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KIDS FROM POOR countries like Ireland and Slovenia beat the daylights out of our kids in math. On international surveys, French kids come in second in reading ability while our kids come in sixth. Might money explain the difference? The answer is a big fat "no." We spend more money per pupil on education than any other country - $6,000 on the average while the French spend $4,600.

Paul Klebnikov wrote an article titled "What Are Condoms Made Of?" for Forbes magazine (9/11/95) in which he sought answers for France's superior performance by visiting Clarkstown High School in an affluent suburb of New York City and Lycee Jean de La Fontaine in Paris, both government-owned schools. La Fontaine classes average 35 students; Clarkstown averages 21. Clarkstown has 100 computers and a TV studio; La Fontaine has 12 computers tucked away in a back room. Clarkstown's facility is state-of-the-art; La Fontaine has peeling paint and rickety wooden desks.Klebnikov figured peeling paint and rickety desks couldn't explain La Fontaine's superior academic performance, so he checked it out. At Clarkstown, he visited a class called Sex Respect. The topic of the day was supposed to be sexual abstinence, but in the typical "bait and switch" tactic of educationists, the teacher was talking about condoms. He informed the 15- and 16-year-olds that "within a year, you will no longer be able to call them rubbers. They're going to be made out of polyurethane. They'll be much thinner and more effective, like Saran Wrap."

Klebnikov visited another class called Humankind, a replacement for an old civics class, where kids discussed an assigned three-page article about the Mafia and had split into six groups to draw pictures illustrating the point of the article.

In France's La Fontaine, it was a different story. When Mme. Thomazeau entered her seventh grade French class, the class stood briskly to greet her. After saying, "Please be seated," she grilled the class on a medieval fable: "How is the text organized? Where does the introduction end? Where is the moral?" She wasn't into self-esteem. When the class was slow in answering, she thundered: "Half a year and you haven't learned anything." "Speak up! State your argument," as she glowered through her spectacles at one student who finally raised her hand, "Don't paraphrase the text. Synthesize!"

At Clarkstown's Global Studies class, the teacher talked about U.S. support of dictator Ferdinand Marcos and Imelda Marcos' shoes. In an advanced placement American History class, one student said that society needs more values. The teacher replied, "It's not that simple. In a free society, it's very difficult to say: This is right, and this is not." That's what educationists might call "values clarification." I call it undermining traditional values.

In a typical French school, there's lots of homework, emphasis on fact and formal logic, a right and wrong answer for almost everything and a teacher lecturing to a class. The French system is less interested in making excuses for children and more concerned with making demands upon them. In American schools, it's lazy thinking, dumb-downed standards, self-expression and feeling good about oneself. Americans 50 years or older would recognize today's typical French as the kind of school they attended.

As a result of parental apathy and a predatory education establishment, we Americans have been taken to the cleaners. What I find incomprehensible is how we look to a gouging education establishment for solutions to our education problems in face of the fact that it, assisted by the U.S. Department of Education, has delivered one educational disaster after another.