h virtually disappears between the two vowels.

But wait a minute.

When the unaccented syllable beginning with an h occurs in a bisyllabic (two-syllable) word, something a bit different occurs. Say an historical novel. Now say an hotel. Doesn't
an hotel sound wrong, even though the h in hotel heads up an unaccented syllable?

There's a good reason for this.

The strongest accent in a word is called a primary accent, but words of more than one syllable do not usually consist of a single accented syllable plus one or more completely unaccented syllables. One or more of the word's other syllables will also receive some stress, though of a lesser sort.

In the word historical, the first syllable is actually slightly stressed, though far less so than the second syllable, which carries the primary stress. But in the word hotel, the first syllable, though less stressed than the second, is significantly more stressed than the first syllable in historical.

In historical, the first syllable receives only tertiary (third-level) stress, whereas in hotel, the first syllable receives a secondary stress so strong that it is nearly equal to the primary stress on the second syllable. For this reason, the h in a hotel is pronounced almost as fully as the h in a hot day.

So here's the general rule.

If you speak and write British English, you can probably keep using an before historical, hysterical, habitual, etc. I doubt that you will be challenged by your own countrymen, and if Americans challenge you, just point out that British usage and American usage often differ.

If you are American, you probably should use a rather than an, even in a historic occasion or a historical reference. Most of us are comfortable with a historic occasion, because the word historic has fewer syllables than historical, so the h is more fully pronounced. But if, like me, you are old enough to find a historical reference a tad uncomfortable, then go ahead and say an historical reference.

And if you are challenged, simply trot out the explanation I have given you here, or better yet, send your challenger a link to this article.


*Richard Lederer and Richard Dowis, Sleeping Dogs Don't Lay: Practical Advice for the Grammatically Challenged (N.Y.: St. Martin's Press, 1999

**H.P. Fowler, A Dictionary of Modern English Usage, 2nd ed. Revised by Sir Ernest Gowers. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1965.

Anonymous said...

I always find Ms Arlotta's comments stunning! She assumes that the desire to have a 3 year old program is tied to a family-savings-account strategy. She has isolated herself to such an extent that she has no idea why people seek the options they do, and most importantly she has neither the desire, nor the ability to understand any view differing from her own. "Your with us or against us" attitude prevents any meaningful dialogue.