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Bangor Daily News (Maine)

Dropout of Math, Science Study a Mistake

Have you seen "Shrek"? It's the Dreamworks animated movie that won a whole slug of awards - including an Oscar - in 2001. And I'm not asking just because I'm a political columnist that regularly criticizes the Bush/Cheney White House and the movie just happens to have an ogre and a jackass in it.

No, I wonder if you thought about the time you spent sitting down watching the film. You know, the time it took you to physically watch "Shrek." After all, you're a grownup with better things to do. Maybe you and your kids watched it together so you have decided that it was time well spent.

Well, did you know that while you watched "Shrek," we spent $9 million on the war in Iraq? Yep, the Seattle Times confirms that we spend $100,000 a minute on the war. Actually, we don't, our grandchildren do. And that's pretty impressive considering a lot of us don't even have grandchildren yet!

At the rate those grandchildren of ours keep spending, they won't have to worry about renting "Shrek"; they won't be able to afford it.

If we had just watched "Shrek" before we invaded Iraq; if we had just started that war 90 minutes later, our grandchildren would have an extra $9 million to spend right now seeing how their parents do at math and science when compared with the rest of the world. Yep, those reckless grandkids' parents (also known as our children) would have the money necessary to participate in the Trends in Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) which is testing the world's young people and their ability to do math and science.

But no, the United States dropped out of the study earlier this month. The official reason given by Mark Schneider, the commissioner for the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, was that they "looked at the countries who are participating, our scarce resources," meaning money, "and our overextended staff, and we decided to give it a pass."

Many math and science education experts believe that's a big mistake; that we can't afford to give it a pass, especially considering how poorly our children did last time. A recent Newsweek article concurs, "In the past American results have been shockingly poor." In fact, the article continues, "In the last survey, taken in 1995, students from only two countries - Cyprus and South Africa - scored lower than U.S. school kids."

George W. Bush speaks like he understands the problem. He said, "We need to encourage children to take more math and science, and make sure those courses are rigorous enough to compete with other nations." This gets a little tougher to do, you've got to admit, when we withdraw from the tests that evaluate our success with respect to those other nations.

Unfortunately for our children the president's actions don't match his words.

A white paper released by the Council of Great City Schools states that "The U.S. Department of Education, whose overall funding was reduced by Congress for the first time in a decade in the recent fiscal year 2006 funding bill, was cut by an additional $3.1 billion in President Bush's proposal for 2007." That cut is about what our grandchildren spend in Iraq in two weeks (or while watching "Shrek" 344 times).

Among the programs the president wants cut is the entire Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) block-grant, the federal government's primary source of funding for school technology, with a price tag of only $275 million. Jeepers, that's like watching "Shrek" about 30 times!

The really shortsighted thing about our grandchildren investing so much money in the Iraq war and neglecting education is that instead of raising taxes on the wealthiest of their grandparents to pay for it; they've foolishly borrowed the money from other nations. You know other nations - but not Cyprus and South Africa - no, they'll have to pay back nations that kick their butts in math and science.

Stupid kids! When those yet unborn grandchildren of ours try to pay back their rapidly growing war debt, they won't have the education they need to earn the money to even come close.

This is the world we live in. This is the world we cover.

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Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche

Pat LaMarche is an author, activist and advocate. She is the author of "Left Out In America: The State of Homelessness in the United States."  Her new novel, The Magic Diary, is due out in late spring.

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