Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Norman Mailer and Parade Magazine

Last year, the writer Norman Mailer spoke to Parade Magazine about the deplorable condition of children's reading ability in this country. The magazine asked for readers' responses. I wrote to them as follows:

To the editor of Parade Magazine:

Your lead article for Jan. 23, “One Idea,” asks: 1. Do you agree with Norman Mailer? and 2. What one idea will change America for the better? My reply is as follows:

I disagree. Mailer correctly identifies a huge problem – the poor reading skills of America’s public school children – but he mistakenly blames TV commercials, when the failing school system itself is the true culprit. (If anything, commercials help people to learn English.)

The public schools have the children captive for twenty thousand hours over twelve years or so. Despite that opportunity, they fail to teach millions of children to read or calculate well. The failure is the schools’ – not TV.

Mr. Mailer is among millions of people who think that all the school system needs is a tweak here, or more money there, and it will educate us well. However, he and those others are wrong. In terms of its own goals, the school system is working just as it is designed -- to indoctrinate and to offer only a minimum of learning. Early documents show that the mediocrity of the state-run schools is intentional. If the government wanted high literacy, that is what it would produce, but it wants something else entirely: a workforce – a dumbed-down populace that will be predictable, docile, and dependent on government and other institutions.

What’s going on? The system employs a reading instruction method (whole language) that prevents many children from learning how to read adequately, and it also employs math instruction programs (called "fuzzy math") that ignore the teaching of basic algorithms – the tools for calculating accurately and the steps needed in order to learn more advanced math. One result of such poor methods of instruction are the recent scores on international tests (PISA, TIMSS, et al) that show how poorly American schools rank when compared to those of other industrial countries. (for specific reasons why the US methods are ineffective, go to the website of Fordham Foundation,, and see their piece, “The State of State Standards.”)

The failure of the school system does have a solution, and that is my One Idea for changing America for the better. It is as follows: Education is in the wrong hands. The central fact of the public school system is that it is not owned or run by “the public,” but instead it is owned and run by government. Therefore, despite what we are told about "local control," there is no such thing. Education in America is under federal and state control, and that is its problem.

For education to improve, it must be separated from government control and be allowed to enter a free market of privately owned, privately operated, and privately (parent) funded schools that will offer what parents want for their children and are willing to pay for. For those who cannot afford direct payments for education, the private sector has many ways of providing the needed funds, such as scholarships and tuition grants. When school taxes are no longer collected, the great majority of families will have (retain) that money to spend for the amount and quality of education they want for their children.

The future of education is the free market where the internet and private schooling compete for students. Today, a million or more are homeschooling with great success, and thousands of websites offer learning of all types from many of the world’s best teachers and experts. Meanwhile, the public schools are getting worse every day in comparison, because of their bureaucratic and political entanglements, the teacher unions, their archaic methods, poor programs and culture of corruption.

Education is too important to leave in the hands of a coercive monopoly run by politicians and bureaucrats. We have choice in everything except the most important thing: education. That must change through privatization.

Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

Ned Vare, Guilford, CT

Friday, May 9, 2008

Homeschool or Unschool?

My wife and I are advocates of homeschooling in all its forms, but for our son we chose Unschooling which might be described as letting the learner choose what, when, where and with whom he learns.

The big advantage our son had, thanks to UNschooling throughout his youth, was that he learned to be in charge of his learning, and really his life to a great degree. In contrast, kids who attend schools learn to wait for others to tell them what to do, what to think. After twelve years of that, they become completely dependent on others for direction. In our son's case, he learned to be in charge of his own life to the degree he was able.

In general, that does not prepare young people for college. Colleges prefer people who have initiative and can motivate themselves, who know what they want to learn, and most important, know how to find information when they need it, and are not afraid to make decisions for themselves. Those characteristics are the opposite of what public schools teach. The government schools have the goal of turning out a "workforce" of dependent predictable people. The government does not want people to be well educated -- just enough, but no more. The "economy" needs lots of sheep, not too many shepherds. Lots of spectators, not many players. Our son, and many homeschooled children we know, learned to be independent and creative thinkers, to do what was right for them, not necessarily for the "economy."

School does not prepare children for life. Each year of school merely prepares them for the next year of school. Our motto is, "Live with your children as though there were no such thing as school." Let your kids know that they are responsible for their lives and for their learning, no one else is.

Our son never did lessons, never looked at a school book. We did not teach him school stuff at home. He learned what he was interested in, which was almost everything. He scored incredibly high on the SATs and got into college easily on his own and breezed through happily graduating Magna Cum Laude. He was well prepared for college without doing any of the school stuff. He was prepared for life, not just college. He is grateful for his experience growing up and we are still his best friends. What more can we ask?

Postscript: Cassidy met a wonderful lady in Seattle and they have moved back to Brooklyn, NY to live. The couple have asked to be married at our house in CT and the fiancee also asked Luz to be their minister and perform the ceremony in June. How sweet it is!

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Letter to a Worried Parent

To a mother of a bright child in New Hampshire:

Ever since its inception (around 1850), the government school system has waged a constant war against both children and parents, and against all communities. The war is between the desires of parents for their children and the opposing needs of the State to produce a docile, predictable (not-too-well educated) "workforce" to serve the economy and the military.

Once a parent places a child in government school, the differences appear, and the longer the child stays, the more apparent they become. Quite simply, the school is not on your side in the war over your child's mind. Homeschooling begins when a parent realizes that the state has goals for children that are opposite to their own. Thus, homeschooling is almost always for positive reasons since it reconciles the child's needs (and interests) with his/her life experience. In homeschooling, the child serves his/her own needs, not primarily those of the state.

Your bad experience with the schools regarding your son is typical of many. The public school system, whatever its employees may tell you, is not interested in individuals and their progress toward their "personal best." That is all hype. The system is designed from the top down to be a "one-size-fits-all" factory style grinder turning out a pre-designed mass of citizens, not individuals inspired to reach their individual potential. Dumbing down is not a catch phrase or an accident; it is the national policy. (You can look it up in John Taylor Gatto's great book, "The Underground History of American Education"). Remember, the employees do not work for you or your children; they all work for the state, and serve the state's needs only.

In general, public schools ignore bright children. Helping high achievers is simply not on the agenda of the public schools. A student who wants or needs special attention must depend on individual employees -- in some cases breaking school/union rules. Luckily, such employees exist and are helping a few children, but it is at the risk of their jobs in many cases. The state wants a middle mass of citizens coming from its schools -- not exceptional, creative independent thinkers.

Start homeschooling now. Have no fear. You do not need a particular motive or reason, they are all good.

All best wishes,
Ned Vare
send for info packet:

Friday, May 2, 2008

Six Billion Dollars Later

6 Billion Dollars Later, a Lot of Children Are Left Behind

As if you weren't convinced enough that the public school system is a failed one, a recent study has again proven the flaws in the No Child Left Behind program. According to the U.S. Department of Education (ironically, a champion of NCLB), studies show that schools using the Reading First program performed no better than schools that did not.

Reading First is an early phonics program designed by the government. $1 billion dollars of our taxes have gone to Reading First each year since the 2002 No Child Left Behind law was passed. Classrooms that use Reading First spend about 10 more minutes a day on reading lessons… resulting in no marked improvement as far as reading comprehension is concerned across the board.

One thing did improve in Reading First schools, however… their annual funding. They weren't the only ones who were being rewarded financially, either. According to the 2007 written testimony of John P. Higgins Jr., the Reading First program has been rife with corruption:

Through our work, we found that the Department:
1) appeared to inappropriately influence the use of certain programs and assessments;
2) failed to comply with statutory requirements and its own guidance;
3) obscured the requirements of the statute; and
4) created an environment that allowed real and perceived conflicts of interest.

It seems that the Three Rs now stand for revenue, revenue, revenue.

This post was contributed by Heather Johnson, who is an industry critic on the subject of university reviews . She invites your feedback at

Thursday, May 1, 2008


The road to Hell starts with a school bus ride.

Children’s Advocates Ask Companies Not to Advertise on Bus Radio and Channel One
Following is today’s letter from a group of child advocates to the leading national advertisers and ad agencies.

Dear Corporate/Ad Agency Leader:

As you know, advertising is now commonplace in the public schools. Yet, many advertising and marketing professionals have deep misgivings about marketing to school children. According to a 2004 Harris poll of youth advertising and marketing professionals, only 45% “feel that today’s young people can handle advertising in schools.” Not surprisingly, 47% believe that “schools should be a protected area” and that “there should not be advertising to students on school grounds.”

We are writing to ask for your help to turn your industry’s conscience into a reality, and to protect our children and their education from aggressive marketers.
Channel One is a highly controversial in-school marketing company that delivers televised content to nearly 11,500 schools throughout the nation. In exchange for video equipment, these schools now spend one full school week each year watching television, including one full school day just for the ads. According to the Harris poll, 61% of youth marketing professionals believe that it is “inappropriate” for companies like Channel One to “provid[e] instructional material that integrates brand names and products into the lessons.”

BusRadio is the newest foray of advertisers into public schools. It seeks to install special radio equipment into school buses that will carry that company’s offerings, including eight minutes of ads per hour. In its contract with school districts, BusRadio does not rule out advertising any particular type of products. If Channel One is any guide, we might expect BusRadio to advertise junk food, soda pop, violent and sexualized entertainment, and movies that encourage school children to smoke tobacco.

Whatever BusRadio advertises, children as young as six will have no choice as to whether to listen or not. Nor will their parents be able to exercise any control over their children’s exposure. The sales pitches will fill the bus and interfere with those children who want to read, study, talk, pray, or do almost anything else other than listen to the programming. According to the Harris poll, 69% of youth advertising and marketing professionals believe that “advertising on school buses” is “inappropriate.”

We agree with these professionals. We believe it is wrong for a company to use compulsory school attendance laws to force a captive audience of children to listen to advertising. As most practitioners in the field recognize, successful advertising depends on the willing participation of both advertiser and consumer. BusRadio and Channel One violate this fundamental principle.

We are asking your [company/agency] to pledge by October 15 not to buy advertising on Bus Radio or Channel One. We hope you will join with us and affirm that school children should not be compelled to listen to or watch advertising.

We will follow up with you in the next two weeks about whether your [company/agency] will make this pledge. We would welcome the opportunity to discuss at your convenience the issues in this letter. Please feel free to call Jim Metrock of Obligation, Inc. at (205) 822-0080, Gary Ruskin of Commercial Alert at (503) 235-8012, or Monique Tilford of the Center for a New American Dream at (301) 891-3683. We look forward to your reply.


[various orgs]

The letters were endorsed by 40 organizations and 64 children’s advocates. Endorsers include the American Family Association, Center for Science in the Public Interest, Consumers Union, Eagle Forum, Global Exchange and the National PTA, as well as the National Council of Churches Committee on Public Education and Literacy and the Presbyterian Church (USA) Office of Child Advocacy.

The letters are the first step in a new campaign to remove BusRadio and Channel One from every school in the United States. The campaign is organized by Commercial Alert, the Center for a New American Dream and Obligation, Inc.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008 California,

Does anyone know what happened to this idea?

Students ordered to wear tracking tags
Parents protest school mandate on RFID badges

Dawn and Mike Cantrall's daughter, a seventh-grader at Brittan Elementary School, poses at her Sutter, Calif., home, wearing the RFID tag mandated by her school.
By Lisa Leff

Updated: 8:02 p.m. ET Feb. 9, 2005
SUTTER, Calif. - The only grade school in this rural town is requiring students to wear radio frequency identification badges that can track their every move. Some parents are outraged, fearing it will rob their children of privacy.

The badges introduced at Brittan Elementary School on Jan. 18 rely on the same radio frequency and scanner technology that companies use to track livestock and product inventory.

While similar devices are being tested at several schools in Japan so parents can know when their children arrive and leave, Brittan appears to be the first U.S. school district to embrace such a monitoring system.

Civil libertarians hope to keep it that way.
"If this school doesn't stand up, then other schools might adopt it," Nicole Ozer, a representative of the American Civil Liberties Union, warned school board members at a meeting Tuesday night. "You might be a small community, but you are one of the first communities to use this technology."

The system was imposed, without parental input, by the school as a way to simplify attendance-taking and potentially reduce vandalism and improve student safety. Principal Earnie Graham hopes to eventually add bar codes to the existing ID's so that students can use them to pay for cafeteria meals and check out library books.
But some parents see a system that can monitor their children's movements on campus as something straight out of Orwell.

"There is a way to make kids safer without making them feel like a piece of inventory," said Michael Cantrall, one of several angry parents who complained. "Are we trying to bring them up with respect and trust, or tell them that you can't trust anyone, you are always going to be monitored and someone is always going to be watching you?"

Cantrall said he told his children, in the 5th and 7th grades, not to wear the badges. He also filed a protest letter with the board and alerted the ACLU.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A Letter to a Skeptic

The most common description of school today is "Boring." Ask anyone -- kids, parents, even teachers. There are many articles, even whole books, telling the sad tale of how school is not merely a waste of time, but is actually damaging.

While public schools are required to "offer instruction" in a few basic subjects, there is no legal requirement for children to be forced to attend classes in which they are bored silly and where they are not even given the basic skills. For example, reading instruction has been changed from learning how to read using phonics, to guessing at words using a farce called Whole Language, resulting in massive reading failure. The same is true in Math. The schools use "Fuzzy math" instead of teaching how to calculate for correct answers. The business world and the professions are appalled at the massive failure.

Some people still believe that the government schools are offering real education. They have not been paying attention to those schools for a long time. Their primary purpose is no longer (if it ever was) academic learning; it has become indoctrination with a generous helping of psycho-therapy. All you need to do is observe them in action. Today's state-run schools are still, as ever, the training ground for the military, factory work and other repetitive jobs requiring blind obedience. They are not the places to learn independent thought or creative action. Dumbing Down is not just a catchy phrase, it's the national policy.

Teachers majored in "education," a content-free course that attracts mostly those who have not been academically successful in either school or college. Thus, the staffs of public schools are crowded with people who are neither of high academic ability, but are not even academically oriented.

A study by the Thomas Fordham Foundation (and others) provides a key to why so many people are choosing alternatives such as homeschooling for their children. It is that the Standards of teaching in the public schools of America have long been poor and are steadily getting worse. What that means is that the quality of the teaching and the teachers has been falling for fifty years and continues today. (Microsoft is forced to hire 200,000 people from overseas because American high school grads cannot read or write English adequately or do simple math)

Ask Arthur Levine, head of Columbia Teachers College, the "leading" teacher and administrator mill, about the quality of the teacher colleges across the country. In his four-year study of those colleges (that did not include Columbia) he described them as "between unacceptable and embarrassing, with low standards and irrelevant curricula." Thus, we are left with mostly inferior instruction, low academic standards and inadequate administrators at best.

When parents discover those problems for themselves and are interested in their own children's education, they are voting with their feet, by looking for private schools or homeschooling. That group has always been professional people. In years past, doctors were the most likely group to send their kids to private schools. Today, they have been replaced by public school teachers as the occupation with the largest percentage of children in private schools. A recent report, also by the Fordham Foundation claimed that 21% of public school teachers send their own children to private schools. They should know why....ask them. Some are homeschooling.

The average college graduate is both more intelligent and better educated than the average public school teacher. Parents who choose to homeschool their children -- and I mean all but a negligible percent -- are, in my considerable experience with them, not only the most knowledgable about their own children's needs, but are far more dedicated to their children than the strangers that public schools employ. My wife and I were teachers; she in public school and I in private schools. She calls her certification a joke. We both saw the mediocrity and waste.

One thing we learned from our years of involvement in our own son's self-education (we call it unschooling -- no schooling at all unless requested by the learner) and with families is that whatever schools offer is available to everyone -- more easily, more quickly, with better quality, and on our own schedule -- in many other places. Yes, homeschooling is a form of protection of children -- from stupidity and mediocrity, bullying and coercion, boredom and time-wasting. Life is a good teacher; homeschoolers learn from real life, not in artificial, synthetic second-hand teaching environments.

We have also learned that the public schools are huge government jobs programs for adults at taxpayer expense. Their true (social and economic) purposes have little to do with either education or children. They are run today for the benefit and convenience of their employees, not for the community, not for the students who trustingly show up but who are, in droves, left behind. They are driven by political agendas, silly teaching fads, and controlled by teacher union rules.

Next time you knock homeschooling, spend some time in a public school first. Judge the secrecy, deception and corruption for yourself and then consider whether you would put your own children in there. Just don't look too close or ask too many questions -- they'll throw you out. And to your question about whether or not the schools would change "if we just hang in there and work for reform," life is simply not long enough. Sadly, the schools are working perfectly for their employees and show no signs of improvement, or even listening.