HOW PUBLIC SCHOOLS DUMB-DOWN OUR CHILDREN
By Joel Turtel
January 6, 2007
Mary’s Letter To Her Science Teacher
"Daddy?," said the beautiful, ten-year-old girl to her father. Her father, Josh Hanlan, sat in front of his computer, studying complex engineering designs on the screen. He didn't seem to hear his daughter.
Mary Hanlan knew how engrossed her father got when he was working, and smiled adoringly at his handsome face peering intently at the computer, clicking his mouse furiously, while his brows furrowed in concentration. She knew she had to use her ingenuity to get his attention, and it had become a game between them on how she did this. She went alongside him and tickled his left ear lightly with the feather. Josh waved his hand next to his ear, as if swatting away an annoying fly. Mary giggled and tickled his ear again while she said "Daddy" again, this time more insistently. Finally, her father turned in his chair and noticed his daughter standing there.
"Hello, sweetheart," he said, as he smiled with delight on seeing his daughter. "I didn't notice you. I'm working on the designs of the new engine for my company. You want to see what it looks like so far, honey?"
Mary loved that her father shared his work with her, shared his love of science and engineering. It was what got Mary fascinated with science since she was three years old, sitting on her father's lap in front of the computer screen, while he let her click the mouse as he was designing. But she didn't have time to do that now. "No Daddy, I have to talk to you about something first," she said.
"O.K. sweetheart, what is it?," he said, as he turned around in his chair and gave her his full attention. Mary loved her father's kind, bright, playful brown eyes. "By the way," he said, "how come you're home in the middle of the morning? Shouldn't you be in school?"
"That's what I want to talk to you about, Daddy. I got this letter from my science teacher. The principal told me to give it to you. He said it was about the note I wrote to my science teacher, Miss Johnson. Here's the letter from her. Josh took the letter and read it.
The letter said, "Dear Mr. Hanlan, I must speak to you about your daughter, Mary. She wrote me an insulting and inexcusable letter criticizing my teaching. We cannot allow such behavior from our students. You must come to see me immediately, or serious measures will be taken against your daughter. Please call me as soon as possible for an appointment."
Josh looked up from the letter at his daughter, who had a worried, but angry look on her face. Josh knew that look. His daughter was so bright, but also willful when she thought she was right.
"What's this about, honey? What letter is Miss Johnson talking about."
"Oh Daddy, I was so bored with her science class, I could just scream. Daddy, I want to learn science. I love it so much. You know that, don't you?
"Of course sweetheart."
"Well, Miss Johnson does the silliest, stupidest things in class. For a science project, she had the whole class pick up bird seed with the bottom of wet spoons, to show us how birds use their tongues. She makes us do projects like that all the time, and they're all just as silly."
"Then after we do these projects, she has all the kids sit in a circle holding hands, and each kid has to tell their feelings about the project. Daddy, I like the other kids in class, but I don't care about their feelings when they pick up bird seed. Why is Ms. Johnson doing this? It's stupid and a waste of time. I want to learn real science." "And the textbook is so simple it bores me to death," continued Mary. "I can't sit still in class, and I annoy Miss Johnson by always raising my hand to ask questions. Daddy, I knew most of the stuff in that textbook when I was six years old from what I read myself and what you taught me. Here, look at the textbook, Daddy."
Josh took the textbook and looked through it. He was appalled. The book was filled with pictures like baby books, and the reading level seemed geared to six-year-old kids just learning to read. Also, the book had too many stories about global warming, save-the-polar-bears, and other environmental propaganda. "Honey, do all the kids in all the science classes read textbooks like these?," asked Josh.
"Yes, Daddy. The textbooks in the higher grades are a little harder, but not much. I know everything in those textbooks already. Daddy, I don't want to spend three more years in science classes that bore me so much and where I don't learn anything. I would rather be home with you. You could teach me so much more than I could ever learn in these stupid classes."
"Honey," Josh Hanlan said, "did you ask Miss Johnson if you could skip grades and go into the more advanced science classes for seniors, or a more advanced class in your grade?"
"Yes, Daddy. I asked her so many times. But she said they don't have advanced classes anymore. She said the school doesn't allow special classes for students who learn quickly. Ms. Johnson said it would be unfair to the other students if she put me in an advanced class or with the seniors. She said it would hurt the other students' feelings. So they don't allow it. And I'm stuck in this class with this same teacher for the next three years."
Josh was shocked at what his daughter said. "They don't let you take advanced classes because it would hurt the other students' feelings? That's what Miss Johnson said?"
He couldn't believe his ears.
"Honey, do they follow this policy in all your classes, like math and English? You mean they don't have any advanced classes for faster-learning kids anymore?" "Yes, Daddy, the whole school works the same way. Every class I take bores me, but especially science. I got so mad that I sent Miss Johnson a note telling her how I feel. I thought maybe she would help me. This is the note I gave her."
Josh took the note and read:
"Dear Miss Johnson,
Josh Hanlan threw his head back and laughed uproariously. He laughed for a long time, looking at his daughter with delight. He loved her spunk and her innocent directness.
Mary at first looked sternly at her father, because she thought this was no laughing matter. But then, because she loved her father so much, and she loved his infectious laugh, she started laughing also.
When they finished laughing, Josh re-read his daughter's note, then read Miss Johnson's letter again. Miss Johnson's letter had something ominous about it that he didn't like. He decided to take care of this matter immediately.
"O.K. sweetheart, we'll go see Miss Johnson tomorrow. I don't want you wasting your precious time either. But first I want to do a little research on public schools before we meet your teacher. Do you want to help me?"
"Yes, Daddy," said Mary. She loved sitting with her father at the computer and loved especially when he asked her to help him. Her father did a search for "public schools" on Google and then Yahoo, and the two of them sat engrossed for the rest of the afternoon, absorbing everything they read like sponges.
The next day, they found themselves in a dingy office with green walls sitting across from Miss Johnson. She was in her mid-thirties, with loose brown hair down to her shoulders, and wearing a paisley print dress. Her eyes were brown, and she had a prim, tight little mouth.
Miss Johnson said, a little red in the face, “Mr. Hanlan, I asked you to come here to talk about Mary's letter and her behavior. The letter she wrote me was absolutely incredible. I have been teaching for 15 years now, and I have never gotten such an insulting letter from one of my students. Most of my students enjoy my classes, so I was shocked at your daughter's letter. Not only that she wrote the letter, but that she said such insulting things to me. I have talked to the principal and he has agreed with me that Mary must write an official apology letter before we can allow her back into my class. We cannot allow our students to insult teachers in this manner. And if Mary is not allowed back in class, she will fail this class and be left back."
Josh Hanlan listened quietly to Miss Johnson. By the time she finished, his eyes had become a little colder and he felt anger rising in him.
He said, "Ms. Johnson, my daughter is very bright. She loves science. She told me about the silly science projects you do in class, and about how you make the children sit in a circle and talk about their feelings. She's also told me that your public school does not have advanced classes for faster-learning students anymore, that you frown on such classes because they might upset the feelings of the other children. She also showed me the textbook you use in your class, which looks like a baby book suitable for a six-year-old, not for bright ten-year old girls."
"I have to say that I agree with my daughter completely. You are wasting her time, and the time of all your other students. Mary only wrote you that letter because she loves science so much and she wants to learn so much, and she doesn't want to waste her time. She didn't mean to insult you, but was asking for your help. She was just telling you the truth as she saw it. Are you or your principal so frightened of criticism that you want to expel my daughter for telling you how she feels about your class?"
"I'd also like to ask you why your textbooks and teaching methods seem so simple-minded? Why is the textbook so dumbed-down? These childrens' time is as valuable as yours. These are their precious years in which they learn the basics of science and reading for their future life. If you don't expect much from them, you are hurting them. If you teach them that learning is boring and something they have to endure, that attitude will affect them their whole lives. You are supposed to be challenging their minds, not teaching them meaningless drivel so their feelings don't get hurt."
As Josh spoke, Miss Johnson's mouth got tighter and tighter, and her face got whiter and whiter. When Josh finished, she seemed ready to burst out like a steam kettle.
"Well," she exploded, "I see where Mary gets her attitude from. Mr. Hanlan, I have been teaching for fifteen years. I went to teacher's college. I have had the best teachers-ed training available. Whatever projects I give in class are for a good reason, based on the best-known educational theories. We don't just teach dry facts or boring basics anymore, Mr. Hanlan. That went out thirty years ago. We now concentrate on our student's feelings and their self-esteem. That's why we have simple, fun projects. It's why we sit around in circles telling each other about our feelings. We can't make the textbook too difficult because the slowest children in the class would be upset that they couldn't keep up with the rest of the class. It's far more important that we protect the feelings of our slowest-learning children than give advanced classes to our faster students."
"Why should children who are lucky enough to be born fast learners take advantage of the slower students? Why should we give them special privileges like putting them in advanced classes? Such uncaring ideas have been discarded by our public-school experts long ago. In fact, we now require our faster-learning students to tutor the slower students, so they learn to share their skills. The feelings of all our kids are much more important than the fact that Mary is bored in class because she is a fast learner. Our kids’ feelings are far more important than Mary thinking she is wasting her time. That's also why no student ever fails in our school. We automatically advance them to the next grade, no matter how well they know the material from the previous grade. This makes all our kids happy."
"And who does Mary or you think you are, criticizing our teaching methods? These methods have been approved by the best educational experts in the field, experts who devote their whole lives to finding the best ways to teach children. We will not have our teaching methods insulted and criticized by a mere girl like Mary or by any parent. We know what is best for your child, Mr. Hanlan, and the faster parents like you realize this, the better off you’ll be."
"Now as I said in my letter, the principal has agreed with me that Mary has to submit a formal apology letter before we will let her back in class. Will you make Mary write that apology?"
Mary looked at her father. She was shocked. She had never seen that look of rage on her father's face. In all her years with him, he had only looked at her with delight and serious attention. Even when he was arguing with someone from his company on the phone, she saw that it was a stimulating, challenging argument for her dad. She had never seen the murderous rage she now saw on her father's face.
Josh Hanlan forced himself to control his feelings. He wanted to slap Miss Johnson's face. Instead, after a few long moments, he said,
"Why certainly, Miss Johnson, I will write that apology letter. But my letter will be to Mary, not you. I have been almost criminally negligent with my child's education. I will humbly apologize to her for not having investigated your school a long time ago. I will apologize to her for having let her remain in your school at all."
“I have never heard such vicious horse manure in all my life as what you just told me. Regarding your so-called expertise in teaching, and the so-called quality of your teacher colleges, that is a joke. Most of your teacher colleges are the laughingstock of the academic community. Most student-teachers who graduate from these colleges have never majored in the subject they are supposed to teach our kids. I understand that they stopped teaching phonics instruction in these teacher colleges 30 years ago. How can student-teachers who never leaned phonics or majored in science, teach kids these subjects? It’s like the blind leading the blind. And I don’t blame these teachers. They can’t teach kids what their so-called teacher colleges never taught them.”
"And your so-called theories of education are just junk pseudo-science, psychological gibberish foisted on unsuspecting parents and children. Over the last 40 years, your public-school theorists have concocted one nonsense theory of education after another. After each one failed, your education bureaucrats then came up with yet another goofball theory with which to torture 40 million school kids around the country. Every so-called education theory your “experts” have tried has been a miserable failure. SAT scores in this country are near the lowest they have ever been. Our high-school kids place in the bottom third on standardized tests among all the industrial countries in reading, math, and science skills. Millions of kids who graduate from public schools can barely read a bus schedule or write simple paragraphs, and 30 to 50 percent of our children now drop out of school."
"Your schools cripple our kids’ ability to read with whole-language or balanced-literacy reading-instruction methods, instead of teaching them intensive phonics. Our kids don't learn basic arithmetic because you have them using calculators since kindergarten. That's why so many kids can't even figure out change when they buy something at the store for their mom."
"You claim that you want to protect our kids' self-esteem by using easy textbooks and not failing the kids if they don't do their work or pass tests. You do just the opposite. You give them a false sense of self-esteem. When these kids hit college, or worse yet, when they apply for a job, then reality hits them—the reality you tried to fake for them by “protecting” their feelings and self-esteem.”
“Real self-esteem comes from working hard to meet challenges. By testing yourself. By persevering to learn difficult material. By not giving up. By being held accountable for the work you do. By achieving real learning skills and real goals from personal effort, and by gaining real self-confidence in your ability to learn and solve problems. Instead, your so-called teaching methods destroy children's real self-esteem and cripple their minds. Only you delay their day of reckoning, which can ruin the rest of their lives."
"I don't know why you use these idiotic teaching methods. I think you get away with it because your public schools are government-run monopolies. Most everything government controls turns to poison, and I don't see why public schools should be any different. Public schools don’t go out of business no matter how bad they are or how stupid their teaching methods because they are government monopolies. That’s a prescription for education disaster. If you really cared about our kids, you would agree with me that your public schools should be shut down and education turned over to the free-market."
"I know that you and your principals and administrators don't agree with that, right? Because of tenure rules, you get job security, good salaries, and fat pensions and benefits, whether our kids get a good education or not. That’s why you can be so arrogant or condescending with parents. Parents can complain till they are blue in the face, but your compulsory, tax-supported schools don’t have to give our kids a decent education, right?"
"I know there are many good teachers in your schools, but many of your best teachers quit after a while because they can’t stand the strangling regulations they work under. I see now that your public schools are like education prisons that promote mediocrity and dumb-down our kids’ education to the lowest level."
"Well, not with my child. I am hereby immediately withdrawing Mary from your school. I'll teach her at home or send her to a private school, even if I have to work two jobs to pay for that private school. I'm also going to get a little more active on this issue. I am going to tell every parent I know about your public schools. Maybe I can shake things up a bit so more parents take their children out of public school, permanently."
"Let's go, Mary," Josh said, as Mary beamed up at her father with adoration. As they got up and left the room, Miss Johnson had a look of utter shock and rage on her face.
© 2007 Joel Turtel - All Rights
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Joel Turtel, author of Public Schools, Public Menace: How Public Schools Lie To Parents and Betray Our Children, holds a degree in Psychology. For the last ten years he has served as an Education Policy Analyst, studying the climate of today's public schools and its effect on children and parents.
Mr. Turtel has written two books, published over fifty articles, and has been interviewed in both print and broadcast media on the subject. His latest book, Public Schools, Public Menace has garnered national media attention – recently, for example, Dr. Laura Schlessinger featured the book on her nationally syndicated radio show.
Joel Turtel is available to discuss his book Public Schools, Public Menace in the media, at conferences, or with individual groups. Be warned though, you may be shocked by the revelations he has uncovered in America's public-school system.