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Back to school for the fall

18 Aug

A lot of kids are starting school this week. I’ve seen lots of pictures of kids with their brand new backpacks and hopeful smiles pasted all over Facebook. All of the neighborhood kids have been noticeably absent from our house only to reappear after 3 o’clock.

And my kids have been busy. Planning a puppet show (that should be interesting), playing Spanish games on the computer, practicing the guitar, and learning how to be self-sufficient. My kids forget that their friends are locked up in schools and frequently ask throughout the day if they can pop by their houses to invite them to events (like the puppet show – lol) or to show their friends something that they are making. They also miss the freedom of being outside to explore their world. We try to curb their outside activities while school is in session just to avoid any harassment from the community. I know that all I have to do is inform the inquiring authorities that we homeschool, I just don’t want to have to deal with truant officers and DCFS. That is the downside of being the only homeschooling family in the community.

What concerns me is why is our family the odd ball? Why? When every parent I talk to complains about the effectiveness of their schools, or the problems their children are having at school, or the infusion of materialistic and socialistic ideals in their school. Even parents who send their kids to “a good school” encounter some of these problems. So why does everybody keep sending their kids to school?

Every school has an agenda

And it’s not always the same agenda as the parents. Sure every school talks about it’s focus on academic subjects. And some schools even do a good job raising the grades of students in certain subjects. But every school (public, private, magnet, charter) has another agenda. Sometimes the teachers and administrators don’t even know what the agenda is, but it’s still there.

I just encountered an extreme example of schools’ hidden agendas this past month. A friend of mine (a fellow art teacher) had just accepted a job at a new charter school in St. Louis. Somewhere along the way she discovers that the school is owned and operated by Turkish patriots who infuse Turkish politics, religion, practices, and beliefs throughout their school system. She tossed out phrases that I had not heard of (i.e. “Gulen Movement” – read about it at: 123) and was afraid of remaining with the school. She wanted my advice on how to get out. Well, luckily it was well before school started so she had lots of options.

Now, I can hear a lot of you telling yourself that this is an exception. But it’s not. Sure, the public schools aren’t pushing Turkish patriotism, but they do have a hidden agenda.

What is the purpose of schools?

Mass schooling of a compulsory nature really got its teeth into the United States between 1905 and 1915, though it was conceived of much earlier and pushed for throughout most of the nineteenth century. The reason given for this enormous upheaval of family life and cultural traditions was, roughly speaking, threefold: 1) To make good people. 2) To make good citizens. 3) To make each person his or her personal best. These goals are still trotted out today on a regular basis, and most of us accept them in one form or another as a decent definition of public education’s mission, however short schools actually fall in achieving them. But we are dead wrong. (John Taylor Gatto, Against School)

The purpose of schools is to maintain a docile mass populace – easily managed and obedient workforce. Think I’m crazy? There are tons of documentation out there to show this is a fact. (I have a short list to get you started.) This is a far cry from the 3 Rs normally talked about (Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic – they don’t even all start with R. Did this bother anybody else?)

That erroneous assumption is to the effect that the aim of public education is to fill the young of the species with knowledge and awaken their intelligence, and so make them fit to discharge the duties of citizenship in an enlightened and independent manner. Nothing could be further from the truth. The aim of public education is not to spread enlightenment at all; it is simply to reduce as many individuals as possible to the same safe level, to breed and train a standardized citizenry, to put down dissent and originality. That is its aim in the United States, whatever the pretensions of politicians, pedagogues and other such mountebanks, and that is its aim everywhere else. (H.L. Menken, The American Mercury, 1924)

We sacrifice our family bond for the hope of a successful future for our children. How did we get to this point? It was by careful design.

(Alexander) Inglis breaks down the purpose – the actual purpose – of modern schooling into six basic functions, any one of which is enough to curl the hair of those innocent enough to believe the three traditional goals listed earlier:
1) The adjustive or adaptive function. Schools are to establish fixed habits of reaction to authority. This, of course, precludes critical judgment completely. It also pretty much destroys the idea that useful or interesting material should be taught, because you can’t test for reflexive obedience until you know whether you can make kids learn, and do, foolish and boring things.
2) The integrating function. This might well be called “the conformity function,” because its intention is to make children as alike as possible. People who conform are predictable, and this is of great use to those who wish to harness and manipulate a large labor force.
3) The diagnostic and directive function. School is meant to determine each student’s proper social role. This is done by logging evidence mathematically and anecdotally on cumulative records. As in “your permanent record.” Yes, you do have one.
4) The differentiating function. Once their social role has been “diagnosed,” children are to be sorted by role and trained only so far as their destination in the social machine merits – and not one step further. So much for making kids their personal best.
5) The selective function. This refers not to human choice at all but to Darwin’s theory of natural selection as applied to what he called “the favored races.” In short, the idea is to help things along by consciously attempting to improve the breeding stock. Schools are meant to tag the unfit – with poor grades, remedial placement, and other punishments – clearly enough that their peers will accept them as inferior and effectively bar them from the reproductive sweepstakes. That’s what all those little humiliations from first grade onward were intended to do: wash the dirt down the drain.
6) The propaedeutic function. The societal system implied by these rules will require an elite group of caretakers. To that end, a small fraction of the kids will quietly be taught how to manage this continuing project, how to watch over and control a population deliberately dumbed down and declawed in order that government might proceed unchallenged and corporations might never want for obedient labor.
That, unfortunately, is the purpose of mandatory public education in this country. And lest you take Inglis for an isolated crank with a rather too cynical take on the educational enterprise, you should know that he was hardly alone in championing these ideas. Conant himself, building on the ideas of Horace Mann and others, campaigned tirelessly for an American school system designed along the same lines. (John Taylor Gatto, Against School)

So, go ahead and send your kids off to school with a smile and a wave. But don’t be surprised at the results.

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References and suggested reading.

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Primer for ed reformers (or, it’s the curriculum, stupid!)

22 Jul

Being a former public school educator and an advocate of homeschooling, this article really caught my eye. I’ve talked repeatedly about school reform and why it doesn’t (and will never) work. This article pinpoints the specifics of why. While many people, justifiably so, wish to continue efforts to reform schools, we must be practical and realistic. What he proposes is not just a band aid or a politically correct patch. Nor will it be easy. But it is simple. I am not sure that I agree with the idea of establishing another bureaucracy to rethink education. If you wish to maintain a government controlled system, clearly something drastic needs to be done.

Basically,

  • Education cannot be subdivided into neat little subjects. That is not how life works.
  • People, children and adults, do not learn in isolation of any kind (physical or intellectual).
  • We learn more by doing, asking questions, observing, practicing, and refining that we do by sitting still and listening.
  • Testing tells us nothing.

I’m not sure that it is worth the effort to radically change the school system. I don’t think the department of education and public schools need to be a part of the American landscape. But it is obvious that the majority of the people wish to have public schools and this type of reform is definitely worth talking about.

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My guest today is Marion Brady, veteran teacher, administrator, curriculum designer and author.

By Marion Brady
Just about everybody who’s ever been to school has a theory about what’s wrong with education. And a good many of them have a theory about what would make what’s wrong right.

The list of those reform theories is long and getting longer: Get back to the basics! Lengthen the school day! Separate the sexes! Require more math and science! Toughen the standards! Add end-of-course exams! Increase the number of Advanced Placement courses! Put mayors in charge! Replace superintendents with retired military officers! Pay kids for good grades! Abolish teacher unions! End tenure! Lengthen the school year! Tie teacher pay to test scores! Adopt vouchers! Open more charter schools! Close colleges of education! Require school uniforms! Force parental cooperation! Give every kid a laptop! Fire the worst 25% of teachers, rank the rest, and publish the ranking in the newspaper! Adopt national standards for every school subject! Partner schools and businesses! Transfer authority from local school boards to the feds! (Just to begin a list.)

Read the full article here:

http://voices.washingtonpost.com/answer-sheet/guest-bloggers/primer-for-ed-reformers-or-its.html#more

Reform is no use any more!

8 Jun

There has been a lot of talk about reforming the education system for years. Holt talks about it in books 40 years ago! It’s an ongoing discussion. But it doesn’t work. You can’t patch up something that is broken beyond repair. Why do we expect radical improvements with such little effort or change? Why do we continue to accept such mediocre results from public schools?

Sir Ken Robinson, a visionary cultural leader, who led the British government’s 1998 advisory committee on creative and cultural education makes the case for a radical shift from standardized schools to personalized learning. Sir Ken Robinson talks about an educational REVOLUTION on this TED video. He compares the current public school system to fast food. Both are destructive to our health and welfare.

(Watch the video here if the above video doesn’t work)

I love how he talks about diversity of talent and how crucial this diversity of talent is to our world and our personal selves! Education that is tailored specifically to individual needs is the revolution we need!

I talked with a lady this weekend about her son. He just failed kindergarten and his teacher convinced them to put the poor boy on ritalin. The mom is so worried because he’s crying all the time for no reason. But she’s afraid he needs it so that he can do better in school! I’m not going to get into the dangers of these types of drugs. (I talk about it here.) Good grief! This teacher doesn’t care about the permanent harm these drugs will do to the child. Her main focus is classroom management – how to keep the classroom under her control.

These kinds of practices (one of many in the public schools) stifle creativity, destroy health and well being, and creates cookie cutter people instead of bright, shining, inspiring individuals.

Now, I know personally that unschooling works and fulfills this need. However many people can’t or won’t home school their kids. The philosophy and mandate of Pomegranate Gardens is centered on the individual student. But many people are not willing to take what they see as a gamble on their child’s future. They would rather stick with what they know, even though they know it doesn’t work.

“Everyday, everywhere, our children spread their dreams at our feet. And we should tread softly.”

I want to work with children

6 Apr

This is the mantra of many teachers and would be teachers (and, I’m sure, a whole host of other well-meaning adults seeking a profession full of meaning and purpose). It was even what I said and thought when I began my teaching career.

But I soon came to learn that this idea seemed a bit backwards. I often wondered at my sudden change in views on my teaching career. And now I understand why.

I just got done reading a passage in Teach Your Own by John Holt and had to rush to my computer to write it down and share it with you. It totally sums up what I have been puzzling over since I quit professional teaching.

The other day a young person wrote me saying, “I want to work with children.” Such letters come often. They make me want to say, “What you really mean is, you want to work on children. You want to do things to them, or for them–wonderful things, no doubt–which you think will help them. What’s more, you want to do these things whether the children want them done or not. What makes you think they need you so much? If you really want to work with children, then why not find some work worth doing, work you believe in for its own sake, and then find a way to make it possible for children–if they want to–to do that work with you.

The difference is cruical. The reason my work with the leaves and worms [he tells this story in the preceeding paragraphs] was interesting and exciting to those boys was precisely that it was my work, something I was doing for my good, not theirs.  It was not some sort of “project” that I had cooked up because I thought they might be interested in it. I wasn’t out there raking up leaves in the hope that some children might see me and want to join in. I never asked them to help, never even hinted; they insisted on helping me. All I did for them–which may be more than many adults might have done–was to say that if they really wanted that much to help me, then they could. Which is exactly the choice I would like to see the adult world offer to all children.

I really can’t say it better than that. It is exactly why unschooling works so well. It is exactly why, once we let our children “help” us, we realize they are much more competent and capable than we had ever given them credit. This is exactly why we should just do what we need to do in our lives and let our children be as involved in our daily activities as they want to be.

John Holt – A man WAY before his time

31 Mar

Not so new views on children, childhood, schools, and education.

I’ve been reading a slew of books written by John Holt. What I found most interesting was the dates these books were published. Every book so far has been published before the 80’s. Yet everything he writes about has virtually remained unchanged. The system is still not working for most people. Children are still being forced to submit to the wiles and whims of a system that doesn’t understand them (or rather, doesn’t care to understand them because they know better.)

“At first I did not question the compulsory nature of schooling. But by 1968 or so I had come to feel strongly that the kinds of changes I wanted to see in schools, above all in the ways teachers related to students, could not happen as long as schools were compulsory.

From many such experiences I began to see, in the early ’70s, slowly and reluctantly, but ever more surely, that the movement for school reform was mostly a fad and an illusion. Very few people, inside the schools or out, were willing to support or even tolerate giving more freedom, choice, and self-direction to children. Of the very few who were, most were doing so not because they believed that children really wanted and could be trusted to find out about the world, but because they thought that giving children some of the appearances of freedom (allowing them to wear old clothes, run around, shout, write on the wall, etc.) was a clever way of getting them to do what the school had wanted all along–to learn those school subjects, get into a good college, etc. Freedom was not a serious way of living and working, but only a trick, a “motivational device.” When it did not quickly bring the wanted results, the educators gave it up without a thought and without regret.” ~John Holt, Teach Your Own

As I am reading these books, my first thought is amazement that I never heard of this man while I was going through my teacher training. Then I stop myself and almost laugh at the ridiculousness of this thought. Why in the world would any education certification program discuss the writings, experiences, and research of a man who spent a lifetime working in the education system to find out that it was all irreparably broken? If we had talked about these writings while I was in college studying to be a teacher I would have never gone on with the program. As it was, I experienced almost everything he discussed and left public school education without a backward glance.

The system is broken.

I’m in the middle of Teach Your Own right now. It is basically a primer and an encouragement for taking that first leap into unschooling/home schooling. Right there in the introduction he tells the story of a woman at the beginning stages of trying to plan an alternative school for her children and her community. I am not kidding… it was like reading my story in a book written 50 years before my time! The story was exactly the same.

“She and a friend had decided that they couldn’t stand what the local schools were doing to children, and that the only thing to do was start their own. For many months they had been looking for parents, for space, for money, and had made almost no progress at all.”

That’s the story of Pomegranate Gardens! UNBELIEVABLE! And he gave her the advice that, luckily, my husband and I figured out all on our own… don’t got through the mess of trying to meet regulations,  find willing parents and students, and money, and buildings. It’s just not going to happen. Just teach them at home.

In a way it is sad though. The world needs a school like Pomegranate Gardens. And you know what… when the world is ready for it, I’ll be here ready to welcome them. But most people are not willing to gamble their child’s future like this. Even though they know deep down that the school system is failing, that their children are suffering, that the whole thing is just so broken and wrong. It doesn’t matter. Maybe they think their children need to be ready for the harsh realities of life. Maybe they think children need to suck it up and learn to do pointless and menial work, because that’s what life is. Maybe, I don’t know. But it seems to me to be a vicious and never-ending cycle of despair.

A lack of meaningful work

No, I’m not talking about your job. But maybe I am. Maybe if you had had an opportunity as a child to find what was important to you, you would be living a totally different life. Who knows. How different would our world be if we were all doing work we loved and felt was important?

When we are talking about schooling though, we often hear about the troublemakers. Those kids (and they are growing in number) who cause problems and angst in the classrooms for teachers and students. But these are not stupid kids. These are kids who find school to be meaningless and irksome. In one of his books, Holt talks about a group of kids in an after school program. The lady running the programs talks about how these three boys are the hardest working, strongest, most diligent, most reliable children of the group as long as they are given work that they can view as important. If they feel they are being shunted out of the way with simple busy work, then they revert to the troublesome bothersome boys that everyone expects them to be.

Holt quotes Dean Paul Roberts of Denver at the first graduation of the Colorado Rocky Mountain School (I’ve heard this quote attributed to JFK too, who knows, maybe JFK was quoting Roberts).

“To a group of students that included some very unhappy, mixed-up, and self-hating young people, he said: (1) accept yourself, (2) forget yourself, (3) find something to do and to care about that is more important to you than you are…. In telling the students to accept and then forget themselves Dean Roberts was saying something that they, preoccupied, obsessed as they were by how they looked to others, and usualy how bad they looked, had to take seriously. For he was one of the homeliest people any of us had ever seen…. Of course, to accept and forget oneself is not easy to do even when one tries, which is why the other part of his advice is so vital–to find something to do, to care about, to throw yourself into, that is more important than you are.” ~Escape from Childhood

I wanted to make a change – not be changed by the system.

If only schools really prepared us for this. Prepared us for a life full of meaning and satisfaction. This is not too much to ask for. Holt gave up on reforming the education system in the 70s. I became a teacher at the turn of the century hoping to change the world. Mentor teachers smiled condescendingly on me saying “I used to be idealistic too”. I lasted three years.

I watched “A Law Abiding Citizen” not too long ago which talks about the same thing, only with the justice system instead of the education system. Jamie Fox’s character is a lawyer and near the end of the movie he is talking about his career and his choices and says that he became a lawyer to change the system. But then as time went on he made one compromise, then another deal, and then another compromise, and before he knew what happened, instead of changing the system, the system had changed him.

But it’s never too late to stop that train. Make a change right now. I am home schooling my kids right now. It’s great. I don’t have to perpetuate the cycle anymore.

Is school lunch good for your kid?

16 Mar

Kids spend most of their day at school. They often eat both breakfast and lunch. My first year teaching I had to supervise the breakfast routine. I was totally appalled. Sitting on the desk at the front of the room was a cooler full of fruit DRINK (not juice, but an artificially flavored and sweetened drink) and a box of fruit rollups. The school was so proud of it’s breakfast program because they were helping to feed these poor kids who often had to come to school hungry because they came from families to poor to buy food.

I don’t know about you, but a fruit rollup and sugar drink doesn’t help me think through the day. I’ve talked before about the effects of diet on learning. But until we are ready to make some real changes we are going to continue to have obesity problems, behavior problems, health problems, and more.

I remember as a child my first year back in the country. My brother and I had our lunch boxes in hand (I had the metal Snoopy lunch box. How cool is that!) But we got to school and we were two out of a handful of kids who packed our own lunch. In the entire school! How embarrassing. We were like the lunch outcasts. We sooooo wanted to buy our lunches just like everyone else. We begged… and begged… to get to buy our lunch. But our parents couldn’t afford it.

Then the next year, our parents found out they qualified for the free lunch program. YES! We got our wish. We got to buy our lunch just like everyone else. There I was, a little girl, holding my tray waiting in line for this delectable mystery. It just had to be so good.

Boy, what a disappointment. I went home and BEGGED to be able to take my own lunch to school the next day. No luck. My parents didn’t budget for packing lunch because we were getting free lunch at school.

That was the last and only year we bought our school lunch. As I got older I started making my own lunch – and boy, were they good. I often had to make extra to share with my friends. They all had lunch envy.

Ann Cooper is known as the “Renegade Lunch Lady”. She is working out in Berkley, California and has implemented fresh, locally grown, and organic foods for the lunch program. And it is making a big difference.

Now, keep in mind that she is working within the system. She is working on changing how public schools feed children. That is why she  advocates for government spending and oversight in this arena. If you are going to depend on the government to educate and feed your child, you better make darn sure that they are doing it right.

My personal opinion is that the whole public school system should be scrapped. But that is not going to happen anytime in the near future – for many reasons. Be that as it may, public schools are a large part of most family’s lives. And as such, you, as a parent need to be aware of the costs (not just in dollars, but health, academics, and life) of school lunches.

Are schools making us stupid?

11 Mar

There are a lot of good teachers in the world. And most of them, like I did, got into teaching to help change the world, make lives better, and work with children.

The reality is so much different though. While some teachers are able to make some meaningful impact on the lives of their students, the scope is narrow and limited. Many teachers are restricted and restrained in what they can do in their classroom and for their students.

I’ve been reading Charlotte Iserbyt for a long time. I have seen what she talks about in her books and speeches first hand. She is part of the reason (other than first hand experience) I got out of public school teaching and started home schooling my children.

What she says is scary. If you choose to keep your children in public school you MUST be aware of the underlying and hidden agenda of the public school system.

Her book The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America is available for free online.

Charlotte Iserbyt served as Senior Policy Advisor in the Office of Educational Research and Improvement (OERI), U.S. Department of Education, during the first Reagan Administration. At that time, she blew the whistle on a major technology initiative which would control curriculum in America’s classrooms.