Where Is Excellence?

Earlier this month, I posted a video of the most honest “commencement” speech young graduates of today should be required to hear. Almost every day this week, I’ve talked with at least one person (most of whom were educators) who expressed his or her deep concern about the current state of education and learning in our country.Scholarship-clip-art-300x264In my state, there’s been an ongoing discussion about Common Core and the state Board of Education has been re-evaluating. Earlier this week, it appeared they’d be adopting another curriculum. However, decision-makers have ruled against the recommendations of a review committee and the process is dividing educators and reviewers. Continue reading “Where Is Excellence?”

The Cost of College

About the time our grandson entered his second year of college, my Beloved and I began having serious doubts about young people (in general) seeking a college education. It wasn’t our first time to entertain these doubts. Back when our older son was in college, we noticed he was less engaged than we thought he should be.College-Graduate-w-copyright-300x225

A number of years ago before he became president, Bill Clinton used to say he wanted to make it possible for everyone to attend college. Even then, we disagreed with him. Not every high school graduate, in my opinion, needs to attend college. Then and now, a good number of young people would be better served by attending vocational schools or community colleges. Continue reading “The Cost of College”


Chances are good that sometime in the last week you’ve interacted with at least one adult (perhaps more than one) who was educated at home. People in the workplace, teachers and professors, business owners … don’t be surprised to find some of them are products of home education.home-schooling-header-copyWhile schooling within the home and family has been a common practice for centuries, states began adopting compulsory attendance laws about 1852, ceding broader oversight of education to towns and local governments. Though precise figures are hard to nail down, as many as 2.2 million children are currently being taught in the home.

From about the 1970s (give or take), the home school movement has grown. That being the case, the earliest home schoolers are now in their early to mid-40s. Yes, there were home educated students before 1970. In fact, HuffPo provides a 2013 short article and pictorial of eighteen successful people who received their education at home. Long-time observers of home schooling could probably add to that list. Continue reading “Home.Edu”

Dawson Up A Creek

A student named Kevin Bruce wanted to talk with an academic advisor. Bruce, a junior at Kennesaw State University in Georgia, hoped he could get quick answers to his questions but instead found himself in the midst of a firestorm when he recorded and subsequently posted video of one advisor (Abby Dawson) accusing him of harassment. The reason for the accusation? Bruce chose to sit and wait (since he was already there) rather than return in an hour.

This situation surprises me. Insofar as I have no experience at KSU (nor any other institution of higher learning in recent years), my limited frame of reference is the university from which I graduated. Comparing my experience to what is shown on the video above is a difference of night to day! From what I recall, my professors and the associated staff members were always eager to interact with students and provide help whenever needed. As Bruce points out on the video, students are paying for this assistance! Continue reading “Dawson Up A Creek”

The Principal Thing

There’s a website that offers an entertaining variety of top ten lists, one of which is the Top 10 Smartest People in History. Topped by Albert Einstein, the list provides food for thought. There’s no prologue to explain how the author determined the basis for inclusion on the list. I was amused to see Jesus Christ at number 5, with Tesla, DaVinci and Isaac Newton rounding out the top 5. I’ve never thought before about the brain-power of Jesus – Son of God, the Creator! Is it even possible – in His humanity – He was not the smartest guy in the galaxy?!Wisdom-Words-of-wisdom-book

Differentiating smarts from wisdom would be a challenge. On the top ten list mentioned above, I have to wonder how many of the individuals listed possessed significant brain-power but lacked the sagacity one would hope goes with it. But just to be certain they’ve covered the bases, there’s also a Top Ten Dumbest People In History. (Adolf Hitler lands on both lists.) Continue reading “The Principal Thing”


One of the trending hashtags on Twitter today was #ADVICEFORYOUNGJOURNALISTS. I’m guessing this hashtag was, at least in part, a result of the recent shake-up at NBCNews due to the “misremembering” antics of Nightly News anchor Brian Williams.Screenshot 2015-02-10 20.02.57Back in the dark ages (I called them the 60s), my intention upon high school graduation was to enroll at the University of Missouri to major in journalism. I had earned a scholarship to Mizzou, it was located only a couple hours from my home, and at that time at least, it was considered one of the best J-schools in the country. According to Wikipedia (see subheading in above image), it “may be the oldest formal journalism school in the world.Continue reading “#AdviceForYoungJournalists”

Set a Spell

It’s easy to talk about how great education was a generation ago. People do it all the time, and they don’t even have to offer but maybe one or two anecdotes to “prove” what they see as the abysmal condition of education today. Now I’m not going to knock today’s education (nor am I going to compare it to the good ol’ days). I think both eras likely typified instances of excellence and shoddiness … depending on multiple factors.

sometimesIn my case, I’m confident I received a relatively high quality education, though I’d venture to say there were faddish practices embraced in the 1950s and 1960s just as there are today. If I have a complaint, it is that education often becomes captive to trends; I’ve wondered if it’s because teachers get bored teaching the same material every year. Rather than stick with what they know works (can we say phonics?), they eagerly adopt “new, improved” methods. Continue reading “Set a Spell”

The Boon of Free College

8965Life just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?

First, we were graced with “free” (or at least “affordable“) health care. The nuts and bolts of that plan have yet to fully fall into place, but when you file your income tax return (by April 15th, presumably), you’ll be queried (in depth) about what you’ve paid for your family’s health care.

If you file a 1040EZ, the question appears on Line 11; if you’ve got a more involved return, you won’t see questions about health care until Line 61 (on the 1040) … and then you’ll be instructed to complete a new form (8965) which includes twelve pages of instructions to guide you through the muck!

I know! I know! Taxes are impossibly boring! Isn’t that the reason we have accountants? Everyone needs a nerdy numbers guy to guide us through the maze of – what is it now? – almost 74,000 pages of federal tax law.

So let’s get to the good stuff, right? The free stuff … the good news – that really GOOD NEWS! – of being able to receive a top-notch education thanks to our government shifting those tuition costs onto itself (and partially to the states)! Continue reading “The Boon of Free College”

Prep Work? Done!

My daddy dropped out of school before completing the eighth grade. This would have been sometime in the mid to late 1930s. In his teens, he (along with his brothers, two older and one younger) was anxious to go and do and be. Remaining in school was an impediment to the lure of pleasures that beckoned beyond the school yard.

Norman with 3 eldest children, about 1952

I know he regretted having made this choice. Ten (or so) years later, he’d learned quite a few lessons about life outside the school yard. He’d served in the European theater during World War II (including being part of the D-Day Invasion), he’d gotten married on his return to the States, and his family was expanding. (In the above picture, taken about 1952 there were three children. Three more would follow.) All of a sudden, driving a furniture store delivery truck seemed like a crude way to earn a decent living.

Even though he lacked formal education, my daddy continued to educate himself. During the period when the above picture was taken, he had enrolled in Brookes Bible Institute in St. Louis. I remember many nights when he sat at the kitchen table or in a living room chair, surrounded by books and resource materials as he applied himself to being the very best student he could be … day job, family responsibilities and age notwithstanding. He was determined not to let a decision he’d made in his teens wreck the course of his life. Continue reading “Prep Work? Done!”

Don’t Be Common To The Core

Nearly 57 years ago, our country was surprised by the launch of a rudimentary Soviet satellite, Sputnik. Thus began what was known as the Space Race. At the time, both the US and the Soviets had announced their intentions, but when Sputnik launched first, the event stunned many Americans. The authors of an article in American Educational History Journal (2009) describe it this way:  “Initial reactions to Sputnik unearthed strong feelings of fear, astonishment, and insecurity.” America’s purported technological superiority appeared to be nothing but smoke and mirrors.Fiftieth Anniversary of Sputnik Launch The resulting “crisis” spawned numerous agencies and educational initiatives including the National Defense Education Act signed into law by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on September 2, 1958. Remarkably, this act was “an emergency undertaking to be terminated after four years …” (so said Eisenhower). Of course, as another president once reminded us:  “The nearest thing to eternal life we will ever see on this earth is a government program.” (Ronald Reagan)

In his statement about this “emergency” act, President Eisenhower also said:  Much remains to be done to bring American education to levels consistent with the needs of our society.” Without meaning to read too much into it, I think his words are telling; they reveal a pervasive misconception that American education should address “the needs of our society” rather than the needs of the individual.

Fast-forward to 2014 and consider the ongoing debate over Common Core. According to the Core Standards website, a timeline relates that this movement is a mere seven years old (2007) and came about through a meeting of the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) in Columbus, OH. Maybe, but I suspect the deeper root of Common Core (and all its half-brother and half-sister education boondoggles) goes back at least as far as the “emergency” act of 1958.

Now don’t get me wrong. In theory, I am an advocate of Dr. E.D. Hirsch, Jr.’s concept of Core Knowledge and his best-selling book, Cultural Literacy:  What Every American Needs to Know. I believe, as Hirsch maintains, there are crucial details and shared information about a culture that make us a culture, a cohesive unit instead of a disparate group of individuals simply sharing the same or contiguous spaces. So far, so good.

In practice, however, it seems to me Common Core proudly emphasizes a shift away from the traditional grammar phase of education. If you want to sour a child on learning, offer him or her “complex texts” and “content-rich non-fiction” before the child has reliably acquired the necessary fundamentals of reading and writing and fully engaged (via stories) his or her imagination. (The quotes above are from the CC website.) And if the child is deficient in grammar, how then will he or she succeed in understanding either logic and rhetoric? (Yes, I have great respect for the classical model of education.)

Further, Common Core’s departure from conventional Math principles is well documented online, so I don’t need to critique their approach here … except to say no matter how vociferously some educators bad-mouth rote memorization, a child who hasn’t mastered (via memorization) multiplication tables (backwards and forwards, upside and down) will be immeasurably disadvantaged.Screenshot 2014-05-14 16.16.45

Earlier, I referenced the National Defense Education Act. I think it’s accurate to say I’m a product of that government initiative. When I entered the fifth grade (1959), I was enrolled in a “special” school program that required me to attend classes elsewhere than the neighborhood school my brothers and I had previously attended. (My brothers continued at the neighborhood school.)

Looking back on my time in “special” school (I was there eighteen months before my family moved out of the district), I experienced social stigma as the only one from my family in this pilot program. Was the education enriching? Probably. Would my life outcomes have been any different if I’d continued in my normal school? We’ll never know, but I can’t help feeling a sense that this “emergency” program was a knee-jerk reaction that also involved a large dose of educational experimentation and I was a guinea pig. I’ve come to resent that aspect.

Over the intervening years, I’ve become equally resentful of government oversight and experimentation that continues on the education front. One of the many reasons we removed our children from public education (to home school) in 1986 was due to the local school’s anemic nod at “gifted education” our daughters briefly received. Its implementation was an embarrassing spectacle and even our children recognized it.

negp-report-1994Through the years, the fads of Outcome-Based Education, Mastery Learning, Goals 2000, and similar reforms experiments in education boldly promised to prepare children for the 21st century. These questionable trends were in full flower when our youngest son was entering high school (as I recall). In preparation for enrollment, a counselor sat down with us, laid out a folder with papers I was not permitted to give more than a quick glance, and proceeded to tell us my youngest had been relegated to the Vo-Tech track. We should, it was suggested, simply prepare him accordingly for life in a trade. The words School-To-Work were emblazoned at the top of that folder.

At that moment, I realized they intended to “train” my son to be a cog, a functionary whose greatest mental challenge would be deciding which button to push when. Thankfully, we didn’t accept that prognostication and my son went on to graduate high school and complete his bachelor’s degree. I am so glad we had the sense to ignore that counselor!

If we are, as President Eisenhower suggested, educating children for “the needs of our society,” Common Core is probably the way to do it. When it comes to historical facts and appreciation of the arts, why would a drive-through McDonald’s employee need useless information clogging the brain? (Goodbye Bach, Rembrandt, Frank Lloyd Wright.) Stick to the demands of the job, and we’ll all be happy, right?

Or maybe we should ban the utilitarians from dictating learning and education. Maybe we should view our children as more than cogs in an automaton world … recognize they are individuals made in the image of the Creator and as creative beings, they’re entitled to make these education and life choices for themselves, with the guidance of their loving parents.