PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary

(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, THURSDAY, MAY 30, 2012) — This story stems from Arizona, but it could easily be a “concerned parent” of a child in a local public school district. We share this story from ABC News:

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The mother of an 8-year-old Arizona girl who was presented with a “Catastrophe Award” for apparently having the most excuses for not having homework believes her child was humiliated by her teacher.

Christina Valdez said her daughter, Cassandra Garcia, came home one day from class at Desert Springs Academy in Tucson, Ariz., with the paper award.

The document, which looks like a colorful card, contained the following message: “You’re Tops! Catastrophe Award.  Awarded to Cassandra Garcia. For Most Excuses for Not Having Homework.”

The teacher signed the card “Ms. Plowman,” added the date – May 18, 2012 – and even included a smiley face.

The teacher announced the award in front of the entire class, and the other students laughed at her daughter, Valdez said in a Thursday interview with ABC TV affiliate KGUN-TV in Tucson.

When she contacted the school to complain, the principal “blew me off,” Valdez added. “She said it was a joke that was played and that the teachers joke around with the children.”

But Valdez told KGUN that she didn’t find any of it funny.

“I think it’s cruel and no child should be given an award like this. It’s disturbing,” she said, adding that she was not aware her daughter had a problem with homework, and that the girl had been enrolled in an after-school homework assistance program.

Desert Springs Academy’s principal declined to comment to a KGUN reporter, the affiliate reported.

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We have observed the troubling presence of “helicopter parents.” They have to constantly butt in on the lives of their children, whether their kids are two or 22, whether they are in the sandbox with a red pail or in the dean’s office with a red slip.  Most Copter Parents also believe in putting their children inside of bullet-proof bubbles and placing that inside an invisible Force Shield straight out of He Man, Defender of the Universe and Marvel Comics.
The High Cost of ‘Every Kid Gets a Trophy’ Syndrome
We are all only too familiar with the “every kid gets a trophy” syndrome. In reinforcing to children their fragility in a rapaciously hostile world, in true Frankenstinian fashion, they have created monsters who are being deprived of some of life’s greatest lessons, which come in the school of Hard Knox, Failure 101. Those not familiar with the old tale, in the end, the Creature always turns on his Creator (see “Frankenstein”, dir. James Whale 1931; the Book of Genesis, story of Adam and Eve; and many other such stories).
Success and failure are individual visions. If a mother cannot see the humor in the gentle ribbing of a child long on excuses and short on homework, perhaps she should start paying more attention.
As for the libeling, so called, of THE PLANET on Topix, we have little to say and not much interest. By any loose definition and most skin-tight ones, we are, like it or not, a public figure. It is our lot to receive adulation and arrows, sometimes indiscriminately and without just cause or apparent reason.
In fact, we take more shots that probably any other public figure in Berkshire County. In the true spirit of Edgar Poe (thinking here of his criticism), Ambrose Bierce, and H.L. Mencken, such is the coin of the realm when your “truthing” targets  the “right people.” You get our drift.
The nastier and more rabid slings and arrows directed our way miss their mark by their own pathetic futility, motivated as they are by the quiver of desperation.  Accepting them as an occupational hazard comes with the turf of being an essayist in the Bierce-Mencken tradition. As Richard Boone once put it: “You gotta have a hard bark on you, mister.”
We will make the following points and be done with this dyspeptic subject:

THE PLANET: We know who we are!

— We don’t read Topix.

— We therefore did not read the alleged injurious remarks. They might have claimed we are Mitt Romney‘s speech writer for all we know, or worse, some vicious smear like: “Dan Valenti is a Yale graduate.”
— We have no interest in reading the posts on that forum. They will say what they say.
— We have been informed that the comments were quickly taken down, which would be the typical sufficient remedy as far as we are concerned.
— We have no need to draw defensive perimeters to protect ourselves from words. The false accusations about THE PLANET — which can grow to grand proportions with fantastic tales that would rival H.P. Lovecraft —  that sometimes get aimed our way are as BBs to a battleship. They have no effect.
— We believe strongly in free speech. Public discourse, especially involving public figures, should be unbridled and untamed — even when we are on the receiving end. Words can be injurious and untrue. In the end, they are just words.
— We have no control in what people say or think about us. We don’t get  high when we receive praise nor low when we receive criticism.
— We rest securely and snugly in who we are, what we do, and in the truth of our identity.
Case closed.
Getting back to public schools, THE PLANET is proud to have forced an urgent and much-needed discussion of the worthiness of the Pittsfield Public School system. When you match up the PPS’ dismal performance statewide with the nearly $90,000,000 being spent by taxpayers on 6072 students, it doesn’t appear that Mary Jane and Joe Kapanski are receiving good value for the dollar.
We also note the dank, dark atmosphere in Mercer, where it is always late November, with skies a steely gray and the winds that chill the bones. The School Department’s headquarters at First and Orchard streets — based on information we’ve received from various sources — seems stuck in a cultural vortex seems straight out of Soviet Russia, circa 1980.
If we can believe the testimony of brave souls who risk their jobs to sneak messages to the outside, any employee who dares question anything right now in the school department risks ostracization or worse. Free speech is quelled, questioning is discouraged, and free thinking is crushed. It’s an odd disposition for a department with a lame duck superintendent whose departure has been, to phrase it kindly, odd indeed.
Mayor Dan Bianchi will soon be submitting his first budget, the FY13 spending plan. What he proposes in terms of the school will be much anticipated. We have not seen the figures, but with bobbyd, we have great interest in seeing them.
As part of our discussion on public education, we submit this guest column by T. Baughers, a distant third cousin twice removed from THE STOOLEY. In this piece, Baughers identifies the most urgent problems facing public schools in America. As you read through this list of 10, ask yourselves: Which ones apply to the Pittsfield Public Schools, the department with the nearly $90 million price tag.
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(1) Teacher’s Unions – This is the biggie, so it belongs at the beginning.  Teacher’s Unions are just as bad as all the other unions out there.  They shelter the lazy and incompetent and at the same time discourage and beat down the eager and hard-working.  Kick the unions out of the schools, move to merit- and performance-based wages like most other private business, and you’d quickly separate the good teachers from the bad.  Then get rid of the bad and hire new teachers who have plenty of ambition and energy.

(2) Lack of discipline  – Look, I  don’t like the idea of someone spanking my kids without me knowing about it either.  But, you have to admit, there was a lot more respect and learning happening back when the kids all thought that paddle in the principal’s office could start swinging at any time.  Looking back, I can’t remember that paddle or the one on our bus ever getting used, but we THOUGHT they could, and that’s all that mattered.  Somewhere along the way we not only took away the ability for teachers to punish our kids, but we opened our big mouths and told our kids they were untouchable.  We were supposed to handle the punishment ourselves in exchange – too many of us didn’t.  It’s time to make our kids behave.

(3) Focus on the basics – Kid’s reading, writing and arithmetic skills are just pathetic.  Yet, they can tell you all about being “green” and saving the planet.  We’ve lost focus on the building blocks of our education.  I found out this week that my 8-year-old is doing pilates and yoga at school.  Between that and various assemblies and Covey skills, not a whole lot of time is left over to make sure kids can read and write well.

(4) Social programs intertwined with school – Some of the schools in our area have gotten involved in programs where kids can get breakfast at school.  The idea is that kids aren’t getting fed at home, so let’s feed them at school, right?  Seems like a good idea on the surface, until it backfires, like all socialist programs do.  In this case, the program makes it EASIER for the parents to NOT feed (neglect) their child, and have them eat at school instead.  Of course, the more kids in the program, the better for the school running it, as social programs are typically funded by participation counts.  Most people don’t realize this, but many sources of funding in a typical public school are directly determined by free and reduced lunch counts.  Schools actually benefit by trying to get as many kids onto the free and reduced lists as possible, because the state gives the most funding to the schools that appear to be the poorest.

(5) Rules have gone by the wayside – Teachers are letting kids chew gum in class, get up and walk around without asking, talk to their friends in class, goof around in the hallways…  Dress codes have loosened so that boys can walk around with their pants halfway down their butt and girls can look like crack-whores from COPS.

(6) Incorrect stratification — The public school system is far to focused on student’s age. Kids are put into rooms based on how old they are, with usually no bearing on ability or skill level.  Yes, some schools have limited gifted programs and pretty much all have “special ed” for the challenged, but more need to forget the emphasis on age and group by learning level.  Teachers would find teaching easier, kids would learn faster.

(7) Non-competition — Public schools are falling into the non-competition trap.  No-one wants any kid to feel “bad” about themselves because they didn’t win the race, or game, or contest.  Smart kids are made to feel guilty and ostracized, while the average kid is held up as the model for the rest.  Well, guess what?  The real world doesn’t reward average, it rewards the best and the brightest.  Who’s going to explain to the average kids why they aren’t getting the promotions?

(8 ) It’s OK to fail — Public schools are teaching our kids that it’s okay to fail.  A few years ago, our system implemented a new policy that allowed any kid to re-take any test once.  All they had to do was ask, sit through a study session after school, and then take the test after school.  Again, seems reasonable, right?  Give the kid a second chance in case they blow it, right?  Well, tell me what incentive any kid has now to work hard and study for the first test?  Why should they?  They’ve always got the safety blanket waiting for them.  “I think I know the material, I’ll take the test and see what happens.  If I fail, THEN I’ll spend time studying.”  Sorry, real life doesn’t usually offer us second chances, do-overs or rewinds.

(9) Laziness — Public schools are teaching our kids to be lazy.  Teachers accept late assignments without penalty.  I know a kid that has 15 missing assignments in one class.  They just needed to be turned in before the end of the semester.  There was no penalty at all for being late.

(10) Non-historical history — Public schools push one-sided revisionist history, IF they teach any real history at all.  Critical information is conveniently glossed-over to emphasize other points.  In public school history, there were no violent indians, only the South had slaves, and all slave-traders were white.  Yes, this country has some tough history to explain, but overall we’ve had a positive impact on the world and THAT should be the emphasis.

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We thank T. Baugher for the column, first posted in SCHOOL. THE PLANET welcomes guest columns on any topic. Are only requirements are originality, intelligence, and insight.






  1. Scott
    May 31, 2012 at 8:57 am #

    “We have observed the troubling presence of “helicopter parents.” They have to constantly butt in on the lives of their children, whether their kids are two or 22”

    If that’s the case why wasn’t her homework ever done? Looks like maybe mom deserves the award as well.

    • danvalenti
      May 31, 2012 at 12:57 pm #

      Can’t say in this specific case, of course, but I would hazard a guess from experience. Some “overly zealous” type parents sticks their noses in all the wrong areas of their kids lives (the sandlot, for example) and ignore the areas where kids need involvement (learning about responsibility, for instance, and right from wrong).

      • Scott
        June 1, 2012 at 3:06 am #

        I’m the opposite I guess, I believe they need those social experiences to develop with out mom or dad but they don’t understand the importance of education yet I’m hoping it’s a “you’ll thank me later” thing.

  2. Still wondering
    May 31, 2012 at 9:18 am #

    That “Mom” will be sorry she ever opened her mouth.

    • Scott
      May 31, 2012 at 11:09 am #

      How children perform in school is not only a reflection of what their parents tolerate but the teacher as well. How many letters did the teacher send home informing the mother home work was not being completed?

      • levitan
        May 31, 2012 at 12:12 pm #

        Good question.

      • Home Run
        May 31, 2012 at 4:10 pm #

        So True Scott, educating kids on all levels takes many in many different roles.Major problems arise when one or more collaborative group n the process are opposed to hearing or even acknowledging the others groups point of view.

        The ‘checks and balances’ so to speak in PPS have been over run by an unchecked school administration and an unchecked teacher’s union. In this case, both have such distain for public opinion or any opinion that calls for accountability . Such calls always seem to be cast as ‘rumors, not based on accurate data , or needless drum beating , etc. These accusations only deny accepting the reality of the system’s failures.

        In this case,the facts remain clear. Our school system is not providing the results given the investment the city is providing and keeps being asked to provide to this failing system.

        If the city was not putting forth a reasonable investment, then it would deserve the poor quality of the product it supports. In this case the investment is rated as large and well above average compared to other similiar cities in our state. However, we still have poor to very poor results .

        Failure to admit this and to reduce such calls for accountabiliy as ‘ rumor mongering’ is the root of the problem in the Pittsfield School system.

        The administrators are not alone in acting with this overly entitled attitude. The school comm and UEP are also greatly at fault.

        The ones who pay the highest price in terms of cost and their kids education our the citizens of Pittsfield. They pay the highest cost for this lack of accountability and yet have no platform for their voice. Then when they do, out of pure frustration, speak in forums such as P V they are at best, ignored and mocked . All this majority seeks is a system of accountability.

        We simply ask those with some power to help change this to step forth and be part of the solution instead of continuing to hide and deny the problem .

  3. bobbyd
    May 31, 2012 at 10:10 am #

    We agree on a lot today, Dan.

    • Chet Murphy
      May 31, 2012 at 10:21 am #

      10 bucks says tea bagger is Dan.

      • Dee
        May 31, 2012 at 11:54 am #

        I’m going to assume you don’t know the proper definition of a tea-bagger. FYI – it’s not political.

      • danvalenti
        May 31, 2012 at 12:46 pm #

        Save your money. It’s 10 bucks you can’t afford to lose, and you’d lose that bet for certain.

      • Joe Blow
        May 31, 2012 at 1:51 pm #

        10 bucks say you are a liberal democrat.

        • Chet Hunter
          May 31, 2012 at 3:38 pm #

          Joe I agree with most of what was written, ie. dress codes, free breakfast ,maybe. I’m just sick of all you phony Republicans who enjoy good paying jobs with benefits because of unions fighting for a fare pay and job security. Blame administration who fail to put in a employees file when they screw up, and then try to fire them with nothing in their personal file. Your all against the GOB but with out a union you would have to kiss butt to keep your job! I will admit a few bad apples spoil the bunch.

          • Pittsfield Pete
            May 31, 2012 at 8:51 pm #


            Where does asking for and seeking accountability equal having to ‘ kiss butt’?

            I remain confused by such a statement. Also are you implying that unions need to operate as part of a GOB network? and that we should remain greatful
            for this?

            I am so confused by your statements

          • Home Run
            May 31, 2012 at 10:03 pm #


            Fair pay and job security should based on being accountable and doing what you were hired to do.

            How and why should fair pay and job security ever be tied to hiding behind the skirts of union goons?

            If it is having workers being ‘ripped off’ and exploited by the motives of immoral, selfish or even greedy individuals that you fear and worry about, I humbly suggest you take a peek in the mirror.

            PS who needs to be a registared as a Demacrat, Republlician or independent to not be a hypocrite and abuse power. (Regardless of which side of the fence you find yourself on)

          • Chet Murphy
            June 1, 2012 at 5:01 am #

            PP GOB are the reason to have Unions, so everyone gets a fair shake.

        • Chet Hunter
          May 31, 2012 at 3:50 pm #

          Joe. I was a Independent for many years(I don’t believe in voting party lines I like Sen Brown but I won’t vote for him because of who he will back for Senate leadership. I do know that I will never vote for Romney! Is that the best the Republicans can do!

          • Just a Thought!
            June 1, 2012 at 2:03 am #

            CHEAT… You state

            ……was a Independent for many years(I don’t believe in voting party line….

            With all due respect Chet, there is nothing you say
            in your posts that represent any ‘independent or originial ‘ thought.

            You sound brain washed, by GOB and union rhetoric. One thing is for sure, you only think and make statements that reflect these GOB and Union parrty lines.

            In light of your stated need to NOT to ‘vote a long party lines’ there is nothing ‘ independent ‘ about anything you have said here.

            Is that really the best you can do Chet?

          • Scott
            June 1, 2012 at 3:02 am #

            I won’t vote for Brown because he’s against the very social programs that he benefited from as a child.

          • Just a Thought!
            June 1, 2012 at 6:16 am #

            CHEAT …. HUNTER/MURPHY (what ever you call you call yourself here)

            You say we have unions to protect workers from unfair labor practices by the GOB. I wonder who the public tax payer has to protect themselves from unfair spending by a school admin and unfair financial burdens placed on them by a teachers union ?

          • levitan
            June 1, 2012 at 7:38 am #

            Scott, J. Thought:

            As a Democrat, I will not vote for Warren because she represents the pit of hackdom – all hat no cattle.

            I’m voting for Scott just as I did the first time around, unless Defranco wins the primary.

    • danvalenti
      May 31, 2012 at 12:48 pm #

      Good to hear, bd. We probably agree on more than either of us realizes (or is willing to admit!).

      • bobbyd
        May 31, 2012 at 1:43 pm #

        Usually it’s just matters of fact over which we disagree. Philosophically we probably have a lot in common.

  4. teecha teecha
    May 31, 2012 at 10:31 am #

    Intelligently spoken and right on the money. Cheers, Dan!

  5. Joe Blow
    May 31, 2012 at 1:50 pm #

    I went to Catholic schools up to 9th grade and they did not put up with the b.s. that goes on in p.p.s. I hated the discipline when I was a kid but now that I’m almost 40,I look back and and I’m grateful for the values they instilled in me. Sister Mary Joe comes to mind….she would wack us with her cane if we got out of line.

    • Chet Hunter
      May 31, 2012 at 3:43 pm #

      I’m a little older than you but did you ever have your nuckles rubbed against the brick sideing? These were Gods helpers!

      • Scott
        June 1, 2012 at 3:57 am #

        It’s amazing what one can get away with in the name of God and to think Jesus preached love, compassion and understanding.

      • Just a Thought!
        June 1, 2012 at 6:38 am #


        If the evil nuns in catholic school from back in the day could be considered ‘ G-ds Healpers’ . Well then , today, . The teachers in the UEP unioun could be consided as ‘ the Devils Hit Men ‘. . Hit men who rob from the taxpayers. These same teachers who consider themselves to mbe ‘ Kid Helpers ‘ .

        We seriously need a few Robin Hoods in this town!!!

  6. Shakes His Head
    May 31, 2012 at 7:41 pm #

    Thank goodness the Pittsfield Public Schools perform so poorly that the Commonwealth can send experts in to teach underperforming teachers how to explain math and reading to school age students.

    Maybe the taxpayers can expect the PPS administration to evaluate underperforming teachers? HA!

    • Home Run
      May 31, 2012 at 8:02 pm #

      You must be in jest !!! of course you are!!

      The admistrators will evaluate under preforming teachers when the public can evaluate under preforming administrators. ( or at least be heard and not insulted when pointing out the obvious rip- off we are all being subjected to in this city)

  7. Pittsfield Pete
    May 31, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    The reason our teachers need help from the state is because our poor teacher ‘pay scale’ in Pittsfield prevents us from recruiting ‘Top Notch’ staff.

    This has been very well pointed out by the Pittsfield teacher’s union. The fact that most of our teachers benifiting from such hard fought pay raises are usually our most senior staff members and not new recruits seems to be quietly omitted.

    • levitan
      June 1, 2012 at 7:42 am #

      PP: I hope you jest. Last report on teachers’ pay in Pittsfield showed a range from $70 – $90K with fringe benefits.

      That’s not too shabby for part time work, regardless where you live.

  8. GEE Whiz
    May 31, 2012 at 7:55 pm #

    We have friends who are in the PPS, one a teacher the other a mid-level administrator. We had them over for Memorial Day . The discussion turned to the Planet we asked them if they read it. Both did. We asked what they thought. Both said they agreed the Administation has been poorly managed and things in classroom are far worse than anyone knows. Both said department operates through fear, intimidation and misinformation. The Planet is a must read for all within PPS they said but everyone reads it on their own time!Our heads were spinning.

    • Home Run
      May 31, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

      GEE Whiz.

      Imagine that!! I had been lead to believe Dan made all this stuff up. That our up standing school administrators were getting picked on by all the rumors Dan was spreading around. Not to
      mention all the unfair ‘drum beating and fear mongering’that was being created by The Planet.

      Guess there maybe truth to the old saying after all… ‘Where there is smoke there is fire.

    • Pittsfield Pete
      May 31, 2012 at 8:41 pm #

      Too bad some of these folks don’t feel they can openly talk about the sad state of affairwild our Administrators and the sorry state of our schools classrooms.

      Everyone in this community has a responsibility to speak out on behalf of our kids whose education is so often the long forgotten
      factor in all of this. Truly, it is our kids who are the voiceless victims in this matter.

      Teachers and administrators are mandated reporters. This does not just apply to abuse one should report to DSS. While there may be no legal grounds for such an argument , on a moral level our school’s teachers need to stop sitting on their hands and take a stand for some of the ideals they went into the teaching field for at one point in their lives.

      For some this may be a stretch , but really each PPS staff member should ask themselves…! How long they are willing to be part of the problem?’ and on a moral level watch our city’s kids be seriously ‘ jipped’ and have their futures hampered by the need to intimidation and even the personal gains of some adults.

      There is plenty of guilt to go around and not enough examples of people doing the right thing… If for no other reason than it just being the right and moral thing to do.

  9. taxmano
    June 1, 2012 at 3:10 am #

    And what’s the deal with the “Adminstrative shake-up” in Lee? It was in the Eagle a little while ago.

    • Just a Thought!
      June 1, 2012 at 6:23 am #

      Admin shake up in Lee reported in the Eagle. Imagine that! Yet in Pittsfield, it seems there is a blaze burning in Mercer building for a long time and yet not one word in print in the Eagle . Guess fact is far stranger than fiction.

  10. Scott
    June 1, 2012 at 4:01 am #

    Here’s a dirty little secret no one talks about that I found out first hand. It’s only in the best interest of public schools to have students who under perform and can be classified with disorders such as ADD and ADHD because you guessed it they get even more money from the federal gov’t! So improving in these areas goes against the goals of profits for the administration. If you want your kid to have a good education then get involved with it yourself.

  11. dusty
    June 1, 2012 at 4:36 am #

    Wondering who has access to viewing the school budget. Can we drag this out and analyze it?

  12. K-Man
    June 1, 2012 at 6:51 am #

    Just a thought, I see Valenti in the Robin Hood role, and Scott, yes, the school department has fianancial incentive to classify kids with disorders when they ‘underperform’ that’s part of the racket and why the Pittsfield schools are so bad. Look at the millions lost thru school choice for example .

    • Scott
      June 1, 2012 at 7:51 am #

      I had my son’s Dr say he was not ADD after being told by the school shrink he was and needed medication. The general response is just say your child has this disorder or we can’t help them. That’s why I don’t believe in public education. If your child needs extra help they need to get it at home from their parents and the absurdity of leaving that responsibility to others is clear to me anyways.

      • Just a Thought!
        June 1, 2012 at 8:30 am #


        Considering your point- that the school system gets more money for kids with disorders like ADD, it would be very interesting to see data on the percentage of kids with such disorders in Pittsfield schools compared to the rest of the states average.

        I wonder if Bobby D would have access to such data!!

  13. taxmano
    June 1, 2012 at 7:03 am #

    Speaking of admins, how’s Tracy Benson doing at PHS? When Jake installed him, he described him like God’s gift to education.

    • dusty
      June 1, 2012 at 7:40 am #

      Can’t judge Tracy just because he was appointed by a GOB.

      But,….. he bears scrutiny just for that reason. They do not promote people who will not walk the walk on the path they point them to take.