Who decides what your children are taught?

Question: Who should be in charge of your child’s education—the school board, or the federal government?

While you chew on that, allow me to introduce you to a concept from classical rhetoric, called the “logical fallacy.” There are dozens of ways in which information is presented to an audience that screws up the logic—either accidentally or purposefully, in order to manipulate—leaving no one the better informed.

The question I posed at the beginning? We call that a “false dilemma.” There are only two options provided, so it’s a trick question.

The answer should be, NEITHER.

school board visit

When was the last time you heard of a school board visiting an actual classroom?

Who’s responsible for being in charge of your child’s education? It should be YOU!
Years ago, it was. Ever read the “Little House on the Prairie” series? Remember how the school boards came to be?

They were parents of the students, usually over a very limited region, such as a neighborhood or small town, and that board selected the teachers. Not only that, they told the teachers what they wanted their children to learn. If the parents didn’t approve of what the teacher was doing for their children, the teacher was booted out, leaving the parents and the school board to choose someone else more apt to meeting the individual needs of their unique children.

Tragically, we lost that system less than 150 years ago.

Why is that tragic? Because what’s replaced it is so massive and bloated that it cares nothing about your individual child’s needs, but is focused entirely on achieving goals to ensure that this country is producing workers to keep it competitive. Yes, that sounds dismal and even callous, but it’s the truth. No longer are we worried about developing the thought and knowledge of individuals, but in getting those individuals to conform to a group that we can more easily place in order to improve our economic standing. It’s all about money now, not about developing people. (I’ve ranted previously about that here and here.)

And it’s no coincidence that Common Core Curriculum, funded a great deal by Bill Gates, relies the old tried-and-failed assembly line system of education. (We’ve known for over a hundred years that all children can’t be successfully “produced” like a tool, but someone failed to let Gates—the creator of Windows 8—know that.)

Just getting the teenagers to pass the Final Administrative Competency Test—which over the years had been so simplified and leading in its questions that Mahrree often thought a sheep had a fair shot at passing it if only it could hold a quill to mark the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ boxes—was the purpose of education now.
~ Book 4, Falcon in the Barn

I bring all of this up because, once again, Common Core is in the news. As I write this (July 2014) a few states have abandoned it, reclaiming the right to educate their students according to the children’s needs (although state and even local school boards are still too big to be effectual). However, I live in a state notorious for spending very little per child (as if funding=educational excellence, another fallacy no one wants to address) and lately there’s been a spate of letters to the editors, and newspaper articles trying to defend it.

Just today I read one from a new school teacher eager for her first year of teaching, and enthralled with the idea of Common Core. She insisted all children surely can achieve at the same rates and levels, and I shook my head in sympathy. All of her naïve and optimistic enthusiasm would be drained by, I’m guessing, October.

However, I couldn’t help but notice, based on her letter, that she’d been very well indoctrinated by the educational department of her university, and I suspected that a variety of logical fallacies were likely employed to do so.

Mahrree realized some time ago that she was now the only teacher not enamored with the government’s control of education, likely because all of the teachers around her had gone through the Department of Instruction’s very thorough instruction, and were wholly converted to the notion that government knows best.
~Book 4, Falcon in the Barn

Does this come across as harsh?

Not any harsher than what I overheard a few weeks ago. I signed up my grade school children for some afternoon summer camps at the local elementary, and while waiting for them to finish their projects, I overheard one new teacher talking to another, slightly more seasoned. The new teacher said something like this:

“I’m really struggling to get some of these kids into the rubrics. I feel like I’m not representing them correctly. For example, last year I had a handful of kids easily complete tasks, earning them a score of ‘1.’ But then I had others that I had to cajole, bring back on task, then have them correct their work over and over until they finally got it right. [sigh of exasperation from the teacher] Yet on the matrices, they also earned a ‘1.’ But that’s just not fair, in my eyes. They shouldn’t receive that score because of how much work went behind it. [And in my mind I’m thinking, ‘Hey, sounds like they earned that grade more than those who achieved it easily.’ But wait—here comes the kicker:] So how do I force these kids into the right places on the district rubrics?”

Yes, that’s right; where do I shove them on the form? It was clear by his tone and gesturing that he really didn’t want to have to deal with children that didn’t easily complete the tasks, because they were skewing his rubrics, matrices, or whatevers.

But worse than that, his worry was not on meeting the needs of the students, but on meeting the needs of the school district administrators.

Stunned by the rather formulaic and cold manner in which the teachers proceeded to discuss the categorization of children, I didn’t say a word and pretended I didn’t overhear their conversation. (Besides, I’ve learned the hard way when to shut my mouth.) But that discussion hasn’t left my mind.

Why wasn’t the new teacher asking about why some of the kids struggled?
Why wasn’t he worried that many had to be cajoled, and brought back to task over and over?
Doesn’t that signal levels of boredom? Frustration? Is no one worried about that?
And since when did achieving something easily become the benchmark we embrace? There’s a great deal more learned in the struggle, in the revision, in overcoming an obstacle to finally get it right. We’re not celebrating that anymore? Apparently there’s no space on the form for, “Breakthrough Achievement: mastered the 3 times tables, after two long, difficult months. Celebrating all around.”
Oh, but there should be!

Over the years I’ve met several teachers who, having started their careers back in the early 1980s, have abandoned teaching before retirement age because, they told me, “It wasn’t fun anymore.” By that they meant, the joy was gone; they couldn’t read to their students (I remember listening to my teachers reading us novels up to an hour a day; yes, Little House on the Prairie), or develop crafty projects to reinforce lessons, or do messy but interesting science experiments. Greater demands from those furthest away from the actual children have siphoned off the elements of happiness—and learning CAN be a happy thing!—leaving these teachers depressed and worried for their students.

Most of these bright-eyed and optimistic teachers felt certain every student could be coerced into learning, but in a few years they, too, would slump into the same dreariness Mahrree witnessed in older teachers who knew the system didn’t work, but whose only power against it was to leave it. Maybe they, too, at some point remembered the time when parents directed learning, when students asked the questions, and when ideas were discussed, not forced.
~ Book 4, Falcon in the Barn

The worst part is, even after years and years of reforms, our educational system has NOT improved, and we are outpaced by dozens of countries. There are far too many studies to prove it. Google them, and join in the depression.

Then again, that was a generation ago now, and the only class Mahrree knew of that broke all of the lecture-regurgitation rules was her own group full of “special cases:” the students no one wanted because no one could handle them.

Occasionally Mahrree speculated that if she had additional “difficult” students to educate in her own way, that she just might have enough to foment a full rebellion.
~ Book 4, Falcon in the Barn

More and more I’m thinking, that’s not such a bad idea . . . In fact, it may eventually become the only option. And I’m making sure my kids are ready for it.

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