somewhere, to reach a breaking point,nat which breaking point the army takesnover and the ancient battle begins oncenmore.”nNot exactly words to stir hearts innTiananmen Square, but after Goude’snjour de gloire one can almost seenDavidson’s point.nJohn Shelton Reed left Paris twonweeks before the festivities. As a rule,nhe views the world from Chapel Hill,nNorth Carolina.nLetter From thenHeartlandnby Jane GreernNot a Smashing SuccessnIt’s the little things — not the front-pagendisclosures — that suggest to us thatnwe’ve been had.nTake, for instance, a 1987-88 studynby the Oregon Department of Transportation.nODOT studied 5 51 studentsnbetween 16 and 19 years of age whonhad completed driver education programs,n581 students who said theynwould have taken the course had itnbeen available, and 197 students whondidn’t take the course and weren’tninterested in doing so.nThe project compared driver examinationntest scores and driving records ofnthe 1,329 drivers, all of whom obtainedntheir first driver’s license between Septembern1987 and January 1988.nAn article in the ODOT magazinenexplains that students who had takenndriver education and passed the drivernexam scored “significantly higher” onnthe law and knowledge part of the test,nand “somewhat higher” on thenbehind-the-wheel portion, than thosenwho passed the licensing test but hadnno interest in taking the course. On thenother hand, the flunking rate for allngroups was the same, whether or notnthey’d had training.nMore amazing than this, though,nwas what ODOT Motor Vehicles Divisionnresearcher Barnie Jones wasnquoted as saying, “We found that thendriving records of those who had takennstudent driver education and thosenwho hadn’t were very similar. Then48/CHRONICLESngroups had virtually identical trafficnaccident and violation rates after sixnmonths and W/i months of driving.”nIn other words, driver ed doesn’tnchange any lifestyles.nNow, in most states driver educationnis mandatory for high school studentsnwho expect to drive, and car andnliability insurance is lower for kids whonhave taken the course. That was trueneven 20 years ago, when we werenforced to sit in the simulator (we callednit the “stimulator”) and watch bloodynmovies about kids who drank andndrove, movies so embarrassing that wengiggled through them. Now ODOTnhas the nerve to say that driver ed reallyndoesn’t make much difference.nThis also encourages thinking aboutnother “mandatory learning experiences”nthat our kids don’t need. Whatnabout physical education class? Doesngetting frustrated or sweaty for 40nminutes twice a week (and then eithernbeing denied a shower or forced to takenone, gang-style, and re-dress in answeaty locker room) teach our kids thatnsports are fun, that our bodies arentemples? No PE teacher I’ve ever hadnhas looked as if she enjoyed the job.nEvery 1989 American couch potato —nand we come by the truckload — wasnforced to attend years and years of gymnclass. They just didn’t “take.” I learnednin adulthood to enjoy several sports,nmoderately, but at the time I wouldnrather have been reading. So sue me.nThen there’s “hygiene” or “health”nclass. It’s no secret that even thoughnmost teenagers are forced to take thisnclass, they’re still having babies duringnhomeroom and making more of themnafter school. “Health” class used tonmean learning how important it is tonbrush one’s teeth and wash with soap;nnow third-graders learn exactly how tondo things that I still had to guess aboutnwhen I was in college. These childrennare also, presumably, being told aboutnDeath, and how it looms ever morennear these days — after all, sex edndidn’t move into elementary classroomsnin a big way until what has comento be very wishfully called the “AIDSnepidemic.” I don’t particularly wantnmy third-grade son to know aboutncondoms — and if he’s not interested,nlet’s give the kid a break. I tried to chatnwith him about babies one night as wendid the dishes, and he finally turned tonme and said, “Mom, I’m having a lotnnnof trouble listening to this.” Still, thosenbabies keep dropping, so we ship thenkids off to another state-mandatedn”health” class. Their time would benbetter spent in driver ed.nDoes anyone remember “socialnstudies”? It’s still around. I didn’t havena bona fide history class until I was innhigh school, and I didn’t have geographynuntil I was in college. In gradenschool and middle school we had “socialnstudies,” where in a dozen pagesnkids learn a smattering of the history,ncustoms, and agriculture of a smatteringnof countries. A fourteen-year-oldnsixth-grade social studies book ournhousehold plodded grimly through lastnyear “did” Italy in ten pages, coveringnthe early Romans, grapes and olives,nMussolini, and everything in betweenn(except the Pope, of course). Thatnsame book pronounced Kuwait then”world’s most progressive nation,” andnasked, at the end of one chapter,nwhether North Vietnam or South Vietnamnwere the communist nation. (Indidn’t look, but I bet the Vietnamnchapter talked about rice and the manufacturenof straw hats.) Kids today stillnhave “social studies,” and then embarrassna puzzled nation when they flunknhistory and geography tests.nThen there’s “defensive driving” fornadults. Most states make a defensivendriving class obligatory for those whonhave been in a traffic accident, regardlessnwhether they were sober at thentime. Now, an adult with a good recordnwho has been in a fender-bender andnwho is really interested in learning anfew little tips for driving more safelynwill take a lot home from such a class.nThe majority of drivers won’t. And yetn”defensive driving” courses are a bignindustry, and make a state or city feel asnif it’s doing something. It is, I guess:ncreating a cash flow.nBut to get back to the driver ed students:nI have a solution. If a kid doesnpoorly on his exam or has a lot ofnaccidents, just increase his mandatorynPE classes. Make him run more lapsnand then endure the purgatory of gangnshowers — or return to class unshowered.nIt’ll keep him off the streets, andnwill be a right use of every aspect ofngym class, which was, after all, creatednto punish.nJane Greer edits Plains Poetry Journalnin Bismarck, North Dakota.n