The September Almanac

Demographics


School starts in most districts this month, but for some 1.5 million children -- a record number -- the classroom will be at home. The number of home-schooled children tripled during the 1990s and is now growing at a rate of 15 percent a year. Although for many years home schooling was largely inspired by religious preference among fundamentalists, a broader swath of parents has recently become involved. For example, a 1996 survey in Florida, where many public school systems include "portable classrooms" (modular units that can be set up in a school yard), showed that for the first time, dissatisfaction with local schools was the leading reason given for home schooling. Advances in computer technology, making curricula and support networks available online, are also thought to be fueling the movement's growth.

Arts & Letters


September 25: America's first museum of modern art, the Phillips Collection, in Washington, D.C., opens its most comprehensive exhibit ever today. "Renoir to Rothko: The Eye of Duncan Phillips" will contain some 250 works acquired and preserved by the museum's founder from 1918 to 1966. While cleaning paintings for the exhibit, conservators discovered that Phillips unwittingly got two paintings for the price of one: they found a previously unknown painting by the American artist Gifford Beal behind the canvas of Beal's Parade of Elephants. The hidden painting, which depicts a woman and two children looking down a hillside at a procession of soldiers, is signed and bears the date 1918; it is thought to have been covered within six years of its creation (and thus is in pristine condition). No one knows why it was covered. Recently titled On the Hudson at Newburgh, it will, ironically, not be part of the exhibit (at least at first -- it may be added later), which is limited to works specifically chosen by Duncan Phillips.

Environment



Early this month biologists will decide whether or not to continue reintroducing lynx to southwestern Colorado. Last February the state's Division of Wildlife began releasing batches of lynx obtained from trappers in Alaska and Canada (the cats are thought to have been extinct in Colorado since 1973); a total of 41 were let go. Although biologists had expected that some of the cats would fall prey to other animals, to disease, or to automobiles, they did not anticipate that starvation would be a serious problem: there seemed to be an adequate population of wild hare, a primary source of the cats' food. But four lynx starved to death and another had to be recaptured, all within weeks of release. The situation has drawn criticism from animal-rights groups and raised questions about the wisdom and ethics of moving animals out of environments in which they are thriving. Should biologists decide to continue the program, they will focus on ensuring that the lynx are healthy and have been fattened up before release.

Government


Some unfamiliar sounds may be heard in the classrooms of Louisiana this academic year, as a law stipulating how elementary school children are to address teachers and other school employees takes effect. According to the "Respect Bill," passed in June, students must call adults "sir" or "ma'am" or use the appropriate title ("Mr.," Ms.," "Miss," or Mrs."). This is believed to be the first law of its kind in the country; it will be extended gradually to apply to students in the upper grades. Penalties for violating the law will be determined by each district's school board, and may include such things as losing playground privileges and having to take a head-on-the-desk time-out. Offenders cannot be suspended or expelled.


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