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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.

  • Most people think of lions as strictly African beasts, but only because they've been killed off almost everywhere else. Ten thousand years ago lions spanned vast sections of the globe, and so did people, who —as they multiplied and organized —pat pressure on competitors at the top of the food chain. Now lions hold only a small fraction of their former habitat, and Asiatic lions, a subspecies that split from African lions perhaps 100,000 years ago, hang on to an almost impossibly small slice of their former domain.

    India is the proud steward of these 300 or so lions, which live primarily in a 560-square-mile (1,450-square-kilometer) sanctuary. It took me a year and a half to get a permit to explore the entire Gir Forest —and no time at all to see why these lions became symbols of royalty and greatness. A tiger will slink through the forest unseen, but a lion stands its ground, curious and unafraid —lionhearted. Though they told me in subtle ways when I got too close, Gir's lions allowed me unique glimpses into their lives during my three months in the forest. It's odd to think that they are threatened by extinction; Gir has as many lions as it can hold —too many, in fact. With territory in short supply, lions prowl the periphery of the forest and even leave it altogether, often clashing with people. That's one reason India is creating a second sanctuary. There are other pressing reasons: outbreaks of disease or natural disasters. In 1994 canine distemper killed more than a third of Africa's Serengeti lions —thousand animals —a fate that could easily befall Gir's cats. These lions, saved by a prince at the turn of the 20th century, are especially vulnerable to disease because they descend from as few as a dozen individuals. "If you do a DNA fingerprint, Asiatic lions actually look like identical twins," says Stephen O'Brien, a geneticist who has studied them. Yet the perils are hidden, and you wouldn't suspect them by watching these lords of the forest. The lions exude vitality, and no small measure of charm.

    Though the gentle intimacy of play vanishes when it's time to eat, meals in Git are not necessarily frenzied affairs. For a mother and cub sharing a deer, or a young male relishing an antelope, there's no need to fight for a cut of the kill. Prey animals are generally smaller in Gir than they are in Africa, and hunting groups tend to be smaller as well. The lions themselves aren't as big as African lions, and they have shorter manes and a long fold of skin on their undersides that many lions in Africa don't have.

    What impressed the author most when he went to watch the lions in the Gir Forest?

    A.The lions were on the brink of extinction.

    B.They were suffering from a fatal disease.

    C.They allowed him to see their vitality and charm at close quarters.

    D.Mother lion and her cub shared a deer.

  • Why are the lions in the Git Forest especially vulnerable to disease?

    A.They are physically weaker than the African lions.

    B.They are small in size.

    C.They do not have enough to eat.

    D.They have descended from a dozen or so ancestors.

  • Which of the following is NOT among the reasons that India is creating a secondary sanctuary for the Asiatic lions?

    A.Too many of them in the present sanctuary.

    B.Possible outbreak of disease.

    C.Clashing with people.

    D.Food shortage.

  • Currently, every college student knows that ability is important. They would like to attend various training programs and apply for different certificates so that they are more competent. Do you think that attending training programs and getting more certificates can improve competence? Write an essay of about 400 words entitled: Do More Certificates Stand for Better Ability?

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