Educational Decay: Loss of 18th Century Rigor

I have recently been reading Teaching A Generation of Leaders: A Thomas Jefferson Education for the 21st Century by Oliver Van DeMilleIle

This book was given to me by my sister, who was leaps and bounds above me in knowing the best way to educate her children.  Having graduated Cum Laude from a University with a Bachelor’s in Education and having experience teaching in the public school, surely I had more expertise in educating children, compared to what she and her “odd” ideas of homeschooling could.  She and most parents that are seeking an alternative to public school, in most part, are doing so because they have realized, what I have only recently become aware of, that an education today is NOT a true education.

Betty Peters puts it succinctly when she states, “What is missing from 21st Century Skills? 18th Century Rigor!”

Gone are the days when a farmer with an 8th grade education could read and discuss The Federalist Papers.   What typical 8th grader could read, comprehend, and discuss these words written by Alexander Hamilton?  He writes concerning how important their discussion is and how uncertain the role of motives in politics is:

Among the most formidable of the obstacles which the new Constitution will have to encounter may readily be distinguished the obvious interest of a certain class of men in every State to resist all changes which may hazard a diminution of the power, emolument, and consequence of the offices they hold under the State establishments; and the perverted ambition of another class of men, who will either hope to aggrandize themselves by the confusions of their country… 

In my limited experience as a teacher of preteenager students, I know that most would spend their time looking up the majority  of the words so they could only hope to glean the meaning of this phrase.  That would of course be those students who have not become overwhelmed with giggles from the word “perverted”.  I do not point this out to dismiss the hard work of teachers and educators as a whole, but merely to point out how decayed our American education system has become.
Andrew M. Allison, states it well when he said,

We’ve know for a long time that it was the extraordinary, far-reaching vision of America’s founding fathers that produced the freest and most powerful nation on earth. What we have not understood, however, is the rigorous educational experience that gave them such a remarkable vision.”

Rigorous, ah yes, rigorous!  That is the catch phrase word to promote and prove that the latest dumbing down of American Education, the Common Core State Standards, will lead to rigorous teaching.  Until it leads to students being able to compete with those educated on an 8th grade level during the founding of this nation, it is closer to rigor mortis than actual rigorous learning.  What is rigor?  All of the definitions, should you look them up, are NOT what I would want my classroom to look like, “stiff, harsh, inflexible, unyielding, severe“…. This definition seems most fitting, “a condition that makes life difficult, challenging, or uncomfortable“.  I suppose common core proponents are talking about the “strict precision to exactness“.   Then that would be a contradiction in terms, especially if you are familiar with the Common Core math, such as Everyday Math or other “fuzzy” math programs, that put the emphasis on the “process” verses the strictness of the actual correct answer!

Please tell me how limiting the classics, as David Coleman, the lead architect of the CCSS, has done, will lead to an improved education?   It is true, it will only lead to being prepared for college and career!  At least in that, they are honest!  Yes, a two year college, maybe… and then of course right into the work force.  Forget educating your mind for goodness, morality and citizenship to become statesmen that could be good and righteous leaders someday!

Allan Bloom points out in The Closing of the American Mind; “When a youngster like Lincoln sought to educate himself, the immediately obvious things for him to learn were the Bible, Shakespeare and Euclid.  Was he really worse off then those who try to find their way through the technical smorgasbord of the current school system, with the utter inability to distinguish between important and unimportant…”

Michelle Malkim points out, in her column, Education’s Shiny Toy Syndrome,  how the latest obsession with having the best technology is merely a HUGE waste of our tax dollars!   We do not need to spend another dime on educational technology.  Instead, let’s trade that in for the George Wythe method of educating pupils.  Thomas Jefferson was one educated in this manner, with the Classics, personalized to fit HIS needs (not the box CC puts all students into), lots and lots of reading, writing, and discussion and only accepting quality work!  I’ll trade those in, and in fact already have for my own children.  Good teachers know this and attempt to do this in the confines of what the federal government has laid down as law.  The greatest of teachers can only do so much within the confines of test preparation, testing, evaluations, teacher development, unpacking of standards, meetings, discipline, etc…  Yes, we still find those wonderful teachers that seemingly can do it all and still produce well educated students.  Unfortunately, today’s well educated student is no where near as educated as we once were before the deliberate dumbing down of our nation began.

This dumbing down has been a gradual movement started by, Horace Mann, the very Father of the current education system.  Recently I gave a presentation in my community on Common Core and how it will harm our country.  Part of that presentation describes how  Obama speaks of his desire for our country to become more like a German style of education.  A very well informed gentleman commented,  “I hate to burst your bubble, but our system is already using that model.”  This caused me to do some research, and what I have found, shows how ignorant we are of what our school systems really are based on.  In the 1830’s Horace Mann visited Germany (then Prussia), and became obsessed with the model the Emperor had created for education.  It was designed to generate obedient workers and soldiers who would not question authority.   He then became infatuated with eliminating free thought from the various subjects taught in America.  This concept was put into place in Massachusetts and then began to spread across our nation.

Even with this style of education in place we still find those that educate themselves in spite of it, such as this woman, Bonnie Fisher.

Bonnie Fisher is someone whom we should look to for what embodies a true teacher.  Her experience includes teaching for 22 years,  7th-12th grade high school English and Latin courses, and annotating and reviewing textbooks from America’s decades long past.  Her speech is such that will leave you spellbound and wishing for a day when we were truly educated, and those who received merely an 8th grade education, could speak with eloquence and understanding of the English language.

In her testimony to the Indiana State Legislator, she expresses her concern by stating, “The Common Core state standards are pernicious, because we cannot continue to have a viable Democracy with an ignorant population, or a population that is gullible or a population that is mentally shackled, and have somebody else, some other group, whether it’s the 1%, or whoever they are, be in charge of affairs…. It is not to a great deal ordinary people… (that are in charge anymore).

Please watch her AMAZING testimony

In conclusion of her testimony Bonnie explains how her education included those great classics, mainly Marcus Tullius Cicero!   How many can claim a thorough understanding of that great philosopher, politician, lawyer, orator, and constitutionalist?  I know my own children and students will be well versed in his works as well as other great classics.   I desire for my children and students to be prepared for LIFE.   That life may include career and college.  Even so, college and career will not be the motivating factor for their education.   I deem it will allow them much, much more!  Of course, my humble opinion is that we need more than Sunday School to teach those things that our great leaders learned in the 18th Century.  I wish that public school is what it once could have been, as that would make my life of being a mom much more SIMPLE.  If SIMPLE is ever a term that could be applied to motherhood and parenting!

A Rogue Teacher’s Musings

In the course of a year and a half, I have found myself thrown into the midst of what is one of our nation’s greatest grassroots movements. I could have NEVER imagined those short 18 months ago, what my life currently entails. My love of being in the classroom, the thrill of watching my students grow and learn, building relationships with them, and my colleagues, would have been replaced. Replaced by my desire to help restore, educate, and fix what has long been a broken education system. Broken….wow, I still can’t believe I am saying that. After all, that has been my goal since I graduated from high school. To be a teacher. I LOVED going to public school. I look up to many of my teachers and colleagues. Mr. Hoyt (who taught for 40+ years in the same position) – was the first teacher to start me on the path of loving music and the clarinet, which ultimately opened up many possibilities in higher education for me over the years. Eric Stemle and Maryanne Bocquin, for instilling a love of the English Language and Literature. What has caused this deep reflection…

It’s realizing that my passion for education is still alive and well, it has just taken on a new face!

I was recently interviewed by Joy Pullman, and during it I describe what started me on the path I’m currently on.

Joy Pullmann is a research fellow of The Heartland Institute and managing editor of School Reform News, a national monthly publication.  Pullmann has been published in the New York Times, Washington Examiner, The Weekly Standard, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, National Review Online, Real Clear Policy, and various other U.S. newspapers and outlets. She is the author of Heartland’s Policy Document , The Common Core: A Poor Choice for States I highly recommend you read this and encourage others that are looking to find out more on the subject.  You can download the full document on their site here, as well as other documents, videos, PowerPoints, and testimonies concerning Common Core. 

Joy asked if I was willing to share my experience, as a public school teacher being trained to use Common Core State Standards, and how it lead me to take the position I currently do, against it.  I also share my experience with teacher evaluations during the interview.  You can listen to the full interview here:  Podcast with Joy Pullman

Part of the interview discusses my experience with the new McREL’s Teacher Evaluation System that the state of Wyoming has adopted.

It assess a teacher’s performance as it relates to the Professional Teaching Standards.  These Professional Teaching Standards are the basis for teacher preparation, teacher evaluation, and professional development. Each standard includes the skills and knowledge needed for, what the creators deem, is needed for 21st century teaching and learning.
Here is what is stated on their training materials introductory page:
A NEW VISION OF TEACHING
The different demands on 21st century education dictates new roles for teachers in their classrooms an schools.  These new roles reflect a deeper understanding about the content knowledge, skills, competencies, and outcomes that define a successful student in the 21st century.  Teachers must understand what comprises a 21st century education and how their practice must reflect the demands of the education in order to realize a new vision of teaching.
 These are the standards:
1: Teachers Demonstrate Leadership
2: Teachers Establish a Respectful Environment for a diverse population of students
3. Teachers Know the Content They Teach
4.  Teachers Facilitate Learning for Their Students
5. Teachers Reflect on their practice
The standards are broken down with very detailed information for each individual standard. Teachers are rated as either: Developing, Proficient, Accomplished, Distinguished
I found it extremely concerning at my end of the year evaluation, that my administrator chose not to give me a distinguished verses accomplished rating on the sub section of standard 4:
Standard 4 Section f states “Teachers help students work in teams and develop leadership qualities.  Teachers teach the importance of cooperation an collaboration. They organize learning teams in order to help students define roles, strengthen social ties, improve communication and collaborative skills, interact with people from different cultures and backgrounds, and develop leadership qualities.”
My administrator mentioned she felt I needed to attend a particular training about collaborative teams she felt strongly about, before I could be marked higher.  We debated It back and forth a bit, but of course it was her ultimate choice where to rate me.
My concern after reflecting on this process,  is that this is truly about control, control of how and even what a teacher teaches.   What if future circumstances required a higher rating to keep my job, position, or status.  I would need to take the training my administrator suggested, even if it was against my personal philosophy as a teacher.
The fact that my administrator can come into my classroom a handful of times, if I’m lucky, and gain a TRUE and ACCURATE understand of my teaching is ludicrous.  The majority of the teachers I speak with roll their eyes and just “jump through the hoops”.  Test scores being tied into this is something that should wake teachers up!
Recently, I have been encouraged to see a new movement among teachers, rightly named as BATS – The Badass Teacher’s Association. They have a HUGE following on their facebook group of nearly 30,000 members.  Their mission and goals are:

MISSION: Badass …Teachers Association was created to give voice to every teacher who refuses to be blamed for the failure of our society to erase poverty and inequality through education. BAT members refuse to accept assessments, tests and evaluations created and imposed by corporate driven entities that have contempt for authentic teaching and learning.

GOALS: BATs aim to reduce or eliminate the use of high stakes testing, increase teacher autonomy in the classroom and work to include teacher and family voices in legislative decision-making processes that affect students.

MEMBERS CAN BE BANNED FOR: Supporting corporate deform entities (TFA, StudentsFirst, Pearson, Bill Gates, etc.); supporting Common Core State Standards; excessive arguing or disrespecting decisions made by the mods/admins/founders, making comments that conflict with the mission of BAT. We oppose the Common Core State Standards.

Some feel it is offensive or unprofessional to use the word “badass” and are uncomfortable with its use. We disagree. As Dr. Naison says: “We’ve had enough. We are not your doormats. We are not your punching bags. We are some of the hardest working, most idealistic people in this country and we are not going to take it anymore. We are going to stand up for ourselves, and stand up for our students even if no organization really supports us. We are Badass. We are legion. And we will force the nation to hear our voice!”

I may not be teaching in public school (I’m starting a private school/homeschool support academy), but they are near and dear to my heart and I’m proud to say I’m part of their movment…even the BADA$$ part, as they put it…
Jenni White, co-founder of ROPE (Restore Oklahoma Public Education) did a wonderful write up concerning this information. She states it perfectly when she asks,
I have been truly blessed to have met some of the most intelligent, hard working, caring, passionate, American loving, patriotic people in this movement!  Some of them call themselves “JUST MOMS” as Jenni White so eloquently writes about.   These are superwomen that call themselves Mom, but are also Common Core Warriors!
I want to give a special Wyoming Shout OUT to those whom I have had the pleasure to meet and thank them for leading this movement and supporting me!
Michelle Sabrosky and Lisa Glauner – Wyoming Freedom In Education and Stop CC in WY
Amy Edmonds and Susan Gore – Wyoming Liberty Group
Rep. Tom Reeder
Rep. Kendell Kroeker
Shane Vander Hart and James  – Truth In American Education
Bill and Karen Lee
Sean and Kris Sherwin
Natalie Clyde – Home School Warrior and awesome sister
Kyle Olsen – EAGnews.org
Matt Kibbe, Whitney Neal, Caitlyn Korb, Kristina Ribali, Heather Williamson – FreedomWorks
Joy Pullmann – Heartland Institute
Senator Mike Lee (Utah)
Christel Swasey, Renee Braddy, Alisa Ellis – What is Common Core
Glenn Beck (though it was just a quick hand shake at a book signing, he told me to “stay strong and keep fighting”)
Mom & Dad – I LOVE you!
Bill Hooley – my greatest support and love of my life!