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Ask an American schoolchild what he or she is learning in school these days and you might even get a reply, provided you ask it in Spanish. But don't bother, here's the answer: Americans nowadays are not learning any of the things that we learned in our day, like reading and writing. Apparently these are considered fusty old subjects, invented by white males to oppress women and minorities.

What are they learning? In a Vermont college town I found the answer sitting in a toy store book rack, next to typical kids' books like Heather Has Two Mommies and Daddy Is Dysfunctional. It's a teacher's guide called Happy To Be Me, subtitled Building Self Esteem.

Self-esteem, as it turns out, is a big subject in American classrooms. Many American schools see building it as important as teaching reading and writing. They call it "whole language" teaching, borrowing terminology from the granola people to compete in the education marketplace.

No one ever spent a moment building my self-esteem when I was in school. In fact, from the day I first stepped inside a classroom my self-esteem was one big demolition site. All that mattered was "the subject", be it geography, history, or mathematics. I was praised when I remembered that "near", "fit", "friendly", "pleasing", "like" and their opposites took the dative case in Latin. I was reviled when I forgot what a cosine was good for. Generally I lived my school years beneath a torrent of castigation so consistent I eventually ceased to hear it, as people who live near the sea eventually stop hearing the waves.

Schools have changed. Reviling is out, for one thing. More important, subjects have changed. Whereas I learned English, modern kids learn something called "language skills." Whereas I learned writing, modern kids learn something called "communication". Communication, the book tells us, is seven per cent words, 23 per cent facial expression, 20 per cent tone of voice, and 50 per cent body language. So this column, with its carefully chosen words, would earn me at most a grade of seven per cent. That is, if the school even gave out something as oppressive and demanding as grades.

The result is that, in place of English classes, American children are getting a course in How to Win Friends and Influence People. Consider the new attitude toward journal writing: I remember one high school English class when we were required to keep a journal. The idea was to emulate those great writers who confided in diaries, searching their souls and honing their critical thinking on paper.

"Happy To Be Me" states that journals are a great way for students to get in touch with their feelings. Tell students they can write one sentence or a whole page. Reassure them that no one, not even you, will read what they write. After the unit, hopefully all students will be feeling good about themselves and will want to share some of their entries with the class.

There was a time when no self-respecting book for English teachers would use "great" or "hopefully" that way. Moreover, back then the purpose of English courses (an antique term for "Unit") was not to help students "feel good about themselves." Which is good, because all that reviling didn't make me feel particularly good about anything.

Which of the following is the author implying in paragraph 5?

A.Self-criticism has gone too far.

B.Communication is a more comprehensive category than language skills.

C.Evaluating criteria are inappropriate nowadays.

D.This column does not meet the demanding evaluation criteria of today.

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