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Teach Your Children Well Part I: When I Think Back on All the Cr*p I Learned in High School

In free education, you get what you pay for.

At one point, in the six long years of infertility before the birth of number one son, we were going to homeschool. In fact, I collected books and all, planning on using them to teach the child.

And then the child arrived. At some point when Robert (Anson. Yes, when you name your child that, you get exactly what you deserve) was three, a friend gave me a book called “Raising the self-willed child.” Don’t bother finding it, or at least not that particular one (I imagine there’s more than one book of that name). It was based on the idea that if your child had sufficient self-esteem he would be miraculously docile.

Even at 30, I wasn’t stupid enough to believe that. So I brought Robert up as I (a self-willed child. Okay, my parents had other words for me) had been brought up: with mild physical discipline, until he was old enough to understand other forms of discipline. That is to say, for a while there the greatest punishment we could inflict was to remove his computer cord for a day or to make him copy three pages of whatever historical book first came to hand, in as good a handwriting as he could use. He still remembers both of those punishments with shudders, but it did wonders for his vocabulary. His penmanship still sucks. I blame doing most of his work on a keyboard. Or maybe being my son. (My penmanship is best described as “dragging a spider dipped in ink all over a paper.")

My first son was unexpectedly creative in forms of misdeeds. I think very few children made it a regular activity to defeat locks, remove all their clothing, and go running through the neighborhood in the middle of the night. Since this was a downtown neighborhood, it wasn’t even a safe thing to do.

My second son was unexpectedly sickly, suffering from asthma and a tendency to epic colds and pneumonia.

Add to that that when younger son was one, I myself managed to have a form of intercellular pneumonia that landed me in ICU for 11 days, and left me weakened for about two years.

All this to say that when it was time for older son to enter school, we meekly registered him for kindergarten. I simply couldn’t keep up with both of them, much less follow a coherent curriculum, when I was sleeping several hours a day, and my husband was in the part of his professional career where 18-hour days weren’t unusual. More during software-release pushes.

The school in the little mountain town we lived in was pleasant and nice, it gave Robert – always a solitary child – contact with other kids, and he seemed to be learning. Oh, not to read and write, since he already knew that when he entered school, but stuff about other countries (they studied Japan, for instance, at the superficial level you do in kindergarten), and he didn’t refuse to go to school, and he continued to read a lot. As for me, I got eight quiet hours to get the Victorian we lived in remodeled, do some writing, and look after a younger son.

It wasn’t until Robert was in third grade that I got my “Have Spacesuit Will Travel” moment. (Those of you who have read Heinlein’s book will get it.)

I will grant you my experience of elementary school wasn’t normal for an American my age. For one, I went to elementary school in Portugal. For another, it was a village school, with an elderly teacher who used the books my parents (and maybe my grandparents) had used because she would have to answer to THEM if they didn’t like her work.

By third grade, we were expected to write a coherent essay (yes, I did forget it since then. Why do you ask?) on an assigned subject. And while, if the teacher was feeling poorly, we might be assigned what seemed a frivolous subject like “why dogs are man's best friend” you were absolutely expected to at least wave at the history of dogs and humans, with reference to Roman tombs, etc. (Or, if you were me, write a story of humans and dogs in space. I think I got good grades because the teacher thought I was crazy.)

My son in third grade was assigned to do an essay on “My best friend.” He proudly showed me a paragraph. And I hit the roof.

The sentences – as far as I could tell through the horrible spelling – were ungrammatical and incoherent. There was no thought progression, nothing the reader could follow. It was as though he thought if he included “my best friend” in every sentence it would work, even if it was “my best friend is rocket fire.” It read like absurdist poetry. And it was maybe all of 300 words.

I thought, “He’s ill. He’s having a bad day.” So we went into his book bag (my son hates the very concept of lockers. Still does) and looked at his graded essays. They were all As.  They were all horrible. The teacher routinely gushed about his writing in parent-teacher conferences. I later had reason to realize that the fact he could write at all, with words and everything, as his younger brother would say, was amazing to his teachers.

Which didn’t make any of this better. Further inquiry elicited information that they weren’t actually teaching spelling or grammar or any of that stuff because it was better if the students picked it up “organically” because it encouraged “self-expression.”

Of course, what it mostly encouraged was incoherence.

So I dug out my books on “English for Foreign Learners.” I figured by then it was what my poor child had become. I started assigning him grammar exercises and spelling lists (they actually introduced these in fourth grade, probably because of parent rebellion. They were mostly puerile words the kids should have known). When he got home from school, there was work to do.  He got published professionally at thirteen. And he can write with verve, fluency, and coherence, as can his brother.

But this is not the story of my triumph. It is the story of public school fail. It seemed like every time I looked around they had found new ways of failing. In fourth grade, Robert thought that glass was a non-renewable material and threw a fit when we failed to recycle a bottle. In second grade, Marshall approached a group of bikers to chide them about smoking, because he’d been taught to do so. He’d also been taught people who smoked were bad people, making other people ill.

History…. Don’t get me started. Most of the history books now in use in the U.S. are based on the work of not-so-crypto communist Howard Zinn. I leave it to you to guess how favorable to the U.S. those books are.

It seemed every time we turned around there was another thing I needed to teach them and correct.

I don’t think the school-fail is deliberate. No, I know, you’d think so, because it creates stupid and docile subjects. But you have to think of how the left sees itself, not of how we see it. They think they’re smart and on the side of science.

BUT after decades of education colleges admitting people whose low GPAs shut them out of everything else, and of education being the playground of ideological monsters like Bill Ayers, the result is teachers who can’t teach even while doing their best, and who have no clue what the truth – as opposed to their indoctrination agenda – is.

And that’s why public schools are unimaginably bad. And I mean that literally. Those of us in our forties and fifties cannot imagine how badly our kids are being taught. Not unless we go and see. So go and see, and access the damage.

What I can guarantee is that if you do nothing, your children will be like a lot of college students whose parents ask me to help them: unable to express themselves in writing, unable to see beyond the indoctrination they were taught, unable to think for themselves.

If you don’t want that, it’s time to roll up your sleeves and get to work.