- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 11, 2000

Dysfunctional 'Beauty'

" 'American Beauty' [is] the film most Oscar watchers believe this week anyway has the biggest shot at winning Best Picture in March… .
"In one sense, it's not at all surprising that 'Beauty' has attracted so much Oscar attention. A lot of other contenders this year deal with dysfunctional families or at least pieces of them… .
"But 'Beauty' which stars Kevin Spacey as a middle-aged dad trapped in the comical coils of spiraling depression, Annette Bening as his yearning, cheating wife, and Thora Birch as their stunned daughter is the only one that dives headlong into the heartbreaking horror of a nuclear family gone ballistic. It's a subject dear to Hollywood's heart, since this town is pretty much a giant dysfunctional family all its own… .
" 'American Beauty' has one other unexpected advantage in this year's race: Despite the kudos lavished on the elegant cinematography … the movie's suburban millieu looks right at home on a TV set. And these days with Academy voters judging more and more films from Oscar screening tapes that can make all the difference in the world."
Benjamin Svetkey, writing on "I See Gold People," in the Jan. 14 issue of Entertainment Weekly

New, New Math

"Reinventing math is an old tradition in this country. It has been around at least since the 1960s ….
"Today the original New Math is old hat, but many folks in the education world are hawking yet another reform. It is known by names like 'Connected Math,' or 'Everyday Math.' Not surprisingly, the New, New Math has a lot in common with the Old, New Math. Like its forerunner, it focuses on concepts and theory, scorning textbooks and pencil-and-paper computation as 'rote drill.' And like its forerunner, today's New Math has powerful allies… . Eight of the 10 curriculums recently recommended by an influential Education Department panel teach the New, New Math… .
"Connected Math … skips or glosses over crucial skills. Example: The division of fractions, an immutable prerequisite for algebra, is absent from its middle school curriculum. In shutting the door to algebra, David Klein of Cal State Northridge points out, 'Connected Math also closes doors to careers in engineering and science for its graduates.' …
"New Math will take its casualties, especially among the poor, adding to the already mounting costs of the decline in national educational standards."
from "Math Wars," an editorial in the Jan. 4 Wall Street Journal

Ghastly darkness

"Cassie Bernall's parents were not interested in 'saving her soul' in any evangelistic sense. But they feared for their daughter's life, as any American parent might, in the light of the dismal statistics on teen suicide. They wanted her to find a 'new lease on life,' as her old ways made her more angry and more miserable. They took serious steps: They removed Cassie from the school at which she studied, and moved to a new neighborhood, and forbade contact with her old friends, and put her in a church school, and altered their own work patterns to watch over her. All these steps seem amply justified now.
"Misty Bernall (Cassie's mother) notes that no one took the braggadocio of the Columbine killers seriously. Cassie went along with her parents sullenly, and she later admitted that her 'violent fantasies' had been more than talk; that she had, in fact, believed herself gripped by a ghastly darkness. She evidently told several friends that she had 'given her soul to Satan.' Such beliefs exert real power: 'Unfashionable as it might be to suggest it, I felt that we were engaged in a spiritual battle,' writes Misty Bernall."
Jean Bethke Elshtain, writing on "Heartland of Darkness," in the Jan. 17 issue of the New Republic

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