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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Political indoctrination replacing academics as the mission of K-12 public education


By Laurie H. Rogers

What’s the mission of any school district? Most parents seem to agree that it’s academics. Schools should prepare students academically for postsecondary life – whether it’s college, a trade, a career, the military or some other endeavor.

Alas, many public schools don’t focus on college or career readiness, and their mission statements don’t say they have to. Instead, other, more nebulous goals are their stated priorities, such as turning students into global citizens, “challenging” them, helping them develop “supportive relationships,” and having them engage in “relevant, real-life applications.”

“Equity” and “social justice” also are emphasized in many districts. Some districts have created new departments, applied for federal grants or hired $100,000+ personnel – supposedly to foster equity and social justice. But what’s behind the terminology?

Actual equity and social justice entail providing ALL students with the academic skills they need to lead a productive postsecondary life. But in public education, the terms tend to be ambiguous and politically laden, focusing instead on perceived unfairness. In the typical social-justice curriculum, America frequently is portrayed as the bad guy.

At the Fifth Annual Northwest Conference on Teaching for Social Justice, academics were not the theme. Instead, teachers learned how to encourage and train students to become activists. They challenged what they perceive to be America’s history of power, white privilege and oppression; supported myriad alternative lifestyles; discussed issues of race, gender, class and undocumented status; challenged “ableism” (discrimination by the able-bodied and able-minded); and learned how “oppression affects the lives of students marginalized by race, class, language, gender, and sexual orientation.”

There are schools purely devoted to issues of social injustice, such as the Social Justice High School in Chicago: “Project based and problem based learning that addresses real world issues through the lenses of race, gender, culture, economic equity, peace, justice, and the environment will be the catalyst for developing our curriculum.”

There is the White Privilege Conference, an ironic concept considering that many dedicated education advocates are Caucasian. (Actually, what I’ve seen over six years of advocacy looks more like Union-Administrator-Media Privilege. Maybe we could have a conference on that.)

There is Teachers for Social Justice, where teachers learn about “adultism” (i.e. adults who “use their position of power to affect the youth”); about integrating LGBTQ content into the curriculum; and about challenging gender norms with first-graders.

There is Welcoming Schools, “an LGBT-inclusive approach to addressing family diversity, gender stereotyping and bullying and name-calling in K-5 learning environments.” Did you notice that it’s directed at kindergartners?

Look into your district’s sex-ed program. These programs used to focus on preventing teen pregnancy. Now, see what the little ones are learning about sex, abortion, contraception and homosexuality. Students aren’t being taught long division, but they’re learning about alternative lifestyles. Last year, one 4th grader watched a district sex-education video and subsequently made a related joke to a friend – as young boys will do. This boy was disciplined, his parents were notified, a letter was sent home, and the entire class heard about his “bullying.”

Nowhere in this social-justice agenda do I see anyone standing up for the military and veterans, who have suffered much discrimination and prejudice. Or for police. Or for firefighters. Or for anyone who died in service of the country. Or for the four Americans who were murdered on Sept. 11, 2012, in Libya (although I suspect schools are OK with standing up for the Libyans).

The social-justice agenda is not about equity or justice. It’s about complaining, accusing, rebelling, changing society and forcing extreme progressive viewpoints on captive children. And how tolerant is this community to dissenting viewpoints? Not very. It questions traditional American values, faults American history, paints parents as old-school and unknowledgeable and views Americans as prejudiced and selfish. Even young students are fed a diet of progressivism, weighty and depressing socio-political issues, a cynical view of their ancestors, and antagonism toward conservative thought. They’re taught to reform, transform and “fundamentally change” America, with little appreciation for what America does for the world; its role in keeping the world relatively stable; its superlative generosity to other countries; the sacrifices made by its Armed Forces; and how its system of government made it rare and great.

Some programs show students how inequity and social injustice span the globe, with slavery, sex trafficking and brutality. The students – still just children – are to take ownership of this brutal, unfair world and try to change it. (No wonder so many students become anxious or depressed.)

How will districts know when they’ve achieved their social-justice goals? (Never.) When can the programs be disbanded? (Never.) Do the programs result in well-educated students? (Frequently not.) The programs just grow ever larger, sucking up dollars and destroying learning time.

It won’t be long before children will be unable to escape this depressing, politically biased agenda. It drives the Barack Obama/Arne Duncan/United Nations education plan. This plan is ensconced in the Common Core initiatives, now federally mandated (in contravention of the U.S. Code (20 USC 3403).

The social-justice agenda apparently does not demand sufficient student academics. As the Edu Mob hustles after agenda-based grants and programs, I see no urgency regarding student academics or the truth. The Mob seems content to side-step the students’ misery as it accepts promotions, takes home $100,000+ salaries, and trots out fake numbers showing imaginary improvement.

In 2012, for one example, Spokane Public Schools congratulated itself over a near-80% pass rate in math for its 10th graders. This pass rate bears no relation to what our 10th graders actually know in math. Just two years prior, our 10th graders posted a 41.7% pass rate in math on a low-level test that required just 56.9% to pass. There had been no substantial change in the district’s math curriculum except to possibly become worse. Who in Spokane publicly questioned this magical improvement?

Spokane isn’t alone with its implausibly high numbers. College remedial rates (such as these from Spokane) suggest that if Washington’s 10th graders were given an actual “at-grade-level” math test, without calculators and controlled for those who received outside instruction, many district pass rates would be in the teens or lower.

How does one obtain equity or social justice without academic skills? Why do districts expect small children to teach math to themselves? Why do adults ignore poor academic outcomes, desperate parents and anxious students? I’m often asked: Why do schools persist in these failing approaches? Why isn’t there enough math or grammar in our schools? Why do materials contain a political agenda? Why don’t we have textbooks? Why can’t I see my child’s math work? Why can’t I help out with math in the schools? Why do teachers say, “Don’t help your children with math; it will only confuse them”?

Now you know why. An inadequate education system = more issues = more need for help = more need for money = more government intervention = more government intrusion = more government control. Much of public education now focuses on: 1) more tax dollars for the Edu Mob, 2) more pro-Edu Mob voters, 3) less transparency or accountability, 4) more power to squish out dissent, 5) more administrative control, 6) heavy promotion of the socio-political agenda, and 7) maintaining (already failed) teaching approaches and curricular materials.

If you read what I read every day, you’d be deeply alarmed. To have what they want, they must have it all. And they’re getting it. Here’s just a tiny snippet of what I've seen.
Parents are purposefully kept at arm’s length from the truth – about the schools, budget, curriculum, agenda, and actual outcomes – because No Truth = No Parent Dissent. Those few of us who dare to ask questions are diverted, mollified, ignored or – if we persist – attacked.

A battle is on for our children, and we have nearly lost. Public schools have been “training” people for a while. Students learn to reject their parents’ influence and guidance (especially if the parents prefer less government), to question traditional American values, to fundamentally reform America in a “progressive” image, and to vote progressive. Even Republicans vote progressive on education. Pushing the social-justice agenda is as easy as stealing from a baby.

Where is all of this taking us? The only place it can. Before, parents taught morals and acceptable behavior, and schools taught academics. Now, schools push a progressive view of acceptable behavior, and parents are forced to fill in the academics. But there aren’t enough of us doing that, and we aren’t powerful enough to overcome the social-justice agenda.

See it for yourself. Google “social justice” and “education” together. See how little the Edu Mob cares about academics or the welfare and future of the country (especially as a democratic republic). See how mocking and antagonistic it is toward dissenters. See its determination to push a globalist agenda and an angry, antagonistic, shrill view of America and its founders and defenders. There will come a point at which a conservative-minded person will not be able to win any leadership seat.

America is a “constitution-based federal Republic, with a strong democratic tradition.” It was founded on the idea of checks and balances – that no entity should have excessive power. A one-party system removes our ability to maintain balance. But many in the media, courts and other groups are politically active for the progressive cause. The U.S. Constitution and the law now are flouted regularly and without media pushback or legal consequence.

In 2010, The New York Times published an uncritical piece that advised President Obama to lead by Executive Order. And he is. What is the difference between a president who leads by Executive Order and a dictator? The Times has continued to discuss Obama’s Executive Orders, but minus the outrage one should expect from the media regarding a president who abuses the administrative process. Imagine if a Republican president behaved similarly. There would be passionate editorials, a push for congressional investigations and calls for impeachment. And rightfully so. But for Obama – near silence. A casual discussion. No big deal.

We’re in a dangerous place. The country now is run by government/media/corporate “partnerships” that are neither open nor accountable to the people. Instead of open government and privacy for the people, we now have secretive government and diminishing privacy for citizens. Mainstream media don’t investigate the government; they investigate dissenters. Our citizen rights under the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights are being eroded. Our right to privacy is being minimized through federal “rule-making,” and our personal information is being shared without our knowledge or permission. The whole package looks disturbingly Orwellian.

And yet, the people are increasingly ignorant of what it all means. Who in the next generation of voters will stand up for privacy, the individual, the Constitution, or the rule of law? Most graduates will lack the academics they need to properly run the country; the knowledge or perspective to critically assess what they’re being told; and enough understanding of the U.S. Constitution to know they must stand up for it. They will have energy and motivation, however, to agitate and rebel against their oppressors. (That’s us, in case you’re wondering.)

Welcome to the new mission of public education: Social upheaval – an American Spring – fomented by the social-justice crew, supported by the Edu Mob, praised by those who would do America harm, and paid for with our children and our tax dollars.

This great Republic is not yet finished, but it’s looking pretty grim out there.



Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:
Rogers, L. (November 2012). "Political indoctrination replacing academics as the mission of K-12 public education." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com

Monday, November 5, 2012

In defense of direct instruction: Constant constructivism, group work and arrogant attitude are abusive to children


By Laurie H. Rogers

"Of all tyrannies, a tyranny exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. … Those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience."
-- C.S. Lewis

Many educators believe children should learn math by struggling and failing, inventing their own methods, drawing pictures and boxes, counting on fingers, play-acting, continually working in groups, and asking several classmates for help before asking the teacher. This process of learning is called constructivism (also known as “discovery” or “student-centered learning”). Developed in the early 1900s, it was foisted on the country about 30 years ago, along with reform math curricula.

Proponents call constructivism “best practices” (as if calling it that can make it so). The supposed value of heavy constructivism is one of the most pernicious lies told today about education. Having listened now to students, parents, teachers and proponents of reform, I’ve come to see heavy constructivism as abusive to children. I don’t choose the word lightly.

I’ve heard proponents say outrageous things rather than acknowledge that children don’t prefer constant discovery and group work. At a 2010 math conference, a presenter said that children must learn in groups (“We know that,” she said), and that students who don’t want to do that fall into one of four categories: Bad apple, jerk, slacker or depressive. I was the only one in the room to challenge this; everyone else got into their little groups and prepared stupid skits about bad-apple children.

Welcome to the arrogance of public education. In the midst of “It’s all for the kids” and “We really care about those little kiddoes,” math class has become brutal and cruel.

My teenager said: “Educators talk as though students refuse to be taught, like we’re a dog that can’t be potty trained to use the outdoors. I mean, it’s not like we want to remain uneducated. It’s not like we want to be stuck in high school forever. We want to escape. We want to learn. When we say that we want something, we’re not trying to keep ourselves uneducated. So if we don’t want to work in a group, there’s probably a good reason. Maybe one of us has had a bad day, and we just don’t want to deal with other people. I mean, we all have those days. Maybe two of the people in the group are having a fight and you know that the whole day is going to be more about the fight than it is about the homework. There are so many reasons to not work in groups, besides issues with concentration and work level.”

Younger children don’t necessarily know why they don’t like something. Games can be fun, and reform classes are full of games. Some games are fun for a while; others are confusing; none leads to math proficiency. But students must play games, work in groups, explain things in several different ways, invent and discover, write paragraphs about math, draw boxes and circles, discuss math at length with classmates, play-act, use manipulatives, and take all day to get practically nowhere. The process can be excruciating, not just for natural leaders and quick learners, but also for children who are slower to learn; who feel sad, angry, shy or troubled; who are autistic, English-language learners or newer readers; who have behavioral issues; or who just don’t enjoy working in groups.

When did it stop being OK to be an individual?

Children who learn an efficient method at home and who pass it on to classmates also can find themselves being reprimanded. In today’s constructivist class, children must not deny their classmates the chance to struggle and fail. Students often aren’t even allowed to use the efficient methods their parents taught them, not even if those methods work better for them. They must suffer and fail along with everyone else. Naturally, they can come to resist the constructivist approach, whereupon they will be blamed for lacking motivation. Parents who resist it are seen as problems.

Parents know about connections between student frustration and deteriorating motivation, but proponents of reform are trained to not listen to parents. They say to parents: “You want those methods because they’re what you had as a child, but please don’t teach them to your children. It will confuse them.” Later, those parents will be blamed for their lack of involvement.

After a few years of reform math, many children decide they hate math. I’ve seen this attitude in second graders, third graders, fourth graders, and students from fifth grade on up. They’ve forgotten that they used to like math, that math is cool, that they used to be good at it. Suddenly, math is a huge problem. They need special help, intervention, a special ed program, counseling, drop-out prevention programs, and meetings with parents, teachers, a tutor or a mentor. Their life is spiraling out of control in front of their eyes, but in constructivist classrooms, there is nowhere to hide. Any problems are in plain sight, in front of every classmate.

I asked my daughter what effect it can have on students, to be failing a basic math class. She said:

“It can either have the effect of ‘I’m not good enough.’ You know, ‘The teacher’s spending all of this time on me, and I’m still not good enough.’ And kind of a depressing effect. Or it can be ‘Well, I’m bad at this, so who cares. I might as well skip school.’ Either way, very few students would thrive under that.”

About the idea that students must struggle and fail in order to learn math, she said:

“If 99% of the adults who said that were reversed back in time and put in a discovery classroom, they would have the same opinion that 99% of the kids do. …Saying that kids need to learn in groups and saying that kids need to struggle is so absolutely ridiculous and cruel to kids. School is supposed to be a refuge. It’s supposed to be the place where dreams come true and you can do anything. And it’s the start of your dreams. If you’re going to be an astronaut, if you’re going to be a lawyer, or change the world, school is where it starts. And you’re crushed before you even get half-way in the door.”

Children won’t typically say to adults, “I don’t like reform math” or “I don’t like constructivism.” Children tend to internalize problems and to blame themselves. They take their cues from the adults around them. So, they might say, “I’m not very good in math.” “I’ve never understood math.” "Math is hard." “Math isn’t my thing.” And I have heard that repeatedly, from an alarming number of students of all ages. What’s actually a failure in K-12 education has turned into a self-esteem problem for the children, to a point at which they literally panic over simple calculations. Their self-doubt and lack of skills can follow them forever, limiting them in innumerable ways – dark shadows on their life.

“I don’t get it” can quickly turn into “I hate math,” which can turn into “I hate school” which can turn into “I don’t want to go to school today,” which can turn into illness, dropping out, or behavioral or emotional issues. You’ve heard of “early warning signals” for dropping out? A known warning signal is failed math classes. But many schools gloss over that fact, while obstinately refusing to do the one thing that needs to be done: Allow the teachers to directly teach sufficient math to the students.

You don’t have to take my word for it. Ask the children. Take their difficulties to the district and listen to those adults blame everything on you, your children, your children's teachers, social issues, money, evolving standards, or some other stray-dog excuse. Then, fume just as I do, as those adults turn a blind eye to your children’s misery.

A mom wrote to me last week: “The reform math is tearing my child's self confidence, and her second-grade teacher told me last week that she sees the instant terror or fear on my daughter’s face when she asks them to bring their math materials up for their lesson. I can’t imagine feeling this way in school. … I never have felt so fearful of a subject as I see in my daughter’s face when I say let’s do math homework. Math to her is like a plague and she very easily starts crying because it is so puzzling in her mind. She is a very bright girl and makes straight As in every other subject.”

In constructivist classes, group work is the name of the game. Some math classes are taught entirely through group work. My daughter explained the problem she had with constant group work:

“The leader of the group has the responsibility of keeping everyone in line and on task, and making sure everyone in the group learns. And generally, the leader is going to be someone who cares about whether everyone learns. But the leader has no ability to make the end result happen, and no authority, and everybody knows it. You’re trying to teach people who know they’re not going to remember it or understand it, so they don’t see a point. And when people get frustrated with it, it feels like a personal failure. And through all this, you’re still not getting the math concept down.

“If you’re in the middle, then you’re just trying to get by. You’re just trying to survive around the mix of the two extremes. It’s more of a busywork, and if you’re asked in three or four days what you were working on, then you probably won’t remember.

“And if you’re on the lower end, then it just sucks. You’re so embarrassed that somebody has to teach you, you’re probably not paying attention at all. And you’re going to pass off your ‘not paying attention’ as you being deliberately so. You’ll just write down what you’re told, depending on how many problems and how short of a time you have.

“I mean, I love how the schools keep saying, ‘Don’t plagiarize, don’t cheat,’ but they practically force half the kids in their classes to do it, to get something down before the time to turn in worksheets is up. If they were going to give us a terrible method of solving stuff, they could have at least told us how to use that terrible method. And they never taught us how to work in a group.”

Where is the teacher in all of this, I asked her? Teachers are to be a “guide on the side,” she said, not a “sage on the stage.” Many pro-reform teachers have rules like “Ask three (classmates) before you ask me.” This means children must always admit to several classmates that they don’t understand. It can change the nature of relationships and cause children to become resentful or dependent on others.

I’ve heard adults call children who are having trouble in math “the low group,” “unmotivated,” “selfish,” “dummies,” “typical teens,” “lazy,” “problems for teachers,” or students of “low cognitive ability.” I’ve known children who were assessed as special ed, but when their parents got them direct instruction from someone, the children suddenly stopped being special ed.

I’ve known Honors students who didn’t know basic arithmetic. Last year, I called every middle school and high school in my city to find out how to help a specific student who was in that position. Only one person in 12 schools criticized the curriculum -- but just lightly and only after first suggesting that the student be tested for a disability. Instead, I was told that the student couldn’t be real, probably should be tested for learning disabilities, likely forgot what she was taught, must have lied or cheated, or perhaps fell on her head and developed brain damage.

Ponder that for a moment. Brain damage. Are you angry yet? Are you seeing the abusive nature of this? I have long thought that proponents of reform would truly say and do anything rather than criticize their precious program.

I’ve seen high school graduates panic when asked what 6x8 is. I’ve seen children cry over math, and heard many students say that their math-inclined parents can’t help with math homework. In 2010, just 38.9% (later “scrubbed” to 41.7%) of Spokane’s 10th graders passed a simple state math test that required just 56.9% to pass. Local administrators dismissed what was obviously their failure with: “That number is irrelevant.” And to them, student outcomes are irrelevant. The real priorities in reform aren’t testable: Group work, struggling, failing, discovering and “deeper conceptual understanding.”

You’d think administrators would want to know the truth about the children’s math ability, and that they’d want us to know. You’d think when children are struggling and failing – they wouldn’t say, “Yes, that’s what’s supposed to happen.” You’d think they’d do everything in their power to kick out failed approaches and to buy a good curriculum RIGHT NOW. You would be wrong.

School districts love committees, so whenever there’s a change, they form a committee. It needs 60 people who aren’t you, plus sticky notes, Power Point presentations, butcher paper, highlighter pens and taxpayer-funded food. The committee takes six months to come to fake consensus, plus another six before a new curriculum arrives. Much professional development is required, and the new curriculum is reform and constructivist because that’s “best practices.” They just know that it works. (Well, not for your child, but that’s probably because your child’s in the “low” group.)

I asked my daughter how she thinks students learn math best. She said:

“I think we all have an individual way of learning best. I think that, in trying to create an individual way of learning, the schools have created an even smaller box. But I think kids want to be told what we’re supposed to do. We want to be given a set of parameters and a set of rules. I believe we want to be heard, because that’s the biggest thing. Whether or not we learn best with this format, we should be able to say that and tell that to our teacher or the principal or whoever would listen. But if nobody listens, then whatever way actually works, educators will never know.”

I asked her if groups of K-12 students really can “discover” good process and efficient methods. She said:

“I’m sure that at some point, some adult discovered good process because otherwise, we wouldn’t have it, but asking a child to do that, especially in a group, especially when we’re tired, and we don’t really care that much about it because we have homework, and it’s a sunny day outside, and it’s lunch, and especially if we’re only 10 or 11… You’re asking a child to essentially create a nuclear bomb with a marshmallow and a set of pliers and no instructions. It’s never going to happen.”

I asked what she would say about this approach to a room of educators, if she had the chance. My daughter was quiet for several seconds. Then she said softly and carefully:

“I would say that they have taken people who are my equal or better in how smart they are and how well they learn, and how nice they are and not as sarcastic. And they have screwed them over. And they have taken their futures and stomped them into the dust. It makes me really, really mad.”

Thank you for speaking up, daughter. It makes me mad, too.




Please note: The information in this post is copyrighted. The proper citation is:

Rogers, L. (November 2012). “In defense of direct instruction: Constant constructivism, group work and arrogant attitude are abusive to children." Retrieved (date) from the Betrayed Web site: http://betrayed-whyeducationisfailing.blogspot.com

This article was published Nov. 6, 2012 on Education News at: http://www.educationnews.org/k-12-schools/laurie-rogers-in-defense-of-direct-instruction/