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 OPINION PAGE - SEPTEMBER 8, 1999 - COMMERCE, GEORGIA



Column
Mark Beardsley
The Commerce News
September 8, 1999

Just What The
World Needs -
Smarter Mice
Next to the story about Ty Inc. quitting making Beanie Babies, the most disturbing news last week was that scientists have found a way to genetically engineer smarter mice.
I'm being facetious, of course. Ty dropping the Beanie Baby line is actually good news. And so, to some extent, is the news that smarter mice have been created. The theory is that this animal research could one day lead to smarter children and even treatment for Alzheimer's disease.
My intellectual capacity having not been genetically enriched, I cannot get past the "smarter mice" aspect of the story, and it terrifies me.
Mice already have more smarts than is good for us. They are survivors. In spite of everything mankind has done to try to eliminate them and their insidious cousin, the rat, mice, like roaches, will be here long after the last man has succumbed to the noxious fumes of pollution or the radiation of a warring world.
While one day the knowledge gleaned from creating smart mice could be used to create "baby Einsteins," right now it's being used to create Mice Einsteins. The rodent geniuses will probably neither perfect nuclear fission nor turn Earth into Planet of the Mice, but they will become even more clever about getting into our pantries, attics and garages. A smarter mouse is not likely to be caught in the old spring-loaded trap, nor to succumb to D-Con. It may even learn to avoid the owls, hawks, coyotes and cats that maintain something of a balance in the rodent population, bless 'em.
Creating a smarter mouse is sort of like creating a roach that is immune to insecticides. It may be one giant step for science, but it's a big leap backward for mankind. This is science that originated from a noble purpose but which has taken an evil twist. What good will it be to be smarter if the world is overrun with Mice Einsteins?
You say perhaps one of the smarter babies will build the proverbial better mouse trap? Not likely. Those genetically engineered smarter babies will grow up into men and women who create better artificial intelligence for the computer world, new marketing techniques for the Home Shopping Network or better weaponry for dispatching fellow humans. They'll be too busy getting rich to worry about the mice.
A rodent with an improved memory will not only remember that someone tried to kill him with a broom, but also exactly who it was. At night, he will return for revenge. Enhancement of intelligence leads to greater capacity for evil.
I would be a lot more worried if science had created Rat Einsteins, but I have some concern that the genetic traits engineered in mice will get spread to the rats. Rats are nasty and evil. They carry the plague. They are already too smart and too big. A mouse in the house is grounds to call an exterminator, but a rat in your house is reason to move.
I hope the labs with the genetically engineered mice have good security, but a smarter mouse is a mouse that will find a way to escape, after which it will do what mice do best - reproduce. Then there will be hundreds of generations of smarter mice before the first generation of smarter humans.
So, this is what we have to look forward to in the New Millennium?



Editorial
The Commerce News
September 8, 1999

Below Average Not Good Enough For City Schools
The results of the 1998-1999 Scholastic Aptitude Test for Commerce High School were, in the words of Superintendent Larry White, "very disappointing." It marks the second consecutive year the local averages have been below Georgia's dismal average, which is 49th highest in the nation.
It is difficult to make direct links between any round of test scores and the job a school system is doing, because so many factors must be considered. Some classes test better than others, some schools have a large number of students taking the SAT who took no college preparatory courses, and demographics can affect a school's score. But Commerce parents and taxpayers have a right to expect that, on average, Commerce seniors would meet the Georgia average in both the math and verbal portions of the test. In reality, any school system should be dissatisfied if its average is below the national average.
The Commerce Board of Education needs to establish what it expects in the way of SAT scores from Commerce High School year in and year out. Certainly the school board would at least expect the Commerce average to match the state average.
Given all of the standardized tests, it should not be difficult for the board of education to look over a decade of scores to see what they tell about the strengths and weaknesses of the three schools and the curriculum. For example, test scores on the Class of 1999 dating back to the first Iowa Test of Basic Skills in the third grade could be consolidated so that at a glance the educators could see if that class performed below average through its entire career. Four or five years' worth of similar data from previous classes should present enough information to point educators to any problem areas.
The state has mandated more standardized tests and the Commerce system has implemented still more, all with the idea of identifying and solving problems. That data should enable the school system to pinpoint any area in which students lose ground. The CHS Class of 1999 was above grade level in the fifth grade when the ITBS was administered. In seven years, they went from above average to below average. Whether that was an aberration or the norm could be determined by an analysis of ITBS and SAT scores over the years.
All that having been said, the goal of the whole process is to provide Commerce students with a better education, not just better test scores. The latter should be the result of the former. Test scores are not the end in themselves; they are just indicators of what students have learned. That, in turn, is an indicator of what kind of job the schools are doing.
For the past three years, the CHS numbers have not looked good. When the state average is dismal and our students are barely above or are below that average, it's hard to swallow the public position that we have a good school system. It's time the Commerce Board of Education took a long look at why our students so often fail to meet even Georgia's dismal state average and take whatever steps are necessary to improve our schools.



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