Confused Messages

When David was 12 months old we moved back to Michigan, believing — rightfully — that David needed his grandparents to play an active role in his life; that his grandparents needed David to be an integral part of their lives. We bought a rural property and so began years during which David has been nurtured, and greatly influenced, by loving grandparents.

To this day David, following in his Grandpa Sneary‘s footsteps, can repair anything that runs on gasoline, especially his grandfather’s 1946 John Deere B. An evening spent playing pinochle at grandmother’s kitchen table wins out over the ways in which most 18-year-olds choose to spend their time. Recently, after trying life in a busy city, David hurried back to the slow pace, but personally rewarding nature, of life in rural Michigan. Acknowledging his wisdom, I will soon follow.

His father has always been a woodsman and a hunter so rural Michigan suited him to a T, as well. As a young boy in Iowa, Gene carried his gun to school, stored it in his locker — just as all the boys did then — and headed out to the woods as soon as school was dismissed for the day.

An aside: Maybe our President and Congress should take note — there were neither school shootings nor terrorists when school lockers were full of guns! Of course, schools were much safer, then, with students well armed against any intruder, two-legged or four. Of course, then, boys were actually raised by fathers who stuck around to parent, and to love the mothers of, those boys. Of course, then, schools taught boys to read, write, and spell; to develop life-sustaining skills and healthy interests; to set goals and prepare for productive futures and the support of the families they would eventually have.

…that was before Johnson’s evil, disastrous, War on Poverty, with its culture-destroying policies of paying premiums for illegitimate babies, unwed mothers, and…for its unintended consequences (God, I do hope they were unintended…) of marginalizing men; of discounting and disposing of the roles that fathers have historically played by living up to the responsibility of supporting the families they had chosen to create; by leading those families with love, foresight, and strength.

Back to Michigan. I have a recurring memory of something that happened during the first year on our rural property. It took place in November. David was two years old and it was deer season. Gene had gone over to my family’s century farm to hunt with my father.

David was very excited, for we had explained to him that his father was going hunting in the woods, with Grandpa, to get a deer. David could hardly settle down to play, listen to stories, or take his nap, for he was waiting for his dad to come home with a deer! The day dragged on, but finally Gene arrived with the trophy he had bagged, and he tied it up in the large maple tree by the driveway.

It was dark, but David did not want to wait until morning to see the promised deer. I bundled him up warmly, grabbed a flashlight, and carried him out to the tree where the deer was hanging. With pride, Gene used the flashlight to show off the deer, forelegs tied behind the antlers, gutted interior held open with a stick.

David looked at the deer in horror and began to cry. “It’s BROKEN!” he explained.

Too late I realized that David had waited all day for his father to bring home, alive, one of those lovely, elusive deer. With excitement, David had anticipated the opportunity to see a deer up close; to pet it; to maybe even find it willing to give him a longed-for ride. Instead…he was faced with the gruesome and frightening image of a broken animal.

Unwittingly, we had created an erroneous impression in David’s mind; a great confusion. But then again…maybe we were the ones whose thinking was in error…

Whereas the adults had been looking at a dead animal — seeing it as proof of hunting skill; admiring the size of the rack; anticipating tasty venison dinners to come…a child was able to see the reality — that of a dead animal. It was indeed broken…broken, lifeless, destroyed.

That children are able to See what most adults fail to notice, is a long accepted Truth. Out of the mouths of babes….

Eagerly…school children wait to learn simple, but inexcusably elusive skills. With excitement, children anticipate opportunities to learn to read; to achieve; to become knowledgeable in a thousand ways; to maybe even find school so rewarding that they grow up one day to become teachers because they want to instill wonder, knowledge, and skills, as those things were conveyed to them.

My students certainly and clearly See that they have been cheated and marginalized by those who designed progressive schools; corrupted the standards; and redefined the purpose of education. Again and again, my students See the reality — of a dead, lifeless, gutted, broken institution, and my students speak of the carcass with an intelligence that most adults seem to lack.

— “I don’t know what the schools did before you came. It is like I was asleep all of those years — learning little; thinking little!”

(Spoken by a 12-year-old African-America girl when she asked to borrow, A Young Person’s Guide to Philosophy. She learned to read well in my room, then discovered that she had “hundreds of questions about Life!”)

— “Why, only now when I am in middle/high school, is someone finally teaching me to read?”

(Asked by nearly every one of my special education students over the years.)

— “I misbehaved because I was angry. Every year I showed up for the start of school, carrying new pencils and holding new confidence that this year some teacher would finally realize that I really, really, needed to learn to read. It never happened until 9th grade when I came to your class!”

(Spoken by a student with a massive school file holding a multitude of complaints about behavior missteps and near-daily suspensions. This boy — now a man — recently purchased the vehicle repair shop where his father missed so much work in order to pick Robert up from school each time that he was sent home for disruption. Robert turned disruptive each time a stupid teacher told him, “Read that assignment and Finish that worksheet!” without stopping to think — or just without caring — that Robert could neither read nor write. When children are set up to fail…they invariably leave the teachers looking like imbeciles; while revealing to society that too much of modern schooling is, indeed, a travesty.)

— “I’ve been researching the word rebel and from what I can see, it describes you, Mrs. Taylor. I’m GLAD!!”

(Spoken by a 9th grade student who began the year reading at a low first grade level. He was a curious, thinking person. He rapidly learned to read, then often walked out of boring, insignificant classes in order to come to my room where he would dig through books, dictionaries, encyclopedias, in search of knowledge. The wiser teachers learned to just let him leave.)

Just as Alice Lee Humphreys with her book, Angels in Pinafores, I have so many very wonderful stores about the students I’ve taught during these years since I began teaching in 1972. Unfortunately, I also have too many very sad stories to tell — of children let down, harmed, defeated, by the academic establishment.

All across America, students of all ages See the Truth and are trying to alert the People to the fact that…the public school system is BROKEN!! It is damaged, destroyed, dead. It needs to be gutted.

Sometimes the children say it with words. Sometimes they say it with sad eyes and facial expressions that convey defeat and self-blame. Sometimes they say it with classroom misbehavior or the appearance of being uncaring and unmotivated. Too often they say it from punk prisons. No matter how they say it, they wish to convey that their lack of achievement; their lack of attention; their lack of motivation; their poor life choices…are desperate attempts to communicate the hurt they feel at being so let down by the nation of their birth; by a new America that talks a good educational game; promises much; but fails to deliver.

I’m sick of hearing schools blame the students! Ask any young child, “Why do you want to go to school?” They all will answer, with hope in their voices and anticipation of the worlds that will open for them, “I want to learn to read!”

Why have our school systems, with misplaced confidence in miserable, destructive, unintelligent progressive educational goals and methods, chosen to mis-educate the children of America, creating broken individuals who can only lead broken lives?

My rage at the System; my empathy for the Children; know no bounds!