Archive for the ‘Harrison Bergeron’ Tag

Federal Control of Technology and Data: On “Internet Neutrality,”the ConnectEd Initiative, and SETRA   8 comments

How will President Obama’s multiple initiatives increase federal control over American technology and data mining –and how will these initiatives affect children?

There are several new initiatives to consider.

I.  NET NEUTRALITY

Yesterday the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) passed the Obama-approved definition of “Internet Neutrality.”  Proponents made it sound as if “neutrality” meant openness and freedom for individuals, but the ruling increases federal power over the internet.

The notion that fairness and neutrality should be government-defined and government-enforced makes me roll my eyes. The term “net neutrality” sounds just like Harrison Bergeron, with the FCC playing the part of the Handicapper General to enforce equality by handicapping achievers and punishing success.

So now that the federal government has increased power to define and enforce its one definition of neutrality, how will this advance the goals of Obama’s ConnectED initiative?  Will “neutrality” aim, like ConnectEd aims, to strap tax dollars and children’s destinies in education to Bill Gates’ philosophies and coffers?  I ask this in light of Microsoft’s alignment with the FCC’s ruling, Microsoft’s celebrated discounting of common core-aligned ed tech products and Microsoft’s promotion of ConnectED.  Add to that question this fact: Microsoft’s owner, Gates, funded the Role of Federal Policy report, which found (surprise, surprise) that the power of federal groups, to “research” children/education without restraint, should be increased using ESRA reauthorization.  More on that below.

How does all of this work with the SETRA bill’s student data collection goals?

II.  CONNECT-ED

First, a quick ConnectEd review:  Obama is bringing the now-neutralized internet to all schools while behaving very non-neutrally himself: he’s officially favoring and partnering with Microsoft/Bill Gates/Common Core so the uniform customer base (children) will only receive the One Correctly Aligned Education Product (and likely will thank Gates for what they see as kindness, deep discounts).  Microsoft’s website explains: “Partnering with the White House’s ConnectED Initiative, we’re helping provide technology for education, at a fraction of the cost.”  Pearson, Inc. is doing the same thing here and here and here to lay those near-irreversible foundations for the future.

What Microsoft, Pearson and ConnectEd are doing could be compared to offering free or discounted train tracks to your city.  They’re fancy tracks, but customized to fit one sort of train only.  By accepting the offer, you are automatically limited to using only the kinds of trains made to run on your new tracks.

States and schools ought to be saying “no, thanks” to Gates and Pearson if we want to have the freedom to later use education and ed technology that might be Common Core-free.

(As an important aside: one of the stated aims of Obama’s ConnectEd is to catch up to South Korea where “all schools are connected to the internet… all teachers are trained in digital learning, and printed textbooks will be phased out by 2016.”  I’ll never join the chorus of “Let die traditional, print books”.  But ConnectED has. )

The Internet has been, until now, unregulated by the federal government.  It’s been free.   The controllistas think of free as “unfair,” however.

“The main excuse for implementing the new invasions is the statists’ favorite complaint: Internet service providers ‘discriminate’  …[F]acilitators seeking to benefit from less competition, such as Facebook, Google, and Netflix,  ought to be beige in color, have identical horsepower, the same number of doors, and get the same gas mileage no matter how far or fast they may be driven” (from Bob Adelman, New American Magazine).

In the FCC’s ruling, Bob Adelmann pointed out, there’s been dramatic change without  transparent vetting.  Adelmann wrote, three days ago: “On Thursday consumers will finally be able to see and read the FCC’s (Federal Communications Commission) planned new rules to regulate the Internet. Deliberately hidden from public view, the 332-page document … [was] demanded by President Obama… he told FCC … to adopt the “strongest possible rules” in regulating the Internet.”

 

 

WHY?

 

Why was Obama bent on getting the “strongest possible rules” to control the Internet– and why did he confuse people by calling this move one toward openness and freedom?  I don’t know why.

The “why” is not so important.

What matters most now is that Americans recognize that he is, in fact, aiming for ever increasing control at the expense of our freedoms, and that he’s partnered with private corporations who share his aims.  History teaches that many people seek to control other people; whether for kindly intentioned or malicious intentioned reasons, they always have and always will.  That’s why our Constitution is so sacred.  It protects individuals from others’ controlling tendencies by decentralizing power.

Government-imposed equality, or “neutrality,” is a theme Obama has promoted in many ways prior to yesterday’s “Net Neutrality” punch.

  1. Think of common “College and Career Ready Standards” –a.k.a Common Core, which his administration promoted to U.S. governors –and reported about to the U.N.— in 2009-10: “President Obama called on the nation’s governors and state school chiefs to develop standards and assessments,” said Secretary Duncan.
  2. Think of Common Education Data Standards (CEDS) for all students and for every state database, data standards which his administration partnered in creating.
  3. Think of his administration’s funding and promotion of common SLDS state databases that now track and grade the nation’s schools, teachers and students using interoperable systems and common, national data models.
  4. Think of federally-promoted, aligned testing for all states and students.  Same, same, same.

Match that to the speeches of Bill Gates  about building the uniform customer base of students using Common Core.

In each of the Obama-promoted, standardizing measures, no one may soar.  No one is allowed to meander into creative or superior or innovative paths because of that devoted mindset: no failure– not allowing anyone freedom, if that includes the freedom for some to fail.  This commonizing of the masses under the banner of “fair and equal” once upon a time used to be called communism, but that’s not a politically correct term anymore.  You can’t even call it socialism.  Instead, the p.c. terms are “social justice”  or “playing fair.”  I call it theft.  Legalized plunder.

And it’s never actually fair: There is nothing fair about elites centralizing power to take freedom from individuals.  Also, for those who decide that they are above the law there are exceptions; the ruling elite still get to choose.

When I say, “elites centralize power to take freedom from individuals,” I don’t mean metaphorically or theoretically.  It’s real.  It’s no theory.  The micromanagement of schools, children, teachers to minimize parental “interference” and parental “opportunity” is a large and extremely well oiled machine.

On its federal hand, there’s the Obama Administration’s “National Education Technology Plan“.  On its private, corporate hand, there’s the Bill-Gates-led “Evolving Role of Federal Policy in Education Research,” explained out a report written by Aspen Institute and funded by the Gates Foundation.  It says, “there is a broad consensus that federal investment in education research, development, and dissemination is vital” and “the pending reauthorization of ESRA creates new opportunities to better harness the tremendous research capacity we have in America to turn broad consensus into broad benefit,” and even: “the Obama Administration has proposed to create a new unit of ED, called ARPA-ED, that would be analogous to the high-profile Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in the Department of Defense. ”

III. SETRA – The Reauthorization of ESRA

We need to study the “pending reauthorization of ESRA” that hopes to “harness” students’ data.  The SETRA bill now on-deck, bill S227, is the data collection bill that American Principles Project  warned America about in a press release.  SETRA is a direct answer to what the both the Evolving Role of Federal Policy in Education Research and the National Education Technology Plan had requested:  more power to the federal government over student data.

The history of educational data collection by federal/private forces is very boring.  I only bring this up because we need to see them for what they are: public-private-partnerships, with unclear dividing lines between federal and private controls.  That means that we can’t easily un-elect them or influence the power that they wield.  It’s data collection without representation.  That’s not only unconstitutional; it’s also very creepy.

The boring but important history of these public-private-partnerships is detailed in the Evolving Role of Federal Policy in Education Research report, as well as on websites from the REL/WestED groups.   WestED, a now-nonprofit, explains: “The roots of WestEd go back to 1966, when Congress funded regional laboratories across the country to find practical ways to improve the education of our nation’s children.  Charged with “bridging the gap between research and practice,” a number of the original Regional Educational Laboratories grew beyond their initial charge and developed into successful organizations. Two in particular—the Southwest Regional Educational Laboratory (SWRL) and the Far West Laboratory for Educational Research and Development (FWL)—evolved beyond their laboratory roots, eventually merging in 1995 to form WestEd.”

Why it matters?  Ask yourself this:  How does a parent protect his/her child from data leaks, privacy breaches and unwanted government intrusion or “guidance” when the data collection machines are not run by elected representatives, and they are paid to run well by the unstoppable force of taxes?

How does a parent protect his/her child when federal FERPA (Family Ed Rights and Privacy Act) has been altered so that it’s no longer protective of parental rights and student privacy?

How does a parent protect his/her child when the new SETRA bill allows power to go to regional commissioners, rather than residing in local schools, districts, or even states?  Regions take precedence over states under SETRA.

But the public does not know this because proponents of SETRA reveal what they want to reveal in their “pro-SETRA” talking points.

I hate talking points!  Give me truth in the form of direct quotes and page numbers from a bill next time, Congressman Boener.

Proponents fail to reveal the details of the bill that alarm opponents of SETRA.  I’ll share a few.

Psychological Profiling

For example, page 28, section 132 reveals that data to be collected on students may: “include research on social and emotional learning“.  Social and emotional learning means psychological testing!  This is promoting the same creepy biometric data mining methods that the Dept. of Education was pushing two years ago in its “Promoting Grit, Tenacity and Perserverance” report of 2013 (see report pdf page 44).

grit

This SETRA bill’s  language empowers the government to create a profile on your child, psychologically (emotional learning) and politically (social learning).

I do not support allowing the government to keep psychological/political dossiers on children.

 

Reliance on a wet-noodle FERPA for privacy protection

But I have no power, they tell me,  despite being a mom, a voter, and a taxpayer.  Recall that there is no requirement under federal FERPA any longer to get parental consent over the gathering or sharing of student data.

Likewise, in Utah, there’s no protection for student data.  The state longitudinal database system (SLDS) gathers data about each child from the moment he/she registers for kindergarten or preschool without parental consent.

The state has said that no Utah parent may opt an child out of SLDS and legislation to create protections for children’s privacy in Utah has not been successful.

Utah’s legislature and school board continues to allow the SLDS to run wild, unaccountable to parents or to anyone.  Students’ data in Utah is unprotected by law.  If the board or an administrator tells you differently, ask them to show you the law that provides protection in Utah.  Then send it to me.

In fact, the Utah Data Alliance promotes the sharing of data between agencies such as schools, higher ed, workforce services, and other agencies.  If the board or an administrator tells you differently, ask them to show you the law that provides protection in Utah.  Then please send it to me.

 

Parental Rights Dismissed

 

Soon, if federal SETRA passes, student data will be even more unprotected.  Zero parental rights over student academic data (thanks to shredded federal FERPA protections and wrongheaded Utah policies) will be joined by zero parental rights over student psychological data (thanks to power-hungry SETRA).

In section 208 (see page 107) the SETRA bill reauthorizes the federal government “to align statewide, longitudinal data systems [SLDS] from early education through postsecondary education (including pre-service preparation programs), and the workforce, consistent with privacy protections under section 183;’’

SLDS is the very set of databases that deny parents their rights to be the main authorities over their own children’s data.  Do we want to reauthorize the federal government to use our tax dollars for that purpose, moms and dads?

“Privacy protections under section 183,” as we discussed above, equals no privacy at all.  Why?  There used to be confidentiality standards, such as those seen in the 2002 data privacy code.  But all of that changed.  Now, confidentiality and parental consent have been reduced to “best practice” status, and parental consent prior to sharing data is not required by federal FERPA.

 

REGIONAL EDUCATION LABS MAY SUPERCEDE STATE AGENCIES IN POWER

Under SETRA section 174, “REGIONAL EDUCATIONAL LABORATORIES FOR RESEARCH, DEVELOPMENT, DISSEMINATION, AND EVALUATION” the power of the regional educational laboratories is expanded.  This whole section is worth reading, but it’s hard to read because of the many interruptions where the bill alters definitions and phrases from the original ESRA bill.  Try it.

I have to say that in this section, the repeated use of the term “laboratories,” in the context of “regional educational laboratories” gives me the creeps.  Am I the only one?  Our children as guinea pigs in laboratories of educational and now psychological experimentation –organized by region and not by state? No, thank you.

When Regions Rule, States Lose Constitutional Strength

Another important thought:  how can states’ rights over education ever be defended and protected when education is being restructured to function in regional, not by states, divisions?  Is this why the regional laboratories of educational research are growing to become more powerful than state boards?)

On page 57 of the pdf the R.E.L. Commissioner is given a lot of power.  “Each eligible applicant desiring a contract grant, contract, or cooperative agreement under this section shall submit an application at such time, in such manner, and containing such information as the Evaluation and Regional Assistance Commissioner may reasonably require.”  The Commissioner can deny funds, or give funds, to people who “shall seek input from State educational agencies and local educational agencies in the region that the award will serve”.  Hmm.  I see.  People may seek input from state agencies, but the regional laboratory commissioner is The Man.

The Regions aim for that power.

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I’m not finished with my SETRA analysis.  I’m just sick of it right now.

I’ll be back.

THE STORY KILLERS by Dr. Terrence Moore – Book Review   7 comments

storykillers book

Michelle Malkin has called The Storykillers  “a stopcommoncore must-read.”

It is a must-read.  It’s interesting and important.  It’s packed full of understanding about the Common Core English standards, which are ruining the love of learning as they distort what it means to be educated.

The book pits logic and common sense against the theories, deceptions and absurdities of the Common Core.  It cuts through the Common Core’s wordiness and plainly states this truth:  that Common Core is stunting and killing both the classic literature stories themselves and The Great American Story of liberty and self-government, stories that our children and our country cannot do without.

In  The Story Killers: a Common Sense Case Against Common Core, Dr. Terrence Moore tells us that the restoration of legitimate, time-tested classic literature —the best that has been thought and said and done and discovered“– can solve  America’s educational decline.  The faulty theories of Common Core can not.

If you don’t read book, please remember Dr. Moore’s most important point:  We Must Fight For Our Stories— which Common Core is stealing

The great stories are not disposable!  Who persuaded us that they were?  Losing them means losing, piece by piece, what it means –or meant– to be us.  No amount of supposed career prep info-texts can pretend to make up for that.

Good readers, regardless of what they did after they grew up, developed the love of reading/learning by reading stories.  Young and old need stories to process life.  Great learners fall in love with learning not because of manuals, articles, and  informational texts but because of fascinating stories.  Classic works of literature are being neglected, shortened, misinterpreted and replaced, under Common Core.  And THE Great American Story– the story of freedom —  is being undermined along with the other classics that Common Core neglects.  The book explains exactly how this is happening, using the standards themselves as its centerpiece.

We must fight for our stories.

applebook - Copy

Dr. Moore’s book asks questions like this one:  Why does the new Common Core edition of the  American literature textbook, The American Experience, by Pearson/Prentice Hall 2012, contain sections on government forms,  and an EPA report?  Is this the new and “more rigorous” literature that will prepare our children for college?  Or is it an attempt to “keep the nation’s children from reading stories, particularly traditional stories that run counter to the political ideology” of the authors of  Common Core?

Dr. Moore points out that a widespread, fraudulent adoption of Common Core brought us the fraudulent reading (and math) theories upon which Common Core Standards rest. Common Core was never pilot tested as it should have been, before virtually the whole country adopted it.

You know how long it takes for a new drug to get on the market before it receives approval from the FDA,” he writes,  “Yet here is the educational medicine, so to speak, that all the nation’s children will be taking every day, seven hours a day– and no clinical trials have been done.”

Dr. Moore points out, too, that “most of the money that funded the original writing of the standards came from the deep pockets of Bill Gates. Perhaps related to this fact, the Common Core will have students working far more with computers… the people behind the Common Core also have a hand in running the tests and stand to gain financially…. the other people who stand to make out like bandits are the textbook publishers. If that’s not enough to get one wondering, it turns out that the actual writing of the standards was done in complete secrecy.

(Shocking! Terrible! And true.  Yet how many people know these facts in the face of so many ceaseless Common Core marketing lies being put out by the likes of Exxon, Harvard, Jeb Bush, the National Governors’ Association and even the National PTA, all of whom were paid by Bill Gates to say what they say about Common Core.  Don’t listen to them!  They are financially bound to say what they say.  Listen to people like Dr. Moore, who do not accept money from the Gates club.)

In his book, Dr. Moore talks a lot about what is NOT in the English standards as well as what’s there.

The traditional aims of education– to pursue truth, to find true happiness, to be good, to love the beautiful, to know the great stories of our American tradition– are not the designs of Common Core, he says.  The Common Core is a program that kills stories in order to direct people to “be preoccupied with only  the functional aspects of human existence and to have almost no interest in the higher aims of life.”

plato

Dr. Moore reminds us that controlling stories (or the lack of stories) is the same thing as controlling people:   “Plato pointed out in his Republic a book never read in today’s high schools, nor usually even in college– whoever writes the stories shapesor controls– the minds of the people in any given regime.”

The book’s title describes the killing of two important types of stories:

The great stories are, first, the works of literature that have long been considered great by any standard of literary judgment and, second, what we might call the Great American Story of people longing to be free and happy under their own self-government. The Common Core will kill these stories by a deadly combination of neglect, amputation, misinterpretation…”

Then,

On the ruins of the old canon of literary and historical classics will be erected a new canon of post-modern literature and progressive political doctrine. Simultaneous to this change, fewer and fewer works of literature will be read on the whole. Great literature will be replaced with ‘information’ masquerading as essential ‘workforce training’.”

Moore explains that the proponents of Common Core hold up “the illusion of reform” while continuing to “gut the school curriculum” and to remove its humanity.  He points to page five of the introduction to the Common Core where  this chart appears for English readings:

Grade Literary Information
4 50% 50%
8 45% 55%
12 30% 70%

So our little children under Common Core aligned school books won’t get more than 50% of their reading from stories.  And our high school seniors won’t get more than 30% of their reading from stories.  The bulky 70% of what they read must be informational text:  not poetry, not plays, not novels, not the books that move our souls.  In English class.

Thus literature is on the wane in public schools,” Dr. Moore writes, and traditional literature classes are being eroded, despite the fact that the Common Core proponents aim to deceive us and make the “public believe that they are requiring more rigor in reading.”

Dr. Moore calls us to fight for our children’s access to the great stories.

There has never been a great people without great stories. And the great stories of great peoples often dwell on the subject of greatness. They dwell on the subject of plain goodness as well: the goodness that is to be found in love, marriage, duty, the creation of noble and beautiful things. It is patently obvious that they authors of the Common Core are uncomfortable with these great stories of the great and the good.  They are plainly uncomfortable with great literature. And they are even more uncomfortable with what might be called the Great American Story.”

Read much of what the so-called education reformers are speaking about lately, and you’ll see it:  they call for sameness, common-ness, for the forced redistribution of teachers and funds, and above all, for equality of results.  Not greatness.  Not the ability for a single student or school to soar above the rest.  No exceptionalism allowed.  (Anyone ever read Harrison Bergeron?)

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, Obama advisor Linda Darling-Hammond, the testing companies, the Common Core copyright holding groups– the reformers seem to avoid the concepts of goodness and greatness in favor of a twisted version of “social justice” equality, which is, frankly, theft, along with being as foolish as the reasoning behind the society of Harrison Bergeron, which is in no way truly fair, or truly helpful.

“…They fully expect us to shrug with thoughtless indifference.  Do not be fooled.  The fate of our stories is the fate of the nation,” writes Dr. Moore.

book and kite

Dr. Moore does the unthinkable:  he subjects the Common Core Standards to actual critical thinking (which they claim to promote).

Since everyone loves the expression ‘critical thinking’ these days, let us subject these standards to a little critical thinking.

He questions the  Common Core Initiative’s obsession with technology and testing.

bored by screen

Computers are a lot more like televisions than anyone is willing to admit… it is true that art teachers can now much more easily show their classes great paintings and sculptures by using the internet.  It is likewise true that history teachers can employ actual speeches of Churchill or Reagan using videos found on the web. Ninety percent of the time, though, that is not how the computer is being used… The arch-testers of the Common Core champion the use of the technological elixir that cures all illnesses and heals all wounds without even pausing to warn us of the potential side effects… we are not invited to consider how much technology is compromising the old literacy. Least of all are we supposed to realize that the remedy for our growing twenty-first-century illiteracy is traditional, nineteenth-century education.”

He asks us to re-examine the assumption that because technology has changed so much, schooling should also change so much.  “Does schooling belong in that class of things that does not get ‘updated’ every week…  human institutions and relations for which we must be initiated into certain permanent ways of thinking, lest we be cast adrift on a sea of moral, cultural, and political uncertainty?”

He points out that education should not be confused with job training and that “going to college” is not the same thing as gaining knowledge; and that the authors of Common Core are “lumping college readiness and career readiness together” without stopping to explain what either means nor how either will be affected by the lumping.

He points out that while the standards claim to wield the power to prepare children for “the twenty-first-century global economy,” that claim is based on nothing.  It’s just a claim.  And we have had economies to worry about since the beginning of time, none of which would have succeeded by taking away stories and classics, the very core that made people in the not too distant past far more literate than we are today.

He opposes this “pedestrian preoccupation with what will happen when children turn nineteen” because it “undermines the powers of imagination and of observation,” powers which are too important to ignore.  Think about it:  imagination makes children read and helps them to love books.  No little child is motivated to read because he/she is concerned about college and career, years from now.  The child reads because the story is interesting.  Period.

Dr. Moore also points out that the history of successful literacy shows a very different path from the one Common Core is leading America to follow.

Historically, what created the highest literacy rates?  Dr. Moore points out that it was high church attendance, combined with emphasis on the Bible, and schooling with an emphasis on traditional learning!  (And the Bible is composed mostly of stories and lyrical language, not of “rigorous informational texts.”)

Dr. Moore points out that Colonial Massachusetts and 18th-century Scotland had nearly universal literacy.  Newspapers in the 18th century were written at a far higher level than the journalism of today (which is written at the sixth-grade level.)

Yet the authors of Common Core insist that students should read far more recently written, informational texts, such as newspaper articles… Ergo, the literacy for the twenty-first-century global economy will be built upon the cracking foundation of our present semi-literacy. Was there not once a famous story-teller who said something about not building a house upon sand?”

He asks us to remember that the careful reading of stories enables us to “learn about good taste and manners. We learn all the the individual virtues and vices… human emotions… Through this vicarious activity, we are compelled to examine ourselves and thereby attain what used to be called self-government… What is a better study of ambition leading to ruin than Macbeth?  Wat is a better study of indecision and imprudence than Hamlet? What is a better example of adolescent love and passion in their raw state than Romeo and Juliet?  What is a better model of command than Henry V?… We hang onto these stories… that teach us who we are and who we ought to be. The study of human character through great literature, then, teaches us how to live.”

In the book’s last chapter, Moore explains that what is permanently valuable to students does not change very much.  He writes that a genuine common core would have included a group of magnificent books that each truly educated person would have read, at the very least.  Under THE Common Core, however, mostly informational, unproven texts and text excerpts are listed –and there is no set core of classic books.  He writes,  “Had the Common Core English Standards held up just a few great books, college professors could finally know what their incoming students had actually read.  Heck, even advertisers and comedians could know what jokes they could tell about literary characters”  Moore says that “the Holy Grail of school reform” is the set of “great books of our tradition.”

He recommends that students would read –PRIOR to high school–  titles such as The Tempest, Animal Farm, A Christmas Carol, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

Then Dr. Moore lists a classical high school curriculum (which he says has been working in the schools in which he has helped to implement it):

Homer’s Iliad  (The whole thing, not a drive-by excerpt); the WHOLE of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, Hamlet and Macbeth; the WHOLE U.S. Constitution; Le Morte D’Arthur, Pride and Prejudice, Plutarch’s Lives; Moby Dick; Huckleberry Finn, 1984; A Tale of Two Cities; Crime and Punishment; The Scarlet Letter, The Mayflower Compact; Uncle Tom’s Cabin The Prince; Confessions of Augustine; poetry by Frost, Longfellow, Dickinson, Poe, Whitman, T.S. Eliot, Shakespeare; biographies of Benjamin Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, speeches by Winston Churchill, Martin Luther King, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln and Ronald Reagan; and so on and so on.

Despite everything that is being taken away from the American English curriculum because of Common Core, despite the damage that is being done to children’s love of learning by removing the thing that makes people love to read and become great readers– stories– despite all else he exposes about the Common Core, Dr. Moore’s bottom line remains this one:

Anyone who thinks I have travelled too far afield or have jumped to conclusions about the true aims of the Common Core should read one further phrase found on the opening page of the English standards.  That phrase is more alarming and more revelaing than all the jargon about a new literacy and college and career readiness. ‘The Standards are intended to be a living work: as new and better evidence emerges, the Standards will be revised accordingly.’ …The authors of the Core are  forecasting that their program will change over the next ten, twenty, forty years… but the same people will be in charge. What will be the new and better evidence that emerges?  Who will get to decide what constitutes better evidence? Who will do the revising?”

I have only scratched the surface of this important book here.  I hope you will buy copies for your friends, your school board, your legislator, your governor, and especially for your favorite English teacher.  This book is a powerful tool in the fight to  reclaim legitimate K-12 and college education in this country.

Link to book:   The Story Killers: a Common Sense Case Against Common Core

Excellent or Common: Guest Post by Laureen Simper   5 comments

I loved this year’s public high school Christmas concert. The jazz band and orchestra were energetic, talented and joyful — as you’d expect from teenaged musicians jamming at Christmas. (I almost forgot about Common Core.)

But meanwhile, my friend Laureen attended a very different kind of school Christmas concert.

And her story, (the guest post below) has little to do directly with the Common Core Standards. I’m posting it because it is a metaphor for the numbing-down of children who are viewed, even by the U.S. Secretary of Education, as “human capital” – a mass to wrangle, clump and process commonly. Not to expect to excel, individually.

—————————–

laureen

EXCELLENT OR COMMON

Guest Post by Laureen Simper, Utah mother and piano teacher

I attended our elementary school’s “Christmas” program last night, because my piano student invited me to come hear her play her Christmas piano solo. She and her little sister – also my student – were singing in the “choir”.

Head….still….exploding….

I would estimate that less than a third of the kids knew the songs. It didn’t matter; they were singing to recordings. As in, singing WITH recordings. As in, SINGING WITH RECORDED VOICES. Ish.

It absolutely DID NOT MATTER that less than a third of the kids were prepared to perform after spending hours coming to school early to be in this choir.

Then there was the “choreography”: either running in a circle, shaking a stick with a streamer on the end of it, or shifting weight back and forth to shake those booties! And no need to practice or remember this either – either the teacher or a couple of the older students were doing the movements down in the front so the children could just copy them. The recordings, all with the same mind-numbing beats and instrumentals, just flowed over the top of this unorganized, unlearned trainwreck, making any effort inconsequential, making any non-effort inconsequential, dumbing down…dumbing down…dumbing down…numbing down

The only bright spot was my piano student playing the Christmas piano solo she had spent weeks learning and mastering.

And where was the piano, where everyone could see her? No, no, no! Over at the side, like an afterthought.

Because HELLO! It –of course– wasn’t used to accompany any numbers! Who needs a live instrument when you’ve descended into sort-of-lip-syncing…..ish?

So maybe the first three rows were able to see her. And would you like to know why she was the ONE AND ONLY real musical number on the program? THEY DIDN’T HAVE TIME FOR THE CHOIR TO “LEARN” THAT PARTICULAR SONG. Excuse me, LEARN? Who learned ANYTHING?

Head….still…..exploding….

And of course there wasn’t a single song about the Savior in the program – it was all mindless, secular drivel. I swear they did nothing but use the same CD for every single number.

I thought about all these families, a week before Christmas, rushing to get to this program after a busy day. Younger siblings were tired – babies and toddlers – many had probably been at day care all day, who still didn’t get to go home. I watched tired parents bouncing babies on their laps, walking with them in the back or in the hall, chasing toddlers – or not, getting phones ready to video the big moment.

WHAT BIG MOMENT?

I watched the children on stage – MOST of whom had no clue what was going on. I pictured the homes they lived in on any particular school morning as they had to get up early and shake up the families’ routines to get to school early to practice….. THIS? Families all through my neighborhood were sacrificing family time – weekly for the practices, and now, the final culmination of all that……was THIS? You could be home watching a secular movie like “A Christmas Story” and baking Christmas cookies and it would have been a more valuable use of your family’s time than THIS.

Then I thought about what we are teaching the children, the “participation trophy” mentality that rears its ugly head everywhere.

My student told her mother the day of the program that she shouldn’t even bother coming because it was so bad. She TOLD her mother that nobody knew the songs, that they didn’t know what they were doing, that it was bad.

So, in spite of the hype – she knew. ‘Cause HELLO! Kids are not dumb!

I imagined other kids with similar sensibilities, knowing in their hearts that this program was a mediocre mess, and then I imagined them being told what a great job they did, how cute it was, etc., etc. I thought, WOW.

What a great way to train a populace to not trust their instincts, to go along, because what’s the harm in it? – to believe the unbelievable. If, in your heart of hearts, you know the sky is blue, and you spend thirteen years of your life at a place that tells you in a million ways every day that it is green, what kind of discrimination skills do you end up developing?

How capable will you be of detecting lies when all you have ever heard are lies?

I feel so unbelievably sad for all the children sitting in schools across this country this morning. They are being taught that COMMON is good, because public school has become nothing – NOTHING – more than a giant bucket for all the little crabs.

Public education has become nothing more than a training program for all the common little crabs to yank any free-thinking crabs back down into the common swill.

They are all being taught that excellence is what we pay lip service to, but in subtle ways, you will be singled out – negatively – if you try to achieve it (Harrison Bergeron!)

All the while, the ever-lowering bar continues to be celebrated, photographed for a scrapbook page, and videotaped for Instagram and Facebook brags.

Worst of all, they are subtly being taught that even THIS is more important than time spent at home with your family. How subtly, subtly, subtly is the message being taught that home and family are absolutely, completely, at the bottom of your priorities.

HEAD…NEVER STOPS…EXPLODING…

So thanks for listening to the rant. I weep for so many well-meaning parents who do not see – maybe WILL not see.

Even though my job as a piano teacher is nearly dead because of this cultural shift, I feel like I need to point out the sign that hangs over my front door every week my students leave my house. I need to teach them more intentionally the reason I do what I do.

The plaque says: “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.” (Aristotle)

Excellence matters…BECAUSE it is UN COMMON.

Full Text: HARRISON BERGERON by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.   1 comment

Kurt Vonnegut’s “Harrison Bergeron” was in the literature text we taught at Colton High School in Colton, California where I taught in 1995-2000.  My students read this  profound story, which has become ironic today, because public education is being transformed, via COMMON CORE, into the very nightmare Vonnegut envisioned. 

Our country has agreed  (with the exception of Texas and Virginia) that everyone ‘s educational experience must be the very same.

If you are gifted or educationally advanced, you really have been punished with an educational handicap.  Everyone must be common in Common Core.  

  Now, when I read this, I picture Common Core Architect David Coleman as the United States Handicapper General, and picture Secretary Arne Duncan as the television announcer.

HARRISON BERGERON

by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.


THE YEAR WAS 2081, and everybody was finally equal. They weren’t only equal before God and the law. They were equal every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anybody else. All this equality was due to the 211th, 212th, and 213th Amendments to the Constitution, and to the unceasing vigilance of agents of the United States Handicapper General.

Some things about living still weren’t quite right, though. April for instance, still drove people crazy by not being springtime. And it was in that clammy month that the H-G men took George and Hazel Bergeron’s fourteen-year-old son, Harrison, away.

It was tragic, all right, but George and Hazel couldn’t think about it very hard. Hazel had a perfectly average intelligence, which meant she couldn’t think about anything except in short bursts. And George, while his intelligence was way above normal, had a little mental handicap radio in his ear. He was required by law to wear it at all times. It was tuned to a government transmitter. Every twenty seconds or so, the transmitter would send out some sharp noise to keep people like George from taking unfair advantage of their brains.

George and Hazel were watching television. There were tears on Hazel’s cheeks, but she’d forgotten for the moment what they were about.

On the television screen were ballerinas.

A buzzer sounded in George’s head. His thoughts fled in panic, like bandits from a burglar alarm.

“That was a real pretty dance, that dance they just did,” said Hazel.

“Huh” said George.

“That dance-it was nice,” said Hazel.

“Yup,” said George. He tried to think a little about the ballerinas. They weren’t really very good-no better than anybody else would have been, anyway. They were burdened with sashweights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in. George was toying with the vague notion that maybe dancers shouldn’t be handicapped. But he didn’t get very far with it before another noise in his ear radio scattered his thoughts.

George winced. So did two out of the eight ballerinas.

Hazel saw him wince. Having no mental handicap herself, she had to ask George what the latest sound had been.

“Sounded like somebody hitting a milk bottle with a ball peen hammer,” said George.

“I’d think it would be real interesting, hearing all the different sounds,” said Hazel a little envious. “All the things they think up.”

“Um,” said George.

“Only, if I was Handicapper General, you know what I would do?” said Hazel. Hazel, as a matter of fact, bore a strong resemblance to the Handicapper General, a woman named Diana Moon Glampers. “If I was Diana Moon Glampers,” said Hazel, “I’d have chimes on Sunday-just chimes. Kind of in honor of religion.”

“I could think, if it was just chimes,” said George.

“Well-maybe make ’em real loud,” said Hazel. “I think I’d make a good Handicapper General.”

“Good as anybody else,” said George.

“Who knows better than I do what normal is?” said Hazel.

“Right,” said George. He began to think glimmeringly about his abnormal son who was now in jail, about Harrison, but a twenty-one-gun salute in his head stopped that.

“Boy!” said Hazel, “that was a doozy, wasn’t it?”

It was such a doozy that George was white and trembling, and tears stood on the rims of his red eyes. Two of of the eight ballerinas had collapsed to the studio floor, were holding their temples.

“All of a sudden you look so tired,” said Hazel. “Why don’t you stretch out on the sofa, so’s you can rest your handicap bag on the pillows, honeybunch.” She was referring to the forty-seven pounds of birdshot in a canvas bag, which was padlocked around George’s neck. “Go on and rest the bag for a little while,” she said. “I don’t care if you’re not equal to me for a while.”

George weighed the bag with his hands. “I don’t mind it,” he said. “I don’t notice it any more. It’s just a part of me.”

“You been so tired lately-kind of wore out,” said Hazel. “If there was just some way we could make a little hole in the bottom of the bag, and just take out a few of them lead balls. Just a few.”

“Two years in prison and two thousand dollars fine for every ball I took out,” said George. “I don’t call that a bargain.”

“If you could just take a few out when you came home from work,” said Hazel. “I mean-you don’t compete with anybody around here. You just sit around.”

“If I tried to get away with it,” said George, “then other people’d get away with it-and pretty soon we’d be right back to the dark ages again, with everybody competing against everybody else. You wouldn’t like that, would you?”

“I’d hate it,” said Hazel.

“There you are,” said George. The minute people start cheating on laws, what do you think happens to society?”

If Hazel hadn’t been able to come up with an answer to this question, George couldn’t have supplied one. A siren was going off in his head.

“Reckon it’d fall all apart,” said Hazel.

“What would?” said George blankly.

“Society,” said Hazel uncertainly. “Wasn’t that what you just said?

“Who knows?” said George.

The television program was suddenly interrupted for a news bulletin. It wasn’t clear at first as to what the bulletin was about, since the announcer, like all announcers, had a serious speech impediment. For about half a minute, and in a state of high excitement, the announcer tried to say, “Ladies and Gentlemen.”

He finally gave up, handed the bulletin to a ballerina to read.

“That’s all right-” Hazel said of the announcer, “he tried. That’s the big thing. He tried to do the best he could with what God gave him. He should get a nice raise for trying so hard.”

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” said the ballerina, reading the bulletin. She must have been extraordinarily beautiful, because the mask she wore was hideous. And it was easy to see that she was the strongest and most graceful of all the dancers, for her handicap bags were as big as those worn by two-hundred pound men.

And she had to apologize at once for her voice, which was a very unfair voice for a woman to use. Her voice was a warm, luminous, timeless melody. “Excuse me-” she said, and she began again, making her voice absolutely uncompetitive.

“Harrison Bergeron, age fourteen,” she said in a grackle squawk, “has just escaped from jail, where he was held on suspicion of plotting to overthrow the government. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped, and should be regarded as extremely dangerous.”

A police photograph of Harrison Bergeron was flashed on the screen-upside down, then sideways, upside down again, then right side up. The picture showed the full length of Harrison against a background calibrated in feet and inches. He was exactly seven feet tall.

The rest of Harrison’s appearance was Halloween and hardware. Nobody had ever born heavier handicaps. He had outgrown hindrances faster than the H-G men could think them up. Instead of a little ear radio for a mental handicap, he wore a tremendous pair of earphones, and spectacles with thick wavy lenses. The spectacles were intended to make him not only half blind, but to give him whanging headaches besides.

Scrap metal was hung all over him. Ordinarily, there was a certain symmetry, a military neatness to the handicaps issued to strong people, but Harrison looked like a walking junkyard. In the race of life, Harrison carried three hundred pounds.

And to offset his good looks, the H-G men required that he wear at all times a red rubber ball for a nose, keep his eyebrows shaved off, and cover his even white teeth with black caps at snaggle-tooth random.

“If you see this boy,” said the ballerina, “do not – I repeat, do not – try to reason with him.”

There was the shriek of a door being torn from its hinges.

Screams and barking cries of consternation came from the television set. The photograph of Harrison Bergeron on the screen jumped again and again, as though dancing to the tune of an earthquake.

George Bergeron correctly identified the earthquake, and well he might have – for many was the time his own home had danced to the same crashing tune. “My God-” said George, “that must be Harrison!”

The realization was blasted from his mind instantly by the sound of an automobile collision in his head.

When George could open his eyes again, the photograph of Harrison was gone. A living, breathing Harrison filled the screen.

Clanking, clownish, and huge, Harrison stood – in the center of the studio. The knob of the uprooted studio door was still in his hand. Ballerinas, technicians, musicians, and announcers cowered on their knees before him, expecting to die.

“I am the Emperor!” cried Harrison. “Do you hear? I am the Emperor! Everybody must do what I say at once!” He stamped his foot and the studio shook.

“Even as I stand here” he bellowed, “crippled, hobbled, sickened – I am a greater ruler than any man who ever lived! Now watch me become what I can become!”

Harrison tore the straps of his handicap harness like wet tissue paper, tore straps guaranteed to support five thousand pounds.

Harrison’s scrap-iron handicaps crashed to the floor.

Harrison thrust his thumbs under the bar of the padlock that secured his head harness. The bar snapped like celery. Harrison smashed his headphones and spectacles against the wall.

He flung away his rubber-ball nose, revealed a man that would have awed Thor, the god of thunder.

“I shall now select my Empress!” he said, looking down on the cowering people. “Let the first woman who dares rise to her feet claim her mate and her throne!”

A moment passed, and then a ballerina arose, swaying like a willow.

Harrison plucked the mental handicap from her ear, snapped off her physical handicaps with marvelous delicacy. Last of all he removed her mask.

She was blindingly beautiful.

“Now-” said Harrison, taking her hand, “shall we show the people the meaning of the word dance? Music!” he commanded.

The musicians scrambled back into their chairs, and Harrison stripped them of their handicaps, too. “Play your best,” he told them, “and I’ll make you barons and dukes and earls.”

The music began. It was normal at first-cheap, silly, false. But Harrison snatched two musicians from their chairs, waved them like batons as he sang the music as he wanted it played. He slammed them back into their chairs.

The music began again and was much improved.

Harrison and his Empress merely listened to the music for a while-listened gravely, as though synchronizing their heartbeats with it.

They shifted their weights to their toes.

Harrison placed his big hands on the girls tiny waist, letting her sense the weightlessness that would soon be hers.

And then, in an explosion of joy and grace, into the air they sprang!

Not only were the laws of the land abandoned, but the law of gravity and the laws of motion as well.

They reeled, whirled, swiveled, flounced, capered, gamboled, and spun.

They leaped like deer on the moon.

The studio ceiling was thirty feet high, but each leap brought the dancers nearer to it.

It became their obvious intention to kiss the ceiling. They kissed it.

And then, neutraling gravity with love and pure will, they remained suspended in air inches below the ceiling, and they kissed each other for a long, long time.

It was then that Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, came into the studio with a double-barreled ten-gauge shotgun. She fired twice, and the Emperor and the Empress were dead before they hit the floor.

Diana Moon Glampers loaded the gun again. She aimed it at the musicians and told them they had ten seconds to get their handicaps back on.

It was then that the Bergerons’ television tube burned out.

Hazel turned to comment about the blackout to George. But George had gone out into the kitchen for a can of beer.

George came back in with the beer, paused while a handicap signal shook him up. And then he sat down again. “You been crying” he said to Hazel.

“Yup,” she said.

“What about?” he said.

“I forget,” she said. “Something real sad on television.”

“What was it?” he said.

“It’s all kind of mixed up in my mind,” said Hazel.

“Forget sad things,” said George.

“I always do,” said Hazel.

“That’s my girl,” said George. He winced. There was the sound of a rivetting gun in his head.

“Gee – I could tell that one was a doozy,” said Hazel.

“You can say that again,” said George.

“Gee-” said Hazel, “I could tell that one was a doozy.”


“Harrison Bergeron” is copyrighted by Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., 1961.

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