Thursday, January 31, 2008

Do the Math

How many eggs are in seven dozen? If ten people walk nine miles in six hours, what was their average speed?

When people say, "Do the math," these days, they usually mean do the simple calculation needed to understand the situation. However, many people now lack the ability to do the math because they never learned the basic math facts or simple methods of calculation in school. What's worse, the school taught them to believe that making those simple calculations was not necessary. The result is that millions of people today lack the fundamental skills needed for productive lives. They believe it is their own fault for not having basic skills and fundamental knowledge. Many do not even know how little they know, because if they don't master the basics, many doors of learning are closed to them.

We often hear the phrase, "Do the math." Unfortunately for far too many of today's public school graduates, they can't.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008


When Horace Mann, the "father" of American government schooling, started the system, around 1850, his purpose was to turn a diverse population into a "workforce" of docile and predictable masses. Where did Mann look for his model system? In Prussia, where the rulers used state-run schools to turn out factory workers and soldiers to fight their ongoing wars against Napoleon. Well-schooled Prussia became Fascist Germany with its Socialist Governments, and brought us two world wars and the holocaust. Mann copied the Prussian factory system of schooling for this country. Little has changed since that time.

Never in history has government wanted its citizens to become truly educated and inquiring people who might question its authority or power. Government is only interested in indoctrinating us to whatever beliefs, attitudes and opinions are deemed by its leaders as correct for the time being. As yesterday's post attests, the state insists that its teachers offer a tightly scripted curriculum. Therefore, even during the time when public schools in America had a "hey-day," their purpose was to deliver a limited product of information and skills -- just enough to satisfy the army and business.

Did Mann have "socialization" in mind? No, he was, in fact, a puritan who wanted a religious-based society of "good people" and "good citizens." However, influenced by men such as John Dewey, the system was taken over early in the 20th century by those who wanted socialism, and that required a dumbing down of the population. The "Look-Say" method of reading (later called Whole Language) was popularized and Phonics was phased out. Math has been turned into "math appreciation" thanks to an endless series of fads, but leaves out the necessary component of basic knowledge of numbers and the ability to compute. As a result of those fundamental changes, children today are taught neither how to read nor how to calculate.

Today's public schools use the idea that the group is more important than the individual -- perhaps the most fundamental Socialist concept. In contrast, America was founded on the concept that the individual is sovereign.

In recent years, public school standards have been lowered to a point (in many states) of elimination, in favor of political correctness, group thinking and psychological conditioning. We hear their employees say, "We want the students to gain consensus on subjects." I remember a former superintendent in my town saying, "I don't care about test scores so much as how the children feel about themselves." To the schools, socialization means group thinking -- the opposite of critical thinking. Thus, "socialization" has replaced academic learning as the reason for the existence of government schools.

How do you feel about that?

Monday, January 28, 2008

A Former Teacher Writes

I received the following letter -- edited to protect the writer's identity:

"I went to ___University. It was very expensive but I needed something close since we didn't have a car. Previous to taking my Master in Education I had completed an Honors Bachelor in Chemistry at the University of ___. That program was academically very challenging and I was shocked to see how little was required of me during my Masters.

"Grades were a joke, everyone received an A as long as we showed up. Basically we were taught that we were little nothings who had to dress nice and suck up to the Principals at the schools where we student taught. It was never even suggested to question the government's decisions about content standards and standardized tests. We were simply told that if we ever wanted to find a job we had to make it extremely obvious that we knew the standards inside and out and would teach nothing but those standards to our future students.

"At the same time as preaching about the standards, the teachers emphasized the importance of "student centered and guided learning." The teachers conveniently forgot to mention how exactly you allow for student guided learning if you can only teach the standards. Basically "certification" means that you have agreed to teach what the government wants against your better judgement.

"At both my teacher's college and the school where I taught for one year, all my peers complained about the terrible state of the education system but did not do a single thing to make it better. I guess in reality they were all afraid of the government, afraid of rocking the boat, making too much of a fuss and losing their job. After all, keeping your job and being able to afford your oversized house, car, and life is all thats really important, right? If it wasn't fear that prevented one of my peers from making an attempt to improve the state of the education system it was the feeling of helplessness. One person can't do anything against such a huge buracracy so why bother, right?"

The writer lasted one year in public school teaching, proving that high-achieving people are not attracted to such jobs or, really, even the training for them. My wife, Luz, went through a Masters of Ed. and feels the same way -- that it was a waste of her time and money.

School is hell for the teachers, too. Are the administrators too dumb to notice?

Friday, January 25, 2008

Public Schools VS Public Libraries

"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 Gov't. Mar 15, 06

When a US citizen enters a public library, the library employee's attitude is, "How can I help you? What are you interested in? How can I satisfy your curiosity? What information can I help you find? All of our resources are at your disposal," etc.

Librarians don’t ask probing questions of their patrons, whatever their age; they do not judge their patrons' abilities or qualifications. They are there to help them in their interests, whatever they might be. Librarians never look at a child and say, "You're too young to want to learn about that" or, "You should wear proper clothes to come here" or, "You are not qualified to read that book." etc

But when a child enters a public school, the attitude of the employees is entirely different. The teachers typically demand that children "Sit down; be quiet, think only what I tell you to think. Never mind your personal interests, never mind your curiosity, do not ask questions...we will ask the questions for you to answer." etc.

The school employees see children as "resources" that can be used for the school's purposes. Thus, they see the children as a commodity to be exploited -- used for the benefit of the school, not as patrons to be served. Their attitude is, "How can I use this child (and his/her parents) to make me look good; to enlarge the school budget; hire more teachers; increase state funding," etc.

The state, too, sees public school children as economic units, cogs in the social machinery, in short: slaves to the state. Remember that the public school system is a politically controlled arm of the state.

The schools have a similar approach to parents, seeing them as willing or potential participants in the teacher union’s plans to raise teacher pay, increase budgets, hire more union employees, spend more tax money, saying that it’s "all for the children," of course. Meanwhile, the employees almost never accede to the wishes of parents regarding school programs or policies.

Thus, libraries exist to serve the patrons -- whoever they are, whatever their age or politics or circumstances, however they are dressed. But the government schools exist to exploit citizens and their children for the benefit and convenience of their employees. By their actions and intentions, we can see that schools exist also for the state education bureaucracy, and assorted politicians at all levels – not for children, parents or the community.

Who would use a library that treated patrons the way schools do? Wouldn’t it be better if schools were more like libraries?

Thursday, January 24, 2008

As Homeschooling Grows, What Is at Stake?

Columbia Teachers College -- launching pad for many public school teachers, administrators, programs and policies -- recently asked for public comment on the question, "What is at stake when more and more of America's students are being homeschooled?" I sent the following:

That the government school system is failing to educate America's children is no longer in doubt. So, by asking that question, Columbia seeks to blame homeschooling for putting the public schools at risk. The premise is patently absurd, first, because the main reason for the growth of homeschooling is the failure of the public schools; and second, it is those schools that put millions of children's education at risk. The presumption -- really, the hope -- that the public school system is providing what America's students need and want is simply false. The failure is massive, and the public school system has the habit of blaming others -- movies, television, even "society" -- for problems that it creates for itself.

If anything is "at stake" (def: "at risk" or "in question") it is the coercive monopoly system itself, and the reason is its poor performance. Its problems have not been imposed from outside; the system is not a victim of forces beyond its control. It has only itself to blame.

The public school establishment has noticed that the canary in its gold mine has died because of its own dishonesty, corruption and wrong-headedness. Instead of cleaning up, the system continues mining for all the gains its employees, unions, and special interests can acquire while denying the problems and, worse, seeking to blame others for the death. Its normal response to the suffering of its students is to make them suffer even more and to force the taxpayers to give it more money. One problem is that the system never admits to its failures. Therefore, it has no self-correcting mechanisms, no way of clearing its own air. It has too many conflicting interests, failing programs and bad practices to get back to its true purpose of education. Some have even suggested that it never had that purpose.

The government school employees and supporters see any and all alternatives as threats to their monopoly, since they view children as their source of revenue. The primary goal of most bureaucratic institutions, especially government controlled ones, is growth. The public schools follow that objective fiercely, seeking ever higher budgets, larger payrolls and wasteful construction contracts while viewing efficiency and thrift as counter to their interests.

Standardized tests that show the dismal failure of America's students are routinely ignored. International tests of basic skills show increasingly worse comparisons between the US and other countries' schools and/or students. Yet, year after year, the schools portray their failure as "success" and incredibly, they get away with it. What is at stake is the credibility of the US education establishment and ultimately, the productivity, even the viability, of our society and our country. At stake also are the public school teachers along with their unions. The pubic, more and more, are discovering that just because someone is "certified" by a state, or is a union member, does not mean that s/he is a good teacher, especially when we find that the best private schools do not seek state-certified teachers nor do they have unions. Meanwhile, teacher unions are obstacles in most efforts to reform the public schools. Today, people are simply too well informed to tolerate an invalid system of education.

At stake for Columbia is that it will need to change how it selects and trains teachers. The system clings to methods, practices and beliefs about learning and teaching that have long been proven wrong. There is no change in sight. By creating so much of what is wrong with the public schools, Columbia is one reason for the growth of homeschooling.

Homeschooling is not part of the failure; it is one of the frontiers of national recovery. More and more parents would turn the original question around to read as follows: "What is at stake if we don't take our children out of the failing government schools?" The answer, of course, is our children's lives, our families, and the future of this country.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

A Bit More about Calligraphy

From Pamela LaRegina:
“Would you like your child to learn how to think and do? Would you like your child to experience the stimulation, challenge, and order that are the three basic requirements needed for right teaching?
Would you like your child to learn to be aware of his own ability to be creative, to coordinate the thought in the mind with the movement of the body? To not only see beauty but to be able to understand it and create it without having to employ complex or expensive tools? Would you like your child to learn to communicate well, to learn the nature of practice and the path to achievement?

“Now the questions in your own mind may be surfacing: What are you saying and why is this news to me? I do not recall anything about my learning how to write, I do not care for my own handwriting and I do not see what relevance hand writing has to do with this computer-based world, anyway.
What is the big deal?

“When you were a child you were not taught to write in the manner that is being proposed here. Nobody was! Whereas a child can apprehend the learning process by learning to play a musical instrument, not all children have to learn to play one, but all children must learn to write. (This is not to imply that a child who does not wish to write should be forced to do so, for that is not teaching, it is coercion, which never works. However, the desire to learn how to write comes naturally most of the time.)

“Because learning to write teaches the learning process, all other learning that comes after will happen more easily. The brain has been ordered, neuronaly, so to speak, so that the grid work is in place and there is now something for the next learning to connect to.

“The process of learning how to write involves the apprehension of a particular form, the ability to imagine that form, and then the ability to use the mind as builder, and the hand, along with a simple tool, to create that form into something that is visible and tangible -- something that can be seen and understood by others. In brief, it teaches Communication, Language, Drawing, and Self-expression.

“Perhaps you may say that your child can learn similarly by learning how to use hammer, wood, and nails to build a bird house. Well this is very true, and it is also true that learning how to write is an excellent primer for the carpentry experience!”

Ned adds: It’s never too late, or early, to learn how to write; therefore, I recommend calligraphy for adults and children. It truly does lead to learning beyond the making of legible letters.

Tomorrow: As Homeschooling Grows, What Is at Stake?

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Calligraphy: Beautiful Writing

Pamela LaRegina, a calligrapher , says that her practice of calligraphy provides benefits for her life that are beyond financial, like teachers of dance and music who see their arts as providing character, confidence and joy. Some of her thoughts about her practice are as follows:

The capital I is drawn with a single vertical stroke. Graphically, it represents the "minimum" stroke in our writing system. This means that it carries a lot of responsibility. It is the stroke that is most repeated and therefore deserves to be treated with a lot of attention to detail. If you can imagine it as a "real" letter, that is, with its skin on, it has some messages to relay. It tells how thick and thin the quality of line should be, and where exactly those thick and thin places should occur. Then, when drawing the A, the B, the D, the E, the F, the beard on the G, the H, the J, the K, the L, the M, the N, the P, the R, the T, the U, the V and W, the X, the Y, and the Z, you know what the quality of their strokes will be also. Actually, the more you practice these graceful strokes, the more you can feel the rounded parts of the letters as being in harmony with the movements that it takes to create the capital I, also.

In order for all this to be understood, it really needs to be experienced. This is an idea that you have undoubtedly encountered in other activities, such as playing golf, or a musical instrument.

Of course it goes without saying that the height of the capital I is an indictor of the height the other letters. There are some slight exceptions to this. Although the A comes first, it is actually drawn slightly taller than the I to compensate for an optical principle. Because it comes to a point on top, it needs this extra height to appear the same height. The same alteration is necessary for other letters that have points on top or bottom, and the O, also, is a tad taller.

What is perhaps more important than the height is the quality of verticality and straightness that the I lends to the alphabet. It becomes a sensual experience that reaches down to your toes and inside to your deep-breath belly. A capital I that leans backwards even slightly is going to look like it is falling over. You get to see that you drew it incorrectly, however, and this gives you a chance to deal with your mistake.

This is the way to learn to do anything. The process of learning to draw a vertical stroke takes body awareness. My personal experience, though difficult to verbalize entirely, goes something like this:

Simply put, I become the letter. I must be sitting with a straight back to make the letter straight. I must use a movement that incorporates a relaxed, downward stroke that uses the whole arm. The pressure will vary according to the tool and the surface I am writing on, but generally speaking, it will be an even pressure that may ease up slightly in the middle of the stroke.

You must stay conscious of the whole process. This requires use of mind and body working together with no margin for drift. Thus, it becomes a kind of meditation. As the attention focuses, the letter becomes. There are other considerations, also. For example, as the letter must be placed somewhere, how and exactly where it gets placed must be deliberate. The space around the letter- the negative space, must be designed. Here is where a calligrapher has to make conscious choices based on his sense of space and balance. The space itself has a shape, and becoming aware of and orchestrating this space is part of the game.

When I stated that I become the letter, I was reiterating a dictum that I learned while taking a course in Chinese brush painting. The teacher told us that you have to become the flower or the bamboo.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Questions for Your Local School Board

Should public schools offer knowledge, skills and factual information or feelings, attitudes, opinion-shaping and social engineering?

Should students learn "fuzzy" math (math appreciation) or real math – you know, facts? (Fuzzy math programs have various names, such as Everyday Math, Constructivist Math, and more) From "Constructivist math educators want easy, stress-free math, so they reject memorization and practice and thereby severely limit the student's ability to remember specific math facts and skills. Without specific remembered knowledge, students must regularly revisit shallow content and rely on general content-independent skills, such as "draw a picture" or 'make a list'."

Should children learn to guess at words ("look-say, "Whole Language") or should they learn how to read words accurately with Phonics? "Whole Language is the great deception being perpetrated by the professional educators upon the children of America, all of whom want to be taught to read but are being turned into reading cripples condemned to lives of frustration, academic failure, stunted intellectual growth and destroyed ambition."

Are science, history, spelling, geography taught to all, or just some?

Why is special ed so huge? When statistics show that less than one percent of children are truly "disabled" in any way, why are over ten percent of public school children considered so? The true answer is that the schools use a "bounty system" for special ed. The state sends extra money for every child who is diagnosed with a "disability" no matter how flimsy the diagnosis.

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? Can it really be for public relations reasons?

Who, on the board, is guarding against school corruption? Raise your hands, please.

Why are there no Gifted and Talented classes? The real reason is that the state is not trying to help the gifted and talented, but simply to create a middle mass of mediocrity that will become a workforce in service of government and industry.

Health comes from nutrition and exercise, but the schools offer junk-food-for-profit and no recess – Why?

If money is related to school quality, why has school quality declined in recent years when education spending has risen at rates well above inflation?

Why do private schools not require their teachers to be "certified" as public schools do? The fact is that private school teachers (generally people with degrees in academic studies) are insulted by (and refuse to take) the low intellectual quality of the courses required to become "certified."

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Government School Priesthood

“The current situation allows the government and big business to manufacture and maintain our culture for us, and in turn, control remains in the hands of the experts and institutions.” -- Helen Hegener, Alternatives in Education

The $600B per year public school monopoly is a hierarchy--a top-down pyramid of control, similar to that of a large church. For its power, it depends on psychological conditioning -- the willingness of those at the lower levels to believe in and obey the tenets and commands of the higher-ups.

Students, of course, are the “congregation.” They are the supplicants, the sheep, at the bottom of the pyramid. Their role is to keep quiet and do what they are told without question. They are trained from the beginning that they are to follow, and not to think for themselves.

Teachers are the choir, singing their assigned hymns and anthems, repeating their mantras carefully taught to them in teacher colleges and "professional development" -- really edu-seminaries and indoctrination camps.

Up the line are principals, managing schools just as parish priests preside over local churches, setting a personal tone, but never varying the lesson plans or orthodoxy. They are the middle-men in the chain of command, doing the bidding of the superintendents. The pyramid, at every level, serves itself first.

Superintendents run districts, with the number of schools depending on the district size. Even though they get pay from local taxpayers, they get their orders from the state Dept of Ed. which sets the policies, attitudes and programs conducted within all districts. Superintendents act as bishops, making sure that the local clergy toe the line handed down from the state.

Local school boards are irrelevant—mere window dressing for the superintendent, making it seem as though the community agrees with the state's policies. Legally, the boards are "agents of the state," and do the bidding of the state bureaucrats and politicians.

Higher still are career education bureaucrats in the federal Dept of Ed. This is the college of cardinals of national schooling where policies become rules and regulations for the rest.

Near the top of the pyramid come the state commissioners of education. They meet under the group name Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and their website tells us that they "organize national influence on education issues." Indeed, they decide the big picture -- the national policies, the "direction" for the national school system. Their discussions and decisions are private, and are handed down as "the word" from on high. Their effect is the dumbing of America.

This pyramid also includes teachers unions, the large special interest which constantly pours sand into the machinery, making everyone’s work more difficult and expensive. Then come teacher colleges, where Thomas Sowell says, “The least respected professors teach the least respected courses in the universities.” How good can the graduates be when the courses attract only the lowest ranks of students?

There are the monasteries and nunneries, too, called “resource centers.” Here, hundreds of teachers who wash out of the schools find employment designing the stealth materials used in the schools. These are the factories of Transformational Education and Values Clarification, where the so-called "facilitators" come from to help superintendents shape local opinion about the schools.

This pyramid of public school is headed, not by a Pope, but a Secretary of Education. The entire structure is designed to teach one thing: Obedience to Authority.

In such a tightly controlled hierarchy, there is no local control. No one is permitted to complain; everyone is scripted; and no one thinks at all. That’s the plan, and it’s working. There’s just one problem: no one gets educated.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Public School: Employment Empire

"The school system is a place whose primary purpose is to provide employment for teachers and administrators, with students being a means to that end." -- Thomas Sowell; INSIDE AMERICAN EDUCATION

Today's school year is the same length as it was fifty years ago, and the school day is also unchanged. One thing is much different today: twice as many people work in those schools. And yet, with twice as many people to perform virtually the same work as fifty years ago, the educational results are below those of former years. What can we conclude? Government school has become an employment empire at taxpayer expense without regard to teacher qualifications or school quality.

Is more teaching happening? No. Is more learning going on? No, in fact, today there is far less learning than previously. Why? Because content -- the foundation of basic skills and knowledge that once were taught -- has been drastically reduced, lowering the quality of the education that is offered. We cannot expect students to learn if they are not being taught.

Therefore, today's public schools are less effective despite the fact that twice the number of people are employed in them. The teachers are less educated; the subjects are watered down, the teachers are "certified" which really does not mean qualified. Another change is that the government's concerns are social engineering instead of academic learning; that results in the subjects being watered down. therefore, the intent of today's schools is therapy instead of education; feelings instead of knowledge; attempting to "manage" the social fabric instead of educating the masses.

Why are there so many employees in the schools nowadays? Good question, right? I don't believe it has anything to do with education, because, by all indications, the more employees they have, the worse they do what they are expected to do. To me, it looks like the schools are a convenient dumping ground for many not-all-that-well-educated folks who have lost other jobs. By making room for them in government-run schools, Big Brother acts as a sponge in the market place, soaking up employees who once were in private enterprises, and placing them on public payrolls at taxpayers' expense.

The books are poorly written, the teachers are not well educated in the subjects they teach. They go to teachers' colleges to learn "education" instead of real subjects that they might pass on to their students.

It's simple, all Uncle Sam needs to do is announce a new program, such as No Child Left Behind, and bingo, a million people join the government school payrolls across the country. What politician doesn't like "Education" for an issue? And few would ever oppose throwing more money at schools no matter how bad they get or how much they cost?

Does quality schooling really depend on spending more money? Not at all. The quality of a school is entirely dependent on the quality of the programs and the quality of the teachers who offer those programs. Money alone has not been shown to change anything except the budget. Paying teachers more to offer the same programs gets those same programs at a higher cost. The proposed state increase for schools (if it passes) will go entirely into the pockets of existing and additional teachers -- already the highest paid in America -- but will improve nothing.

What we see is that the school system is part of a scheme by which the federal and state governments are using the schools to absorb a portion of the workforce in order to centrally manage the populace and labor statistics for political purposes. In this way, government grows while private companies downsize and modernize. In this way, they keep the unemployment rate at levels "acceptable" to the electorate, but with one kicker: school employment is at taxpayers' expense. Thus, we get the bill when the government wants to hire more people. The feds even send down elaborate programs, such as No Child Left Behind, all with billions in incentives for districts to hire more people with other people's money -- ours. Does it ever improve education? No. That continues to get worse and more expensive.

The winners are the teachers unions (moe members; more dues; more power), the administrators (larger payrolls; higher pay; more control); school bureaucracies (more employees to keep track of more programs and more money) Who are the losers? The taxpayers, the parents, and the kids because the bigger the employment kingdom, the lower the quality of the teaching corps and the less anyone cares about the children.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

"Certified" Does Not Mean Qualified

"By all indicators -- whether objective data or first-hand observations -- the intellectual caliber of public school teachers in the United States is shockingly low." -- Thomas Sowell, Inside American Education

Today many, if not most public school teachers are "certified" by their states. What does "certified" mean?

Most teachers attended a college where they chose "Education" as their major. That means that they stopped taking courses in academic subjects such as English, History, science and Math and began a curriculum in "Education." That curriculum dwells on the trivia in which most public schools engage, and little else. In other words, their own education ends and they take up the study of how to teach in public school, but in a huge irony, they stop learning the subjects they should know well if they are going to teach them.

Arthur Levine, head of Columbia's Teacher College, reported (The Education Schools Project, 2006): "A majority of teachers are prepared at the education schools with the lowest admission standards and least accomplished professors." In an interview with the Hartford Courant, Connecticut's biggest newspaper, he continued, "Taken as a whole, teacher education programs would have to be described as between inadequate and embarassing. Arts and sciences faculty complain that education research is simplistic, that education students are among the weakest on campus, and that course work in education lacks rigor."

My wife, Luz, agrees. She earned a Master of Education degree at U. Arizona. But after a year of public school teaching, she realized that the government was not truly interested in educating children, and she soon quit. She considers her time, money and effort spent on becoming certified to have been totally wasted.

Thomas Sowell, in his landmark book, Inside American Education, says, "Consistently, for decades, those college students who have majored in education have been among the least qualified of all college students, and the professors who taught them have been among the least respected by their colleagues elsewhere in the college or university. Education schools and education departments have been called 'the intellectual slums' of the university."

Sowell adds, "The courses...are the filter through which the flow of teachers must pass. Mediocrity and incompetence flow freely through these filters, but they filter out many high-ability people, who refuse to subject themselves to the inanity of education courses, which are the laughing stock of many universities. One of the great advantages of the private schools is that they do not have to rely on getting their teachers from such sources."

Sowell continues, "The futility of attempting to upgrade the teaching profession by paying higher salaries is obvious, so long as legal barrier keep out all those who refuse to take education courses. These courses are negative barriers, in the sense that they keep out the competent (emphasis mine). It is Darwinism stood on its head, with the unfittest being most likely to survive as public school teachers."

More from Sowell: "It should not be surprising that education degrees produce no demonstrable benefit to teaching. The shallow and stultifying courses behind such degrees are one obvious reason." And: "By their virtual monopoly of the credentialing process, schools and department of education determine the caliber of people who enter the teaching profession, and the inadequacies of those people determine the upper limit of the quality of American education."

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Purpose of School

"In times of change, Learners inherit the earth, while
the Learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal
with a world that no longer exists."
- Eric Hoffer

Eric Hoffer, the longshoreman who, through self-education, became a much revered author, social icon and philospher, and was noted for his understanding of how a State can destroy the lives of its subjects, and often does so.

One of the ways a State can keep its citizens from ever living up to their potential is to keep them ignorant. Not only ignorant, but unaware of anything other than ignorance. The purpose behind this plan is the simple maintaince of power over the people...yes, even in societies in which the people are convinced that they, themselves have all the power.

Therefore, the idea of government wanting to deprive its citizens of controlling their own destinies seems most ironic in the case of America, and yet, that is our situation with regard to our system of education.

The government-run schools of America were designed originally, in around 1840, to imitate the system of Prussia which certain leaders believed was the proper model. It had been set up to train the masses to become soldiers and workers in the munitions factories of that country in order to finally defeat Napoleon's army. The system, as Hoffer's line says, beautifully prepared the people to become a "workforce" in the hands of government, but further to be unprepared to control their own lives in a changing world.

We might say that when Prussia eventually became Fascist Germany, it reaped what it had sowed, getting a population that was perfectly schooled, but monstrously uneducated and incapable of dealing with the new reality -- a State that had allowed itself to be taken over by a madman.

Do we want our children to become dependent members of a government-controlled, state-schooled workforce, or do we want them to become independent-thinking, creative, self-governing individuals?

Monday, January 14, 2008

Is There any Doubt that School Is Hell?

"And those who were seen dancing were thought to be
insane by those who could not hear the music."
-- Goethe

Is school not hell? Did you enjoy it? What did you enjoy? Try to remember the part(s) you liked. Most of us can think of a few friends, a teacher or two, recess, maybe a certain course that interested us -- only a few things. But out of twenty thousand hours, only a tiny fraction did we enjoy. The rest was boring, frightening, threatening, wasted time, being forced to do things against our will and/or better judgement,etc.

School denied us the chance to learn many things we were interested in, while teaching us things in which we had no interest, or were perhaps counter productive, even harmful for us.

School attempted to indoctrinate us in many ways. We learned that our interests were not important; that our questions or points of view seldom mattered. In recent years, schools teach that the group (including its collective thinking, called "consensus") is more important than the ideas of any individuals. This is training in collectivism, really Socialism.

School kept us captive for many years, telling us how valuable it was for us to stay enrolled while wasting more and more of our lives, both in school and with busywork called homework.

Those are descriptions of hellish conditions.

And when we were finished, did we feel educated? Did you give the school credit or did you realize that whatever the school taught you that had value was also available in several other places and ways, even though the school wanted credit for everything you learned.

I have proof. My youngest son did not attend any school. We did no lessons at home. He used no school books or materials. We called it unschooling, and he learned what interested him from sources he chose. And yet, he scored extremely high on the SAT and was a standout academically in college (Magna Cum Laude).
And we know lots of kids who had similar experiences.
Conclusion: School is a waste of time AND a hellish experience.

Friday, January 11, 2008

What Is School For?

"Nothing is easier than spreading public money. It does not appear to belong to anybody. The temptation is overwhelming to bestow it on somebody."
-- Calvin Coolidge

Connecticut's school system takes every opportunity to claim that its schools are the best in the country. Yet, teaching standards for Math and English are the lowest in the US according to the the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation ( ), an independent think tank. Their 2005 report evaluates the standards by which all states offer instruction. CT came in last. A recent US Chamber of Commerce analysis agrees with Fordham on CT's standards. Meanwhile, US stands 24th out of 29 industrial nations in math and science, according to TIMSS, the international math and science watchdog group.

With the US near the bottom in world ranking and CT at the bottom in US ranking, we know that Connecticut public school teaching standards for English and Math are among the world's worst. No matter how much our state and local officials and the teachers' unions promise they are offering "excellence," it is obvious that they are not even close. Instead, we must wonder if they know what excellence is since virtually every other state is doing it better.

Observers have noticed that the school system is not primarily for education, but exists for other reasons, starting with job #1-- babysitting. Job #2 is sorting and labeling children for the job market (some call it "role selection," others call it meat-stamping). Job #3 is employment for adults who are downsized or otherwise unemployed. Thus, the school system acts as a sponge for hiring at taxpayers' expense. There are even places for failed teachers in the system; one such place is called LEARN (in Old Saybrook) -- a sort-of nunnery where up to six hundred people are hired at taxpayer expense to perform unnecessary activities. There are six such places in CT alone, called "regional resource centers."

The state mandates that all CT children are to be offered instruction in a few basic subject areas. Does the state say what, exactly, needs to be learned? No. Does your local school system have a set of information that it requires the students to learn? If so, where is it written? If not, what is the purpose of the school system? If a child can demonstrate that he/she knows an "acceptable" amount of information, can that student be considered to have met the district's basic requirements for graduation? If not, why not? Is there more that is required from students than learning basic subject matter? What is it? Where is it written?

What we'll find is that a student must sit in classes until a certain number of "credits" are earned. A diploma does not depend on any particular amount of learning. It depends on a certain amount of seat time, or "time-on-task;" in other words, attendance. Thus, school is about serving time and obedience -- being psychologically conditioned -- but not learning. That is why many people call public school warehousing.

Recently, I met a startling example of warehousing -- a bright and talented senior who is about to graduate from her town's high school after attending for twelve years. She took the Army's test for general competence in reading and math -- a test set at approximately the sixth grade level. She failed. Her years in public school have not prepared this young woman well enough to join the Army. That is outrageous. For this to happen, the failure of her (typical) school is huge. After twelve years in public schools -- receiving As and Bs -- this young person is not competent in basic knowledge and has little chance to succeed in our society.

The public schools socially promoted her for twelve years while no one raised a flag about her lack of reading skills, which also led to her inability to understand written math problems. The Army considers her illiterate. How bad can it get! Ask at any public school, "Who is responsible to see that children learn to read at least at the sixth grade level before they get a high school diploma?" No one is. I asked if anyone on my school board was knowledgeable of the reading program and its results. No one is. What does that mean? It means that no one in the public school system cares about the results of what goes on.

Whose children are they? Whose money is it? End

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Schools Search for Weaknesses, not Strengths

"The authority of those who teach is often an obstacle to those who want to learn." - Cicero

As a former teacher, author of a book on learning and father of several children, I have long believed that most children are bright, gifted, and talented in their own ways. However, the more I learn about the public schools, the more I realize that they are set up to seek out and label children's weaknesses or, as they like to call them, "disabilities," but not to identify or develop children's talents or gifts.

What's going on? The schools are not what they claim to be. The above tells us that the schools are not looking for "Excellence," as they say, but are actively working to prevent children from reaching their highest potential, seeking mass mediocrity instead.

One of the school system's first official priorities (after babysitting) is to sort and label our children for government purposes. Here, the schools work in ways that are opposed to what parents want them to do. Schools make extra money (lots of it) by diagnosing "disabilities." The schools have what they call, "the bounty system" to get thousands per "diagnosis," from the state, even though the diagnoses are often made on flimsy grounds. Corrupt? You bet.

Strangely, there is no incentive for identifying a child's strengths or gifts or talents. Therefore, schools no longer look for those strengths. In fact, if a child is able to read well in first or second grade, s/he is sometimes penalized. I've even heard from a parent who was told by a teacher that for her to teach her child to read at age four or five was "child abuse." How insane can it get!
On examining my own habits, I notice that I have several "disorders." While school was about sitting still, I was about moving and doing things, so my school could have labeled me ADD if that diagnosis had existed back then. I do not remember names well, so am I brain defective? I do not keep a checkbook straight, so am I "sequence challenged?" I tend to begin in the middle of projects and work toward both ends, etc. If I were in public school today, my diagnosis might be, "Learning Disabilities." That would make a bundle for the school, but I believe it would damage me.

Today, we know that there are different kinds of intelligence and multiple ways of learning. Following our strengths leads us to work we enjoy and lives that are fulfilling, while we avoid doing things we are not good at and don't enjoy. For example: I was (among other occupations) a competent and happy farmer, but no amount of training would turn me into an accountant.

But the one-size-fits-all school system wants to turn out uniform and predictable people instead of diverse individuals. It does so by claiming that differences from the norms (even artificial ones) are "disabilities." By today's perverse rules, Edison, Einstein, Churchill, Warren Buffet and a host of other successful creative people would be part of the Special Ed food chain, dying on the vines of boredom and neglect, never to be heard from. As Mark Twain wrote, "Public school does not want the cream to rise." If you have bright children, be warned.

Public school's politically correct motto seems to be: "No winners, no losers; all are part of the mediocre middle." Not only does the government want a middle mass, but those who diagnose children are trained to seek disabilities, but are not trained to find kids' gifts and/or talents. The schools have phased out programs for gifted children and are instead concentrating on, and promoting, their alphabet soup of "disorders."

Is there any good news? Yes. While the schools ignore children's strengths, there is Great Potential, Inc (, a publishing company that can help parents find their children's strengths. Their latest offering is about the misdiagnoses that their authors claim happen far too often. Great Potential says, "As a result of misdiagnoses, we are unnecessarily medicating many of our best and brightest youth with drugs like Ritalin, Prozac, Lithium, and Paxil, and counseling them inappropriately. Such treatments may diminish their intellectual potential."

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

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Disconnect Between Parents and the Public Schools

“To the extent that producers are able to avoid competition, consumers suffer from the absence of innovation.” – Myron Lieberman, Public School: An Autopsy

The School Wars are, in effect, Producer-Consumer Conflicts. The conflicts arise when producers charge high prices for low quality services or products. The conflicts are common when the producer is a government owned and run monopoly as public schools are. It is ironic that the “public schools” are not owned or run by the public, but by the government, while private schools are owned and run by members of the public.

Most people are both producers and consumers. As consumers, we want improvement in what we buy, whether better quality, lower price or easier accessibility. Such improvements are the result of competition (market forces) among many producers of the products and services we want. But as producers, we try to protect ourselves from competition that would threaten our livelihood. The best situation, then, would be to have a monopoly as a producer and competition as a consumer.

In government schooling, the producers are the state, the school boards, administrators, teachers, and the consumers are the children, parents and taxpayers. The producers have advantages over the hapless consumers -- they have a virtual monopoly with constant income while the consumers must take what they are offered, and pay for it. Unfortunately, it is an inferior product at a high price. The producers determine the product and set the price without regard to market forces. They enjoy guaranteed revenue from taxes regardless of the quality of their product. They have the public over a barrel.

In a town such as mine (Guilford, CT) where there is no private school to offer competition, the school system can, and does, ignore its consumers simply because no market forces are operating. In the face of parental concerns, the administrators get away with remarks such as, “Trust us, we’re professionals” and, “You have no background in education.” Their intent is simply to dismiss parents for meddling in their private kingdom or for being a threat to their control. Their tactic is denial.

What are a few of the potential conflicts? Parents want the administrators to find the best teachers regardless of credentials. Parents also want teachers either to have a major in the subject they teach or to pass a rigorous test on the material. Unfortunately, the teacher unions insist on "certification" even though the certification process does not attract the best people for the jobs available. In fact, the process is repugnant to well-qualified and high-achieving adults.

The unions also fight against testing of its members for their knowledge and/or competence. School boards always agree with the unions. Who speaks for the consumers? No one.

Another conflict exists over merit pay. Most parents accept the free market idea that offers rewards based on achievement and accomplishment. It is a given in the real world that higher productivity gets higher pay…that is the incentive for doing more and better work. If applied to teachers, it would mean that some teachers would be paid more than others based on student achievement. Yet, the unions resist those market-oriented concepts and insist on equal pay based mostly on tenure. Thus teacher salaries are one-size-fits-all for the convenience of school administrators and so that the union can avoid internal squabbles. Nowhere is there a concern for what would be best for children, parents or community.

Many citizens believe that with more taxes or a redistribution of money the schools will work as parents want. However, no matter how much of our money government schools spend, they will not do what parents want. Why? Because the system is designed by government central planners advised by teacher unions. It serves the state, not parents, and its purpose is to turn out a mass of docile employees, not self-governing creative questioning individuals.

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Market for Liberty

"Private enterprise maintains and expands itself by continually offering people things they want. Government maintains and expands itself by depriving people of things they want, by means of forcibly seizing their goods (taxation) and forcibly preventing them from trading and living as they choose (regulation). Thus, private enterprise continually increases the prosperity and well-being of it customers, while government continually decreases the prosperity and well-being of its citizens."
-- Morris and Linda Tannehill, THE MARKET FOR LIBERTY, Laissez Faire Books, NY 1984

The quotation is a good description of how the public school system operates, reducing our prosperity and well-being by forcibly taking our money and dumbing down most of our children. Meanwhile, private individuals (by creating private schools and homeschooling) do far better in education and force not a penny from anyone, benefiting everyone.

That's all for today.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Evolution of a School Board Member

"God made idiots. That was for practice. Then He made school boards."- Mark Twain

The school wars rage on -- parents against the establishment. Why? Because school boards seem to work for the employees instead of for the residents and children they claim to represent. What happens to a person in the transformation from innocent resident to a member of the school board?

First, they join a political party. Parties choose candidates who will not rock their boats of political influence. If you believe that politics does not mix well with education, you are right, but you need to keep that to yourself. School boards serve political interests, not children's. The first transition, then, is from intelligent idealist to political survivor.

A typical school board member claims to be "in favor of education," and wants to "work for the children." They start out as creative and independent citizens, but soon learn that their idea of education is not the same as the state's. Local boards are, by CT law, "Creatures of the state, not agents of their towns." Thus. they do not represent the community. And what does the state want? Ironically, the state wants a docile workforce of dependent people who will do what they are told and are trained not to ask questions. So, board members devolve into group-thinkers who use the same nonsense language of administrators called "edubabble."

Some members begin as reformers who believe that the schools must change if they are to improve. But, if a town's schools are particularly bad - as most are -- neither political party will admit to the poor quality for fear of being blamed for it. Therefore, no one does anything to improve them. The school establishment wants no part of change. That's why some people call it, "The Blob." Therefore, a reformer would not be acceptable. Thus, the second transformation is from agent of change to accomplice in the status quo.

Board members often come from the ranks of the PTA or PTO, having "worked hard" to help the teachers do their jobs. They have become indoctrinated to believe that the teachers are overworked, underpaid and, "doing the best they can under the circumstances." They are blind to the fact that the union manipulates both the board and the teachers' workday, striving always to increase its influence at the expense of the town and its children. Thus the board member is changed from creative individual to sychophant.

The teachers union hand picks some candidates. They are often long-time teachers who retire with the notion of continuing to "help the children." These members have built-in conflicts of interests since they are imbued with the establishment "reasoning" and probably still draw pensions from the system. There is no chance that a retired teacher will be openly reform minded. The union has a singular goal: more money for less work. Whatever gains the union makes from board decisions are always at the expense of the children and/or the taxpayers, usually both.

Finally, members become institutionalized. The job changes them from crusaders for improvement to apologists for the status quo, from idealists wanting "better education" to supporters of the current failure, from searching for truth to agreeing with the lies, from part of the solution to part of the problem. The system dumbs down everyone in it.

What does the above mean? It means that residents who want to improve the schools cannot do so. It's a government game and it's rigged at the top. Government wants obedient soldiers; not independent thinkers. That is why mediocrity is set in stone, deceptions are the rule, and the corruptions are permanent. End

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

"Simon Sez," the School Game

"A common reason for the government to set up schools is for the boys to go to war and the girls to cheer them on."
-- Marshall Fritz, founder, Alliance for the Separation of School and State

Simon sez, “Stand on your left leg. Raise your right arm.” Simon sez, “Scratch behind your right ear with your left index finger.” How well we remember that game, “You there! You did not raise your arm fast enough. You’re out!” What stress it caused.

School says, “Sit down; be quiet.” School says, “Open your book to page six. Now go to the toilet. Now eat.” That’s the school’s game. The “winners” are the few who comply with the commands. The losers are all the ones who were caught in mistakes and were ushered aside…we might even say they were “left behind.”

The game, of course, is a metaphor for school. School Simon has buzzers, loud speakers, schedules, threats and punishments, even drugs to control the students. The employees even call themselves “professionals.” Simon Sez is an adult’s idea of a good time for children, and yet children seldom choose to play it on their own. The school employees say that what they do is "for the children," even though the public school system is designed to serve the needs of government and arranged for the convenience and benefit of the employees.

Today, many who went to school and took it seriously often find themselves at a loss for what to do. We have become dependent on Simon to tell us what to do. Well, that is because we have been trained not to think for ourselves. The training is done by the schools. It is called, “socialization,” and it breeds ignorance of one’s own needs and aspirations. It is obedience training and indoctrination, not education.

What is the purpose of such a school? Here’s David Alpert, author and homeschool advocate: “The objective is the production of a docile, compliant workforce that will not rebel, and that will seek out life satisfactions solely through the production and consumption of material goods. The first requirement is to become habituated to obedience…if you want to know what you should be feeling or thinking (or consuming), you should go ask Simon.”

Alpert continues, “Schools tell us that doing things that are just plain dumb because you are ordered to, builds character and prepares you for life.” How insane can it get? The truth is that the school game destroys character and prepares children for lives of blind obedience and dependency, denying the need of all youth to develop independence.

Today school employees like to say that theirs is a “democratic” institution, with a “culture of respect.” We have to laugh because it is the exact opposite. They are in fact anti-democratic because the system denies all principles of democratic association. Here’s psychologist/philosopher Erich Fromm: “The right to express our thoughts means something only if we are able to establish our own individuality.” He is saying that when democracy is perverted to mean that we are occasionally allowed to choose a new Simon, we are actually volunteering to be someone’s slave. The public schools are in fact not democratic but dictatorial, as their game demonstrates.

About one hundred fifty years ago, America copied the system of Prussia (which became fascist Germany) which used its schools to turn out factory workers and soldiers. It demanded total obedience. David Alpert concludes: “Perhaps the best that can be said about American public schooling is that, thankfully, we aren’t very good at it.”

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