Friday, July 27, 2012

Reforming our Schools

Sorry if my lasts posts sounded very conspiracy-theory-ish.  I know many people are excited about Common Core because it unites states under common standards and "raises" the standards for some states in some subjects.  There are some positives in having a united education for the whole country.  Here is a map of the states that have adopted common core (after much government incentive).

I realized that the educational system is kind of a mess.  On average, the United States spends $10,499 per student per year in public school.  Do you know what I could do with $10, 499 on my children's education for the year?  I could take them to Greece when we were studying Greek architecture.  We could travel to Italy to study art, or to Jerusalem to learn about the Bible stories.

If you compare that to what actually happens with those $10, 499, the contrast is pretty startling.  We know the money is not going to the teachers or to supplies. We definetely could use some reform.  I think people are excited about Common Core because at least it's something different - and different is good!

Now, aside from the agendas that those in high places may have for the education of the young (and I think you have to be pretty naive to think that there are no agendas in the common education of the children of the most powerful, free country in the world), I firmly believe that reform for the education of our children ought to start from the families and not from those whom we've chosen to govern our state or our nation.

I know that national change is more powerful and more quickly effective in a grander scale.  It's tempting to use that power to try to fix things quickly.  It's always tempting to use power to fix things - as a parent or a leader of any organization.  The problem is that power tactics (laws, enforcement) can change behavior, but rarely change hearts.  When an individual heart is changed, their behavior changes, and that invites others to change - families begin to look different, neighborhoods are influenced, cities begin to transform, states are improved, nations rise up and the world is lifted.

People are always trying to change things the easy way - more laws, more punishments - in hopes that the world will improve.  Each of us know we are right in the way things should go, so if everyone just did what we said, then the world would be a better place!  Wouldn't it be nice to have the power to make our children and neighbors always do exactly what we said?  Isn't that the way to fix the world? It's a debate that was begun before the world began - it's about individual freedom and the right to choose.

Who is to blame for the direction our country is headed?  Who is to blame for the government endeavoring to fix all of our problems?  We are.  Whenever we blame the president, or others in power, for the mess we are in, we need to remember that whenever we shrug off responsibility unto someone else's shoulders, we are giving them the power to tell us what to do.  We are giving away our freedom.

So we can choose to reform education by having the government set higher standards and enforce those standards with penalties and rewards.  Or we can choose to reform the schools by taking back the responsibility of our children's education. We can turn off the TV and video games and we can choose to higher the standards of education in our homes (whether we send our kids to school or not).  If we shrug off this responsibility as well, we are giving the government the power to tell us how our children should be educated.  We are giving away our most precious freedom of all.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Common Core Concerns Clarifications

I got some questions and explanations about my last post so I wanted to write a clarification.

First, I have no idea if some leaders at the Alpine School District have a socialist agenda.  They have been accused of this by some.  I just wanted to point out that it was strange and that people ought to do their research and look into it.  I do not know if Common Core has anything to do with their mission statement.

Second, I have been told that Alpine School District's mission statement actually reads, "Educating All Students to Ensure the Future of Our Democracy."  Here is an interesting post that annalyzes different parts of their statement (which includes the word "democracy" 13 times).  I don't know if they changed it from "enculturating" to "educating" and took out the words "political and social".  I found this picture taken by someone at the Alpine School District office.  Maybe it was photo-shopped.  If it was, please let me know:

I was asked what is meant by "informational texts".  It means anything that is non-fiction.  Non-fiction materials teach you "facts" (although history cannot be told as pure facts, it is always handed down from a person who was there or heard about it, so it depends on people's perspectives).  Non-fiction books do not talk about the ideas and possibilities of mankind, how those ideas came to be, the moral choices that have built or destroyed character and nations, to name a few things.  Informational texts take the heart out of education, and it is through the heart that understanding occurs and character is built.  I was listening to a talk given at a leadership educational conference by Marlene Peterson, founder of Libraries of Hope.  She wasn't talking about Common Core at all, she was talking about storytelling, but she made this interesting observation,
"No people in the history of the world has managed to hold on to freedom - yet.  When a nation is in crisis, when a nation has lost it's way, it's storytellers who will reset it's course. In World War I, the French bravely held back the invading Germans for four brutal years. Twenty years later, France fell to Nazi Germany in just six weeks. What changed?  Much of the blame was placed squarely on the teachers unions who, in a spirit of pacifism and internationalism, had purged all the schoolbooks of the stories of courage and self sacrifice of their fallen heroes.  Instead the children were bombarded with stories of the horrors of war and the suffering of French and German alike.  How long will our battle for freedom last? If we have only taught our children the mechanics of the constitution and have not told them the stories of what life looks like without freedom; if we have only taught our children the workings of our government and have not told them the stories of the price paid to have that government;  if we have not told our children the stories of what made America the light and hope of the world; then that battle for our freedom will not last long enough.  Karl Marx once said, 'A people without a heritage are easily persuaded.'  Thomas Jefferson said, 'A government is like everything else, to preserve it, we must love it.'  Love is in the heart.  Hearts are fed by stories.  Stories can heal our nation."
The proponents of informational texts would argue that they are teaching children how to think by teaching them to research these informational texts.  If you have gone to college, you are familiar with the kind of research that you must do to write a research paper.  You are asked to read scholarly articles and look at the conclusions that were made by the experts after they have analyzed their data.  If you had a good teacher, you might have been asked to analyze the data yourself to find flaws in the analysis to better support your point of view (I had one teacher like this).  These research papers teach you to be reliant on experts, not how to reason and find truth for yourself.  If you went to college, you are also aware that when it comes to the "social sciences" you can find articles that "prove" or support any claim you want to make,

Another clarification- the reason I quoted 1984 in my post was to show that wording does matter, despite the "intent" of the mission statement about what democracy means.  Words are a way to influence and to attempt to control thoughts and ideas.

A teacher wrote to me about her feelings about Common Core.  She expressed that she is happy about greater flexibility in how she teaches, compared to "No Child Left Behind" and that the reason for more informational texts is that students were spending all of their time reading fantasy, which isn't a bad thing, but not enough time reading stuff that teaches them something.  She also said that parents no longer have time to teach their children basic things that parents used to teach their children so this will give the schools the ability to teach those things that parents are not teaching.  She said, "not all parents are like you"  and have the time and knowledge to teach their children.

This comes from a good, conservative teacher.  I'm guessing this is the kind of thing they are telling teachers in their teacher training, but it makes me a little, okay a lot, concerned.  First of all, teachers cannot yet know how much flexibility they'll have in teaching their subjects because the assessments have not yet been written.  I'm sure it feels more flexible than "No Child Left Behind" right now because "No Child Left Behind" already has assessments.  We don't have the new assessments yet so we don't know how much school time will be taken in trying to get the children to do well on them.  We have adopted something when we don't even yet know what we'll have to be teaching.

About the informational texts, I agree that too many children are spending too much time reading junk, but I think children would benefit TREMENDOUSLY not from reading informational texts, but from reading good quality literature. 

And lastly, if we think that parents are no longer teaching their children well, our focus ought to be to support the family to do a better job - not to take over their job for them.  This is the typical "You don't know how to do it well, so let the government fix your problem" argument that spins us into relying on government and becoming dependent.  God put us here as families, parents are responsible for the education of their children.  God will not hold the schools accountable, but parents.  If parents are handing over that responsibility to the schools, then we are in A LOT of trouble and our nation will not last.  The school's job used to be to support the family in the teaching of their children.  Now the parents are being asked to support the school.

I think our nation would do well if we all tried reading Animal Farm  one more time...

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Common Core Concerns

A friend recently told me about the Common Core standards that are being adopted by Utah.   I was surprised by what she said and a little worried, but I figured that once I got the full story - it wouldn't be as concerning at it sounded.  I asked some of my friends who send their kids to public school about it, but the response I kept getting from them was, "Yes, I heard they were doing something different than 'No Child Left Behind,' but I don't know too much about it."

My friend told me something that intrigued me because it sounded so much like something out of 1984.  She said that Alpine School District, around the same time they adopted the Common Core standards, changed their mission statement to: "Enculturating the young into a social and political democracy."  I wasn't sure if I believed that.  First of all, "enculturating" sounded an awful lot like teaching the young to follow the norms of culture and not necessarily the teachings of their families.  I looked it up: "The gradual acquisition of the characteristics and norms of a culture or group".  Yep.

It also didn't help that I had also just participated in a Constitution class in which we talked about how the United States in NOT a democracy and the importance of understanding why - pure democracies in every single case recorded in history - have evolved into despotism because the majority's interests always supersede everyone else's and chaos ensues and then a dictator takes charge.  I looked up "social democracy" online:  Definition: "a political movement advocating a gradual and peaceful transition from capitalism to socialism by democratic means".  Interesting.
My mom is a teacher at Alpine School district so I asked her what she thought.  She was glad they were getting a waiver from No Child Left Behind and that they were getting money for adopting Common Core.  I asked her if there really was a mural on the wall that said, "Enculturating the young into a social and political democracy."  She said, "Yes, it's on their mission statement."

I thought it was strange that in a state as conservative as ours, parents would be okay with such a strange mission statement.  It turns out that they haven't been and have tried to argue with the board to change it, but the board refuses.  You can read about it here:

Daily Herald
Daily Herald 2

If you take the time to read them, the board seems to think that the mission statement is misunderstood and that the intent is different than what it actually says - that democracy is "a type of republic" and that people are making a big deal out of wording.  It reminded me of this passage in 1984 where they are getting rid of words in order to control thought:

"Don't you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten."

Here is a lengthy article about what the Alpine school district probably means by it's statement.  Hmm. So why don't they just say what they mean?  You can read a lot of the articles about it if you follow the links at the bottom of the articles under "related articles".  One that I found particularly disturbing was by a BYU professor who questioned why parents think they know more about education than these experts who have studied and worked hard to come up with this mission statement.  Doesn't that sound like something out of Animal Farm?

Anyway, back to Common Core.  Maybe the Alpine mission statement has nothing to do with their adoption of Common Core.  I don't know, but the rhetoric is eerily similar.  Here's a video about some concerns with Common Core:

Here is another one (not very well filmed) that explains how it has come to be accepted in Utah:

I have to say that one of my biggest concerns came from the Utah Common Core site itself.  It stated that there will be a move towards more informational texts and less "literature".  In the elementary years they want to have it be 50/50, in middle school 55/45, and in high school 70% of what students read will be informational texts.  In other words, schools will be teaching students what to know and not how to think. This is one of the reasons I took my children out of school in the first place. I thought it was already too much that way, and now they are doing more of it.   It is a great way to produce great followers and terrible leaders. In fact, it was the type of education they had in Germany at the time of Hitler.

Honestly, in our age of google - you can find any information you need with a push of a button - why all of this emphasis on knowing facts? It's kind of fishy if you ask me...

I found this blog (shown to me by a friend) to be very informative.  It's by an Alpine School Board member and she explains what is going on very clearly and fairly (she often posts "common core updates" in red, so scroll down and read what she has to say about the latest in implementing it):

I particularly liked these posts by her:
 Alpine's implementation of common core - Interesting to see how it is being implemented (like the move from books to online texts) as well as other things we are seeing.

Common Core doesn't determine curriculum pay close attention to what she says about the teaching of English.

Common Core is not a federal program...technically  pay attention to the questions she asks towards the end of the post.  I think they are MAJOR questions that ought to be answered.

Common Core: from the governors: no feds allowed - notice who is behind the initiative and what they have to gain.  I also like that she points out at the end how this is a top-down way to fix a problem (how well does has that worked in the past?) instead of a bottom-up (I feel strongly that bottom-up promotes freedom and top-down destroys it).

This next one was kind of scary to me since it mentions the possible effects to homeschoolers and charter schools.  It also makes us think about the question of "who will be determining the assessments" (we don't even have them to judge them yet!) and what are their assumptions and agendas?  Where are we getting our assessments?

Anyway, if you are not aware of what is going on, I would encourage you to look into it.  One of my friends who has been following it from the beginning tells me that this is something that is being adopted because people are too busy or tired to be involved.  She said it's a step more than "No Child Left Behind" towards the nationalization of education and we are being led step by step into something we will look back on when it is too late and think, "Boy, that was really dumb..."

I may have to move to Texas :-)

Sunday, July 15, 2012

California Vacation

We went to California in May. One of our friends told us that they were trying to find people so that they could get some group discount tickets to Disneyland, and we thought this was a pretty great excuse to go on a trip. I tend to be a little hard on Disneyland since I don't want to teach my children to be "thrill seekers" but to find joy in the subtle and deeper beauty around them, but we had so much fun being together and with friends. I think there was a lot of subtle beauty in that, even though there was some not-so-subtle thrill-seeking too :-)

We left on a Friday after Rock's work and drove for 9 hours to a KOA in Barstow where we slept in a Tepee.  It seemed like a fun adventure, and it was.  The only problem was that there were gusts of wind throughout the night that made the Teepee flap so loudly that it was hard to get any sleep - for me and James anyway.  I don't know if Barstow's always that windy at night, but if so - I don't think we'll do the teepee again ;-)  The next day, we got up and drove to the beach.

The kids loved the tide pools,
We didn't get a lot of pictures at the beach because everything is so sandy and getting the camera out is risky, but besides the sand and the tidepools, we played in the cold water a bit - at least the older kids and their dad did.  Gem mostly threw and ate sand and Ray was afraid of the water so he'd cry if the waves got too close.  Mostly he dug in the sand as well.  We camped that night in some of the "mountains" near Disneyland  - we saw some wild rabbits :-)

The second day we met our friends at a church in California and then we all went to a beach since we had no "home" to go to.  We were trying to keep the Sabbath day holy, but I'm not sure how well we did.   That night we checked into a hotel and I was thankful for a bed.

The next day was Disneyland.  The first thing we did was let Ray see Mickey.  He has seen several Mickey shows on youtube and he was really excited to see the real Mickey.  He hugged him and then stared at him in wonder.  It was hard to get him to look away so we could take his picture.

After that, we rode every ride we could ride.  We weren't sure if we should leave our friends alone so they could enjoy some family time or if we should tag along with them.  They warned us that they are a little crazy when they go to Disneyland...they get there an hour early and know all of the tricks with fast passes and getting to as many rides as possible.  We decided to try it and see how it went that first day.  

It was A LOT of fun. 

So we followed them around for the next three days :-)

After the third day we said a sad goodbye to our friends and drove to Sequoia National Park.  I'm used to being surrounded by beautiful things since I grew up exploring Utah, but Sequoia was incredible.  I was simply awed.

Before going to the giant trees, we spent the night in the foothills of the forest.  When I woke up in the morning, there was a deer right next to the tent.  I whispered to the kids to come and see it, and I snapped some shots of it's herd before they got scared off by a dog.
We packed up and went up to see the Sequoia trees.  We were driving up a winding road and after a while we saw our first Sequoia tree.  Everyone in the car just said, "Whoa."

We got to the parking lot of our hike and Bud ran out to hug a tree.  We laughed when we saw how tiny he looked next to the enormous tree.

Climbing a tree...sideways

Walking up a tree

Walking into the roots of a tree

we could play around inside some of them

Can you see my kids heads inside the tree?

On our second day at Sequoia, Bud and I went on a hike together because some of the kids had fallen asleep in the car, so Rock stayed with them and Bud and I went on one of the most beautiful hikes I've ever been on.  It takes you through a green meadow, with wild flowers next to a lake surrounded by Sequoias, to a cabin built into a fallen Sequoia tree by an early explorer.  The hike was so cool that I made Rock go on it when Bud and I got back to the car with one sleeping child (the rest had awoken and were playing on the boulders near by). 

We saw some deer along the way

Here's the cabin.  The bed and table are literally inside the tree.  You can see how it extends back. So cool.
As we were driving away from the trail head to that hike, I spotted a black bear with her cub.  We took lots of pictures.

On the way home from Sequoia, we decided to take a detour through Yosemite National Park.  We figured it would add 2 hours to our trip home, but it would be worth it.  It ended up adding a lot more.  I can't decide if it was worth it or not, since we only stayed for a picnic lunch at Yosemite falls, but it really was beautiful.  We'll have to go back sometime.
Since Yosemite took so much longer than expected because of some road closures, we had to make an unplanned overnight stay in Nevada.  We stopped at "The Clown Motel".  We laughed at how eerily strange the clown pictures on the walls were and how their lobby had hundreds of clown porcelain figures. 
We laughed even more when Rock walked out the door in the morning and saw the motel was right next to an old mining cemetery.  We later found out that youtube has pictures of ghosts haunting the area.  Good thing we didn't see any :-)
We got up the next morning (on Mother's day) and drove 8 hours to my mom's house. 

The kids did well in the car, except I should have probably postponed potty-training Ray until after the trip - we had to stop more than we may have liked :-)  And Gem did cry every time I put him in his car seat for a couple of weeks after the trip, but he has gotten over the trauma now ;-)  It was such a memorable vacation.