Monday, December 31, 2007

Democracy vs. the School Culture

"What is known as "free education" is the least free of all, for it is a state-owned institution; it is socialized education...and cannot be separated from political control." -- Frank Chodorov, Why Free Schools Are Not Free

Several years ago, a group of US teachers traveled to what was then the USSR to exchange information and ideas with their Russian counterparts. What the Soviet teachers most wanted from their guests was guidance on setting up and running democratic schools. Their questions were based on the assumption that a country like the US, so committed to the idea of democracy, surely must involve children in decision-making from their earliest years.

The irony is enough to make us wince, because in this country, students are rarely invited to become active participants in their own education. Schooling is about doing things to children, not working with them. An array of punishments and rewards is used to enforce compliance with an agenda that students rarely have any opportunity to influence.*

There is no democracy in the schools. The students are powerless. When (local superintendent) Forcella talks about a “moral culture” in the schools, isn’t he really talking about rules that the employees make for the students on which the students have no say? And when he talks about an “ethical culture,” isn’t he just putting high sounding terms on his own idea of control over the students. He is not about to give them the opportunity to influence their own social and educational environment? According to Armand Fusco, Ed D., the true culture of the schools is corruption and deceit. Will Forcella discuss that? Never.

The irony of those Soviet teachers is not lost. Today’s American public schools are dictatorial. They use coercion (punishments and rewards) to train students to be blindly obedient to adults and to become compliant predictable cogs in the nation’s economic wheel – not to be self-directing members of a democratic society.

Do we wonder why voter turnout is low? Look no further than the schools, where voting is virtually unknown. (Sure, there are sometimes "elections," but the "offices" are mere popularity contests, not meaningful positions) In fact, making decisions about anything is virtually unknown. The policies and rules come from above; not from the consensus of the governed. Public school is authoritarian, not just over the students, but also over the teachers, the parents, and, as much as possible, the entire community. Its goal is to subsume the individual. When Forcella says, of the teachers, “The group is better than any one,” he’s pushing Marxism. That's the opposite of democracy and, as such, it cannot be a training ground for self-determination, self-discipline and especially self-education.

What is the result of the total absence of democracy in the schools? The students learn to be apathetic and disengaged; resigned to their powerlessness, their lack of control over what they are doing. If any of them express joy at being in school, it is only to please their parents. They are doing time -- counting the minutes, or days, until it’s over. Alfie Kohn, author and lecturer writes, “They are compelled to follow someone else’s rules, study someone else’s curriculum, and submit continually to someone else’s evaluation. The mystery, really, is not that so many students are indifferent about what they are forced to do, but that any of them are not.”

Is there such a thing as a “Democratic School”? Yes. The first one opened in Massachusetts in 1968, the Sudbury Valley Democratic School. It is still going with a long waiting list, while many others have been cloned, two of which are in CT. How do they work? They are run – and I mean totally directed – by the students and staff -- all with equal say in executive decisions on hiring, salaries, tuition, programs, everything. The students also decide their own individual paths of study, or not study. There are no “requirements” other than normal civility. The staff is “on call” for the students. The students are not “on call” at all. Coercion is unknown.

Is such democracy compatible with schooling? By the Sudbury model, the answer is a convincing Yes. Last I heard, every graduate (except one) has been accepted at their college of first choice, and college recruiters are lined up at the gate. What is the benefit of democratic schooling? From the writings of grads, it seems to be that mutual respect and the deep trust in the children to determine their own paths of education has stood those children in good stead in the world beyond, while providing them with an abiding confidence in their knowledge of how to live and, of course, learn.

The Sudbury model is the only one I know of that is not Hell.

*from an article, Choices for Children, by Alfie Kohn, 1993

Ned Vare is an architectural designer, artist and author, a former private school teacher, rancher, businessman, elected official.

Friday, December 28, 2007

America’s Education Diet: Junk Food

The school wars pit parents who want their children to get decent schooling--at least the basics--against the public schools that refuse to offer what the public expects of them. For the past thirty years or more, parents have been losing badly.

Several organizations that observe the schools and their results on behalf of the public have been notifying us for years that our children are not being educated by the government schools. While such news might seem doubtful to some because they believe we run our own public schools, the sad fact is that we do not run them; they are run by strangers in far away offices and by the teachers unions. Those strangers--not any local school boards--are setting the agendas for public schools. As for parents, they have no say whatsoever.

Recently, the Center for Education Reform (CER) released a report titled, “The American Education Diet: Junk Food.” It begins, “It has been 23 years since the National Commission warned of a rising tide of mediocrity in American education. Since then, little has improved, leaving new generations at risk in an increasingly competitive society.” What follows are some of the sad details.

* Math and Science: “In 2003, America ranked 19th out of 29 nations,” adding, “The US has the poorest achievement outcomes per dollar spent on education. 62 percent of professors and 63 percent of employers say students lack basic math skills.” I asked a local high school science teacher what she teaches specifically. Her reply was, “I want all my students to know my life story.” Maybe that accounts for the poor showing in science content. In Math, CER researchers concluded, "The longer a student is in the US system, the lower his achievement compared to students in other countries.” This result is the fallout from a "fuzzy Math" corruculum.

* Reading: “American students’ reading achievement is steadily declining and the results are being felt both during and beyond the school years.” The report cites the Rand Corporation: “Our schools produce students who lack skills and are ill-prepared to deal with the demands of [college] and the workplace.” Public Agenda reports, “Seventy-three percent of students lack basic grammar and spelling skills and the ability to write clearly.”

Reading is key to most learning. The fact that public schools neglect to teach phonics – the key to reading ability – is the main reason why US students, even in the most affluent communities, are woefully inept in reading. They are simply not being taught the needed skills which come only with phonics.

* Writing: Stanley Fish, Dean at U. of IL, Chicago: “Students cannot write clean English sentences because they are not being taught what sentences are.”

* Language, History and Cultural Studies: “American schools graduate a large majority whose knowledge and vision stops at the American shoreline.” David McCullough, the famous writer of American history, recently lamented, “American students are for the most part historically illiterate.” Surveys show that history and civics is virtually unknown to American students. With test results showing proficiency levels generally in the twenty percent range, it is as though those things were not taught at all.

According to Education at a Glance, American teachers have the sixth highest salaries in the world, but their students have the sixth lowest achievement in the world. This implies deeply entrenched problems with the American system of education.” Studies show that neither more time-on-task nor more money seem to be turning out better educated students. The problems are not time or money, but quality.

* Grade Inflation: “2.4 million American students graduate from high school without necessary skills in the 3Rs.” That means about half of all graduates need remedial help during their first years in college. “Teachers’ low expectations for students result in inflated grades for work that is sub-par, leaving students woefully, and unknowingly, unprepared for life after high school.”

* Teachers: “A growing number of teachers are without qualifications in the subjects they teach. Despite the incompetence of many teachers, the union makes it nearly impossible to fire bad teachers.” If this is allowed to continue, the schools will continue to decline because more and more incompetent people will be teaching while competent teachers will quit in disgust.

CER concludes: “Public schools are cracking down on sugary drinks. Now it’s time for them to stop peddling a junk food curriculum.”

Ned Vare is a designer, author, former private school teacher, rancher, businessman, elected official.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Is Childhood a Disease?

"Ritalin! So much easier than parenting!" -- anon

The teachers union said: “Schools will become clinics whose purpose is to provide individualized, psycho-social treatment for the student, and teachers must become psycho-social therapists.” (NEA magazine, Education Today, Jan. 1969) Do you want your child to attend a psycho-social clinic for their schooling? Do you want your child’s teacher to be an amateur “psycho-social therapist”? Schools don't seem to care that such practice is against the law.

Is childhood a disease? The public school system and the psychiatry industry want us to think so. Does growing up produce mental illness? Yes, according to many in the psychology business -- especially those in the public schools -- growing up is definitely a disease that they--only they--must treat at taxpayers' expense. In fact, it is such a serious disease that they say it needs to be treated by--guess what--drugs. And those drugs just happen to be manufactured and sold by--guess who--the companies that pay kickbacks to the psychologist and psychiatrists who recommend them (you can look it up). Thus, the people who tell us that our children need to be drugged because they act like children have financial incentives to drug them.

Think about the words, “Learning Disabled,” that we hear so often. Suzanna Sheffer, author of Everyone Is Able, says, “Is that what we really mean to call so many children (around ten percent of the kids)? Is that how we hope they will think of themselves?” Or, is the term really a school alibi or convenient excuse for their own failures to teach? The so-called "symptoms" of "disabilities" are often the natural behaviors of healthy children.

There is a drug-pushing program that is making the rounds of public schools across the country. It's called "TeenScreen." It pretends to be a screening program that is trying to prevent teens from committing suicide. That's the scare tactic it uses to get its foot in the door of public funding. What this program really is looking for are all children who can remotely qualify as "at risk" or “disabled” or simply sad -- signs of maladjustment of any type that the promoters can use in order to recommend prescribing their drugs. An editorial in the Post-Standard of Syracuse, NY says: "Nine out of 10 children who go to see a psychiatrist leave with a psychiatric drug prescription."

"Ritalin -- It's so much easier than parenting!" says the tagline for a picture of a smiling happy family with Dad holding up a pill container. In this drug-crazed culture, have we given up on ourselves as parents or have the schools simply convinced us that they know better than we do? Statistically, the average parent is both smarter and better educated than the average public school teacher, especially administrators.

Then there’s the other problem: our country is becoming “A Nanny State.” We are under government surveillance and “care” from cradle to grave now. But is that making the country better? Quite the opposite: we are getting weaker, more dependent, less educated, dumbed down. The school system has extended our childhood in order to give too many unnecessary employees something to do. The schools have invented childhood disabilities in order to create “services” for them. Children are being over-diagnosed and drugs are being over-prescribed.

In sum, government has created a prolonged childhood for us in order to create an empire of “care” at taxpayers’ expense, while they call it “education.”
The biggest cause of psychological problems in today's children is simply attending a public school. The very routine of school -- its boredom, its dull classes, its coerciveness and stress, its dictatorial power, its blatant unfairness, bullying, etc.-- work against children's basic happiness and self-worth. As a result, far too many children qualify as “at risk” and “disabled.” It is not because they are those things, but it is because that is the way the schools want to see them.

Ned Vare is an architectural designer, artist and author. He is a former private school teacher, rancher, businessman, elected official.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Socialization Myth

“It is a rare child indeed who can come through his schooling with much left of his curiosity, his independence, or his sense of his own dignity, competence, and worth.”
– John Holt, The Underachieving School

Honk if you think any of the following are good ways to socialize: Sitting in boring classes with same-age, same-ability children for twelve years; pushing through crowded corridors to beat a buzzer; cheating; bullying; forming cliques; conforming to group pressures; doing busywork; long dangerous bus rides; hectic meals; being drugged for behavior; being diagnosed as "learning disabled" and put in Special rooms to be treated as patients instead of students.

More and more, these days, public schools are coming under criticism for the poor quality of their programs, their methods, and their employees. In response, the school folks do not try to defend their quality, but instead they often say, "But school is where children learn socialization." What do they mean by that?

The employees want the public to think of "socialization" as a version of "multi-culturalism" or racial tolerance. But when we look at what actually goes on in the schools, we notice frustration with petty rules, coercion, administrative secrecy, and retribution against anyone who dares to complain about the schools. We see massive failure on state and national tests, bloated "honor rolls" that include half to three-quarters of the students; grade inflation, social promotion; disrespect of parents. We see conformity, cheating, cliques and bullying, drugging of children, sales of junk food to students, poorly educated teachers, dishonesty and corruption. Are those the elements of "socialization" that we want our children to learn?

School employees try to convince us that children will be better adjusted to "society" as a result of attending their schools. Yet, how do they explain all the bullying and other violence there? How do they explain the suicide rate among children who attend, or the high dropout rate? After all, was socialization the reason for the government to establish the schools? If not, then why is that given as a big element of "education," especially when the original reason -- instruction in basic skills -- has been all but eliminated?

These days, when school employees promote "socialization," they avoid the subject of academic achievement. It is difficult for those employees to claim that children who attend their schools will become well educated there. Test scores reveal that American students are far below other industrial nations in basic skills and knowledge, and in CT, we find that academic standards for math and English are the worst in the country (see

To government, “socialization” means indoctrination to whatever beliefs, attitudes and opinions are deemed by officials as correct for the time being. Never in history has government wanted its citizens to become erudite people who will question its authority or power. Therefore, the purpose of public schools in America has always been to deliver a limited product of information and skills -- just enough to satisfy the Army and some businesses. It means turning out a uniform, docile workforce--obedient "human resources" who will be predictable voters and consumers.

In recent years, academic standards have been lowered to a point (in many states) of elimination, in favor of political correctness, group thinking and psychological conditioning. We hear the employees say, "We want the students to gain consensus on subjects." Thus, to the schools, socialization means group thinking. Unfortunately, the new low academic level results in more and more young people -- even high school graduates -- failing to pass the minimum testing to join the Army.

Has "socialization" replaced academic learning as the reason for supporting the public school system? To a great degree, it has. Transformational Education has infiltrated every public school, with its emphasis on changing children's freedom of attitudes and opinions to those approved by government. And what does the government want from its students? I believe that its employees and other boosters are using “socialization” as a new rationale for keeping so many children virtually imprisoned at public expense for so many years where they learn so little. End

Monday, December 24, 2007

Learned Helplessness

"Learned helplessness is a psychological condition in which a human or animal has learned to believe that it is helpless. It thinks that it has no control over its situation and that whatever it does is futile. As a result it will stay passive when the situation is unpleasant or harmful and damaging." -- Wikipedia

When we Americans throw up our hands and say things like, "I know it's wrong, but what can I do?" we are expressing the condition of learned helplessness. We know there are problems, but we have been conditioned to believe that others--officials or "authorities"--are handling them. The officials are all too willing, even eager, for us to believe that they are doing something about the problems when they are not, especially when they probably created the problems and are making things worse every day.

When and where did we come to our condition of learned helplessness? Think back. Our first day in school, we were told the rules: "Sit down and be quiet; if you don't, you will be punished; if you still don't you will be drugged." Those rules were in effect for the next twelve years, just long enough for a complete abrogation of our character, our individuality, our conscience, our self-confidence. Our parents even told us not to disobey school employees, no matter how inappropriate, stupid, or self-serving their commands were. The result is Learned Helplessness -- the inability to deal with our own situation. We have been trained to be controlled by others.

If we give away our liberties voluntarily, are we still a "free people"? Thomas Jefferson wrote: "If you trade your liberty for a little security, you lose both and deserve neither." After spending twelve years in school without liberty, but with the illusion of security, we become willing to submit to more and more reductions in our freedom.

We are also asked to tolerate more and more absurdity by local officials. A few examples: A "Mission Statement" (local Public School) that contains no mission; A Five-year School Plan" that has neither plan nor goals; School standards that have no stated aims or requirements; "Principles of Learning" that are not principles of anything. School employees continually tell us that what they do is "For the children," when in fact, the system is set up entirely for the benefit and convenience of those employees and their union.

We have been trained to throw up our hands in helplessness. Long ago, our government created its national school system in order to condition most of us to be followers instead of leaders; to be passive instead of active or creative; to be obedient instead of questioning; to be timid instead of confident and bold. It has worked perfectly for the government whose leaders are simply taking advantage of our learned condition of passivity and submission and obedience.

The school officials dare to call what they offer "Excellence," while it is easily seen as mediocrity with frequent bursts of absurdity. They dare to call their results, "Success," in the face of massive failure. They dare to demand more of our earnings every year without asking themselves for achievement. While keeping the public's mind on "planning for the future," they avoid telling us about the current failures. In these ways, school officials nurture our feelings of impotence, futility, frustration and yes, helplessness.

All the while, the school board--pretending to work for the public who elected them--nod and smile as the administrators trot out new diversions (the next "big plan"), the latest waste of time and money, all designed to let us know that we, the people, have no control over the government school system.

Ned Vare is an architectural designer and author, a former private school teacher, rancher, businessman, elected official.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Do Schools Use Homework for Social Control?

Isn't six hours of boredom plus a long bus ride enough school for one day? Isn't thirty hours plus six hours on a bus enough for a week, every week? When a child is required to do a lot more of the same uninteresting stuff every night as homework, I say it is required for reasons other than educational.

School systems have decided that homework is a good thing, regardless of its content, saying: "We are going to give children homework every day, and later on we'll figure out what to make them do." The prescribed amount depends on the grade, but it begins in kindergarten with ten minutes per night, and adds ten minutes for each grade until in high school kids are doing two or more hours per night. But is it worth the nagging, the family conflict and the exhaustion? I say No, there is no advantage.

Who makes such bad rules? Why do some parents demand it? Schools across America are doing this even though there is virtually no research that says there is a link between homework and achievement in the elementary schools, while there is evidence that homework can actually lower achievement. Alfie Kohn, longtime education activist writes: "No study has ever demonstrated an academic advantage for homework at the elementary school level," and at the high school level, "there is no proof that homework has ever led to higher scores." (from Kohn's book, "The Homework Myth: Why Our Kids Get Too Much of a Bad Thing.")

The usual argument says that homework "reinforces" what is taught during the day. Yet, in many instances, schools expect the parents to do much of the teaching, because the teachers are simply too busy with discipline, or checking homework or other details and do not have the time to actually teach the material. At worst, the teachers simply don't know the material themselves, and are leaning on the parents for help.

Kohn: "Homework isn't merely pointless, it actually undermines children's interest in learning." He adds, "The homework that is being sent home is no better than kids watching TV." At least with TV, they get to learn something new.

"What is behind the schools' push for homework? Social control. Homework keeps the entire family focused on school. It acts to sell school--an artificial life--while undermining a robust family life or a child's own real interests. Thus, homework has a political element, seeking to monopolize the time of families and, of course, the children, even in their homes. Let's stop believing that homework involves learning. It is busywork whose goal is to occupy your child's time, denying them real lives. Parents need to encourage children to find their own ways of spending their time away from school. Let them find hobbies and creative pursuits instead of the drudgery of worksheets of math problems or diagramming sentences or other time-wasting. Kids need a real life, not a synthetic one.

The families might ask the school board to eliminate homework just one day each week - say Wednesdays -- so that children and families can use those evenings for activities apart from school concerns.

Schools often mention that they are preparing children for what they call, a "global competition." And yet, Kohn says that there's a movement in Japan to eliminate homework for elementary grades because it makes them unnecessarily competitive.

Bottom line: The effect of homework is that kids are turned off learning. Homework should be assigned, if at all, on the basis of the importance of the work, not because someone has decided to keep kids busy on worksheets when they might otherwise have real lives. Homework for the sake of keeping kids busy during their home time is a bad idea. Kohn says: "There is no basis in fact for the view that homework is necessary or desirable." Let those who set the homework policy provide research that backs their views. Otherwise, let homework be optional.

Ned Vare is an architectural designer and author; former private school teacher, businessman, and elected official.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Crimes of Obedience

“The only persons who seem to have nothing to do with the education of the children are the parents.” - G. K. Chesterton

How much pain and suffering would you inflict on a fellow innocent citizen if someone in authority told you to do it? The answer was found by experiments at Yale starting in 1959, as reported in the Jan.'07 Yale Alumni Magazine. It turned out that almost anyone can be manipulated so that s/he will do virtually anything that someone tells them to do, including doing great harm to other innocent people. Such actions are called “Crimes of Obedience.”

The experiments showed how the government of Germany was able to use thousands of its normal citizens during the holocaust to systematically murder millions of other citizens. A psychology professor, Stanley Milgram, advertised for volunteers who acted as "teachers" in a "test of memory." He then used a confederate to act as a "learner." Whenever the "learner" (sitting in a separate room with arms strapped to an “electrode”) gave a wrong answer in a word-association test, the "teacher" administered a shock by pressing a lever on a control board. With each mistake, the shock intensity increased. Hearing the learner’s cries of increasing agony, most “teachers,” with the right urging, would continue to deliver shocks right up to the maximum shock level of "Extreme Danger." Unknown to the volunteers, no actual electric shocks were given.

Over the years, thousands of people have volunteered for the experiment in several countries. Sixty-five percent of the volunteers put their “pupils” to the pain limit of 450 volts. Whenever these "teachers" were told that they were not responsible for anything that happens to the "learner," or if they believed they were part of a "teaching team," the compliance rate rose to ninety percent going to the shock limit.

In essence, the finding is that blind obedience is amazingly common, even easy to get from most of us. It is characterized by the excuse made famous by Adolph Eichmann who arranged for the murder of millions of Jews, "I was only following orders."

The Yale article continues: "From all the evidence we could muster, torturers are not unusual or deviant in any way. Their brief training included being told the simple lie that they were helping research about memory; thus, their minds were carefully prepared to do what is ordinarily unthinkable. Normal men and women become transformed into true believers, capable of sacrificing others for the sake of ideologies." The article concludes: "The most dramatic instances of "mind control" are the systematic manipulation of human nature over time in confining settings." (emphasis mine)

How does this discovery relate to government school? Its teachers are trained to believe they are “change agents on an important mission” and that they are part of a “teaching team” just as we see in middle schools today. Instead of requiring teachers to have high levels of academic knowledge, they are required primarily to obey their superiors and to be familiar with methods of control, using punishments and rewards. Further research shows that the government’s goal has never been education, but training to turn out soldiers, factory workers and predictable consumers.

The psychology industry has taken over public schooling. How do we know that? Its members have found employment there in large numbers; its theories, practices and influence are felt in the words and actions of school spokespeople and even the teachers. The schools have been transformed from a source of learning to a system of manipulating human nature over time in confining spaces.

A century ago, psychology had little credibility and public schools had difficulty convincing the public that they were good places for learning. When the schoolers joined the psychs, their partnership has given both parties the sense of validity and even power that they craved. Schools use psychological methods to manipulate students and the public, while psychs gain stature from being employed by the government school establishment. But has public education improved? No. In fact, it has seen a constant slide in quality from its inception because its focus has always been obedience training, not academic learning.

Ned Vare

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

School Security: Jumbo Shrimp

“If I had to choose, I’d rather the state feed and clothe my children than let it educate them.” -- Iowa grain dealer, Max Belz

“School security” is an oxymoron. Despite what school officials might say, no one is safe in public schools. I’m not talking about mad shooters. The primary attack on children comes from within the schools, not from outside, and it is constant. It comes from the staff, the boring classes, the academic mediocrity, the distrust, the coercion, the bullying, the unfair rules and restrictions. Together, those create the culture, the climate of frustration and anger. In turn, that causes some people to commit the violence -- often extreme. Public school makes everyone its victim.

Consider the following:
1. Violence is an ever-present possibility. Bullying is a natural result when humans are trapped against their wills. Anyone serious about doing harm cannot not be stopped. Also, the more schools become armed fortresses, the less educational they are.

2. Civil rights? In public schools, there are none, either for children or their parents. Federal District Judge Melinda Harmon ruled, “When you drop your kids off at Public School, you lose your civil rights.”

3. Freedom from coercion? Are you kidding? Coercion is the bread and butter of government school. We hear from the employees that schools are “democratic,” and yet any teacher or parent will tell you from experience that the schools are petty and dictatorial.

4. Freedom from verbal assault? Sorry. Taunting and harassment are part of public school's pecking order -- the result of forcing people together into ugly impersonal institutions.

5. Academic security? Ha! Only about thirty percent of this year’s sophomores in Guilford (my town--an affluent suburb) are even at grade level according to state standardized tests (CAPT). There are no goals or academic standards whatsoever. The basic skills are virtually ignored. Dumbing down appears to be the guiding principle.

6. Emotional safety? Students are at the mercy of psychological conditioning and peer-group therapy. The curriculum is designed as a feel-good exercise, not a learning path. The children know they are being cheated. Many parents realize that they are being conned.

7. Drug-Free Zone? The schools recommend Ritalin and other mind-altering drugs to kids who are anxious, stressed and bored. Who would call that a safe practice? The drug companies are on an aggressive program to “diagnose” children’s “disabilities” in order to sell their wares on a national scale. If the schools will drug our children for behavior, what won’t they do to them?

8. Integrity? Honor? Virtue? No chance. The system’s culture is corrupt, dishonest and self-serving. The employees constantly seek “respect” and yet, they are the ones who do not respect either the children or their parents. They are the ones who start the school wars, by violating the wishes of parents for their children.
9. Financial responsibility? Not a chance. Management by crisis is the norm. Waste is the rule. The system uses every trick to take more money from taxpayers in order to enlarge itself. For example, smaller classes means more hiring and a bigger union, not better instruction.

10. Local control? There’s no such thing. Public school is a state and federal system. The local school board and the administrators are puppets of the teachers’ union and the state bureaucracy. There is no autonomy. There is no accountability.

There is no safety of any kind in public schools. In fact, what permeates the schools is insecurity and fear. The problem is government control. The solution is local control, possibly by establishing a "charter district." That would at least eliminate the teacher union and burdensome state mandates. Let anyone apply who can, teach. Let teachers and parents control what goes on and most of the corruption would end. The ideal, of course, is private schools and/or homeschooling.

Where there’s no force, there’s no resistance. Where there’s no coercion, there’s no rage, and contentment increases. Happy, free and responsible people don’t harm each other. end

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Homeschool Set

"If we continue to accept the status quo and act as if nothing is wrong, the effects on our country's economy and culture will be felt for decades." -- Jeanne Allen, president, Center for Education Reform

As the public schools get worse and more expensive, homeschooling is growing. Is there a connection? Of course, because homeschooling offers superior education without the negatives. Parents now realize the fundamental differences between homeschooling and government schooling.

First comes responsibility. The government system is a top-down pyramid of control--a bureaucratic state-run monopoly. While many parents assume that the state is educating the children, the government is actually required only "to offer educational opportunity," but is not responsible for the results, and the results are atrocious, and the trends are downward. In homeschooling, however, parents assume direct responsibility for their children's education. That is significant because the parents know, and pay close attention to, how their child is doing, while the government seldom checks on its quality and never is accountable.

Does the school board in your town know what is being taught? Does the board know what the test scores actually mean? In my town, both answers are no. At one school board meeting I asked if any member had read or examined any of the textbooks in use. Not one of them answered yes.

Who is actually in charge? In public schooling, it is hard to tell because the enterprise is a large political game, run by politicians, unions and bureaucrats. In many ways it is run by the teachers unions for their own benefit. While politicians try to appear concerned for children, and bureaucrats seek to justify their own employment, the unions make the rules governing most activities and costs. Remember, the teacher union has one goal at all times: more money for less work. Thus, public school is a joint effort of self-serving, often conflicting interests. Parents have no control, even though they are required to pay for it.

Another basic difference: homeschooling is piece work; but the public school system is mass-production. "One-size-fits-all" describes the system well. Even though employees claim that some children receive individual and "special" programs, the basic philosophy of the system is to produce uniformity. The government wants a docile, predictable, obedient "workforce" that it can plug into its military and industrial complex. Why else would they use "standardized" tests but to turn out standardized people?

Mass schooling, then, produces a result far different from the individual training and tutoring available in homeschooling. The state’s goal is uniformity and dependency, while the goal of homeschooling is uniqueness and independence. One is obedience-training; the other is for character-building. One is for group thinking; the other is for creativity and decision-making. One trains to "Do what you're told to do;" the other is for "I'll make my own decisions."

Public schooling is a job for children – a job that is becoming more and more like their parents' 9-5 jobs. Unions seek to increase the school day and year and enlarge the schools' payrolls and union membership. However, homeschooling is a life -- an extension of family and community life with which education is combined. Public school separates children from the rest of society in a segregated and artificial environment, while homeschooling integrates children into the society, giving them direct experience with the real world.

Public schooling serves the government's economic and political interests. It follows political mandates with the goal of turning out soldiers and employees to serve industry and business. Homeschooling serves children's need to become educated, informed, contributing members of society. Public school is a government jobs program for adults, also serving the needs of big labor and the state economy. In contrast, homeschooling is parental sacrifice, dedication, responsibility and love, serving the needs of the family along with the children.

Public schools are agencies of government, offering instruction but taking no responsibility for any children's learning. Homeschooling is a practice by parents who take direct responsibility for the education of their own children, as CT state law requires.

One is a huge growing public expense without accountability; the other is almost without cost, but is directly accountable and responsible. One has a socialist ideology -- coercion and authoritarianism -- while the other is an expression of individual freedom. By all honest measurements, the schools are failing our kids, while homeschooling is succeeding.

Ned Vare is a Yale graduate, an architectural designer and author; a former private school teacher, rancher, businessman, elected official.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Connecticut's School Massacre

"Unthinking respect for authority is the greatest enemy of truth." -- Albert Einstein

Is it just a matter of time before CT has a school massacre? The event seems inevitable because the conditions exist. CT has the worst education standards of all the states according to the Fordham Institute (; the highest individual drug use of all states according to the Hartford Courant (4/25/07); arguably the worst city schools in the country according to testing by the State Dept of Ed.; a huge learning gap between poor and rich; etc. Thus, the stage is set for a rage-driven calamity.

Some people blame "evil." Others blame the social maladjustment of the shooters, or the availability of guns in our society, or movie violence, etc. Nobody blames the schools, yet schools are where the killings have been happening. Is that mere coincidence? I think not.

Children have always disliked school, but today's public school environment is far more oppressive than in the past. Far from the "melting pot" of a diverse society, the schools are dangerous and cliquish places, where the culture is coercive, dishonest and corrupt, in addition to failing as an educational enterprise. Petty rules are enforced by petty officials; administrators are preoccupied with "security" as police roam the halls.

Public schools are unionized workplaces arranged for the benefit and convenience of the employees, not for the children or community. Prison-like buildings; bleak corridors, and ugly classrooms tell us our children are merely being warehoused. Add frequent buzzers and loudspeakers' barking and we get the picture of indoctrination and psychological conditioning to a life of compliance and servitude. Add drugging, tedious bus rides and impersonal bureaucracy and you have a package that is wholly anti-child and even anti-education, all at a high cost to every taxpayer.

According to his book, School Corruption, Armand Fusco, a former superintendent, public school is "a culture of dishonesty and corruption." Considering such things as "honor roll" bloat, grade inflation, social promotion, we see a pervasive tendency to defraud the public. Teacher "certification" and school "accreditation" can easily be viewed as scams. In their public statements, administrators spin their jobs as more important and meaningful than they are, always promoting "future successes" while ignoring current failures.

Students are distrusted, their parents are ridiculed; the public is lied to; teachers are mis-educated and ill-trained; the atmosphere is stressful and competitive where only a few can succeed. Children are convinced at an early age that their interests are not important and that they are not capable of deciding their own course of study or evaluating their own work. According to John Taylor Gatto, teacher of the year in NY State and NYC, the purpose of the public schools is dumbing down - turning intelligent children into obedient predictable adults.

In these conditions, most children get the message that they will never realize their full potential. Add the fact that the government seeks to replace the family by becoming the students' surrogate parent, and what's left is an absence of real love and caring for the children and their lives. The government uses its schools for its own purposes -- to turn out a workforce of what it calls "economic units" or "human resources" instead of well-adjusted, secure individuals. And that is the opposite of our own desires for them.

What can parents do? Parents need first to recognize their position of helplessness against the schools. They have no chance of "reforming" the system. Therefore, they must take more responsibility for their children's lives than at present. That includes their education, especially since CT State law says that parents are responsible for that, whether or not they send them to school.

What can be done to prevent the CT school disaster? Should we profile all the students, as some suggest, looking for possible future shooters. Even if we did, it turns out that the profile would fit ninety percent of all students. Yes, it turns out that, if subjected to what schools do to kids, most ordinary people would react with violence. Or should the schools themselves -- with their controlling arrogance, their unreported bullying, their deceptions and secrecy, etc. -- be profiled in search of the most likely place to have mayhem break out?

Ned Vare is an architectural designer, former private school teacher and elected official. He is co-author (with his wife, Luz Shosie) of the book, Smarting Us Up. For your copy, see sidebar

Friday, December 14, 2007

"Public" School Is Government School

"Political language is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable, and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind." -- George Orwell

The school board is a political body. Therefore, we must not be surprised to hear political language from its elected members. We also need to keep in mind the fact that, even though we elect them, the local board does not represent local residents; it is, by law, an agent of the state. Nevertheless, as long as board members pretend to work for us, we should expect them at least to talk about education once in a while.

Is it OK for the school board to twiddle its collective thumbs, or should it have an agenda for action? Is “good schooling” really the objective of any of our school board members? Surely, after they all campaigned for “improvements,” we should be hearing a few ideas about what that means, but we don’t.

Before a board member can present an idea about how to improve the schools, s/he would have to admit that something is wrong. That is always difficult for school board members, because they do not like to be associated with anything tainted. Remember, their positions are political. They never get around to dealing with the failure that exists.

The system ignores the wishes of parents. In fact, the employees often reject ideas by parents who take an interest in the school operations. The administrators seem to resent any real involvement by parents in decision-making or policy discussions. Thus, when they say they want parent involvement, aren’t they simply lying? Through doubletalk and outright lies, the school boards marginalize parents. They listen only to administrators, and thus work exclusively for their employees.

I suggest that the board use its meetings more constructively than it does. Instead of wasting them on trivial details, they should invite guests (not school employees) to speak on the important educational issues. The meetings could then proceed with discussions about those issues, such as the following:

* Which should the schools teach: knowledge and factual information or feelings and opinion-shaping?
* Should students learn fuzzy math (math appreciation) or real math – you know, facts?
* Should children learn to guess at words (Whole Language) or should they learn how to read words accurately with Phonics?
* Are science, history, spelling, geography taught to all, or just some.
* Why is special ed so huge?
* Should the teachers offer information, or do we merely want employees to be “facilitators” who hope that our children “share” with each other what little they know?
* Why are honor rolls bloated while test scores are poor?
* Who is guarding against corruption?
* Why are there no Gifted and Talented classes?
* Health comes from nutrition and exercise, but my town's schools sell junk-food-for-profit and continue to reduce recess – Why?

If public schooling has truly become therapy (feelings), as many experts are saying, then surely the system’s doors should be closed. The schools offer low quality instruction, parents are conned and the children are cheated. Some board members talk about education as a “village” responsibility. They're wrong; schooling is the schools' job.

Ned Vare is a Yale graduate, an architectural designer, artist and author, a former private school teacher, rancher, businessman, elected official.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Schools Seem Eager to Drug Your Kids

Here is part of a petition that is being circulated these days:
"To: School Board Members and State and Federal Legislators

"Whereas children as young as 9, who previously had not thought of the concept of suicide, are being asked invasive and leading questions by TeenScreen such as: Have you tried to kill yourself in the last year? Are you still thinking of killing yourself? Have you thought seriously about killing yourself? Have you often thought about killing yourself? Have you ever tried to kill yourself?" and kids are being lured into doing the suicide survey by TeenScreen's offers of free movie passes, food coupons, pizza parties and $50 mall gift certificates;"

What’s going on here? TeenScreen is a state-sanctioned program with an advisory board that has major pharmaceutical company ties, that is infiltrating the public schools of America in a blatant attempt to get the schools to shill for them with the ultimate goal of placing as many kids as possible – millions – on their drugs. It is as simple as that.

So why not just forbid this practice? Well, it’s not that easy, because some believe that the public schools have become adjuncts of the drug industry; they have ties between them and big money is at stake. The more kids they can put on drugs, the more money can be made from selling the drugs, the more people can be employed by the schools, the more, the more.

Here’s more of the petition: " Whereas TeenScreen is based on the controversial and unscientific Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, written by psychiatrists with financial ties to drug companies, and children screened by TeenScreen are not given valid medical testing such as brain scans, blood test, urine tests, X-Rays or any other valid medical tests to detect evidence of any possible physical abnormality that may be contributing to certain behavior;

"Whereas, according to TeenScreen psychiatrist David Shaffer, "TeenScreen does identify a whole bunch of kids who aren't really suicidal, so you get a lot of false-positives. And that means if you’re running a large program at a school, you’re going to cripple the program because you’re going to have too many kids you have to do something about;

"Whereas TeenScreen has screened children across the nation without written parental consent in violation of federal law and state laws and has screened children across the nation without fully informed consent and did not warn parents that after taking the TeenScreen suicide survey, certain children have been and will be labeled with false mental disorders, based upon the unscientific DSM and the "chemical imbalance of the brain" theory, which relies solely upon observation and for which no scientific or medical test exists;

"Whereas an epidemic already exists with children using psychiatric drugs and will further skyrocket if children are referred to psychiatrists after screening. According to a survey of recently trained child psychiatrists it was found that treatment for 9 out of 10 children consisted of prescription drugs. (Journal of the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry 2002);

"Whereas TeenScreen's leaders and advisory board members have ties to pharmaceutical companies and front groups for pharmaceutical companies;

"Whereas antipsychotic drugs are not approved by the Food and Drug Administration for children; the FDA's "black box warning" states antidepressants increase the risk of suicidal thinking and behavior in children and adolescents with psychiatric disorders; and drug safety experts have recommended additional "black box" warnings be placed on ADHD drugs: for the increased risk of stroke and heart attack;

"Whereas TeenScreen only partners with and seeks to immediately refer students to "mental illness" practitioners and does not refer students to medical disciplines that could test for underlying health problems such as allergies, nutrition, toxicities and physical illnesses;

"Whereas child suicides are very rare and have been on a decline for years; and TeenScreen is very secretive about their suicide survey and refuses to allow parents to obtain a copy and is also very secretive about which schools they've convinced to use their suicide survey." For the petition, go to:

Know your rights: be sure you are informed and that the schools have your consent to do any psychiatric testing of your child.

Ned Vare is an architectural designer and author; former private school teacher, businessman, and elected official.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

"Overcrowding!" The Cry of Public Schools

First, we have the words of Armand Fusco, the former public school superintendent in two districts (MA and CT): "Public school is a culture of dishonesty and corruption." (see his book, "School Corruption, betrayal of children and the public trust," available at Amazon)

Next, we learn how schools determine space "needs" for students. These are devised by architects whose fees are based on the cost of projects built. The cost combines the amount of floor space and how luxurious (expensive) it is. Thus, the architects have incentives to design buildings that are larger and more expensive than are actually required. Certain architectural firms specialize in this practice. Often, no choice of architects is offered to the public. Also, contracts are sometimes let without a competitive bidding process.

Another factor is the "state space guidelines" for school construction. These are flexible, and depend on how much money the architects believe the particular town can afford for a new school building or addition. It often results in extravagant buildings with overly large classrooms, extra amenities, and lavish office spaces for employees, with expensive construction throughout. Waste is often the rule, we can be sure...hey, it's a government contract, paid for by taxes. We all are forced to pay the price.

Then come the teacher unions that bargain every year for more money and less work for their members. In my town, Guilford, CT, they have reduced the teaching requirements for teachers down to five periods out of an eight period school day. During the other three periods, the teachers claim "ownership" of their classrooms, keeping them for their own use, but empty of students. This results in about one third of all classrooms being empty of students for any given class period -- an outrageous waste of space.

That was the case in Guilford four years ago. "Overcrowding was claimed for the Adams Middle School with 37 classrooms. However, a "class loading schedule" revealed that over the course of each day, an average of twelve classrooms were unoccupied (except for an occasional teacher) during every class period. Thus, there was room for an additional 240 students in the building at any given time. Instead of overcrowding, there was an excess of classroom space, but inefficient use of the building. Amazingly, the "authorities" bought the teachers' stories, and spent $600,000 for six "temporary" classrooms to be built in the parking lot.

Class size enters into this equation, too. Smaller classes (thanks to union bargaining) means more teachers (union members) and less work for each one. It also means more classrooms -- all with extra square footage allowances -- for the same number of students.

If your district is making claims of "overcrowded schools," it might be wise to check up on how they make that claim.

Ned Vare is an architectural designer, author and artist. He was formerly a private school teacher, antique dealer, golf professional, elected official, rancher, and ski instructor.

What Children Learn in School

“If the old saying is true, that what one generation learns in school is the philosophy of the next, then the philosophy of the next generation will be totalitarianism.” -- John Whitehead, Rutherford Institute (2006)

Let's assume that Mr. Whitehead is right, then let’s see what our kids’ generation is learning in school.

From children’s first days in school, they are told, “Sit down, shut up, be still -- if you don’t, you'll be punished; if you still don’t, you'll be drugged.” What do the children learn from that? That they are not trusted, that their desires, interests and needs are not important; that they must obey authority blindly; that they belong to the state.

Public school’s first goal is to separate children emotionally from their parents. Therefore, the training is for obedience to arbitrary rules and dependency on others, including institutions. The goal, we learn, is to turn “human resources” (our children) into soldiers, factory workers and clerks.

Goal #2 is teaching that the group is more important than the individual. The training is for consensus (group-thinking), not individual decision-making. Public schools operate on a socialist philosophy, taxing everyone to benefit the few, with no one paying directly for the services. Traditional values of right and wrong are discredited; ethics is considered flexible; religion is out; parents are deemed old-fashioned and are not respected by the school.

Next, we discover that the schools are not good places for learning. Children hear that reading is good, but they don’t learn how; they are taught to appreciate math, but are not given the tools of calculating. They learn that guessing is better than knowledge, and yet without knowing the basic skills of reading and math, children will always have difficulty learning. School, then, is for therapy, not for knowledge. Its employees believe they are not responsible for anyone’s learning. “Besides,” they say, “teaching basic skills is boring for us teachers.”

Most public schools have eliminated recess with the excuse that it reduces class time. They disregard all the research showing that free play is extremely important to a child’s physical, mental and social development. Without recess, the child has less opportunity to interact with peers, and comes to believe that his/her life must be programmed by others. The children learn not to trust themselves or each other and that they do not control their own lives.

Kids learn that if you’re gifted, public school does not offer you appropriate instruction, but if you’re slow or disinterested you get lots of attention and the system spends lavishly on you. Kids learn that if they’re bored or confused, no one will help them. They learn that their strengths are ignored while the schools look for their weaknesses. The philosophy behind this is that the government doesn’t want winners or losers, it wants mass mediocrity and conformity. In this way, the schools are working perfectly.

Children often realize, when school finally ends, that they learned little there. If they wonder what the school was for, they’ll find three main purposes: Custody (babysitting), Labeling (“meat stamping” -- a sorting mechanism), and Conditioning (life-training to accept the low roles that government selects for them).

John Whitehead puts it this way: “The horrific lesson being taught to our young people -- by the very school officials we have entrusted to shape them into tomorrow’s leaders -- is that the government has absolute power over its citizens.”

Thus, government uses its schools to control the public and its money, and to employ large numbers of semi-educated people. It fails in its stated goal (education), but its true purpose is to turn out a largely predictable workforce that will serve “the economy.”

Ned Vare is an architectural designer, artist and author; a former private school teacher, rancher, businessman, elected official. He lives in Guilford, CT.

Technorati Tags: , , , , .

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

The "Disability" Racket

subtitle: How schools cash in on false diagnoses and a bounty system.

"Thousands of children are suffering from being placed in LD classes, and the labeling of children at an early age becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The children learn to see themselves as disabled in some way and they act out the part." - Terry Endsley, The Myth of Learning Disabilities

I have several blind spots. I had them in school and still have them. For example: Algebra, Latin, History, Chemistry, Physics, Literature, and others. In some cases, it was the teachers who made the information seem uninteresting. My response was to create minor disturbances like fidgeting in my seat or throwing spitballs. In others, I simply did not seem intellectually suited to the subject. I was bored and not learning anything except how to avoid doing the work, and that was most of the time.

Today, a child's disinterest in school subjects is viewed by the schools as a "disability" --a kind of disease. And, sure enough, the schoolers have all sorts of ways to "prove" that a child has a disability -- even a brain disorder -- when s/he is merely bored or unhappy or simply rebellious at being cooped up in an ugly classroom. Parents who are not well informed can easily be frightened by the "diagnoses" that come from teachers and school psychologists nowadays. They are often intimidated by the school "experts" who claim that their child is "learning disabled" or "mentally disordered," when no such problem exists. Many children are labeled and stigmatized for life by "diagnoses" that are often wrongly made in order to benefit only the school, not the children.

Yet, this is the way the schools can place blame on the child and avoid being criticized for creating the boredom or for hiring dull teachers or employing failed methods. It's how they take the focus off the school's programs and place it upon the child's alleged "disability." How convenient for the schools. It provides the excuse to never examine themselves or their own activities to see if those might be causing the symptoms of unhappiness (boredom, stress, fear) and rebellion among the children.

Making matters worse is an incentive for the schools to make such a huge mistake. It's called the "Bounty System." For every child who is "diagnosed" with a so-called Learning Disorder, there is a large cash reward from the state. Thus, every diagnosis of a disability means more money for the school employees. Therefore, it is no wonder that the schoolers have invented a multitude of "diagnoses" that enable them to collect the bounty.

The second stage of this racket is that the children are then placed in "special" classes that pretend to help the children with their false diagnoses of disabilities. It's no surprise that along with the many spurious diagnoses has come a huge increase in school employment in this new area. It has been major cause of higher school budgets, but it has little, if any, success to show. After all, if there is no actual disease, there is no cure. The entire business is guesswork.

It's an example of the schools' finding ways to use the children for the benefit of the employees or building a larger payroll instead of benefiting the children. The schools never look to their own instruction methods or programs for the source of children's problems. Why? Because then they would have to admit that they use bad methods of instruction and would need to change, but mostly it is because there is no financial incentive. The bounty system only pays for diagnoses of children's disabilities (whether real or not). It doesn't pay for finding fault in the schools themselves or for finding students' strengths.

Schools have been turned into psychological clinics where amateur headshrinkers roam the halls in search of children they might be able to garner as "clients" for their dubious "therapies." For school teachers to play the role of amateur psychologist is against the law. Besides, education is a separate field from therapy. School students should never be treated as "patients," and yet, that's what the disability racket is all about.

If a school has diagnosed your child as "disabled," be sure to get a second opinion from an independent source because chances are good that the school wants to use your child to gain a financial bounty while increasing its payroll at taxpayers' expense.

Ned Vare is an architectural designer, former private school teacher and elected official. He is co-author (with his wife, Luz Shosie) of the book, Smarting Us Up (see sidebar)

Technorati Tags: , , , , .

Monday, December 10, 2007

Why Parents Have No Power Over the Public Schools

“What seems undeniable is that there is a substantial contrast between the vision of what public education is supposed to be and the reality of schooling itself.”
-- Bruce Goldberg, Why Schools Fail

Some parents assume that the school system is educating children in the basic skills of reading, writing and calculating, but today’s schools are failing to provide that basic instruction. Not only are the skills neglected, but they are obscured by poor teaching methods and inadequately trained teachers. In fact, many call the schools an educational disservice.

Because of the schools’ poor quality, private businesses now remediate children whose schools have failed them. Even more telling, some of those businesses are designed to deal with the psychological problems that children acquire as a result of attending those public schools.

Many people wonder why their children spend so much time where they learn so little of what they need and want to know. Even worse, they wonder why the children are having so many psychological problems. While the schools blame the children, the parents, TV, and society, they never blame themselves. Yet, we now realize that the educational malpractice and the children’s problems come from the same place: the schools.

While parents have the ultimate responsibility for their children’s learning, when they send them to the government schools, a strange phenomenon occurs. The schools do not allow the parents to assume their responsibilities for determining what that learning will include. Administrators repeat their mantra, “Trust us, we’re professionals.” However, today, the public is learning that those employees are not always what they claim to be and the schools are not doing what parents want them to do, but in many cases, exactly the opposite.

What we discover is that the schools are no longer controlled by the communities they claim to serve. Even though the school establishment tells the public that local control exists, the fact is that local school boards are directed by the state, under the control of bureaucrats and politicians. Not only is there no local control, but with new federal laws such as NCLB, even state control is losing ground to the feds.

The results are parent frustration, school board impotence, children being denied their proper skills, political indoctrination, and many more ills. Today, school employees create pretenses and excuses for what some call a culture of corruption and deception . It has become the job of superintendents to hide the many ulterior motives and agendas the government has for its schools, while pretending that its purpose is what parents want – even though it is not. The contrast between what parents want and what schools offer is clear and the gap is large, and every day parents are losing their power to change it.

The superintendent’s job has become spokesperson for the government, often in opposition to the community. Today’s superintendent stands between the parents and the education establishment while also being puppet master of the school board. He/she is ready with a mountain of statistics and a blizzard of spin and nonsense to defend what amounts to fraud, mismanagement and corruption. The message to the parents is that they and their children are helpless pawns in the government game called public school.

We cannot control what we do not own.

Ned Vare is a Yale graduate, an architectural designer, former school teacher, businessman and author. He was the Libertarian Party's candidate for Governor of CT in '98. More articles appear at

Technorati Tags: , , , , .

Sunday, December 9, 2007

The "Real World"

Schoolers (people employed in government schools) like to think of their school as "the real world." However, it is anything but real. It is artificial and synthetic; it is unnatural and contrived in every way. In fact, it is separated (segregated) from the real world. It is coercive, petty, rule-infested, and forced. It is dictatorial, dishonest, and fear-driven. In his book, "School Corruption, the betrayal of children and the public trust," Armand Fusco, Ed. D., writes, "Public school is a culture of dishonesty and corruption."

Many adults who have been through several years of public school admit that they did not get a good education there. Would they go back and try again? Hell no. Why not? Because what they often remember best is that they hated being there. Their only enjoyment was that they had made friends with other children there. They were bored by most of the classes; they disliked many of the teachers; they were bullied by other students; there were no breaks in the stress (no recess).

In addition, they know that it is still a place that is not suited to learning. It is suited only to teaching, which is definitely not the same as learning, just as prisons are suited to warehousing people, but not to rehabilitating them. Indeed, just because teaching is happening in a school is no reason to believe that any learning is going on. School is designed for the schoolers -- for hiring lots of people and letting lots of contracts. It is not designed for the learners. How come? Because what schools and schoolers do is not what encourages or relates to how children learn.

Put simply, children learn by doing things they enjoy or are interested in. Schools force them to sit still and listen mostly to things that do not interest them.
Thus, schools fail by forcing children to deny their own interests and instead pretend to be interested in what teachers like to do.

Yet, the public schools continue to use the same failed methods such as "fuzzy math" and "whole language." The system is now set up, not by educators, but by the teachers' unions in order to satisfy union demands to get more money for less work, and those demands work against what is needed for learning to happen.

Children need the opposite of what schools offer. They need safety -- not just from violence (bullying) but safety from bad programs such as Transformational Education and Fuzzy Math, and bad methods such as Whole Language; and protection from wasted time and unreasonable demands on their time such as most homework is; and from demands for learning outdated and often counter-productive information, such as DARE and "Values Clarification." They need safety from poorly educated and wrongly trained teachers; they need trust, freedom, time, good food, sleep -- in short, decent parenting.

What they don't need is school as we know it. They need the real real world.

Ned Vare

Technorati Tags: , , , , .

Friday, December 7, 2007

Public School: the Unnatural Life

"Birds fly, fish swim, man thinks and learns. Therefore, we do not need to motivate children into learning by wheedling, bribing or bullying. We do not need to keep picking away at their minds to make sure they are learning. All we need to do is bring as much of the world as we can into their lives; give children as much help and guidance as they ask for; listen respectfully when they feel like talking; and then get out of the way. We can trust them to do the rest."
-- John Holt, How Children Learn

For many children, the Unnatural Life begins early. Most of today's children are raised by "experts" in institutional settings and have little contact with their parents and little care that can be called "natural." The result is a generation with a frightening combination of insecurity, ignorance, self-indulgence, and the arrogance of an entitlement mentality.

Not long ago, all parents were expected to teach their children to read, write and calculate--not difficult skills. Many schools did not accept children unless they had learned those basics. Today, the schools claim to be teaching those skills, but their results are atrocious. What’s worse, school employees often tell parents that we are not capable of it. Imagine! - our own schools want us to believe that we are not educated enough even to teach our own kids elementary universal knowledge. What’s amazing is that many of us believe such rubbish!

The employees claim to have studied "child development" and "curriculum" and other esoteric nonsense. They play on our normal insecurities as parents in order to convince us that they are better suited to raising our kids than we are ourselves. It is nothing but lies. Parents are always (with few exceptions) the best able to raise and nurture, including educate, their own children. When parents do not know something a child wants to learn, most have the sense to find someone who can help. It does not take a village to educate a child; it takes a conscientious parent.

Nowadays, children are given to institutions -- nurseries, pre-schools, schools -- that are paid to partly raise children for the parents. “Child-care” centers are often stressful, even frightening places full of noise and commotion. How can that be a safe or nurturing place for a child? These are places born of the necessity or desire of parents to get relief from their real job of raising the children they brought into the world. They have grown "tired" of being Mommy or Daddy, and want someone else to do it. Conveniently, the centers have employees who claim to be specialists with children, and yet that job title often means little.

Next, the child hits four and, against all common sense, it's time for pre-school to begin. And what goes on there? Well, it is preparation for school -- a mixture of "sit down, be still, be quiet, and listen" as the children learn the primary lesson of public school: obedience. Never mind that the children want, and need, to play among themselves and learn to get along. Never mind that they have no need for, nor interest in academics. Never mind their need for occasional solitude or to relate to just one other child instead of whole groups. Never mind that their parents are absent from such places in times of real need.

At six years old (sometimes earlier) something called "Education" begins, with the arrogant assumption that learning has not been going on up until this time. Never mind that children are born learning, and do a major part of their learning - including the language - before age five without anyone's "teaching."

Schools are unnatural places. They separate children from their parents; they are segregated from the rest of society; thus they offer an artificial environment. While children's natural needs are for parental nurturing, care, trust, and love, schools conduct programs that are mostly alien to children's natural needs. They create synthetic groupings in ugly stark rooms with strangers telling unwanted information. Dangerous bus rides, bullying, and coercion contribute to the children's sense of stress and threat. They are told to obey and not to make trouble. Naturally, they want to please their parents, so that is how it works – against a child’s natural interests.

Homework (a further insult) often has the purpose of controlling family life. It is mere busywork that can intimidate and confuse parents who come to see themselves as "incompetent to raise their own children," just as the schools want them to believe.

Ned Vare is a designer, author, former private school teacher, rancher, businessman, elected official.

Technorati Tags: , , , , .

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Why Johnny Can’t Think

The sad truth is that public education has destroyed the American dream for countless numbers of young people by preventing them from acquiring those academic skills needed to achieve success." - Samuel Blumenfeld , Educator and Author

Homeschooling, of course, was once the norm. Throughout most of history and in all places, children got their learning in the home, through family activities and their natural and cultural surroundings. But there arose a mist, a confusion, a turning point in the purpose of education. That mist was created by government. Following the example of the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans and others, political leaders have wanted pyramidal societies with a few elites at the top and the vast majority subordinated to them. The mechanism they all used to create such societies is schools.

Government school today does not want to turn out independent creative individuals; it seeks to create a mass of predictable voters and workers, obedient soldiers and consumers who know their place in the pyramid and will stay there.

It’s no surprise that our government school system does not do what parents want it to do. It never has. Its purpose has never been the strengthening of families or communities, but exactly the opposite: loyalty to the state. While there has been a persistent chorus of discontent from parents, the system routinely ignores their wishes and carries out its programs of state indoctrination of the children and the public in general. The government has enlarged its school system and its tax support to include almost ninety percent of our country’s children, and now there are few people left who can even imagine a different scenario.

Despite this government process of training children for many years to be predictable and dependent, the majority of children’s knowledge still comes from their lives outside the schools. The schooling, no matter how stultifying, has not yet managed to completely dumb us all down. The problem is, it's getting close.

Teaching children essential knowledge was an accepted parental responsibility in this country until the industrial revolution in the 19th century. That event created the need for people to see themselves as economic units -- cogs in the wheels of industry (or bees in the hive) -- instead of individual human beings. The transformation played into the hands of statists (those who believe in state control over society) and social engineers by breaking up families and eroding traditional and community values and replacing them with a secular ("progressive") society dominated by governmental institutions.

The early leaders designed the public schools (about 1840) merely to indoctrinate the masses along with immigrants and freed slaves to become the "workforce," but not to become well educated. Those leaders, and other informed people, have always sent their children to tutors or independent schools to get real education rather than government obedience training and false “socialization.”

Most people have come to accept the idea that the government should be the entity to educate children. It is a big mistake. According to John Taylor Gatto, author of Dumbing Us Down, government schools train our children in three ways -- to follow orders, to do repetitive tasks, and to be consumers. The state only wants compliant citizens who can be controlled. It does not want thinking individuals who will make independent decisions. Government-mandated curricula complicate and confuse the learning of basic skills and limit genuine achievement while offering a
mediocrity of feel-good programs and political correctness training. The slide we are in has been a long time coming.

In the 1960s, the decline became obvious, and books such as Why Johnny Can’t Read, by Rudolph Flesch, began to appear. Among the objections were the watering down of academic subjects, tenure as an obstacle to firing bad teachers, and the vastly increased psychological aspects of schooling that allowed self-esteem to become the main objective instead of learning.

Today, parents realize the perversions and corruptions of the government schools. As a result, many choose private schools and homeschooling. Many new books give us ever more awareness of our government’s intentions for its school system. They are alarming. Johnny can’t read, he can’t even think, but he’s been told to feel good about himself.

In education, government is the problem -- it will only teach what it wants us to know. It’s sobering, frightening, disillusioning to see our government and its employees systematically denying our children the very education we send them to receive, while we foot the bill.

Ned Vare is an architectural designer, author and artist; formerly a private school teacher, rancher, professional athlete, elected official

Technorati Tags: , , , , .

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Education Lite

“The difficulty is not that children don’t learn to read, write and do arithmetic very well – it is that kids don’t learn at all the way schools insist on teaching.” – J. T. Gatto

Parents are dissatisfied with the schools today because the schools do not offer what parents want. In fact, the system’s purpose is the opposite of what parents want for their kids. It's called Education Lite, or Dumbing Down, and the process includes parents and the public, not just teachers and children.

First is the annual concern about low scores on the standardized tests. Every year, the number of children who pass the Mastery reading and math combined is about thirty percent statewide. That’s a seventy percent failure rate. And what (joke) are we told every year? “CT schools are doing well.” Mastery tests are not about mastery. They should be called Mediocrity tests. Last year, CT’s Ed. Commissioner was unhappy with the results, so she returned the tests to be re-scored -- twice. Is the system even honest?

If the schools were interested in having students learn basic skills, they could teach them -- all the children, not just some. There are reading and math methods that work; homeschoolers know and use them, as do private schools, but public schools use methods that are certain to fail a majority of students. Why is this so? Because the system is designed to turn out a mass of dependent employees, soldiers and predictable consumers, not independent creative-thinking individuals. If we want education, we must find out how to acquire it; but if we want mediocrity, it’s all paid for and it’s right down the street. It’s Education Lite; it may feel good, but it’s less filling.

There’s a saying: If the children didn’t learn, the school didn’t teach. In my town, Guilford CT, the students have been doing poorly academically for years. Why? Time spent on the basic subjects is low compared to state averages, and they are generally poorly taught. The schools use student musical performances as marketing while neglecting the teaching of basic skills.

If the schools had the goal of teaching reading correctly, they could, and all the children would learn to read well by third grade. The simple method is called phonics. With it, many children learn to read well in a week. But the schools refuse to use the method that works. Test scores reveal it.

Math expert, Dr. Bill Quirk ( analyses a commonly used math program, Everyday Math, and describes it as “fuzzy math” and adds, “It devalues classroom learning and learning from books.” Quirk calls it "math appreciation" because it doesn’t teach the basics on which advanced math depends. In other words, it simply wastes time. I would add that if the purpose is merely appreciation, it’s not education; it’s therapy. How many can enter a trade or profession or even balance a checkbook without knowing the simple facts of arithmetic? How can they learn advanced subjects if they don’t know how to read and calculate well? How can they make informed choices or lead productive lives without those tools?

The quality of teachers is also declining. Here’s the president of the American Federation of Teachers, Sandy Feldman: “You have in the schools, among the teachers who are retiring, very smart people…but we’re not getting in now the same kinds of people.” She admits that many of her union members are not “very smart people.” Add to that the words of Abigail and Stephan Thernstrom from their 2003 book, No Excuses, “[The] structure and culture of public education drive away those who might serve young kids best.”

Most statements by school employees and officials include the message that they are working “for the children.” However, more and more, it looks to many people as though the schools are organized for the benefit and convenience of the employees, not the children at all. Education Lite is what the government schools serve today. Can citizens do anything about it? The survival of our country depends on the answer.

Ned Vare is an architectural designer, former private school teacher, farmer/rancher, golf pro, ski instructor, contractor, politician, businessman, artist, craftsman, author. He is a homeschooling advocate.
His articles appear online at
His book, Smarting Us Up, written with Luz Shosie, is available from them directly.

Technorati Tags: , , , , .

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Public School: The Nonsense Industry

“Children do not need to be forced to learn. They know how and they are good at it.” -- John Holt, How Children Learn

In his book, Insult to Intelligence, Frank Smith, Ph.D. says, “The hardest problem for the brain is not learning, but forgetting. No matter how hard we try, we can’t deliberately forget something we have learned. It is truly catastrophic when we learn that we can’t learn.”

One of the most powerful lessons school teaches children is, "You are not a good learner." Despite the fact that children’s brains are superb learning instruments, schools always claim that "failure" is a kind of sickness, or worse, "bad behavior." Real or imaginary disabilities are given clinical-sounding labels like “dyslexia,” “ADHD,” etc. in order to create the impression that physical abnormalities are involved. And yet, what is it schools expect children to "succeed" in? Classrooms force students to engage in tedious, time-consuming, often-stressful nonsense, while rewarding or punishing them with meaningless marks and grades.

Schools make people dependent and easy to control -- characteristics that are the exact opposite of education. Once this dependent attitude toward learning is absorbed through the schooling experience (including, for some, being drugged), it can last a lifetime, destroying autonomous development or, in the words of the veteran Japanese teacher Yoshio Kuryu, “contributing to the student’s mental suicide -- an end to thinking; a closing down.”Yet, under those insane circumstances, if a child’s behavior does not conform to an arbitrary standard, or if his interest is not engaged, and he does not learn a particular thing, the ‘problem’ is always blamed on the child, never on the school.

The key to learning is interest, not school-induced ‘motivation.’ There has never been a relationship between school and what children are interested in learning. But when children are distracted or seem disinterested or fidgety, schools routinely decide that something is wrong with the child’s brain, even though there is no evidence of it.

Can we avoid any of the above madness? Maybe. Smith wrote a set of conditions that must exist in order to prevent the lesson, “I can’t learn,” from being absorbed. He wrote the following Learners’ Manifesto:

1. The brain is always learning. We learn exactly what is demonstrated by people around us. Schools must stop trying to teach through pointless drills, activities and tests.

2. Learning does not require coercion or irrelevant reward. We fail to learn only if we are bored, or confused, or if we have been persuaded that learning will be difficult. Schools must be places where learning can take place naturally -- by desire, not force.

3. Learning must be meaningful. Schools must change themselves, not try to change us, to ensure we understand what we are expected to learn.

4. Learning is incidental. We learn while doing things that we find useful and interesting. Schools must stop creating environments where we cannot engage in sensible activities.

5. Learning is collaborative. We learn by apprenticing ourselves to people who practice what they teach

6. The consequences of worthwhile learning are obvious [We use what we learn]. Schools, teachers and parents should not have to rely on marks, scores or tests to discover if we have learned.

7. Learning always involves feelings. We remember how we feel when we learn or fail to learn. Schools must not treat learners like machines.

8. Learning must be free of risk. If we are threatened by learning, then the learning will always threaten. Schools must recognize that continual testing [and many other of their practices] are intellectual harassment.

The lesson of Smith’s list is that schools are bad places for learning, especially the public schools. They violate all of those recommendations, with every child, all the time. Smith’s book describes what goes on in the typical school and sums it up best in one chapter, called “The Nonsense Industry.”

It’s little wonder that more and more people are choosing alternative schools and homeschooling for their children, where they can skip the lesson that says they can’t learn.

Ned Vare is an architectural designer, artist and author, a former private school teacher, rancher, businessman, elected official.

Technorati Tags: , , , , .

Monday, December 3, 2007

Who's Working for the Children?

"The State...has a vested interest in promoting attitudes that would tend to make us skeptical of our own abilities, fearful of the motives of others, and emotionally dependent upon external authorities for purpose and direction in our lives."
-- Butler D. Shaffer, from Americans for Limited Government. Mar 15, 06

Everybody involved in public school – board members, administrators, teachers, social workers, coaches, etc. – all say they do it for the children. But do they really? The fact is that they work for the government in order to benefit themselves. They do what the government wants them to do. They all work according to the rules and methods that the government sets. They do not work for the kids.

The teachers have union negotiators to do their bidding at contract time. In my town the union bargains for smaller classes (less workload) and has trimmed the teaching day down to five periods out of an eight-period day. If that ever gets down to four, the teachers will only teach half a day, or ninety work days per year. Thus, taxpayers must pay more and more even though the teachers do less and less.

Administrators, by law, are not allowed to have a union, but they have an “association” that does virtually the same things a union does. The result is that the members continue to get huge raises while limiting their responsibilities and liabilities. Does that help the students or the community? And the psychiatrists...does their labeling and drugging help the children? Never.

Superintendents pretend to work for the community. Ours even claims to have a “plan,” and yet he gets his orders from the State Dept. of Ed., and they get them from the federal DOE. Administrators have little tie to their town.

Do the political parties do anything for children? No. They use the children and the schools as pawns in their games. For example, last year’s flap over junk-food sales. The issue is a political football that has little to do with children’s health or doing the right thing. It’s about money and power.

Let me ask, are any of the politicians themselves personally interested in the welfare of children (or anyone else) except when they can appear to be benefactors, giving away other people’s money? No. They are always seeking angles that will help them to get re-elected – a newspaper article or photo holding hands with the elderly sick, or prize-winning children and such. Do they help the children? No. They welcome cash money from the teachers unions. That’s who they work for.

The PTA is required by its own rules to obey the wishes of the teacher unions. (How nuts is that!) Thus, the PTA’s hands are tied even when union wishes are against the interests of the children, as they usually are. Thus, many well-meaning parents are effectively silenced on school policies.

The PTO waves a banner that says, “Gee, the schools don’t have enough money, so let’s all bake cookies to create the appearance of helping the schools. The PTO may offer parents ways to feel “involved,” but it has no effect on how the schools educate or treat the children.

Over the years, local school boards have approved all the bad programs such as whole language, fuzzy math, junk-food-for-profit, child-drugging, tenure, annual pay raises for mediocrity, etc., but have no constructive ideas. In fact, they seldom even discuss schooling or learning. The board is merely a front for deceptive, failing, and corrupt practices. They act as though bad schools are what the public wants.

Here’s an email from a friend: “Hotshot lawyers and others who find their way onto school boards believe that it is a high moral obligation on their part to implement the system that is handed to them. They never step back and ask,‘Is this system good?’ or, ‘Is the system fundamentally corrupt?’ Never having addressed those questions, they congratulate themselves for being supporters of "education." But they are the blind leading the blind.”

That leaves the parents. Do you work for your children? I heard of a man who called his son, “Sir.” When asked why he used that name for the boy, the man said simply, “Because I work for him.”

Ned Vare is an architectural designer, artist and author, a former private school teacher, rancher, businessman, elected official.

Technorati Tags: , , , , .