When I was 8 or 9 years old, I witnessed a petty crime in my basement: my friend Michael stole one of my friend Gavin’s prized baseball cards. I didn’t tell Gavin or anyone else.
But Gavin realized something was wrong when he got home, and soon my parents were questioning me. I confessed to keeping quiet and was punished. Michael got his, too. The clear lesson was that the adults in our world wouldn’t accept dishonesty.
I wonder what lesson is being learned by the children at Venetian Hills Elementary School. Here is what some of them told the adults who investigated cheating on the state’s Criterion-Referenced Competency Tests in Atlanta Public Schools, as reported by the AJC last Sunday:
“One student, who spoke to investigators with his mother, said that during the 2009 CRCT, his teacher pointed to specific lines on his test sheet and then whispered that he should erase his answers. The student said he saw the same teacher using similar techniques to give answers to others. …
“Another student said … that a teacher simply announced the correct answers during testing.
“‘For example,’ the child said the teacher told the class, ‘No. 35 is “A.’ ”
“Yet another student said on the tape his mother — a teacher at Venetian Hills — instructed him to keep quiet about the cheating in his classroom.
“ ‘I better not tell anyone else’ or his teacher ‘could get fired,’ the boy said his mother told him.”
Actually, I don’t have to wonder very much or very long. The clear lesson is that the adults in these children’s world accept dishonesty and, when confronted with accusations, will lie, hide the truth and shift blame onto others.
How else to explain that none of the adults in their school — not one — has owned up to any wrongdoing?
And how else to explain that the adults investigating the cheating, despite having heard these tales from Venetian Hills, spoke with just a dozen students and parents — combined — across the entire school system?
The panel members were charged with finding out what happened at Venetian Hills and 57 other schools in Atlanta. Their “key findings” boil down to: “Beverly Hall didn’t do it!”
That wasn’t the question that Gov. Sonny Perdue and his staff asked of them after an examination of millions of test answer sheets of students across the state suggested widespread cheating in APS. But their answer does show where their interest in this exercise lay.
Our whistle-blowing students also got a lesson in the ways of the adults in their world from Superintendent Hall’s own response to the inquiry, which boils down to: “100 suspects at 25 schools don’t represent anything systemic; and let’s just forget about those other 33 schools, shall we?”
There is one more adult who has a chance to do right by these students, their classmates and others in APS.
The APS approach to the test-cheating allegations, aside from protecting Hall, has long smacked of trying to run out the clock on a lame-duck governor — and hoping his successor was less interested in what exactly happened.
That led to a report that deserves an “incomplete” at best.
Perdue may have less than five months remaining in office, but that’s plenty of time to bring us the rest of the APS story.
My recommendation? Talk to as many students in the affected classrooms as possible.
If nothing else, they need to know that some adult, somewhere, cares about the life lessons they’re getting from the CRCT.