The Continuing Saga of Failed Federal Education Policy

By Tom DeWeese

It’s a growing mantra on Capitol Hill: “smaller class size, more money, higher standards.” That is the answer, we are told by congressional leaders, to end the “education crisis.”

You see, children aren’t getting enough attention from the teachers – that must be the reason academic skills are falling. Schools simply don’t have enough money to hire good teachers – that must be the reason academic skills are falling. Students and schools simply aren’t held accountable to strict standards of excellence – that must be the reason academic skills are falling.

Politicians. Give them a piece of legislation to wave in front of the cameras and a sound bite to explain it – and they’re off and running. The truth is THAT is the reason academic skills are falling – too much federal education legislation and too many sound bites.

After forty years of almost non-stop federal programs (particularly in the past decade), an invasion by an army of psychologists, dumbed-down tests and an abandonment of the teaching of basic academic skills, our once great American education system is almost unrecognizable.

As a result of all of this federal attention to the once-sacred classroom, children are coming out of public schools unable to perform even basic math at a cash register. Their communication skills are little more than tribal gibberish. They have no interest in civics and they can’t find their hometown on a map. Colleges and employers have to provide remedial education programs to high school graduates just to assure they can get into college or fill out job applications.

The panic grows, the programs pour into the hopper and the politicians pontificate about the need for higher standards of education excellence. But still – n congressional leaders seem to have taken the time to actually study what is happening in the classroom. If they did, they would understand that the problem is not lack of money, lack of qualified teachers or classroom size. In fact, a classroom could consist of one student and one highly-paid teacher, and still the student would come out of the experience dumb – if the teacher used the same teaching methods and curriculum now used in classrooms across the nation. Why? Because the problem is the curriculum – the programs dictated from Washington demanding social engineering instead of basic academics. Just take a look what really goes on in the federally-dictated classroom.

RESTRUCTURING THE CLASSROOM

It comes under many names; block scheduling, group learning, cooperative learning. But, it’s all part of a radical change in the way children are taught in the classroom.

Children are paired with others for group grades. Individual achievement is de-emphasized. Under block scheduling a number of subjects are tied together in one long class. For example, in one school, math science, health and physical education have been combined. Children are supposed to learn these skills by working on a class project, such as launching an imaginary rocket to the Moon.

Presumably when faced with various problems in building their rocket, students will seek out the necessary information. They’ll need math to calculate the projectory, science to find out where the Moon is and health to know what to feed the astronauts. Apparently physical education will teach them how to get the astronauts in shape. Children who can’t keep up are supposed to be helped along by other children in their group. It’s called “kids teaching kids.”

“Cooperative learning” is nothing more than a classroom-management technique that provides a convenient hiding place for bad teachers and under-achieving students. The student who doesn’t care to learn, or has failed to grasp a concept, allows the rest of the group to do the work – yet he gets their grade.

However, it’s been discovered in school after school that students coming out of such classes cannot perform math problems, recite multiplication tables, conjugate a verb or structure a sentence. Random facts picked up in the rush to complete a project do not supply the proper background or structure needed to understand a subject.

MATH

Perhaps the most bizarre of all of the school restructuring programs is mathematics. Math is an exact science loaded with absolutes. There can be no way to question the fact that certain numbers add up to specific totals. Geometric statements and reasons must lead to absolute conclusions. So today, math classes simply ignore math and talk about something else. Any real problem solving is performed on a calculator.

Under the category “New-New Math” children are not taught to memorize multiplication tables. Those who promote the new teaching method believe memorization is bad. Instead, they say, children should be led to “discover multiplication.” Students, they say, learn to multiply over several years by “thinking about math” and will therefore retain it longer.

Educrats don’t seem too alarmed that many children may never learn basic math structure through this random approach to an exact science. But there seems to be no shortage of programs that teach children nothing.

One is called “Action Math.” Back-to-basics education activist, Sarah Leslie, who has experienced it, spent two days just trying to figure out why her sixth grader (an excellent math student) was even in the course. She finally came to the conclusion that there were no options for advanced students because there were no other math classes provided.

Action Math goes back to the above example of the integrated math, science, health and physical education. As Sarah describes it, “because the nature of this class is activity-oriented and project-based, do not expect your student to bring home a math book on a regular basis.”

She goes on to provide a verbatim explanation from the school as to how the grading system would work when all of the students were grouped together in a project. The school said “as in any class, differences in student abilities may require adjustments to individual assignments. Projects may allow students to select one of many ways to demonstrate competence in a particular skill area (i.e. measuring/collecting data, graphics or drawing conclusions). Modifications will be made, as needed, to accommodate for the rate and level of learning for specific students.”

Sarah expressed her concerns to the teacher that this system sounded like a “dumbing down” process if her child was placed in a group with overall lower math skills. “On no”, said the teacher, “in situations like that we will DUMB UP” But hang on, it gets worse.

Perhaps the worst of all of the New-New Math programs is a monster called “Interactive Mathematics Program” (IMP). Billed as a college prep course developed by the University of California at Berkeley, IMP does not follow traditional sequence and therefore will not provide students with basic math skills.

One parent reporting on his child’s experience with IMP tells of a trail of misinformation and outright deceit surrounding the program. The parent reports, “we were told this is a college prep course and that it contained more rigorous academics and higher standards than traditional math. We were told that the traditional progression of Algebra I, Geometry and Algebra II would not be taught as the students would receive those classes in IMP.”

The father went on to say, “we were not told the IMP is integrated with English grammar, extreme environmental issues, HIV/AIDS instruction, social studies, science and geography. We were not told that standards had not been developed. We were not told that the academic content has been dumbed-down to the point that only about one fourth of the normal math content was being taught. We were not told that the students assessed themselves and their classmates for a grade.” This, in a “college prep” course.

Interactive Mathematics” promotes group-only student questions, has no practical problems and has a huge social engineering content. Looking through the pages of the text book, one will find problems based on radical environmentalism, AIDS, child-abuse, social studies, science, geography, “finding the perfect group” and many others.

For example, the child abuse problem has the student calculate the number of unreported child abuse cases, given certain statistics, and then asks each student “HOW THEY WOULD VOTE” on a child abuse screening program!

Social, political and especially environmental issues are rampant in New-New Math text books. One such eighth grade math text just making its way into classrooms is blatant. Dispersed throughout the book are short, half page blocks of text under the heading “SAVE PLANET EARTH.” One of the sections describes the benefits of recycling aluminum cans and tells students “how you can help.”

The teacher’s edition lists additional activities and, after the lesson on endangered species, tells teachers to ask students to list threats to animals, including destruction of habitat, poisons and hunting.

The book contains short lessens in multiculturalism under the recurring heading “Cultural Kaleidoscope.” One such section gives information on Blamndina Cardenias Ramirez, a pioneer in developing multicultural educational practices. This is not math. It is nothing more than propaganda for the purpose of behavior modification.

Meanwhile, data is beginning to emerge on students who have been subjected to such “math” classes. From California, where it all started, they now have data on its first graduates, Top students at California-Davis can’t find math classes simple enough to gain basic skills. They are being shipped off to Community Colleges. In Palo Alto, students who have always scored high have seen standardized test scores drop from 86th percentile to 58th percentile. Sixty-three percent of the parents of middle school children pay outside tutors to get real math for their children.

ENGLISH, READING AND LITERATURE

Conjugate a verb, diagram a sentence, learn to spell? What planet are you from? This is language class. We have much more relevant things to learn.

In a seventh grade language arts class in Prince William County, Virginia, children are given a test entitled “What Makes You Good Friendship Material.”

Children are to circle their answer of “yes”, “no” or “maybe” to questions like the following: “Am I someone who: is trusting of others; likes to have close personal friends; is able to influence others; enjoys sharing with others; can keep a secret?”

At the end of the test this statement appeals: “if you answer ‘yes’ to most of these statements, you are really good friendship material. If you answered ‘no’ to a lot, you need to work on yourself.”

English class is usually where students are told to keep a journal of their deepest thoughts and impressions. These journals are then collected and read by the teacher.

One book being used in these classes is called “The Book of Questions.” Designed around “situation ethics,” the authors openly admits that “this book is designed to challenge attitudes, morals and beliefs.” He also states that there are no correct or incorrect answers or moral absolutes.

Here are some sample questions from “The Book of Questions:

(1) “You, your closest friend and your father are on a vacation together, hiking in a remote jungle. Your two companions stumble into a nest of poisonous vipers, and are bitten repeatedly. You know neither will live without an immediate shot of anti-venom, yet there is only a single dose of it and it’s in your shirt pocket.” What would you do? In other words, who would you save?

(2) “On an airplane you are talking pleasantly to a stranger of average appearance. Unexpectedly, the person offers you $10,000 for one night of sex. Knowing that there is no danger and that payment is certain, would you accept the offer?” These questions are for high school kids!

(3) “A cave-in occurs while you and a stranger are in a concrete room deep in a mine shaft. Before the phone goes dead, you learn that the entire mine is sealed and the air hole being drilled will not reach you for 30 hours. If you both take sleeping pills from the medicine chest, the oxygen will last for only 20 hours. Both of you can’t survive; alone one of you might. After you both realize this, the stranger takes several sleeping pills, says it’s in God’s hands, and falls asleep. You have a pistol; what do you do?

A book for younger children by the same author offers questions like this: If a rich kid wanted to buy your parents, how much would you ask for them assuming you were willing to sell? Would you trade parents with any of your friends?”

GEOGRAPHY

Here you might expect radical environmentalism and, of course, it is rampant. The world map is used to point out biosphere reserves and disappearing rain forests. But here again, no subject is safe from the psychological profiling of each student.

One sixth grade exercise is entitled “how to make a ‘me’ map.” Children were instructed to create themselves as a map by answering such questions as; what type of land mass are you? Are you and island? An island represents a loner, an introvert, a person who likes to be by himself. A peninsula is almost completely surrounded by water except for one side that is connected to the mainland. The connected side could represent a close friend of a family member. Are you landlocked? If you are landlocked, you like people surrounding you. You are an extrovert.

The paper goes on to describe that if you have a lot of problems in your life then you will have a rocky shore, and so forth.

CIVICS

Learn about how the government is structured? No, too boring. It’s time for more situation ethics.

An eighth grade activity sheet entitled “You Are In Charge” asks students to “imagine that you are the police sergeant in charge of dispatching officers to investigate crime reports telephoned in by concerned citizens.” A list of calls are provided and students are instructed to list them in the order they would send police to investigate and then discuss why they made the choices. Again, the situations are life threatening and students have to decide who survives.

HEALTH AND SCIENCE

These courses are, again, filled with radical, one-sided environmentalism. An Earth Science text book published by Merrill offers a teachers guide entitled “Science and Society” in which teachers are provided classroom discussion material and project ideas for “saving the environment.”

One such discussion is called “Conservation and the Sierra Club” in which this private advocacy group is played up as the hero in a fight to stop the building of a dam in Colorado. Only one side of the issue is given and the Sierra Club rushes to the rescue. It’s simply nothing more than a recruitment ad for the group.

At the end of the “lesson” there is a section called “You Decide” in which children are asked “do you think there is a need for an organization like the Sierra Club? How would you have handled the fight against the dam?”

Another text book for seventh graders by Prentice Hall has a section called “Science Gazette” which raves about James Lovelock and his “Gaia hypothesis.”

The book quotes Lovelock: “Gaia is Mother Earth. Gaia is immortal. She is the eternal source of life. She does not need to reproduce herself as she is immortal. She is certainly the mother of us all, including Jesus…Gaia is not a tolerant mother. She is rigid and inflexible, ruthless in the destruction of whoever transgresses. Her unconscious objective is that of maintaining a world adapted to life. If we men hinder this objective we will be eliminated without pity.”

ONE STOP SOCIAL CENTERS

With federal money now dictating education programs, schools are fast becoming local outlets for every other department of the government.

Federally-paid lunch programs have become a source of significant income for schools. Since guidelines dictate that only certain “at risk” students may receive the lunches, school administrations are busy re-assessing as many students as possible to fit the category. One school in Georgia actually managed to asses 75% of its students to be “at risk”. It’s a growth product.

Several other federal programs, most specifically “Title 1” provide taxpayer dollars to schools to perform special services. Most of those services require staffs which set up shop right in the school building.

To participate in and receive funding, schools must now show how they identified the child as “at risk” and provide the student’s name. The information goes onto the student’s permanent file in the massive federal data bank. That’s why the definition for “at risk” is expanding rapidly.

According to the federal “Parents as Teachers” (PAT) program run by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, it defines “at risk” to include:

  • inability of parent to cope with inappropriate child behavior
  • inability of parent to relate to or connect with child
  • overindulgence, undue spoiling on part of parent

One must ask, who decides if a parent has failed to “connect” with a child? Who decides if a parent is spoiling a child? And how is it the business of the federal government?

The most frightening new trend in the government’s drive for control of the children is the advent of massive powers for social workers and child protection agencies (see The DeWeese Report, Vol.5, Issue7, “The Coming Invasion of In-Home Social Workers”).

Just as children are monitored and evaluated in the classroom, so are parents in the home. Social workers perform in-home visits to look around and evaluate the environment in which the child lives.

Their job is to determine if a child qualifies as “at risk”. There are, of course, horrible things being done to children. Child abuse has become a daily headline.

But the definition of abuse has grown broad, as the power of child protection agencies has expanded. Today, “passive child abuse” is a threat to the most loving families.

How do parents defend themselves from a negative evaluation of a social worker when that report is based almost entirely on the agent’s personal opinion? So broad are the definitions of child abuse that almost any conclusion can be drawn.

Such power to destroy families leaves the door open for major abuse of the system. But in today’s education atmosphere in which “at risk” children provide a valuable funding source and where pop-psychology is practiced in most class rooms, is it any surprise that over one million people are falsely accused of child abuse every year?

Trends indicate, however, that it won’t be long before the “at risk” requirement is dropped. In-school social services will soon be forced on all students.

Under these programs, schools are fast becoming one-stop centers for a vast array of social and medical services where students are counseled, diagnosed and even administered drugs without parental knowledge. What was once a simple trip to the school nurse now will include mental health diagnosis and treatments, and full-scale medical clinics

After a hearty day of sex education in the classroom, the clinics will provide birth control (including condoms, pills and diaphragms) and pregnancy testing.

Abortion counseling, including laboratory pregnancy tests are also part of the in-school services to be administered through federal programs. This service may even include free rides to an abortion clinic.

On-site family planning services can include induced abortions and even sterilization. In California it was disclosed that eight students were implanted with the birth control device Norplant.

How can this be done without parental consent or even parental knowledge? Check you state codes. Several states, have passed “minor consent laws.” California’s law states that “a minor is not required to have the consent of the parent or parents to obtain hospital, medical and surgical care related to the prevention or treatment of pregnancy. Even if the parent or parents refused to consent to the care, the minor could consent to the care and it could be provided.”

Even without such laws, schools are able to get around many regulations by using outside agencies like Planned Parenthood that are not restricted by school policies.

While not all schools are yet participating in such programs, it is a trend for the future. As federal control grows in local school systems, such programs will emerge. The ground work has been laid through OBE curriculums and the advent of K-12 sex education programs.

MEANINGLESS SOLUTIONS AND POLITICAL POSTURING

This education restructuring has been underway for the past forty years, but the pace has accelerated under the Clinton Administration through programs such as Goals 2000, School-To-Work, The CAREERS Act, block grant programs like Title I and Title IV, and many more. As the situation grows worse, politicians scramble to provide solutions. They call for stricter standers, more assessments of students, and of course, more money and smaller classrooms. In fact, Congress has suggested about every solution except the one that will do away with the problem – federal intervention in schools.

The latest folly to excite Republicans is a do-nothing program under the cute little title – “Straight A’s Act” (H.R.2300). Of course the sound bites assure us all that the program is completely “voluntary” (that’s just what they said about Goals 2000). The program, they say, will give the states and parents the power to choose if they want to participate in federal programs (that’s what they said about Goals 2000). In addition, we’ll get higher test scores, school discipline and a “brighter future for our children.” Isn’t that what the same politicians promised with Goals 2000?

“Straight A’s” promises to cut red tape and bureaucracies. Yet, in order to keep the federal funds flowing all accountability continues to go to the federal government. The strings are still there, the programs are still in place. Under the Act, States must have in place standards and aligned assessments – just like Goals 2000. Students must meet certain federal standards – just like Goals 2000. Throughout the Act, words like “states must assure…must implement…must have in place…” are used to dictate federal guidelines in order for states for states to qualify for the federal dollars. Where is the change in policy? Where is the new-found freedom for the states? Where is the answer to improving education?

Worse, across the nation, federal guidelines have become state law. Now there are state level Goals 2000 and School-To-Work programs in place. These programs are run by an entrenched state bureaucracy that answers to and is in alignment with the federal Department of Education. They control the flow and use of the money. They implement the programs.

Nothing will change under the “Straight A’s” Act. It is a flimflam. It is an attempt by the Republicans to pretend they are doing something about education while they leave the system intact.

Americans will only have hope that education will improve when someone in Congress finally begins to understand that any program which controls federal money is the enemy. Abolish the Department of Education, leave education dollars in the states instead of laundering them through Washington D.C. and get the federal government out of education. Then the problem will solve itself. Any other solution is a worthless Band-Aid that plays into the well-financed hands of the education bureaucracy that created the crisis in the first place. That is the reason academic skills are falling.

Tom DeWeese
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Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.