America’s the land of revolutions; let’s start another one!

There are revolutions happening all around us in America, but we don’t always recognize them. But once we do, we realize we can be part of them.

If we dare.

Most of these revolutions arise from breaking with the status quo of our ancestors. And not just talking about change, but actually being part of it. Too often we spout niceties about being original and different, but in reality we’re terrified to not follow the crowd. Too frequently we want to be in on the latest trend, say the right thing in whatever is deemed politically correct for the day, and to be counted among the winners.

And that last reason—to be among the winners—is why people are afraid to be different.

For example, while so many people are personally opposed to both of the major political candidates running for president, they’ll vote for one of them anyway because that’s how it’s always been.

But that doesn’t have to be. We can begin to change the system, this year.

I know that’s scary talk, and I heard someone comment that this isn’t the time for a revolution, but revolutions are happening all the time. Every day people are rejecting what corporations and governments, and what tradition and the status quo, have been dictating should be.

This has always been the way change begins—not with large organizations or ensconced traditions, but with individuals. Margaret Mead famously said,

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

Citizens have always taken it upon themselves to instigate change. Back in 1776 Thomas Paine published “Common Sense,” advocating that the colonies separate themselves from Britain. An individual—not a corporation or organization—gave other citizens the idea to break with the current tradition and be brave enough to begin the Revolutionary War.

Not that all acts by individuals will lead to such dramatic events (and there were certainly many more factors contributing to the war). But people have been going contrary to the prevailing winds for a long time. Eleanor Roosevelt once said,

“Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

What this means, as Hugh Nibley has written, is that we need to “Be different. Then you can make a contribution. Otherwise, you just echo something; you’re just a reflection.”

Emil Neufeldt 002

Emil Neufeldt

Many years ago, the Nazi party tried to make my great-grandfather into a reflection. Emil Neufeldt, who lived in the Prussian region of Germany during WWII, was a wealthy inventor and engineer, with great influence in the sugar industry. The Nazis knew someone with his stature and money would be beneficial to their cause, so in the 1930s they sent one of their best to recruit him.

My great-grandfather wanted nothing to do with the Nazis, but knew that openly opposing them could cause him trouble. So he came up with an idea. Known to be able to hold his alcohol, Emil drank the Nazi recruiter under the table. Then he marched to the local Nazi headquarters and demanded they drag their recruiter home. He told them in no uncertain terms they should never dare again try to make him one of their own.

Did Emil Neufeldt stop World War II? No.

Did he stop the Nazis? No.

Did he secure safety for his family and household, and not be bothered by embarrassed and humiliated fascists again? Yes, he did.

He made a difference in his small part of the world, and eighty years later his great-granddaughter proudly remembers his example of not following the dubious safety of authority. (Even though it involved alcohol.)

My mother also told me of a Catholic priest in their area who, in the early years of WWII, preached openly about the atrocities of the Nazis, and publicly questioned where all the Jews were going.

He vanished shortly after, never to be heard from again. Did he change the world then? Stop the Nazis? Discover and reveal what was happening to the disappearing Jews?

No.

He likely met their same fate in some concentration camp. But his bravery is remembered, right here, today. His words and worries and defiance was repeated, many times over by others just as daring, and eventually the war ended and the horrible truth was revealed.

We don’t remember mere reflections. We remember innovators. We remember those who changed the world, for better and for worse.

We remember contrarians. The word coined by Richard and Linda Eyre means”to go against the prevailing wisdom, to contradict what the majority seems to be thinking or doing. [A] ‘contrarian’ . . . describe[s] someone who thinks for himself and who is not swayed by trends or popularity or styles or the direction of the crowd.”

This is happening, all around us. Contrarianism frequently means rejecting foolish traditions of the past.

For example, when I was a teenager in the 1980s rampant consumerism was the tradition. You were openly judged based upon what you wore, what you have, and how big your house was. (Anyone remember Yuppies or “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”?) The era of McMansions was also born, then: gargantuan houses which no one could fill, and later, no one could afford.

But what’s the movement now? Tiny houses. Brilliantly constructed, carefully planned, and usually financially prudent, tiny homes are becoming the answer for many people who can’t afford even to rent.

So who started this trend? A man named Jay Shafer, along with Greg Johnson, Shay Salomon, and Nigel Valdez began the Small House Society back in 2002.  Not a corporation, not an organization, but a “small group of thoughtful, committed citizens” are striving to make housing affordable for everyone.

The government certainly isn’t behind this change. They’re still calling for us to spend, spend, spend in order to improve the economy. Remember a few years back when the feds sent us cash hoping to “stimulate” financial growth? There was no lasting benefits.

In the 1980s and 90s, the tradition to show you have “arrived” was to own a designer handbag. Now, companies like Coach are struggling, along with many department stores and malls, because consumerism was discovered to not be all that it was hyped to be.

The funny thing is, if you’re unhappy, buying stuff won’t fix that. The rising generations, already stuck with debt, logically and contrarily don’t feel like generating more just for a random symbol of status their mothers and grandmothers erroneously thought was so important.

Nowadays, there’s a quiet revolution toward minimalism; people deliberately getting rid of stuff, downsizing their homes, possessions, and priorities. Many websites and books can teach you how to toss all that weighs you down, to organize what you have left, and live a more peaceful, tranquil, simple life.

Again, these are led by individuals who, contrarian-like, have rejected the status quo and have discovered something much more satisfying. And it’s happening all around us.

When I was a child in the 1970s, I first heard about vegetarians, and the idea to avoid eating meat both alarmed and intrigued me. But vegetarians were hippies! Free-loving weirdos and tree huggers! What a non-traditional folk! (And a lot of folks over sixty still regard vegetarians this way, so be warned when you bring it up.) Never mind that there have always been those who have eschewed meat: veganism was only for those on the fringe.

But no longer. While advertisements try to push us toward more meat and protein and dairy products, consumption has declined in the past years. The burger places for which people in the 1960s-1980s developed such affinities are finding themselves struggling against a growing number of restaurants offering healthy alternatives. The web is awash in thousands of vegetarian sites, and what was once on the fringes of contrariness is now mainstream.

Again, no corporation or governmental entity has led the movement for healthier eating. (Sorry, Mrs. Obama.) People have decided, after being inspired by other thoughtful individuals such as T. Colin Campbell and “The China Study”, to eat healthier. Subsequent weight loss and markedly improved health are more powerful inducements than any kind of advertisement.

Need further proof of how we’re rejecting what a generation ago believed was so important? If you’re a millennial, you won’t know that starting in the 1970s we were involved in the cola wars, and those extended until the 1990s. Battles in advertisements between Coke and Pepsi were fought viciously to win our loyalty. This explains why your grandmother may refuse to eat at a certain restaurant because they don’t serve diet Pepsi. She’s still a victim of that bloodless battle to win her devotion. Never mind that soda is as unhealthy and addictive as sugared hummingbird water; cola was king.

1985 ad, when we believed one soda might be “better” for us than another.

Mercifully, people have come to realize that they needn’t define themselves by what foods and beverages they’re loyal to.

In fact, I’ve heard of many in my generation and older are stunned to hear their descendants may drink only water, and never want to eat at McDonald’s. No, this isn’t some kind of treachery; it’s individuals thinking for themselves, looking past the hype and realizing there’s nothing of substance to back it up. 

Along those lines, it may also shock and surprise you that there are families who do not want to ever visit Disneyland. Although the masses and advertising claim it to be the “happiest place on earth,” standing in lines and paying for exorbitant entrance prices, food, and swag doesn’t make everyone happy. You may be startled to know that some contrarians’ children will never walk on that hallowed ground, because they and their parents prefer the solitude, quiet, and low entrance fees of national parks.

Contrarians also show up in education, and have been for many years. Common Core and the associated scripts and texts which pander to it, are driving many families to homeschooling which, three decades ago, was a fringe alternative but is now almost trendy and fast becoming the new tradition.

And if you were around in the 1980s, you  might remember a crass movie called “Revenge of the Nerds.” Now, geek culture is the culture, contrary to what anyone would have believed 30 years ago.

Our attitudes of what is “acceptable” and how things “should” be are changing all the time.

Why can’t our attitudes then also change about how we elect a president?

Most Americans still feel obligated to side with either the Republicans or Democrats, even if they feel neither represents them.  And the arguments they use are old and tired: “Because of the electoral college, only a Republican or Democrat will win.”

Or, a vote for anyone else besides Republican or Democrats means, “Your vote will be wasted.”

Rephrased it’s, “Being different will mean you’ll be left out.”

Doesn’t that hearken back to every fear we had as kids? Not being part of the “in” group?

Too many of us adults still harbor those worries, desperate to be part of “the group” so that we matter. In my limited observations, it’s those middle aged and older who are most worried about being obedient to the brand of Republican or Democrat they were brought up with. They still think (hope?) all Republicans are like Reagan and all Democrats are like the Roosevelts.

Now consider this: how often has the “in” group made poor choices which affected thousands and even millions? Begin by listing obvious dictators, and count which societies are still doing well under them.

Think about all the examples I’ve just shown you about individuals making a difference, influencing others around them to be contrarians. Why can’t we extend this bravery and independent thought to overturn an antiquated and manipulative system for something that really works?

Now is the time for each of us to individually say, “I will no longer support this.” Revolutions don’t have to be bloody, angry things. In fact, nearly all of the examples of positive change I listed above have been thoughtful movements.

“As we watch the directions that society is taking we see the folly, and in our most lucid moments, we don’t want to follow the trends, we want to depart from them — to think more clearly and chart our course on light and truth rather than on the herd instinct that seems to dictate what most people do.” ~Richard and Linda Eyre [emphasis added]

Too often we believe that there are only two options: the established way, and the wrong way. But rhetorically speaking, this is a logical fallacy. If you’ve ever worked for a boss who claims it’s only his way or the highway, you know how miserable that situation can be, and it usually signals a business is in big trouble.

Refusing to see other possibilities is what traps us. There are ALWAYS more options—to any situation, problem, or ideal.

Change never comes from the establishment or a corporation. It always arises from insightful, thoughtful, brave individuals who refuse to believe “there’s no other way.”

My neighbor recently demonstrated this by showing just how few Americans really support the Republican and Democratic parties.

#iamsomeone (And, importantly, Dallin Crump’s just an individual who wants to illustrate a point; he receives no funding or sponsorships. He’s just a “someone,” a “thoughtful citizen,” trying to change America. The fact that millions of people have also viewed and shared this suggests he’s not alone).

It’s up to us to stop being afraid of being different, to embrace contrarianism, to stand up against the tide and slow it down, even if only for a little a bit.

incite change

“I have spent many years of my life in opposition, and I rather like the role.” ~Eleanor Roosevelt

I haven’t voted for either party in twenty years. At times, I’ve even written in candidates who I felt would be excellent leaders. I don’t feel my votes were wasted; I feel my conscience was satisfied.

We ourselves might not experience rewards from our subtle civil disobedience by not voting for either the Republican or Democratic candidate, but our children or grandchildren may.

It’s not necessarily for us that we stand up at this election, or at any other time, to defy the status quo. It’s for those who follow.

Generations from now, may we be remembered as the Thomas Paines, the Emil Neufeldts, and the Catholic Priests who did something more than meekly follow the noisiest crowd. We should be–must be–remembered as those who lent a hand in turning the country around.

“It’s rare,” Gleace told them, “that anyone in the world comes up with new ideas, or pokes at old notions to discover if what everyone believes is actually true. But you,” he smiled slyly at Perrin and Mahrree, “you poked all the time. And that’s how you got here.”

“Our poking caused trouble,” Mahrree pointed out.

“Ah, but the very best kind!” Gleace declared. “The kind that makes people question everything they know. People need to be poked every now and then.”

~Book 5, Safety Assured Leaving East of Medicetti

Teachers shouldn’t ask questions to get answers

It doesn’t matter what kind of teacher: public, private, or church Sunday School, the purpose of asking questions isn’t to get answers

(Not my actual Sunday School class, but roughly the same amount of kids.)

If only adults could understand that.

While I’ve taught college freshmen for over twenty years, I’ve also taught classes in my church. Right now I’m responsible to teach Sunday School to 15-16 year-olds, and because there was some kind of baby boom back in 1999, I have a class of 19 teenagers right now. The leaders in my LDS ward think I need “Help,” and today was a classic example of Question Anxiety.

That’s the best way I can put it: when I ask a question, the “Help” jumps in to answer it. Remember, the “Help” is a well-intentioned adult; but this class is for the teenagers, and when I pose a question they sit for a few seconds, thinking.

And that’s exactly what I want: I do not want answers; I want thought.

The older gentleman helping today obviously wasn’t comfortable with the silence, and tried to fill it each time it manifest itself.

But I love the silence! Wonderful things happen during it.

First, there’s the first five uncomfortable seconds when teens give each other the sidelong glance to see if anyone has an immediate answer.

That’s when the adults get nervous, and want to supply something—anything.

Because adults often work with A Plan. No matter what the task or chore or goal, most adults want A Plan, and getting quickly from point B to task H is imperative. Give answers, get moving along.

It’s because most of us were raised in the public school system which, even worse now than ever, has A Plan that must completed, no matter the needs of the children, no matter the level of interest—The Plan (quite often linked to Common Core) must be accomplished.

My son’s 11-year-old friend encountered this the other day. A substitute teacher set up four stuffed animals: a whale, a tiger, a dolphin, and an octopus. She asked the 5th graders which animal didn’t belong in the group.

Before you read further, what would your answer be?

Nice meme. Would read easier if the last two lines were, “to ask questions that EVEN YOU can’t answer.” But you get the idea . . .

My son’s friend said, “The octopus. Because all the other animals are mammals.”

That wasn’t the “right” answer, and the substitute, for whatever reason, came down a bit hard on him for not giving her answer. Instead of acknowledging that his answer was correct as well, and instead of stepping back and thinking, “Hey, clever. I hadn’t considered that,” she instead snapped at him that the tiger didn’t fit, because the rest of the animals were aquatic animals.

Stick to The Plan. Move along. The point isn’t education. The point is completing the task.

How tragic. This 11-year-old was thinking. He was right!

And that’s what teachers should want when they ask questions: the questions should make students THINK!

That’s what happens in my Sunday School class after those first five uncomfortable seconds. In the next five, kids start to muse to themselves, No one else is saying anything . . . maybe I should come up with something?

Another five seconds, and then a hand tentatively goes up with a comment I grin at and write on the board.

Then another hand. And another.

Yes! They’ll get there, without someone stepping in and supplying the answer too quickly for them.

But there’s still one more thing I want to have happen when I ask a question. Thinking is first, their responses is second, and then . . .

Well, let me tell you what happened today. The topic was The Nature of God, and I opened with asking the students, “What do you know about God?”

That was when the Helper, after five seconds, jumped in with several statements of what he, a sixty-year-old man, knew. Frankly, I didn’t care what he knew. I wanted to know what my 15-year-olds knew.

Eventually, they began to offer bits and pieces which I put on the board.

When I wrote, “Jesus has a body of flesh and bones, and not blood,” that’s when the magic happened.

One girl raised her hand. “Wait, Jesus doesn’t have blood anymore?”

“Nope,” I told her. “Resurrected beings don’t. He can’t die anymore, or even be injured.”

A couple of other teens weren’t aware of that either, and then came more questions. “So he could go skydiving and nothing bad would happen to him?”

“You got it. And here’s the awsome part—all of us will someday be resurrected too, with a perfect body of flesh and bone.”

Here’s where the discussion shifted into a little bit of silliness, but I let it.

“So when I’m resurrected, I can do extreme sports and not worry about getting hurt?”

“That’s right!”

Do you see what happened there?

The kids started asking the questions!

THAT should be the goal of every teacher’s lesson: not getting answers to our questions, but getting questions from our students. That means they’re interested. They’re thinking. They’re engaged!

And it doesn’t happen too often, unfortunately. I’ve heard of too many kids asking a question in school, and being told, after an awkward pause, “I’m not really sure, and since it’s not on the test, let’s not worry about that right now.”

Talk about killing the desire to learn. Kids have it naturally. It’s mostly gone by middle school. Can you see how it died?

I’ve also seen this a lot in my freshmen college students. After 12 years in the system, they rarely ask questions more compelling than, “Does the Works Cited page count as part of the six page requirement?”

Oh, I try. I bring in articles about issues directly affecting them, I show them entertaining video clips, and I purposely throw out nuggets such as, “Your high school teacher probably told you to never use the word ‘I’ in your papers, but we all know that’s total rubbish, along with never beginning a sentence with, ‘Because.’”

It’ll take a moment, but always a student will raise a hand and say, “Wait—we can begin a sentence with ‘Because’? What about ‘But’?” And for five minutes we have an interesting discussion, because a student wanted to know that answer, not because the teacher was looking for a programmed response.

Think back to any lectures you remember from college or high school. Do you remember any of them? At all? I remember a handful, and every one of them began with a question a student wanted answered, and ended with a teacher involving all of us in the discussion.

That is education. That is learning.

And it’s rarely happening anymore.

sunday school picture

Click here to see the curriculum for all of the youth in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Go ahead–we don’t bite. At least not that hard.

As for my Sunday School class today, Helper began to realize the kids were capable of answering the questions, and to his credit he backed off a bit, especially after I refused to make eye contact with him, but focused solely on the kids. They came through for me again, as they always do, with even a few more interesting questions that filled our 40 minutes quite easily. The LDS Church has purposely changed its curriculum for teenagers 12-18 so that they can run the pace of the lesson, and not the teachers.

If only school systems could do that as well: respect the child as a person wanting to learn, instead of part of a group that needs processing.

Not only would our children be smarter with that kind of child-focused education, but they’d be happier too, which should always be our foremost goal in education: happiness.

This was one of the things Mahrree loved about teaching: the rare moments when a student dares to wonder. The best learning happened when the students asked the questions, not the teachers.

It was also at these moments that she panicked, because sometimes the questions were so unexpected that she was caught by surprise. But it was the good kind of panic that lets you remember you’re alive, like being chased by a dog you know you can outrun, but it terrifies you just the same. It feels great when you finally reach home, or see the dog yanked back suddenly by its leash and you gloat at it triumphantly.

But first you have to run.

She always had a ready answer. “Chommy, what do you think?”

~Book 4, Falcon in the Barn (coming spring 2015)

Why we quit Common Core

“Why is it considered a burden for parents to select what’s best for their children to learn? That’s the parents’ duty. My job is to help the parents provide that teaching.”
~Mahrree Peto, The Forest at the Edge of the World

I drafted those words—the question of a school teacher in a different time and in another world—over four years ago, before I knew anything about Common Core Curriculum. As a homeschooling mom since 2002, and a college composition instructor, I’d developed my own concerns about public education long before I was forced to confront Common Core head on. But the worries I had then about schooling have now festered into an ulcerous wound.

Education used to care about the children; now the system serves only itself.

I remember reading about Laura Ingalls Wilder, and how the parents were the school board, the parents chose the teachers, and the parents decided how they wanted their children educated.
I don’t need to tell any of you how far we’ve run away from that idea.

Not so long ago most children in elementary enjoyed school, their natural curiosity still remaining intact despite the introduction of bubble-sheet testing which I remember with lingering trauma in the 1970s. While it certainly wasn’t perfect, school was more about doing the times tables, spelling tests, listening to the teacher read from a novel out loud for an hour after lunch (yes, really), enjoying three (yes—three) recesses, spending time in music, and doing weekly art projects that frequently took quite a bit of time but resulted in rather amazing things. And this manner of education—again, while not perfect—still produced from my school many doctors, professors, scientists, and humanitarians.

For those of you don’t know, that’s now how school is anymore.

When I first pulled my children out in 2002, my then-first-grader’s teacher told me, “I’m so glad to see you doing this. When I first started teaching thirty years ago, my purpose was to show children the joy in learning about the world. Now we can’t do that. We teach coding, we teach filling in bubbles—heaven forbid I should try to make anything, especially reading, fun.”

Now, it’s not the idea of a universal core of knowledge that’s disappointing, but the application of it. In frenetic attempts to follow the Common Core Curriculum standards sold to schools—along with the bribe of funding—teachers have been forced to impose lessons and practices that leave the parents scratching their heads. My kindergartner last year spent a great deal of time filling out answers on bubble sheets, a not-so-subtle intimation that her ability to properly color in the little circles will be crucial to evaluating her future.

bubble sheets

No, I don’t know who this is, but I concur with the sentiment.

Her first grade is proving to be more of the same, and now with timed reading tests designed to push six-year-olds to read random words faster and faster. Comprehension doesn’t seem to be a concern; only speed. My daughter is slowly beginning to lose heart.

At back-to-school night last month I heard many mothers express how, in kindergarten, their children were so excited for school, but now some of their fifth graders dread each day.
“What happened?” I heard one genuinely confused young mother say to her friend. “And does it get worse when she hits middle school?”
I was cringing so hard I’m surprised she didn’t hear it.
What happened?
We’re killing our children’s natural curiosity.
Will it get worse?
Uh, yes. Sorry.
How did this happen?

Through the same old nonsense we’ve always been dealing with in public education: the out-dated notion that all children are inherently the same, and can be “programmed” in the same ways to create the same output, namely an adult that will become an industrious worker.

The model doesn’t work; in fact, it has never worked for more than a fraction of the population. For as many doctors and professors my schools churned out, there were just as many who dropped out of college, failed to complete any kind of professional training, and never rose above being a checker at the grocery store. There are always children that fall through the cracks because they can’t fit the inflexible mold.

And Common Core, which is merely the same model in an updated website with a heavier hand and a stiffer mold, won’t succeed either.

First, anyone who’s had more than one child will tell you they are NOT all the same. I have nine, and you’d think that with so many kids we’d start recycling some DNA combinations. But mystifying each child is different, despite coming from the same gene pool, being raised in the same house, and eating the same food.

Half of my kids figured out reading at age 4. The other half couldn’t grasp it until age 9. One third of my children love math—one doesn’t even write down the formulas when he does algebra—while another third of my children tremble in terror when approached by a number attached to a letter. The other third are blissfully in the middle. Some of my kids find science dull, but others try to actively blow up the house while others try to put everything back together again. Some read nonstop all day long. Others grumble at the sight of the book.

Every child is unique, but years ago educators decided to shove them all into an assembly line of education where the same information is fed to them in the same way, NOT because it was the best way to teach, but because it was the cheapest way to process the greatest amount of students per teacher.

With all respect to John Locke, the tabula rasa notion of seeing humans as “blank slates” waiting for their minds to be filled with knowledge—a theory which has been debunked for generations, except among some educators with influence—ignores the fact that humans are born with personalities, with various learning styles, even with unique ways of perceiving the world. Ask any parent with more than one child: they come different.

Yet altering education to truly teach individuals, instead of groups, requires vast changes that education boards, university education departments, and most of all the government does not want to do, even though we see effective models in Europe and Asia. (And perhaps that’s why we don’t want to change; we resent the idea that someone else innovated something first.)

It’s simply too hard to change, argue those entrenched in the old traditions. Simply too hard to do the right thing.

So instead we take the outdated assembly line, add bells and whistles and unproven theories, and shove more kids through it hoping to disprove Einstein’s platitude that doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results, is the definition of insanity.

Well, public education has gone insane.

And now, forcing Common Core—a method of teaching and an application of curriculum which has NOT even been fully tested—has dealt yet another great blow to children.
It’s making them hate school.

Now, I acknowledge that in every class there are those who will thrive. My 1st grader is like that: she loves school. However, already the love is fading. As I mentioned before, she’s growing discouraged. Despite reading at a 2nd grade level, she’s perplexed by reading rows of nonsense words and random sentences as quickly as possible in a minute, and math, which comes to her naturally, is becoming unnecessarily confusing. This frustration with education rarely occurred when we homeschooled.

I’m in a unique situation to compare the differences because I exclusively homeschooled my kids for nearly a decade, then put them into public school over two years ago when a pregnancy at age 42 scared me into thinking I wouldn’t be able to keep up with my kids’ needs. I had a 6th grader and a 7th grader thrust into the middle school, and they had never spent a day of school in their lives. We were all terrified. They adjusted and, to my great relief, they were not only on track but a little bit ahead, manifested by their straight A’s.

I also, with great trepidation, put my then 7-year-old high functioning autistic son into 2nd grade, and braced for impact. He had a very sweet teacher, concerned resource instructors, and eventually learned to read and deal with the crowd.
Still, he begged to come home for third grade, as did his older brother in 6th grade who found the math class too slow and the science too shallow.

Fast forward to this year; my now 9-year-old autistic son wanted to try 4th grade, hearing about how great the teachers were, and wanting to spend more time making friends. So we eagerly prepared him making sure his was on target academically and as socially as an autistic boy can be. He was ready!

It took only one week for him to beg to come back home.

At three weeks, he started clenching his fists when trying to complete math pages that were filled with several methods of doing multiplication our trusty Saxon math didn’t cover. And then, faced with the option to complete a problem such as 49 x 28 = ? in any of the three ways he’d learned, he’d freeze, unable to know how to proceed. (For examples of the multiplication confusion some of our children are exposed to, watch this video.)

At four weeks he started clutching the sides of his head every night as he looked at his homework and whimpered, “I’m too stupid!”

That’s when I started getting mad.

He’s not stupid. Want to know about pyroclastic flows? Tectonic plates? The theories behind black holes? Ask him, but then make yourself comfortable because you’re going to hear everything. He’s read all he can on the subjects and knows the documentary section of Netflix as intimately as some kids know the starting lineup of a basketball team. Ask him about ecology, and get ready to hear a dissertation about saving the environment, misconceptions about global warming, and his opinion on the big bang theory. Remember, this kid just turned 10-years-old.

But because he can’t conform to the Common Core Curriculum he thinks he’s stupid and he hates school.

At his parent-teacher conference I learned that academically, he’s right on track.
But at his nightly parent-child conferences, I’ve learned that his anxiety is through the roof.
So Friday was his last day of school. We’ve quit Common Core, and starting Monday he’s schooling at home.

His frustration is not just because he’s autistic, either. I have a junior in high school taking math who asks me every night for assistance. Not even his teachers can fully understand the homework, tell their students to skip certain problems, and the photocopied pages they use have so many errors it likely doesn’t even matter what the real answers are.

My 9th grader is also expressing similar frustrations, and asked to be homeschooled part-time this year because Common Core was so focused on filling in the right bubbles for the tests that she anxiously felt she wasn’t learning anything useful.

Anxiety and stress do not improve education; they strangle it. Learning can be a joy, but oddly our society has adopted the notion that if there isn’t suffering, there isn’t progress.

If you think junior high kids are moody now, just watch what will happen to our elementary kids over the next few years. I fear that by the time they become teenagers, their teachers will be permanently on valium. common core meme

There are many other arguments about the insufficiencies of Common Core, about how it was foisted upon states by dangling the lure of money in front of them, and how its main purpose is to produce good workers, when, for years, many of us thought education was about producing a populace that could think for themselves and identify was is truth and what is error.

But what’s really baffled me for many years is why the government has decided parents are inadequate in knowing what’s best for their children. I started writing my books in an effort to puzzle it out.

“Miss Peto, why do you find it disturbing that the Administrators select what’s most important for our children to learn?”

She really wasn’t sure, but it sat on her strangely. “Captain, what if the Administrators choose to teach that which is against the beliefs of the parents?”

“I can’t imagine any situation where the Administrators would recommend teaching anything that would be contrary to the welfare of the world,” the captain said. “If anyone would be out of line, it would be misguided parents.”

Exactly who would be deciding what was best for the world, Mahrree wondered, and what was best for an individual? (The Forest at the Edge of the World)

Why have we removed the curriculum decisions from the parents?
Could it be because our government has ceased to see us as someone they serve, and instead see us as a means to their own ends? My school teacher protagonist thinks so.

“You said the other day that I needed to get to the bottom of this!” she said fiercely. “Well, here it is: Parents are stupid, Administrators are smart. Hand over your children to the Administrators with no questions debated so they can pour their own ideas into the children’s minds, while parents worry about nothing else except getting more gold! Gold which they then hand over to the Administrators in higher taxes. Ooh, very clever! The Administrators get richer while families fall apart!”

Perrin’s mouth opened and shut several times, but he knew that when his wife was on a rant, there was no safe way to interrupt her.

“And then what happens to the children?” she gestured wildly. “Give the government a few years, and I’m sure they’ll be telling the children what jobs they can have, so they make sure our children make them enough gold and silver!”

Perrin lifted a finger, likely to try to interject that she had an intriguing point, but he pulled it back a moment later when she began to froth. His contribution could wait.

“Well, I’ve had enough. I’m going to give them a piece of my mind so they can see how intelligent mine really is!” (Soldier at the Door)

Yes, the nature of this character is to get a bit overwrought, but for what other purpose is there for the government to feel the need to take over the education of our children?

“Parents feel stupid because their government tells them they are, so they’re humbly—and even willingly—allowing someone else to guide their children’s teaching. But there’s another reason,” her husband hesitated. “This way the Administrators get to pick and choose what the growing generation learns, and anything that’s not supporting the Administrators simply isn’t covered. In one generation, the entire population should be as loyal to the Administrators as they are—or were—to their parents’ beliefs. Whatever they say, the people will believe.

“And that’s precisely what the Administrators want: the only authority influencing the world will be theirs.” (Soldier at the Door)

I submit that the federal government, in mandating what we teach our children, is attempting to influence the development of the rising generation so as to meet the financial and political needs of the government, not the needs of our children to become intelligent, thoughtful adults. No, this isn’t about mind control, but it’s a form of manipulation, of getting what they want out of us because they have all the power, and we have less every year.

Don’t believe the government is manipulative? As I write this the federal government has imposed a shut-down (or convenient slimdown, as some would argue) because of a budget impasse.
But the nature of the shut-down, and those areas that have been affected, is very subjective: subject to causing the most ire and discomfort among citizens. The randomness of road and park closures (outdoor monuments on the Mall in DC are suddenly inaccessible?), websites that are down (only because someone pushed a button to deny access), and services that are suspended (WIC’s been closed! Starving babies!) have all been carefully orchestrated to twang the most heartstrings with the least amount of effort.

Manipulation of the public, at its finest.

Just out of curiosity, I looked up “Ways to tell if you’re in an abusive relationship.” Read this list from Dr. Phil, and think of it in terms of the federal government and you. My friends, we ARE trapped in an unhealthy relationship.

I support my local school and the teachers—many of my friends are teachers—but I realize they have no power to stop this level of manipulation of public education. They, too, are stuck in an abusive relationship and are doing the best they miserably can in a bad situation.

But I’m fortunate in that I work only part-time, so I can, starting next week, teach my son at home again. He’ll learn tried and true math principles thanks to Saxon 54, he’ll learn to spell, and spell again, and spell yet again until he gets all his words right without the pressure of a ticking clock (which, autistics will tell you, can be quite maddening) and he’ll explore science and history without the fear that he’s hopelessly stupid.

I’m also not going to time how long it takes him to read something, because the boy doesn’t read; he savors. He analyzes diagrams and concentrates on charts. Pondering has become a lost skill, one that I refuse to deny my son. The point isn’t the volume of pages being read, it’s the depth of understanding he gets from the reading.  As an English teacher, I’ve encountered many students who have read quickly through the texts, but remembered very little, so they have to reread, and reread yet again.  Skimming isn’t the same as absorbing, but don’t tell Common Core that.

So today we quit Common Core, abandoned this one-sided relationship that doesn’t care one bit about my son but yet is obsessed with the data he produces.

But what about everyone else who can’t commit such a quiet act of pseudo-civil disobedience such as homeschooling in protest of Common Core? I wished we could band together and overthrow this nonsense, but that’s a bit vague.

What we can do is talk with our kids and let them know what we feel and think, how we believe and understand, and let them know that what they learn out there may not necessarily be what they should believe in here.

“There’s one thing we can do,” Perrin said. “We can make sure we’re not touched by whatever may be coming. In our house we will discuss and believe whatever we want. We can recognize for ourselves that the sky is dark and threatening with a storm obviously on the way, and explain to our children that the rest of the world has been conditioned to believe the sky is blue, despite all evidence to the contrary.” (Soldier at the Door)

My friend, a single mother who works full time and has two kids, wrote this: “I’ve come to the conclusion that school is where my kids go to be babysat while I’m at work, and they actually start learning when they get home. I have noticed that school seems to teach them WHAT to think, but not really HOW to think. I have to say that worries me the most. I try really hard not to browbeat my kids into agreeing with me, but I do want them to be able to back up their arguments logically.
“If I think of the schools as being responsible for educating the kids, I get very stressed out at the things they don’t know, and then get to stress again over the crap they ARE being taught. Some of the crap they come home spouting is just plain nuts, and it’s hard to stay calm sometimes during our little ‘debunking’ sessions. Makes for a really busy day for me, but sadly that’s how it is I guess.”

Yes, sadly for now, that’s how it is. But at least we still have the freedom to talk to and educate our children whenever and however is possible for us. And we better exercise that freedom for as long as we still can.

In the meantime, if you’re still unconvinced that the direction Common Core is taking us is not our children’s best interests, consider the changing opinion of the purpose of education. We used to be concerned about lighting the imagination, pursuing the truth, and developing critical thought, but no longer. Take a look at this statement from the Common Core website (emphasis mine):

The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy. http://www.corestandards.org/

In other words, the purpose of education is to make money in the world. Common Core is demoting our children from thinking, creative beings, into busy little worker bees that make more honey for the governmental hive.

So if you think the purpose of life is to capitalize on the global economy, then surprise—Common Core is the route for you.

But I personally believe humans are destined for higher purposes and greater things. I’ve already discovered there’s much more to life than just money, and that’s what I want my children to discover as well.

common core meme