Monday, March 25, 2013

Oppression through Education

This is the last of a five-part series of posts on educational concerns. (The other four are here, here, here, and here.) All of this was triggered by discussions a couple of weeks ago about a national curriculum being imposed, called Common Core, and a Texas alternative called CSCOPE.
I am not an expert on these specific curricula. But you can look things up as well as I can. Common Core has this mission statement: 
The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. 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.
Why common standards?
Building on the excellent foundation of standards states have laid, the Common Core State Standards are the first step in providing our young people with a high-quality education. It should be clear to every student, parent, and teacher what the standards of success are in every school.
Then you can click on the specific standards for math and English language arts. But I have this additional question: We’ve had a US Department of Education, a cabinet level organization, since Jimmy Carter implemented it in 1979—so why has it taken more than three decades to take this “first step in providing our young people with a high-quality education”? What have they been trying to do thus far, if they couldn’t even take a first step until now? Just marching in place? Going backward? Gathering data that suddenly now all makes everything possible?
And if we’ve had this US Department of Education failing to do its stated purpose for thirty-three years so far, why should we trust that now, suddenly, without a positive track record, they’ve got the solution to all of our state, local, and individual student education challenges?
If I understand correctly, the US Department receives taxpayer dollars, which filter through various bureaucratic offices, and get sent back to the states—to be used as the federal government dictates. And right now a chunk of that is attached to strings, particularly the requirement that Common Core be used. They have a map showing that all but a few recalcitrant states have succumbed to the bribe.
Texas is one of the recalcitrant ones. Governor Perry stated clearly that we Texans would not take federal dollars with federal strings attached, which would limit our ability to meet our needs here. Go Perry!
But then we learned that, in its place, Texas had adopted something called CSCOPE. Technically, it’s not “curriculum”; it’s called “instructional material,” so the State Board of Education doesn’t have oversight. It’s just a tool to help teachers plan their teaching to match state testing requirements. Innocent enough, right? Turns out, not so innocent.
I first learned about CSCOPE last fall, at a local Tea Party meeting. We have several people there who regularly attend our local school district board meetings. And right about then there was an uproar about the way CSCOPE presented sex education, particularly to very young ages. And one of the additional difficulties with CSCOPE is that it’s all online, rather than a textbook that can be reviewed. This is supposed to make it more cost effective, because things can be changed online as needed, without reprinting costs. But it adds additional copyright challenges. The entities creating and selling CSCOPE have approached that problem by refusing parental review and forcing teachers to sign non-disclosure statements. Not even the chair of the State Board of Education was allowed to review the materials.
Just to clarify: parents don’t get to see what’s in it, and teachers aren’t allowed to tell parents what’s in it. A couple of teachers who have gone ahead and talked over concerns with parents (after parents hear some worrisome things that their kids are being taught) have been reprimanded, fired, or forced to leave the teaching profession. (Here is one parent's run-in with CSCOPE curriculum.)
Parents in our district, specifically about the sex education, caused such an uproar that, rather than keep defending the curriculum, the district withdrew CSCOPE as the source of sex education. I don’t think that means all CSCOPE has been discarded in the district, however. And it’s used in about 80% of Texas independent school districts.
I don’t have all the data points, but it appears that the “progressive” indoctrination within CSCOPE, and there is plenty of that, is supported by the same supporters as Common Core. Common Core even sought to purchase CSCOPE at one point. Shadowy figures like George Soros are mentioned as among the funding sources way in the background. Maybe true? I don’t know. I guess I’m paranoid enough about tyrannists that I see it as a possibility.
Texans don’t generally sit still while some foolish “experts” try to walk over us. We stand up. Some of that has begun to happen. My state senator, Senator Dan Patrick, introduced legislation, just before the deadline for filing a couple of weeks ago, a bill to provide oversight for CSCOPE. I think scrapping it would be a better option than tweaking it. Nevertheless, there is now going to be an oversight board. Here’s the press release from the CSCOPE website concerning the agreed upon changes.
Glenn Beck spent a day  talking about CSCOPE on his show (March 7; this article has several videos within, all worth watching) identifying some of the problems. There are many problems, and some of the guests on his show also described it as only a mediocre curriculum, as far as usefulness in teaching students.
What we must not do is get into an argument about whether the curriculum is good or bad, or good enough. Quality is not the primary question.
My curriculum was written on my computer, as I got to it each semester, outlining our plans, and keeping our records. It was good enough. A curriculum does not have to be flawless; it only has to be flexible and customized to each student. No matter how good a standardized curriculum is, it will not meet the needs of kids who are either fast, slow, or different-style learners.
Some of the discussions about these factory-style curricula showed math that the Beck guests all agreed was fuzzy and stupid. My son Political Sphere called me after he saw it and said, “That looks like what we did.” Before we homeschooled, back when the boys were in elementary school (a gifted magnet school), we were working on getting math facts faster. So we played around with a book called Mathemagics: How to Look Like a Genius without Really Trying. One of the tricks in it was helping you do multiplication in your head, doing the tens first and then adding the ones. Second son, Economic Sphere, used to do 2x2 multiplication in his head, as a second grader, faster than I could do it either in my head or with a calculator. We used this book again the summer after his freshman year of college, and he was doing three-digit division in his head about that fast. I’ve later learned that similar approaches work for Asians because of the way their languages say numbers. And in the book Cheaper by the Dozen, the Galbraith kids, back about 90 years ago, were taught similar calculation skills that their dad drilled them on and enjoyed showing off.
The point is, there might be specifics within the curriculum that we might disagree on, as to whether they are good ideas, at least for some students. And there might be stated overall goals, like teaching critical thinking skills, that would be hard to disagree with. So the argument must not be about whether this curriculum is good enough, because that allows the assumption that some hypothetical standardized curriculum would be acceptable.
These curricula must be stopped because there is a serious risk that standardized curricula can be used (and have been) for indoctrination and control—whether they are effective education tools or not.
Father of modern education, Horace Mann, let us know the plan in the 1800s: “What the church has been for medieval man, the public school must become for democratic and rational man. God will be replaced by the concept of the public good.”
His acolyte, John Dewey (yes, the one who created the Dewey decimal system) took Mann’s ideas and made them worse. He took great classic books out of schools, and offered up moral relativism, promoting socialist ideology through so-called scientific education expertise. He’s made so much “progress” that we’re barely still able to assert that a standardized curriculum that promotes socialism and denigrates America is a bad use of our tax dollars.

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