Sign up for our newsletter
Home » CER in the News » Basket-weaving: A required course

Basket-weaving: A required course

Share This Story

Matt Carmel, New York Post

We’ve all heard the jokes about students taking courses in “basket-weaving.” It’s not so funny when your kid’s school actually forces him to take one.

My son, Kalman, just started 10th grade at Columbia HS in Maplewood, NJ — which is supposed to be a pretty good public school. But it’s making him waste his time on basket-weaving.

OK, the official name of this art class is “Fibers.” But the Web site — and all the pictures of knitted baskets — make it clear that title is just, uh, spin.

And despite all my huffing, puffing and foot-stamping, Kalman has to take it. You can imagine how my blood boiled.

This past summer, Kalman skipped sleep-away camp — where he could’ve swum, sailed and launched pantie raids on the girl’s bunk line — so he could take 10th-grade math in summer school and qualify for 11th-grade math this year. With an eye on majoring in engineering at college, he wanted to get a leg up.

The basket-weaving requirement doesn’t exactly send a message of support.

Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate the arts — even fabrics and fibers, if not baskets. My dad worked in haute couture women’s fashion in the Garment District; I grew up in a home littered with Chagall prints, sculptures and early American furniture — plus model ships I built. I even have a portfolio of my own.

But that’s not what school should be about — certainly not a required course. It should be about giving our kids the tools they need to become successful entrepreneurs, corporate leaders, researchers, doctors, lawyers (well, let’s stop at doctors).

That means a focus on the sciences, math, English, history and other traditional courses. Not laudable — yet wholly dispensable — esoterica, the kind of thing kids can do on their own time.

The waste of valuable class time is only more infuriating when you’re paying $18,000 a year in property taxes — much of it for the public schools.

It gets worse: When I took my complaints to school officials, a seasoned interference-runner tried to cheer me up by saying, “Don’t worry — it’s an easy class!”

Not exactly what a father who wants his son to be challenged, to get the best education possible, wants to hear.

The general public, particularly taxpayers, will also be troubled to learn that students are being taught that their education isn’t something they need to work hard at.

Next, the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, Susan Grierson, told me the district wants “well-rounded” students.

“The district wants”: Who’s working for who, here?

I don’t need a well-rounded son who can’t get a job. I’ll take a triangular son who can earn a good living and can afford to round himself out later. (And, I hope, with something that tops basket-weaving.)

Fine, so schools all over the nation have art-class requirements. That just means the whole country’s taking an unserious approach to education.

This, when world competition is on the rise — particularly in the science, technology, engineering and math fields.

The Programme for International Student Assessment is a key global measure of academic achievement among 15-year-olds (my son’s age).

On the latest test, American kids performed below average in math, ranking 27th out of the 34 countries of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. We also ranked 17th in reading, 20th in science.

Then again, we did beat Kazakhstan (take that, Borat!).

China ranked No. 1 in math. If the top Chinese kids have to take basket-weaving courses, I’ll eat my hat (my well-rounded son can weave me one) in Macy’s window.

True, I’m just a parent. But folks in the field share my horror. Kara Kerwin, president of the DC-based Center for Education Reform, laughed out loud when I told her about Kalman’s class. Another expert called it “crazy.”

As for Kalman, he’s now in his third week of basket-weaving class. We’re dealing with it — and I’m confident he’ll stick to his engineering dreams, despite the obstacles his school puts before him.

But I also know this: If America is to retain its economic edge, our attitude toward education needs to get a whole lot more serious.