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Increased use of bands hard to stomach

Published January 15. 2011 09:00AM

In school-speak, a mission statement is a short summary written by a school district as to what it sees as its primary goal for the students it serves. Some declare that "All students can and will succeed."

While the pronouncement sounds rather impressive, there's a problem with it besides the brazen use of "all."

An educational institution that mandates success removes the focus from the students and places it on test results. While impressive numbers on standardized tests may result, such a mandate often retards the ability of students to think for themselves independently.

Something similar, I fear, has occurred in the district in which I teach even though we do not currently promote such a pie-in-the-sky mission statement. The current seventh graders did unbelievably well on the math portion of the PSSA test as sixth graders. The 2010 benchmark was for at least 56 percent to be "Proficient" or "Advanced," and 91.5 percent of our students achieved that.

In fact, 72 percent of that 91.5 percent reached "Advanced."

Impressive? You bet.

So imagine my surprise earlier this year when I distributed the results of a 50-point quiz in language arts to the top math class the one advanced enough to be learning pre-algebra and was asked repeatedly, "So what's my percentage?" I had not placed a percentage on the quiz because the score was already written on the paper as a fraction.

I had erroneously assumed all in the top math class would know how to calculate their percentage on a quiz valued at 50 points by simply doubling the numerator.

Even more surprising is that some didn't seem to follow the process when I wrote out the math problem on the board.

Similarly, some of the other math classes were struggling so badly with fractions that the teacher theorized that the real problem was that many couldn't conceptualize a fraction. As a result, she decided to simplify things by making them visual.

Imagine her surprise when the majority of those asked draw two and two-thirds pizza pies couldn't do so. (The most common mistake was drawing two and three-quarters.)

Remember, this should be according to the results of the sixth grade PSSA math test a superior seventh grade class. So in this instance, even without a shortsighted mission statement muddling matters, an emphasis on test success instead of student development created a strange situation where a great achievement on paper turned out to be not much of an achievement at all.

Doesn't proposing something like "All students can and will achieve" ring hollow when many of those who supposedly did can't cut a pizza pie into thirds? A more suitable and realistic mission statement for all educational institutions might be: "All students will be educated in a way and provided with an environment that encourages independent thinking."

If this was the goal throughout the U.S., then we might have more students able to perform the skills assessed on standardized tests after the conclusion of the test. And then, we might also have citizens able to lose weight when they clearly need to do so.

This would eliminate the need for an advisory panel to the Food and Drug Administration to suggest an increased use of the stomach band, a device surgically implanted into someone overweight that dramatically reduces the amount of food able to be eaten.

It insures success in this case, needed weight loss.

Currently, the device is only approved for those considered morbidly obese in a medical sense, and about 100,000 surgeries to implant the device are performed per year. But the panel's recommendation is to allow up to 12 million more obese people the option to receive the surgery.

My objection to this recommendation is in no way a reflection of the safety of the procedure.

Surgeons place a ring over the top of the stomach that is inflated with a saline solution to restrict the amount of food that can enter. This is far safer than surgically creating a small pouch in the stomach and rerouting food directly to the small intestine, as is the practice in gastric bypass surgery.

Nor is my objection in any way a reflection of the efficacy of the procedure. A few months after the medical band is in place, most report weight loss of more than 50 pounds.

Nor is my objection to the cost even though it is significant $14,000 to $20,000 per procedure and would surely cause health care costs to skyrocket even further if even a quarter of those who could qualify for the surgery opt to do so.

My objection lies solely in that a wider use of stomach bands supports the twisted sense of entitlement that has seeped into all segments of society. I see it as a teacher, I see it as a health-and-fitness advisor, I see it as a consumer bombarded by never-ending advertising.

And an egregious sense of entitlement creates the idea that success whether it be in the form of a high test score or a bikini-worthy body is not an ongoing battle, but a god-given birthright.

This misbegotten mindset creates many of the problems prevalent in today's society.

Including but not only limited to obesity.

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