Education Matters: Look, our intelligence is being insulted

Editor's Note: Numerous instances of plagiarism have been discovered in Dan Kimber’s “Education Matters” column, which ran in the News- Press from September 2003 to September 2011. In those columns where plagiarism has been found, a For the Record specifying the details will be appended to the piece.

When I read that the Glendale Public Works Department is stenciling the word "look" in three languages on busy street corners in Glendale, I was, in a word, dumbstruck.

It puzzles/bothers me on several levels, starting with the Spanish word chosen, "mirar," which literally means "to look." The more appropriate form of that verb for this warning would be "mira," or "mire." But that's splitting hairs, so let's take it down a level.

Public safety in Glendale has rightfully grabbed our attention, what with cars colliding with each other and running over people, putting the city at or near the bottom of safety rankings in California among cities of comparable size. Even though it's all about bad drivers, our city officials are desperate to improve that image, in this case grasping at straws and perhaps even insulting our intelligence in the bargain.

C'mon folks. I mean, really, are we safer for having inscribed on our pavements something we learned back when we were in kindergarten? Who remembers when we were warned to "Stop, Look (both ways) and Listen" when crossing a street? Older people told us this rule, but even at 5 years old we had the good sense to see that there were very large, fast-moving objects that would hurt us if we blindly walked out into the street.

We've been told, however, that the purpose of the "Driven 2 Distraction" campaign is to "educate people into being safer." That has a nice sound, but just who did they have in mind that might benefit from this education?

I am reminded of an interesting eraser a student had years ago that was in the shape of an ice-cream cone and had carried the warning "not edible" embossed on its side. How, I wondered, could someone able to comprehend those written words not have the sense to know the difference between ice cream and rubber?

New construction at Hoover High School recently mandated that the school renumber all of its classrooms and place "EXIT" signs inside each room next to the door, with many classrooms having only the one door. Thus, for those students who might inadvertently mistake a wall for an exit, the sign was well posted.

Of course that's only a minor waste of money compared to the strobe lights (for the few deaf students in school) placed in every classroom that I've written about before, but it springs from a similar lack of common sense and low regard for people's intelligence.

But sometimes we have only ourselves to blame. Just what were jurors thinking years ago, for example, when they found McDonalds liable for a woman scalded from coffee she spilled on herself (she had it clenched between her knees)? From that precedent we now have words written on every cup of coffee ordered from McDonalds that warn of possible injury for people who may not appreciate the connection between spilling hot liquid on oneself and the pain that may result.

This ludicrous state of affairs likely has more to do with our litigious society than actual perceived danger to the public. What else would explain a sign on a public fountain holding less than a foot of standing water, "No Lifeguard on Duty"? Or countless others that cause us to scratch our heads and wonder if there are people that stupid.

We've all seen such signs and might even imagine others if the trend continues. How about a "TGIF" (Toes go in first) written on all shoes for those few among us who may be confused and ultimately injured by inserting their feet improperly?

But getting back to the "Look" signs in Glendale, I have another question. Why the three languages? The obvious answer is that it addresses the three main languages spoken in Glendale, but what about, to name just a few other groups, our Korean, Filipino and Vietnamese populations? Aren't they entitled to the same protection from this dangerous situation, or are they, by virtue of their lesser numbers, left to fend more for themselves?

And just one more question, which I've raised in this space more than a few times over the years. Shouldn't we expect people who have adopted this country to have a fundamental understanding of words in the language of this land? Are we to forever cater to individuals (or groups) too lazy to learn even simple words/phrases basic to living and working among other people?

Traffic safety should be a top priority in a city that has been publicly named for its unsafe streets, but do we really need to add public stupidity to the image?

DAN KIMBER taught in the Glendale Unified School District for more than 30 years. He may be reached at

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