Public Education: Views of a Concerned Parent

About the Author

Innovation Fatigue - secrets of innovating and successJeff Lindsay is a parent of four boys largely raised in Appleton, Wisconsin, and the husband of Kendra Lindsay, a primary founder of the Classical School in Appleton. Jeff and Kendra are temporarily living in Shanghai, China, but will return to Appleton in the future. Not that it matters, but Jeff has a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from BYU, has been an Assistant and Associate Professor at the Institute of Paper Science and Technology on the Georgia Tech Campus where he taught graduate-level science and engineering courses and advised many graduate students. Jeff is a registered U.S. patent agent, the former Corporate Patent Strategist of Kimberly-Clark Corporation with over 100 patents, and loves inventing, photography, writing and learning.

Jeff is the lead author of a new book on innovation, entrepreneurship and strategy from John Wiley & Sons: Conquering Innovation Fatigue by Jeff Lindsay, Cheryl Perkins, and Mukund Karanjikar. See the related blog,

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Education of children is one of the greatest responsibilities of PARENTS. This responsibility does not evaporate because a government offers public education. Parents need to care about what their kids are learning and diligently supplement what the State offers to ensure that children are raised, trained, and properly taught to be prepared for life. Many parents are unhappy with some of the trends in modern education and feel that something is wrong, but often aren't aware of what is happening or what they can do about it.

In many elementary and secondary schools, education seems more focused on fostering attitudes ("affective education") than on teaching. Self-esteem is sometimes treated as the ultimate goal, while many parents are clamoring for a return to academics.

With 4 children attending public schools, I want real education to occur. Sadly, many schools focus on popular "reforms" and new programs that detract from academics. Goals 2000, workforce education, block scheduling, affective education, whole language, and the emphasis on "developmentally appropriate" education often represent deters from what parents really want and from what I believe kids really need: mastery of academic skills and acquisition of basic knowledge in core areas.

The "whole language" fad, for example, is simply a fraud, unsupported by scientific evidence. See, for example, The Whole Language/OBE Fraud: The Shocking Story of How America Is Being Dumbed Down by Its Own Education System by Dr. Samuel L. Blumenfeld. While whole language is a proven failure, study after study confirms that training in phonics is effective if not vital for reading education, yet many teachers have never been taught how to teach phonics and some don't even understand what it is. It's not their fault - it's the educational colleges and the highly political NEA that have brought us to this state.

The NEA continues to oppose phonics and to say that phonics is rote memorization and drudgery without exposure to real literature. Wrong! Teaching phonics to my kids made a world of difference - and stimulated extremely rapid progress in their reading and reading enjoyment.

The NEA and others continue to push the myth that whole language has worked in places like New Zealand - but New Zealand is having a literacy crisis now as a result of their adoption of whole language. (It used to be a world leader in literacy, but "whole language" education is now creating serious new problems even there.) Parents need to resist the whole language fad in their schools and demand that phonics be taught. And parents need to supplement their children's education with phonics instruction at an early age, before kids are conditioned to read and write through guesswork.

I'm impressed with the dedication and concern of our teachers, but something is amiss. The dilution of true education and the introduction of "whole language" and "affective" curricula is not the result of grass roots efforts. Parents are not asking for values clarification and self-esteem therapy. They are not asking for kids to slowly learn on their own through osmotic "developmentally appropriate" programs. Parents and scientists are appalled with the failed New Math programs invading our schools. The problems seem to be coming from the top - from places like the NEA, the Dept. of Education, and the money-laden textbook publishers. Parents need alternatives. Some are home schooling, others are trying private schools or charter schools. But how I wish that more public schools would recognize that children can learn and gain true self-esteem in the process if only they are taught, challenged and motivated.

I'm coming from the perspective of a Christian parent who wants a broad, diverse education for his kids. (But note that the issue of phonics versus whole language has nothing to do with religion - it is entirely an issue of scientific evidence on what works best to teach kids how to read. Yet proponents of whole language often brand anybody in favor of phonics as an extremist from the religious right. More smoke and mirrors to avoid the real issue!) I don't expect public schools to endorse my religious views - but I don't want my views and values deliberately undermined by elitists who think they know what's best for society. (Fortunately, most teachers strive to be equitable in their treatment of divisive issues.)

My recent experiences in opposing a terribly biased sociology textbook highlights some of the blatant propaganda that is passed off as fact. It was a real eye-opener for me, one that has moved me to stay more involved.

A few years ago I was greatly disappointed to read the proposed Educational Standards by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Page after page of meaningless language is used to describe vague "educational outcomes" that signal an educational system out of touch with reality and more focused on "process" and attitudes than on actual learning, with little attention to such things as grammar. The more recent 2011 standards, "Wisconsin State Standards for Literacy in All Subjects," seem much more reasonable in that grammar is given explicit attention and there is a sense that there are some serious skills that students need to acquire. This is progress! The adoption of Common Core, however, is not progress, in my opinion. Many parents who peeked under the covers of the program have been troubled by what they see, and it's been a boon for home-schooling. See " The Problems with the Common Core" by Stan Karp, Rethinking Schools, Vol. 28, No.2, Winter 2013/2014.

"We don't teach math - we teach children!"
(Translation: we don't teach math anymore.)

"We don't teach history - we teach children!"
(Translation: who needs history, anyway?)

The reading section on page 5 of the standards is even more troubling. Minimal literacy seems to be the goal. My seven-year old son already exceeds ALL of the grade 12 reading standards (e.g., self-correct when reading, retell main points, create mental pictures when reading, use knowledge of how text is organized). I wish I could be proud of that (sure, he's a bright boy and a good reader, thanks to a great mom and intensive phonics), but it's sad to see such shallow and subjective goals, so devoid of serious content. (Frankly, anybody can slam dunk if the goal is low enough.) Fortunately, I found one section of the standards that does give solid, specific, content-based goals that will require serious learning and achievement. Unfortunately, that area is dance. But enough picking on the Wisconsin standards - it's time for me to "combine and embed" some original sentences on other topics.

If children aren't learning, they aren't being taught.

Consider the Federal Government's emphasis on national standards. Is this really altruistic, or is it about Federal control? Eva Sorock, a board of education member in Illinois, wrote a letter published in the Wall Street Journal on Feb. 14, 1997, indicating that her school district had joined the First in the World Consortium, a group of 20 districts in Illinois seeking Goals 2000 funding to help their math and science programs. The contract for the Federal grant money "clearly left the local school boards out of the picture." She struggled for weeks to get access to the fine print of the grant applications, and found that the plans went far beyond science and math, but sought to implement "group learning" and other Dewey-inspired teaching methods into multiples areas of the curriculum. She writes,

Just when I was having some luck in slowing down approval of this new bureaucratic structure, who arrived in Northbrook, Ill., but our president himself, stating in his speech that he supports the Consortium's founding. "We can no longer hide behind our love of local control of schools, and use that as an excuse not to hold ourselves accountable to high standards." . . . This level of support for our Consortium underscores the importance to the Clinton agenda of wresting control of schools from local school boards and implementing educational programs that emphasize socialization at the expense of academic knowledge. . . .

The educational establishment (NEA, education schools, PTAs) argues that child-centered, self-constructed instruction will be followed by corrected spelling and memorization of multiplication facts. Whether we interpret this defense as disingenuous or not, the true results are clear and documented: a decline in performance when hard and fast academic standards are applied. Examples? The dismal showing by American students in the TIMMS test on math and science. Or how about asking for a million volunteers to teach kids to read in third grade when we spend multi-millions paying teachers to do just that in kindergarten and first grade?

In addition to concerns about what is taught, I have concerns about how things are taught. The trend now is away from lecturing (that's the allegedly antiquated "sage-on-the-stage" model), homework, and memorization, moving instead towards teachers as mere "facilitators" or coaches assisting "child-centered education" and incorporating group learning, self-esteem therapy, etc. It can all sound nice, but what are the results? You may be interested in learning about Project Follow Through, as reviewed in the booklet "Educational Philosophies" - an excellent work by Dr. Jeffrey M. Jones. Project Follow Through was the largest educational study ever. It showed that Direct Instruction - teaching the "old-fashioned" way using a carefully planned approach - was much more effective than other teaching philosophies like "learning-to-learn" or "cognitive" education or programs focused on self-esteem rather than basics. Direct Instruction was more effective not only in terms of basic skills like reading, but also led to better results in "higher order thinking" skills and self-esteem.

Do the "new" methods work? That's rarely addressed. But serious studies show that many of the new approaches are ineffective fads compared to the traditional techniques that today's "progressive" fadsters berate. For example, consider this report from Time magazine, Oct. 23, 2000, p. 97:

Score another one for the old-fashioned learning. Since the 1970's progressive educators have advocated seating students around small tables in classrooms rather than at individual desks so that they can learn from one another. But a British study based on 20 years of observation of classroom behavior has found that children work rates can be double if they sit in rows. The reason is obvious: when kids huddle face-to-face, they tend to spend more time chatting than learning.

There are many more examples where experimental programs are doomed to failure at a time when our kids really need educational success.

What needs to be done? Parental involvement and grass roots vigilance, done with a spirit of reasoned concern rather than antagonism. It can make a positive difference. Vigilance about what? About school curricula, textbooks, programs, and teaching methods. Be involved. Speak out to your school board, to teachers, to other parents at PTA meetings, etc. Help out, cooperate, express concerns tactfully, but know what's going on in your kids' school. Stay informed - and help others (especially school board members) to be informed. Finally, insist that fads like block scheduling and whole language not be adopted unless there is hard scientific evidence showing they work.

In May of 1997, my community (the Fox Cities area of Wisconsin) experienced a powerful reminder of the need for parents to be alert and vigilant about what public schools do with their children. An outrageous assignment from an inappropriate book resulted in a student being investigated by the Secret Service as a potential assassin. A 15-year-old freshman was given an assignment by his world literature teacher to write an essay on one of 62 topics in the controversial book, "If." According to the Post-Crescent newspaper, May 8, 1997, p. A1, the topic the student selected from the list was a question that "asked if the writer had to assassinate one famous person who is alive today, who would it be and how would you do it."

Pause for a moment: do you see a problem with asking kids to write about how they would kill a famous living person? Are you outraged? Or, perhaps, do you instinctively wish to defend the teacher in giving this assignment, feeling that students need exposure to "broad and diverse" ways of thinking, and that any parents who object to such an assignment are dangerous elements of the radical Christian right?

Ideas have consequences, and ridiculous and outrageous ideas often have ridiculous and outrageous consequences. In this case, the student wrote an article about how he would kill President Clinton, expressing anger and hatred toward him. The teacher then TURNED THE STUDENT IN by giving his paper to the police-school liaison officer, who gave it to his supervisor. Shortly afterwards, the Secret Service was knocking at the boy's door. The student told the Secret Service agent that he would never assassinate someone but that he was just doing a school assignment.

I'm not sure if any further action will be taken against the boy. Based on the statements from the teacher quoted in the newspaper (this is "being blown way out of proportion" and "I didn't expect anyone to answer that way"), I don't think she understands the significance of her role in the matter, nor the irony of her turning in her own student for carrying out an assignment she gave.

Parents, keep aware of what ideas are being given to your kids. I realize that questioning the use of the book "If" may be condemned as "censorship," but when schools demonstrate such irresponsibility, parents need to speak up. At the risk of being labeled "bigots" and "censors," parents must urge schools to use programs and books that promote rather than inhibit good citizenship and good values. This is not about burning books, but about choosing wisely from a huge selection. Why read pulp fiction when they could learn Shakespeare?

Our kids are not guinea pigs to be exposed to whatever whims educators want to try. Our kids are human beings who need to be prepared for life, who need guidance and training in discerning truth from error and good ideas from bad. Encouraging kids to think about murder and other vices hardly qualifies as education. Parents, stay close to your kids, actively resist the harms that some school programs may impose, and supplement their education with instruction about right and wrong. To those who have resorted to other routes such as home schooling, I salute you. We may end up there ourselves. . . .

The Benefits of Direct Instruction

Many modern educational experts claim that teaching facts and academic skills is less important than achieving other social objectives. For some liberals, the schools must first change attitudes or provide nurturing in place of failed families or help establish equality and social justice. For some conservatives, the schools must first prepare kids for the workplace by molding them into pliable corporate citizens, while others want the focus to be on family values, a competitive spirit, or other social or behavioral objectives. But the idea of simply educating kids seems to have taken a backseat to most educational experts and administrators. They miss the point that kids with real academic skills, especially skills in reading, writing, and mathematics, are more likely to overcome social barriers, more likely to have genuine self esteem, and most likely to be genuinely prepared for the challenges of life and the workplace. By emphasizing so many things besides a genuine, classical education, the educational establishment tends to sell our kids short and perpetuate many of the problems they claim to be solving.

Consider the case of Wesley Elementary School in Houston. According to Richard Nadler in the article, "Failing Grade" (National Review, June 1, 1998, pp. 38-39), Wesley has all the demographic markers of a school bound for failure. Over 80% of the students qualify for subsidized lunches, and nearly all are minorities (92% black, 7% Hispanic). Yet it ranks among the best schools of Houston, with first-graders placing at the 82nd percentile level in reading tests (50 points higher than the expected level for similar at-risk schools). What has made Wesley so successful? The answer is classical education in the form of Direct Instruction curriculum designed by Siegfried Engelmann, an example of the much ridiculed "sage-on-the-stage" approach. This Direct Instruction system boosts reading, writing, and math scores by 30 to 40 percentile points in at-risk schools. Sadly, Engelmann, like others who successfully defy popular fads in educational reform, has been rejected by much of the educational establishment. His success is an embarrassment to them.

Direction Instruction has been developed and refined for decades, particularly at the University of Oregon. It offers detailed packages and training materials suitable for almost any teacher. It is not for elite kids with healthy families, but was "shaped to succeed in the educational killing fields of urban America." Yet it has been proven successful with students of virtually any background. And it is focused on a classical education, giving real competence in reading, writing, and math to enable kids to soar in their educational future. "The package, implemented systematically in grades K-3, proved so potent that even when it was abandoned after the third grade it still had measurable, statistically significant effects on high-school graduation and college acceptance - an advantage of at least percentiles."

Engelmann's slogan is, "If the student hasn't learned, the teacher hasn't taught." American's educational colleges, however, have adopted the philosophy of Jean Piaget of Switzerland - or rather, a modern corruption of what Piaget learned, a corruption that leads to educational failure, in my opinion. It was in Switzerland where I first encountered his name. As a Swiss educator described his interpretation of Piaget's work to me in warm, glowing terms back in 1980, I remember feeling most uneasy about the entire premise of Piaget's approach, which seemed more suited for a naive communal experiment than for real education. Piaget taught that children go through cognitive stages that are largely independent of instruction from the teacher. They just need to be nurtured through their own stages of self-discovery instead of being taught according to any particular schedule. The watered-down, "developmentally appropriate" approach of so many educational theorists seems rooted in what are said to be Piaget's findings (but one educator assures me that the modern implementations are based on misunderstandings of Piaget's valuable work). Engelmann's consistent and persistent success shatters such notions - and thus Engelmann is shunned. The NEA, the Dept. of Education, and the teacher colleges of the nation should be flocking to Engelmann to learn how to provide solid education that can enrich a child for a lifetime. Instead, we continue to hear more about self-esteem, "learning to learn," cooperative education, diversity, recycling, peer mediation, conflict resolution, and so forth, with such dismal results that President Clinton is calling for a hundred thousand volunteers to go into third-grade to try to help provide reading skills. But we don't need an army of volunteers in third-grade. We need genuine education in kindergarten, first grade, and second grade so that third graders will already be reading at levels far beyond anything we've seen in the past several decades.

For more information, see my page, "What the data really show: Direct Instruction works!"

Public education versus home schooling

In the Wall Street Journal of March 5, 1997, page A18, Michael P. Farris, President of the Home School Legal Defense Fund, published an article summarizing the overwhelming success of our nation's 1.2 million home-schooled students, who score above the 80th percentile in EVERY category of standardized testing. By definition, the national average is at the 50th percentile. That advantage is not just for white kids, since 5% of home-school students are minority students and they experience similar success. Mr. Farris explains:

"[H]ome schooled minorities and whites both score on average in the 87th percentile on reading tests. In public schools, whites significantly outpace minorities in reading scores (whites: 57th percentile; blacks: 28th percentile; Hispanics: 28th percentile). In math, home schooled whites score only marginally better than minorities do (82nd percentile vs. 77th percentile). In public schools, the disparity is huge: 58th percentile for whites, 24th percentile for blacks, and 29th percentile for Hispanics.

"Public school officials have some explaining to do. Why is that despite their constant lip service to the goal of equal opportunity, public schools continue to deliver abysmally low academic quality to minority students? Home schoolers have broken out of the ugly, demeaning stereotype of racial underachievement. Why can't government schools do the same?

"Whatever the reasons for the dilemma of public-education failure, they don't include inadequate funding. For each home-school child, the average schooling cost is $546 per year; the annual public-school per-pupil expenditure is $5,325.Both figures exclude the costs of the building in which each child is taught."

Mr. Farris also notes that the data show that parental education is not a very significant factor in home-schooling success. There is no statistically significant difference in home-school achievement between parents with and without college degrees, nor is there a significant effect due to parents having or not having been certified as a teacher. "In fact, students taught by parents who have not finished high school score 30 percentiles higher than students in public schools."

Why is home-schooling so successful? In addition to the hard work and parental involvement that home schooling fosters, Mr. Farris argues that home schooling inherently focuses on the individual child, while public-school reformers try to devise plans for "all children" that lead to "one-size-fits-all mediocrity," as exemplified by Goal 2000 programs.

Mr. Farris offers analysis that agrees well with my experience. My wife and I are frustrated with the painful mediocrity of our schools and are beginning to seriously consider home schooling. We know the teachers work hard and really care, but the curriculum that each class has been given is intrinsically mediocre. Excellence is hindered by the system, including Federal and State bureaucracies and national and state teachers unions, not by any lack of desire on the part of most individual teachers. To home school or not to home school, that is the question. . . .Right now we are pursuing a charter school concept in our town that could result in a school using a solid curriculum, free of the maddening fluff and wasted time that so frustrates some of my kids. We'll keep you posted as we explore our options.

Striving for mediocrity: The war against excellence

When my oldest son went through one of my towns "excellent" public middle schools, I was dismayed at the school's dismal lack of focus on academics. The classes seemed more geared at social conditioning than at teaching anything challenging and interesting. In a science class, my son learned no science at all in the first two weeks. They spent lots of time discussing rules, getting along, self-esteem, and related watered-down gruel. I finally went to the teacher and asked why nothing was happening. The teacher assured me that they would soon be soaring and learning lots of science, but this was pure fantasy. Finally my son came home with a homework assignment for science: cut out pictures of butterflies from magazines and paste them on paper. Ah, the wonders of collage education. Learn more about this advanced pedagogical technique on my satirical page about ACNE: the American Collage Network for Educators.

Why the lack of academic excellence in our schools? Some insight may be offered by Cheri Pierson Yecke, Minnesota's Commissioner of Education, in her book, The War Against Excellence: The Rising Tide of Mediocrity in America's Schools (Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Publishing, Inc., 2003). "Public schools were never meant to be the vehicle for massive social experiments aimed at achieving the questionable utopian goals of an elite few," she says, arguing that "heterogeneous grouping" of students keeps bright students bored and the slower students intimidated and unwilling to participate as much as they might otherwise. In the name of treating all students equally, "heterogeneous grouping" holds back talented students and alienates students who are capable but need more time to master material. This and many other social experiments hurt kids instead of helping them to accelerate as much as possible.

Suggestions to improve public schools

While parents should have the choice of sending their kids to public or private schools, public schools will continue to dominate. They must be improved. And some of the improvements they need are easy and inexpensive. The solution is not to "spend, spend, spend" as Hillary Clinton has suggested.

First, let's make sure teachers can teach. Most of the ones I know in my town are great, but we all know that some teachers in this nation can't teach well because they lack adequate skills. A 1998 article by columnist John Leo reports that over 50% of prospective teachers in Massachusetts flunked a basic literacy test. They had taken all sorts of courses on diversity, sexism, lesbian studies, and so forth, but they couldn't pass a 10th grade reading test (John Leo, "Learning Disabled," The Post-Crescent, Appleton, Wisconsin, July 27, 1998). The training offered in typical education courses has become a scandal in many cases. Teachers are learning not to teach, but to "facilitate." And when it comes to English, colleges across the nation REFUSE to instruct future teachers on how to teach English grammar, and deliberately discourage their teaching that topic. If the teachers aren't learning, how will the children be taught?? Meanwhile, genuine experts in critical areas (such as scientists and mathematicians who would love to teach math and science) are excluded by teachers unions because they don't have a degree in education. Let's eliminate the barriers that keep qualified teachers out of our schools - barriers that also make it difficult to remove those who are incompetent. Let's have rigorous tests to ensure teachers are skilled, but don't require them to spend years getting another degree.

Second, let's make sure that administrators are held accountable for academic growth. They must care about children actually learning, not just being peer mediators with artificially positive self-images. If students aren't learning, they aren't being taught. Academic success, as measured by objective testing, must be demanded of our schools. When academic performance becomes a serious issue, the curriculum is likely to become focused on learning, and teaching methods will be based on methods proven to work, rather than the latest fads.

Third, let's keep control of education in local hands. The Constitution grants no power to the Federal Government to control education. Centralized, governmental control over education is a dictator's dream, but is contrary to the principles this nation was founded on. Don't let bureaucrats in Washington or in the NEA decide how your child should think. Local communities should be able to shape and control their schools, and parents should have the right to choose where their children learn. When it comes to education, it's time we became pro-choice. Competition made the American economy the most productive and advanced in the world. Competition in collegiate education makes our universities strong, effective, and among the best in the world. Monopolistic, bureaucratic control over primary and secondary education weakens our schools and compels many people to consider private schools. And many more would, if they only had the funds to facilitate that choice. Let's stop the failed monopoly system and give parents choice and communities more control.

The disappointment of middle schools

I moved from Georgia to Wisconsin a couple years before my oldest child would enter middle school (grades 7 and 8 in this area) in a highly acclaimed school district in a state with highly acclaimed public education. With all the acclaiming we do about schools around here, I was expecting my son's educational experience to be outstanding. What I noticed right away was the complete lack of rigor. Very little homework, very little content in the curriculum, but lots of emphasis on self-esteem and getting along with peers and being good, cooperative citizens. Actually, this has become a nationwide problem in our middle schools, thanks to the efforts of the educational establishment (NEA, etc.), whose worldview is based on failed educational theories. Dr. Fred R. Bassett explains in his article, "Block Scheduling: Educational Reform Efforts" at (as viewed March 6, 2004):

A great example of unforeseen consequences resulting from reform is demonstrated by the switch from junior high schools to middle schools. This switch was not just one of changing grade levels in the schools from 7-9 to 6-8, but it also incorporated a change in perception of these schools from being junior versions of high schools which had a focus on subject area content and a more rigorous academic environment to schools with a focus on making sure that students felt good about themselves, had high self esteem, could explore a wide range of topics in order to give their curiosity free rein, and would be in an environment that provided them many opportunities to succeed. Or so the theory went. What has generally happened is that the middle grades are now redundant and shallow in subject area content, and student achievement has suffered. Teachers who in the past got certified for grades 7-12 in their subject area under the old junior high system are now certified for the middle school level with less coursework required in subject content. (Although it is true that under the old system, some teachers with a K-8 elementary certification were teaching in junior high schools.) Middle school teachers have also been taught in professional development training and at colleges of education that they should not be as academically demanding of their students as they had been under the old system. They were taught to focus on the emotional development of the child and not on his or her academic achievement.

This shift in focus away from academic rigor along with a reduction in subject area requirements for teacher certification has now come back to haunt our middle grade test scores on a multitude of tests and measures. The cry has gone out that something must be done on a state and national level. All of which could have been avoided if someone had just thought through the logical consequences of reducing the academic rigor of education in the middle grades before millions of dollars were spent on changing over to middle schools.

Parents, teachers, and students need to demand that their districts stop the retreat from content and quit dumbing down our schools. Charter schools like the Classical School of Appleton can be a great way to inject a real curriculum back into education.

Quotes to note

Mind-altering drugs are becoming the tool of choice for controlling the behavior of millions of children. Ritalin, for example, formerly known as the illicit drug "speed," is one of the most popular prescribed drugs ever, routinely given in cases of alleged hyperactivity that might better be resolved by challenging a bored child's mind rather than chemically suppressing it. Yes, there are cases where it may be genuinely helpful, but millions clearly are getting it unnecessarily, much to the benefit of the drug-making giant, Novartis. Parents, it's critical to understand that ritalin doesn't work by improving a child's mind, but by hindering it. According to a news story entitled "Ritalin Action Similar to Cocaine - Research" in Chemistry and Industry, Nov. 19, 2001, p. 717, it was reported that US researchers have found the action of Ritalin on the brain to be very similar to that of cocaine, with "the potential for long-lasting changes in the brain," according to Professor John Baizer at the University of Buffalo, New York. These are not the type of changes that make a person smarter! I strongly recommend that concerned parents consult, which provides lots of information on the dangers of Ritalin and other drugs given to school kids.

"Writing in the Sept. 13th issue of National Review, Richard Nadler ... states: 'Researchers have found that instruction in sexual biology and birth control is associated with earlier ages of first intercourse. When adults teach kids how to have sex, how to use contraceptives, and where to get them, the kids simply have more sex. And this approach is the heart and soul of sex-ed ideology." Carrol Everett, a former operator of abortion clinics who had a change of heart and now is pro-life, told Nadler of her visits to schools: "[M]y agenda was very clear. The first thing was to get the students to laugh at their parents, because if they laughed at their parents with me, they would not go home and tell their parents what I told them.... I'd say, 'Would your parents help you get on a method of contraception if you decided to become sexually active? Don't worry about that, here's my card, come to me."

Ms. Everett also recalled: "I knew that any time I went to a school, the pregnancy rate went up sharply. I knew that by my own statistics. I knew that by working with Planned Parenthood, and by reading their statistics." Needless to say, Nadler adds, "More pregnancies meant more abortions."
(The New American, Nov. 22, 1999, p. 5)

Reminds me of another quote I read from a former Planned Parenthood liaison to schools, who said that her job in helping to teach sex education was to talk explicitly about sex with boys and girls in the same room to break down natural inhibitions and get the hormones flowing. She knew that it would lead to increased sexual activity. It was part of the business. Sex-ed, as implemented in schools, educates kids to have sex. This leads to disease, pregnancy, abortion, and single mothers, which leads educrats, liberal politicians and businessmen in the sex-ed industry to call for MORE sex-education. It's like asking for more injections of a toxin that caused the illness in the first place.

"We can no longer hide behind our love of local control of schools and use it as an excuse not to set high standards." (Bill Clinton, reported in the Chicago Sun Times, 1/23/97)

Questions to ask about Federal control of schools: Is it Constitutional? Does it promote freedom, choice, and quality? Is it about power and control? Why should distant bureaucrats care more about the quality of local schools than the parents whose kids are being educated?

Can you guess the source - or even the decade - of the following quote about whole language versus phonics?

"Simply and clearly, according to our accepted system of instruction, reading isn't taught at all. Books are put in front of the children and they are told to guess at the words or wait until the teacher tells them. But they are NOT taught to read--if by reading you mean what the dictionary says it means, namely, 'to get the meaning of writing or printing.'

"When [you educators] talk about phonics, you mean something entirely different. You mean phonics as one among a dozen things that come into the teaching of reading. You mean that on a Wednesday in May, out of the blue and with nothing before or after it, you go to the blackboard and show the children that the word PIN with an E at the end makes PINE. The children thereupon dutifully 'learn' that fact. They are not shown that the same principle holds for A, E, I, O, and U; They are not shown that it also applies to PINING and TINY. they are not told what short and long vowels there are; they are not told that the I also makes the sound of IR in BIRD and the sound of IE in PIE. No. They are given 'incidental' phonics. On a Friday in June they will be told that the TCH in CATCH stands for the sound of CH. Next October they may hear about the NK in PINK.

"Let's understand each other. Systematic phonics is one thing, unsystematic phonics is another. Systematic phonics is the way to teach reading, unsystematic phonics is nothing--an occasional excursion into something that has nothing whatever to do with the method used to fix words in a child's mind."

This sounds like something from the 90s, and it sure fits. But the statements above were written in 1953 by Rudolph Flesch in his book, Why Johnny Can't Read (pages 17 and 121). (Thanks to R. Townsend for sending me the quotation from Flesch.)

Phonics, Whole Language, and the NEA

With 21% of American adults rated as functionally illiterate by the 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey, America has a reading crisis. I am increasingly surprised by the inability of many middle-class teenagers to read a passage of text at a reasonable pace, much less with any indication that they understand what they are reading. Are we improving? A Dec. 1997 OECD report showed that the US was among only a few developed nations that had not improved reading performance over the past generation. Tests may be "renormalized" to hide some of the problems, but the current reading system is broken. It doesn't need 100,000 volunteers working with third-graders. It needs sound reading principles being taught to kids in first and second grades, or earlier. Unfortunately, our schools continue pushing the filed "whole language" approach instead of intensive phonics. Though they will always say that they include phonics, their ideological and practical bent is toward whole language, with the phonics component often being grossly inadequate. Much of the blame must go to the NEA. While virtually every scientific study of the two methods shows that phonics is the better program by far (in addition to costing much less), the NEA has barely budged from its fervent faith in whole language. The whole language system is the problem, and intensive phonics must be a major part of the answer. Here is a relevant quote from "Spelling Disaster," an editorial column in the Wall Street Journal, March 23, 1998, p. A22:

California was a pioneer in whole language, going whole hog back in 1987. By 1995, the state tied Louisiana for the worst reading scores in the country. Stunned, the legislature reversed course, passing an "ABC" law that mandated the return of phonics-based instruction....

Courageously, former whole language supporters like the American Federation of Teachers and the International Reading Association have acknowledged that their faith was misplaced. A $200 million, 30-year study by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, a branch of the NIH, has likewise confirmed the detriments of whole language. Left over in a corner is the National Education Association, a powerhouse constituency of the Democratic Party. While a spokesperson claimed last Friday that the NEW supports the National Research Council's call for a diverse approach, it just promoted whole language dogma at a Read Across America day this month.

Somehow reading shouldn't have ended up being an ideological issue....The NEA and its think-alikes worry that giving in to phonics, associated as it is with conservatives, may send the whole system down the slippery slope where the school choice advocates lie in wait. The NEA should have thought of this before the public schools and their results rolled so far downhill.

Reprogramming or education?

From Donald L. Watford in "Educationists Want to Mold Your Child," letter printed in the Wall Street Journal, August 11, 1993:

On an unprecedented scale, education policy makers at the national and state levels have, in the past five years, infused traditional, subject-oriented curricula with course materials (often referred to as "strands") intended to mold the opinions and attitudes of young people, and to introduce corrective strategies (some of them bordering on the subliminal and fraudulent) to "remediate" those views considered "inappropriate" or otherwise undesirable by the behavior science community.

Invading your privacy with tests

Worried about public schools probing into personal details about you and your family? Welcome to Goals 2000! As an example, here is a recent incident reported in "True Stories of 'Reformed' Education in Kentucky" by M. McKenney, PO Box 413; Marion, KY 42064:

My eighth grade daughter was given this task to complete in a computer lab session at her middle school:

"GETTING IN TOUCH: When something happens that makes you have strong feelings, you probably remember that event for a long time-perhaps forever! This activity will help you recall some of these times, even if you think you've forgotten them. All you have to do is fill in the blanks in the sentences below. (6 of the 9 are below)

1. I remember how angry I was when my father _____
2. No one knew that I cried when ________________
3. Once, when I was alone in my house, I _________
4. I was so ashamed when _____________________
5. I was really scared when _____________________
6. I'll never tell anyone about the time _____________ "

The demise of mathematics

"American Schools vs. the World: Expensive, Unequal, Bad at Math" by Julia Ryandec for The Atlantic Monthly (, Dec. 3 2013), gives updated data on the very bad news about mathematics education in America. It's a failure.

I am pained at the lack of decent math education in so many of our public schools. I talk to many children and ask them about math, since I know math skills are one of the great predictors of future employment opportunities. Women, for example, that are good at math are much more likely to have higher paying jobs, while those that hate math tend to be stuck in lower paying jobs.

Part of the problem may stem from the lack of mathematical expertise - and love for math - among their teachers, which in turn reflects the neglect of concern about academic excellence in the educational unions, the teachers colleges, and in educational bureaucracies at all levels, where the goal of education appears to be instilling political attitudes rather than achieving academic excellence. In the name of teaching kids to "think for themselves," they are deprived of the core knowledge and the tools needed to actually think seriously about anything. And mathematical tools are critical for thinking and problem solving in almost any area.

But even when teachers have the skills and the passion for math that can help our kids advance toward mathematical excellence, they are often burdened by hideous textbooks that present math as a confusing mish-mash of disjointed concepts or, worse yet, don't teach math at all. Textbooks have much less mathematical content than they did a century ago, which is a result of a deliberate choice in America to make math more accessible to lower income students and those with weaker educational backgrounds. But in the name of making math more accessible to all in order to prepare more of the workforce for the basic math required by many jobs, we have unnecessarily and tragically limited the skills of those most likely to create jobs. Our watered-down math makes it less interesting and rewarding for top students, who are increasingly less interested in fields that require excellent math skills. See, for example, "Solving America's Math Problem" by Jacob Vigdor, EducationNext, vol. 13, no. 1, 2013.

Popular textbooks adopted by numerous school boards around the country seem perfectly designed to provide mathematical ignorance. This is a travesty. Some of the blame must be placed on so-called "standards" adopted in 1989 by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). They have generated an epidemic of mathematical ignorance among those who have adopted them, most notably the publishers of textbooks. For example, one of the most troubling examples of this trend is the very popular textbook of Addison-Wesley, Secondary Math: An Integrated Approach: Focus on Algebra, which is discussed in the following articles by Marianne M. Jennings:

Math teacher Barry Garelick has traced some of the problem in mathematics education to failed educational theories regarding "discovery learning" that have been aggressively supported by the National Council for Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) and by misguided bureaucrats in the federal government, which has aggressively funded textbooks based on failed theories. As a result, students are not learning the basic skills they need, and the United States is fairing poorly in international testing of math skills for elementary and high-school students. See "An A-Maze-ing Approach To Math: A Mathematician with a Child Learns Some Politics" in EducationNext, Spring 2005, Vol. 5, No. 2.

Other good articles on the terrible state of math textbooks include Parents, Are You Ready to Teach Your Kids Arithmetic? by Phyllis Schlafly.

Book reviews

The Vision of the Anointed: Self-congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy, by Thomas Sowell, BasicBooks, New York, 1995.

Thomas Sowell, a conservative black American and famous columnist, takes on the liberal paradigms that dominate so much of the media, of education, and modern politics. "The anointed" are those who think they are morally and intellectually superior to others and deserve to wield the power of big government to run our lives. The vision shared by the self-anointed is one in which personal freedom is an enemy. Likewise, personal responsibility is irrelevant, for it is "society" that is to be blamed for problems of human behavior. If society is the problem, then all we need is to have the anointed reconstruct society according to their vision to solve all problems.

Sowell explores many failed policies of the anointed, including Johnson's War on Poverty, sex education, and the revolution in criminal justice, showing how they each fall into the same pattern. The anointed proclaim a crisis exists that isn't really there or has been improving. They propose solutions based on their morally superior insight - solutions which others, often using real evidence and data, predict will fail or make things worse. No evidence is required to support the proposed solutions, which are "self-evident" to the anointed. The solutions are implemented and the results are miserable. In response, the anointed declare that critics are "simplistic" or even evil. The problem is that their solutions have not been implemented widely enough or have not received enough funding. Things would have been much worse if it had not been for their solution. More of their failed solution is proposed. Evidence against their policies is ignored.

This approach has devastated the American culture over the past 40 years. Sowell provides relentless evidence and fascinating case studies on issue after issue, including many relevant to education. I highly recommend this book.

Selected quotes:

[W]hen some parents objected to having their children put at risk by attending public schools with other children stricken with AIDS, New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen said that we should "ask some parents to put their children at risk, however small, for the sake of principle and fairness" (July 6, 1991, p. A21). But these parents were not being asked anything. They were being told that it was none of their business to know who or where there were AIDS carriers amidst their children. The anointed had already decided how much risk other people's children should be exposed to - and official secrecy meant that those other people had nothing to say about it.
(P. 197)
Much of what is called "interdisciplinary" by those with the vision of the anointed is not interdisciplinary at all. It is nondisciplinary, in that it simply ignores boundaries between disciplines. Physical chemistry is truly interdisciplinary in that it requires prior mastery of two different disciplines - physics and chemistry - but many ethnic, gender, and other "studies" do not require prior mastery of any discipline. They are nondisciplinary.
(P. 205)

Dumbing Down Our Kids; Why American Children Feel Good About Themselves, But Can't Read, Write, or Add, by Charles J. Sykes. Conservative Book Club, 33 Oakland Avenue, Harrison, NY 10528.

Sykes does a great job documenting the true "dumbing down" that has occurred in public education. Several studies have examined curriculum content in various areas, comparing current content to content in past decades. Education has clearly become diluted. Dumbing down is evident not only in the loss of content, but in decreased measures of academic achievement (mathematical, verbal, and other skills). While true academic achievement has been going down, grades are going up. When a child gets an "A" on his or her report card, parents assume the child is learning well. By the time they realize that very little has been learned, it may be too late.

Sykes presents valuable information and analysis about "Learning Disabled" kids, many of whom are perfectly normal kids suffering from poor educational practices (the school's fault!) rather than an inherent learning problem. Schools that adopt improved curricula - like a Baltimore school that adopted the Calvert curriculum - can achieve such remarkable progress that some LD kids may become "Talented and Gifted." Some of the our poor curricula, like the "Spiral Math" program that is used all over the country, are specifically treated in the book.

We need to rid our schools of the fads and empty programs that have replaced serious education with "feel-good" fluff and pop psychology. American education is producing kids who feel very positive about their educational skills - regardless of how poor those skills are. "Dumbing down" should not be tolerated.

(The above comments were based on my wife's review of this book.)

Facts, Not Fear: A Parent's Guide to Teaching Children About the Environment, by Michael Sanera and Jane S. Shaw, Regnery Publishing, Inc., Washington, D.C., 1996.

My pick for one of the most helpful books available for parents and students. With logic, facts, and science, this book takes on the many frightening myths and exaggerations that school children often hear about the environment. Far from an apology for environmental destruction, this book teaches responsibility and respect for the planet while exposing the lack of substance behind many of the dire "doomsday" scenarios that are presented to our kids as facts. Are we really going to run out of oxygen due to deforestation? Is overpopulation really the crisis that the schools say it is? Will billions starve? Are millions going to die from skin cancer due to ozone depletion? Are we really running out of trees and other resources? Are we "deforesting the U.S. at the fastest pace in our history" as the Sierra Club claims? Is the planet overheating? Is there really no more room for landfills? These questions require facts, not fear, and the authors deliver the former while discussing reasonable solutions to real environmental problems.

Most chapters of the book have been reviewed for technical content by two or more scholars in relevant areas, whose names and affiliations are given. For example, Chapter 17, "Don't Eat That Apple!" (dealing with the overblown fears of chemicals in foods) was reviewed by Dr. Gordon Gribble, Professor of Chemistry at Dartmouth University; by Dr. Joseph D. Rosen, Professor of Food Chemistry at Rutgers University; and Dr. Steven Safe, Distinguished Professor of Veterinary Physiology and Pharmacology at Texas A&M University. Chapter 18, "A Garbage Crisis?" was reviewed by Dr. M.B. Hocking, Professor of Chemistry at the University of Victoria; by William Rathje, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Arizona and Director of the internationally recognized Garbage Project; and by Dr. Clark Wiseman, Professor of Economics at Gonzaga University.

Parents will learn what school textbooks are saying about the environment, and will find helpful information and documentation to balance what is incorrect or exaggerated. Parents will also find helpful discussion topics and recommended exercises and activities to help their children better understand and think about the environment and our stewardship.

Various resources for concerned parents

PRESS (Parents Raising Educational Standards in Schools)
This organization has been helpful to my wife and I in providing valuable information on so-called educational reforms. Contact them at P.O. Box 26913, Milwaukee, WI 53226 (phone: 262-241-0514). Their publications are great. For example, are you tired of hearing unsubstantiated claims that the educational fad of the moment is "supported by many studies"? Dr. Jeffrey M. Jones has compiled an outstanding booklet based on scholarly research on the effects and consequences of many modern educational practices, including curricula based on "enhancing self-esteem," whole-language, affective education, etc. The booklet is Educational Philosophies: A Primer for Parents, copyright 1995, published by PRESS. The cost is $7. For an example of some information gleaned from that book, see my page on Direct Instruction.

Core Knowledge Foundation
Leading the way with truly outstanding curricula to help kids learn what they need to succeed. 2012-B Morton Drive, Charlottesville, VA 22903, (804) 977-7550.

The Badger Institute (formerly, the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute)
A non-profit institute established to study public-policy issues affecting the state of Wisconsin. Their publications are excellent, well documented, and worth reading if you want to be informed about the facts of political life and education in Wisconsin. One recent publication of theirs that I highly recommend is Direct Instruction and the Teaching of Early Reading by Mark Schug, Sara Tarver and Richard Western. It's available as a PDF file.

Citizens for Excellence in Education (CEE), P.O. Box 3200, Costa Mesa, CA 92628, (714) 546-5931.

National Right to Read Foundation, (800) 468-8911.

National Association of Christian Educators (NACE), P.O. Box 3200, Costa Mesa, CA 92628, (714) 546-5931.

National Monitor of Education, Box 402, Alamo, CA 94507, (415) 945-6745.

Sex Respect Curriculum, Respect, Inc., P.O. Box 349, Bradley, IL 60915-0349, (815) 939-0296

The National Council for Better Education, 1373 Van Dorn Street, Alexandria, VA 22304 (703) 684-4404.

National Coalition of Concerned Christians, P.O. Box 756, Sprig, TX 77383.

Traditional Values Coalition, 100 Anaheim Blvd., Suite 350, Anaheim, CA 92805, (714) 520-0300.

Accuracy in Media, 1275 K Street NW, Washington, DC 20005.

Focus on the Family, Colorado Springs, CO 80995-001 Phone: (719) 531-5181.

The Rutherford Institute
The Rutherford Institute is a nonprofit legal and educational organization specializing in the defense of religious freedom, the sanctity of human life, and family autonomy. They use lawyers to a protect our religious liberties and have won many victories. P.O. Box 7482, Charlottesville, VA 22906-7482, Phone: 1-804-978-3888.

The Literacy Council (TLC)
An organization working to restore sound reading concepts in schools. They are effective advocates of proven phonics methods and strong opponents of the thoroughly discredited "whole language" fad. P. O. Box 2845, Huntington Station, NY 11746; Tel/FAX 516-424-1039, Charles M. Richardson, Founder and Chairman.

Links related to education

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Mathematically Correct
Excellent information about mathematics instruction and new forms of failed New Math programs. This site explores and explains "the concerns raised by parents and scientists about the invasion of our schools by the New-New Math and the need to restore basic skills to math education." HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

The Core Knowledge Home Page
The Core Knowledge Series, edited by E.D. Hirsch, Jr., offers a wonderful curriculum based on real content and specific things for kids to know. The books for grades K-6, such as What Your Sixth Grader Needs to Know, are worth having in your home - or school. It's a winning system at the Classical Charter School in Appleton, for example. (Earnings from the books go to the non-profit Core Knowledge Foundation - E.D. Hirsch, Jr. receives no remuneration for editing the series.) PBS ran a broadcast in late 1996 on Core Knowledge, including a visit to Cale Elementary, a Core Knowledge school in Charlottesville. Exciting stuff!

I also highly recommend E.D. Hirsch, Jr.'s book, The Schools We Need, New York: Doubleday, 1996 (317 pages, $24.95). With extensive documentation and some of the clearest writing you'll find, Hirsch explores the myths, fads, and misunderstandings that have lead our schools to ignore specific learning and basic content, while believing they are somehow promoting "higher order thinking" instead. Based on solid research with clear discussions of many studies, this book is a helpful tool to teachers, board members, charter school organizers, and parents who want to achieve real improvement in education.

What the Data Really Show: Direct Instruction is Best!
My page, based on a research review by Dr. Jeffrey M. Jones. Includes a discussion of Project Follow Through.

The Problem with Block Scheduling (my page)

Education Next
A tremendous and highly accessible journal from Stanford's Hoover Institute looking at real issues and real data regarding the critical area of education.

American Collage Network for Educators (ACNE)
A parody page I created about a support group to encourage secondary education teachers to keep on using COLLAGE as an all-purpose educational tool. ACNE is a fictitious organization, but the concerns behind it are real - though overblown. The prevalence of collage for homework assignments and class projects in high school is one of the smaller problems in the world of education - but I still had fun with this page. Be sure to check out the real collage there, too.

The Textbook League
An excellent site by a good organization that reviews textbooks. They expose the bad science, bad history, new age falsehoods, and general silliness that contributes to the dumbing down of American schools.

The Truth About Math Standards and Information-Age Math Reform
William G. Quirk's excellent site warns of some serious problems with math education. NCTM Standards are more concerned with social goals that with mathematics education, and our kids are paying for it with inadequate education. One recent article, for example: The Truth about the REVISED NCTM Standards: Arithmetic is Still Missing!.

The ADD/ADHD Debate
Fred A. Baughman Jr., MD, argues that there is fraud involved in the classification of possibly normal children as ADD or ADHD.

Association for Direct Instruction
Where to go for information and research on one of the most effective teaching techniques of all time.

The Ups and Downs of School Reform: A Case Study of Success and Its Demise
By Jean Stockard and Donna Dwiggins of the University of Oregon and National Institute for Direct Instruction.

Dr. Samuel Blumenfeld's Works
A man who bucks the educational establishment, challenge the NEA, teach parents how to teach phonics (gasp!), while documenting the harms of Outcome Based Education. He has many excellent books, such as The Whole Language/OBE Fraud.

GOALS 2000
Details of the Educate America Act - the legislation itself.

What Was That Project Follow Through?
Extensive details about the largest educational study ever, the one that showed how many popular educational methods are failures, while the unpopular method of Direct Instruction is a solid, long-term success.

Home School Legal Defense Association
Standing up for the legal rights of parents who want to educate their children.

National Home Education Research Institute
Reliable information about home schooling.

Homeschooling information from the Christian Liberty Academy

ERIC - the Educational Resource Information Center
ERIC at is a large and free database of publications and reports on educational matters. This is the place to search when you want the best information on a topic. Huge amount of information!

Educator's Reference Desk
The Educator's Reference Desk is a huge database of organization, links, and information resources on education.

Bas Braams' Links, Articles, Essays, and Opinions on K-12 Education
Many great sources of information for concerned parents and educators. Bas Braams is from the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences at New York University.

Huntington Education: Taking on the NewTech Education Fad
Information about the educational fad called "NewTech."

Department of Education

GLOBE: Global Education
Disturbing stuff (sounds good on the surface, though) from the horse's mouth.

The Rutherford Institute
A public-service organization providing legal help to those whose religious liberties are being threatened. They have opposed many abuses by government. This is a good place for your donations!

Saxon Math
Offering Saxon Math and other educational resources, along with some fascinating information about modern textbooks and educational failures like new math (the old "discovery mathematics").

The Riggs Institute
An organization in Portland that teaches phonics - successfully. I understand that the Webmaster for this site is a graduate of the Riggs Institute who was told by the public schools that he was dyslexic and incapable of learning!
Lots of information on the dangers of Ritalin and other drugs given to school kids. How is it that harmful, mind-altering drugs are widely distributed to millions of school children with the support and encouragement of their local "drug-free zone"?

Blumenfeld's Alpha-Phonics
A home reading program that has been recommended to me.

Fuzzy Math Invades Wisconsin
A PDF file from Amazing what has happened to math in this country, and in my state.

The Classical Charter School
This new charter school is a public school that will begin in Fall of 1999, established through the tireless work of my wife, Kendra Lindsay. For grades K-8 it offers what many parents have long wanted: an education based on academic achievement with intensive phonics, a classical curriculum, and direct instruction. Kids will also learn a foreign language (Spanish) in every grade level.

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