It was cold and dark that early December 1982 night when stew, homemade biscuits and honey warmed the insides of five hungry, tired people. I remember it well because it was the night of my awakening; the realization that I no longer lived in my father’s America. Dinner was followed by chores and homework. Our son was assigned dishes and the two girls were told to bundle up the trash and take it out. We, the parents, took care of clearing the table, putting excess food away, and sweeping up. Right then is when the trouble started. Our eldest daughter informed us that we had no right to force her to take out the trash as that constituted psychological abuse. What?
The next day found us at the elementary school principal’s office demanding to know what was happening in that particular classroom. The principal made soothing, cooing noises as she explained that twenty-five percent of children in the United States were abused and the federal government was sponsoring an abuse awareness campaign. Through this campaign, she explained, they hoped that more children would report when they were at risk. My comment that the school was interfering in the family fell on deaf ears as she continued her recitation of the party line. Clearly, the principle believed in the program and this wasn’t the first time she’d had this conversation. This was, however, our first rodeo.
Max Borders’ article, "Collectivized Children," in the July/August edition of The Freeman, regarding the current state of education (pun intended) and his family’s solution tickled my memory. Suddenly, with the suddenness of a failed floodgate, the recall inundated my consciousness in overwhelming detail. I relived that night and the frustration of the following day as though the intervening thirty-one years had vaporized.
Our family muddled through the next several years trying to make a silk purse out of the sow’s ear that was the education system. We survived the incoming missiles, one after another; history that was not history, math and science disciplines that weren’t, high scoring essays with incomplete sentences and spelling errors (they kept to the theme, though), further incursions on what the family was supposed to be or not be, and increasingly high dollars invested in administrators and facilities and fewer in anything to do with actual education. We appealed to our kids, explaining that the school system was failing and that they had to take the initiative to learn. The kids pointed to their excellent report cards and laughed. Back then, it never occurred to us that we could teach school.
Along this rocky, disruptive path we learned about John Dewey and his influence on the educational system. The Portal on Philosophy and Education neatly summarized a shocking revelation in the John Dewey on Children, Childhood, and Education analysis provided on the web site: “The developmental sclerosis of adults and the scandalously imperfect culture they compulsively maintain is a historical situation, which means it could be different. And the calculus of that difference in fact resides just in the way adults relate to the children who are in their power—that is, in education.” Imperfect culture we compulsively maintain? I liked the culture of our roots. It meant I could be anything I wanted to be and go as far as I chose to go. All I had to do was work hard and earn it. I was an individual and I was free to be me. The culture even forgave the fact that it took a while for me to figure out who ‘me’ was.
The Dewey discovery was the first of many. The Department of Education, DOE, which started out with great intent in the late 1800s, became hungry for the power to drive cultural change through the government lens on education. In the early days, the DOE was a national bulletin board of what worked and what didn’t in the local education communities of America. It was a tremendous resource for school boards, administrators and teachers. By the Eisenhower administration, the DOE had become a tool of Cold War (1947-1991) politics. In 1958, Congress passed the National Defense Education Act, NDEA. It was hailed as a great thing for the country. For the first time there was a national educational push to a unified objective. The U.S. needed to produce highly trained technical people so it could compete with the Soviet Union in the space race. It was embarrassing that Sputnik launched first. The NDEA used a carrot and stick approach; student loans, ‘improved’ science, math and foreign language programs, and it stimulated vocational-technical training. Gee, I wonder how those early technological giant steps ever happened without the NDEA?
Ah, the sweet taste of power will not be denied. The DOE train was out of the station and building a full head of steam. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter elevated the DOE to a cabinet level position and the future’s die was cast. The feds moved quickly. Re-education was initiated to build the future utopian society based on what ‘they’ thought it should look like. Outcome based education became the basis for indoctrination and today’s Common Core will track people from kindergarten to grave. We have the hive; the Borg generation is on the way. The federal government would have you believe that “resistance is futile”.
We survived. We lost our son to self-indulgence but the two girls made it. And then…we had a second family. Several years ago, we adopted our son’s baby boys. Education is highly individualized and a central theme at our house. We home school these two. They are being raised to be their own persons with a working knowledge of economics, history, the classics, writing and composition, critical thinking, music, math, science, Natural Law, The Constitution, their responsibilities as citizens of this great republic and a belief they can be anything they want to be as long as they earn it. They are being raised-up to be free men. Thanks for the memories, Max Borders.