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Real Proficiency 

If the state wants to help students, teach 'em how to rob banks.

Last week, the state Board of Education announced new standards for academic proficiency. Nobody was happy, of course, because nobody likes proficiency tests except legislators and guys who work at think tanks because they can't get real jobs.

The problem lies with the areas of core competency. Science, math, reading, and writing -- all make for swell study down in Columbus, where it's OK to learn worthless crap because there's an abundance of government jobs that require only the ability to say, "Sorry, I can't help you."

But here in Cleveland, we take scholastics seriously. We want our children to grow up happy, productive, and employed long enough to qualify for unemployment. We realize that any job entailing math skills is, by definition, not a very good job at all. That writing, save for a well-penned workers' comp claim, is equally extraneous. And that all we need to know about science can be distilled down to one simple lesson: "When you're dumping a barrel of hazardous waste behind the plant, boys and girls, make sure no one's watching."

We won't take exception to reading, which keeps lowlife journalists employed so we're not hanging around bars all day, braying about our ethics and trying to mooch drinks. It's a public safety issue.

But if the state really wants to help children become solid citizens and not turn out like that mutt who joined the Taliban, it should concentrate on useful, productive areas of academic achievement, like:

Finance: Some schools teach introductory classes on the markets, but very few offer courses on gambling. Unlike stockbrokers, bookies don't collect juice on the win and don't squawk about "market corrections" when it's payout time. Yet school instruction is woefully deficient in this area. Take the tragic case of Mike Jones, who lost his mom's IRA betting the over -- 48 -- on a Browns-Ravens game. Had Cleveland schools properly educated Mike on both teams' conservative offensive philosophies, he surely would have played the under. Today, Mike collects rocks at a vacant lot on 93rd Street, from which to make soup for his elderly, bedridden mother.

Bank Robbery: Bank robbery is one of Cleveland's highest growth industries. Unfortunately, our public schools have failed to respond to this dynamic market trend. So many children lack the basic skills to even write a decent robbery note. For instance, when Bay Village High grad Scooter McPherson tried to rob Firstar last year, his spelling was so poor, the teller thought he was requesting directions to the john. Total revenue generated that day: two half-used rolls of industrial-ply toilet paper. Scooter now spends his time playing Tony Hawk Pro Skateboarder III in his room, contributing nothing to the gross national product.

Security: Of course, some students with learning disabilities can't be expected to do a good robbery. But a nurturing, supportive educational system reaches out to all children, regardless of aptitude, and teaches 'em how to get jobs in airport security.

Is it too much to ask that teachers instruct children on the basics of moving slow, looking disinterested, and saying things like "I don't think I can make it in today, Boss"?

Constitutional Knowledge: When the Founding Fathers gathered to frame the Constitution, Franklin turned to Jefferson and said, "Hey, Tommy, we gotta do something with the lawyers and the insurance salesmen, otherwise this new-country idea we got going is completely $%&*#." Jefferson subsequently invented state legislatures, which would be stocked with small-town lawyers, insurance salesmen, and real-estate agents, giving them a safe place to go. As he envisioned it, "They shall be entrusted to occasionally pass dumb-ass laws like proficiency testing, but at least they won't be out bothering people or stealing my car."

It's a valuable lesson every child should know.

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