• The 21st annual Emperor Awards
    August 21,2014
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    The Tony and Obie Awards honor Broadway, off-Broadway and off-off-Broadway plays. Tack on several more

    “offs” and you begin to approach the prestige associated with the Emperor Awards. Named for the monarch who paraded around in his underwear, the Emperors celebrate the stars who perform on education’s stage and their fans in the audience who applaud their performance.

    Nothing undergirds the past 40 years of school reform more than education research.

    Our first presentation, the Sisyphus Prize for Perpetual Research, recognizes a “scientist” who concluded that “how well and how much children engaged in roughhousing predicted their first-grade achievement better than kindergarten test scores,” a finding that will no doubt be disputed by companies that sell kindergarten tests. The conclusion has significant budgetary implications as it would allow schools to assess academic performance by simply letting children wrestle each other to the ground.

    In a related field, several contenders vied for the Archimedes Eureka Honorarium. Honorable mention goes to a “research-based intervention” that documented the “difference attendance makes in academic achievement.” Not only were truant students more likely to be arrested while they’re out roaming the streets, but “improved attendance also led to improved grades.”

    This year’s Eureka, however, spotlights a study investigating the effects of doubling math class time. In a stunning development, spending twice as much time on math every day yielded “higher gains on math assessments.” Equally shocking, once students return to a single math class schedule, “these gains diminish.”

    Our next award, the Bill and Melinda Gates Silicon Star, pays proper homage to groundbreaking “behavior-management software.” This cutting-edge computer program “instantly provides feedback to students about their behavior in class, rewards good conduct, generates reports” for parents, and automatically sends a copy of the report to the principal.

    While it’s true that teachers have always been able to respond to and reward student behavior, write notes to parents and even send actual students to the principal, the new software upgrades the whole process for the 21st century.

    Now as they’re trying to teach and manage an “unruly” class, teachers just stop and repeatedly click on various icons indicating good and bad behaviors for each student’s avatar. Updated running scores appear on students’ iPods and tablets, as well as on a video display visible to the entire class, enabling everyone to track his or her fluctuating behavior point tallies in real time. Naturally, none of this will in any way distract students or teachers from learning and teaching.

    Technology takes another bow as the Academy’s 2014 John Dillinger Medallion salutes the authors of “The Benefits of Video Games,” published in American Psychologist, which recommends games involving “first-person shooters.” Apparently, as players stalk and scope their victims, they “improve three-dimensional thinking,” an “important predictor of success in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering and math).” Experts acknowledge that there are also “plenty of studies that link game playing to anti-social behaviors,” suggesting the general public should exercise special caution in the presence of skillful scientists, engineers and mathematicians who enjoy playing Castle Wolfenstein.

    Politicians and experts continue to guarantee that “all students” can graduate “college and career ready.” Currently, however, “two-thirds of students with disabilities” are “performing well below grade level.” Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has declared that it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s because he knows that “when students with disabilities are held to high expectations and have access to a robust curriculum, they excel.”

    Yes, that’s right. The reason students with profound developmental, physical, psychological and intellectual impairments can’t learn as much as other students isn’t the fact that they’re learning disabled. It’s that schools and teachers aren’t expecting them to succeed. For Mr. Duncan’s profound insight and his consistent demonstration of education expertise, we present the prestigious Phineas T. Barnum Citation.

    In keeping with policies requiring all students to pass “core content” tests, one state devised a testing procedure to accommodate a severely impaired high school student whose disabilities left her “functioning at the cognitive level of a 16- to 18-month-old.” Teachers practiced moving the student’s hand “over and over until she could place a Post-It note on the correct answer.” The school then videotaped the student placing the Post-It note “independently and sent it to the state to be scored.” The Charles Ponzi Trophy acknowledges their commitment to authentic assessment.

    We turn next to the National Center for Family Literacy, formerly known as the NCFL, which recently changed its name to the National Center for Families Learning, now known as the NCFL. The 2014 Order of the Tempest in a Teacup toasts their confidence that this will bring the organization’s “mission to life in everyday language.”

    Competition for our final prize, the George Orwell Creative Use of Language Prize, is always fierce. Last year’s winner medaled for her efforts to purge smoking references from children’s literature, specifically Santa’s pipe in “’Twas the Night before Christmas.” This year we spotlight a principal who curtailed Halloween festivities at school. She explained that some parents consider Halloween a “spiritual holiday,” and the school needed to avoid the appearance of endorsing specific religious observances.

    For readers unfamiliar with Halloween celebrations at school, that’s the day children dress up as X-Men and Elsa, and stuff themselves with candy or carrots, depending on local obesity policies. When the cancellation provoked an uproar, school district officials promptly reversed the principal’s decision and reinstated Halloween on the grounds that its festivities “advance students’ knowledge and appreciation of the roles that religious and cultural heritage have played in the social and historical development of our civilization.”

    We’re still talking about the day students dress up as X-Men and Elsa and stuff themselves. Orwell 2014 pays tribute to these school leaders’ willingness to wrap a children’s costume party in such high ideals.

    As our festivities conclude, remember that if you find yourself in agreement with any of our winners, their Emperor is also yours. Remember, too, that each of us at some time deserves an Emperor of our own.

    Even Poor Elijah and me.

    Peter Berger teaches English at Weathersfield School. Poor Elijah would be pleased to answer letters addressed to him in care of the editor.
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