Category Archives: Uncategorized

“Do what you can with what you have, where you are.”

A few summers ago back in 2015, I took time out of my August teacher frenzy to make a trip to Nashville, TN.  I wasn’t sure I could step away from my classroom preparations at such a busy time of year, but I felt compelled to take part in a first gathering of a special study group I have been a member of for some years.   This study group was a spiritually based study group conducted by mail that was meeting physically in person for the first time.

People of different walks of life  from different parts of the US and Canada came together who had never met one another before.  It was a unique experience and  I find I really enjoy these rare opportunities to bring a cross-section of people together, to break open entrenched ways of thinking and remind us that people are people, and we are different but, we are also all one. I live for open and vibrant conversations.

Our group organizers and our Nashville hosts did an amazing job of lining up housing, arranging meals, activities, guest speakers and engaging content.  While I was on campus at this college where our gathering was held, and enjoying this experience immensely, I walked a labyrinth.  On one of the markers in the labyrinth, I’ll never forget a quote that I saw inscribed there, that truly stuck with me. It simply read, “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.”    It seemed a humble but effective dictate, and so I have remembered it since then.

This weekend’s racial events in Charlottesville, VA brought this quote to mind for me as helpful way to frame how we might approach these tragic events.   We can’t really just let these events just go by without being outraged and doing something, but what, exactly can we do?   I want to share this quote and also the name of an organization I hope you might take time to look up online.

I joined an email list for a Charlottesville-based organization called New Dream.  Their mission is:

to empower individuals, communities, and organizations to transform their consumption habits to improve well-being for people and the planet.

New Dream’s overall goal is to change behavior, attitudes, and social norms to reduce consumption and build community.

It seems to me that racism and especially slavery and consumerism/consumption mindset go hand in hand.  I am not sure where this type of bigotry and hatred comes from, but it defies logic and reasonableness.  I tend to think that consumerism reduces all of mankind and the planet itself to slavery.  Though I am by no means able to turn my back completely on Christmas traditions of gift-giving, nor am I only eating food I grow myself, (though I would love to have the ability, means and time to do,)  we can take aim at both racism and consumerism and the dismantling of one would help feed each other in a continuous loop.

Here was the simple but effective message I received from them today, which gently but actively asks for us to do what you can with what you have, where you are.

Dear New Dreamer,

As many of you know, New Dream is headquartered in Charlottesville, VA, which was, this past weekend, the site of a violent white supremacist “rally” that ended in a fatal act of terrorism. We condemn the actions that took place in our community in the strongest possible terms. Our hearts are with the valiant people who stood up to hate this weekend, and the people who were harmed, their families, and communities. One courageous activist, Heather Heyer, lost her life standing up for equity.

The last message that Heather posted on her Facebook page was this: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.” New Dream has always taken a positive approach to solving the problems associated with runaway consumption. But we recognize that there is an important place for indignation and grief in fueling a brave and non-violent movement to make our lives, our communities, and our country more livable, more equitable, more just.

White supremacy is nothing new in the U.S., but today we urge our New Dream friends and followers—people who believe in making change at individual, household, and community levels—to actively stand up against white supremacy and white privilege in your lives. As we do in our work on consumption, we first ask you to start with yourself: how can you make change in your own life to dismantle systems of oppression, which means recognizing the ways in which you have participated and benefited? And then work outward: How can you make change in your own community to address systemic and structural racism?

Many of you are already doing important work in your own lives and communities to counter hatred, racism, sexism, homophobia, and xenophobia. But we’re all in this together, and without everyone taking these necessary steps, we will not see the change that we seek for ourselves, our children, our communities, and our country.
The Staff at New Dream
Casey, Edna, Elena, Guinevere, Lisa & Shara

If you would like to show your financial support for Charlottesville, we urge you to donate to Virginia Organizing (VO). In addition to serving many grassroots and nationwide organizations with Joint Plan of Work fiscal sponsorship—and New Dream is one such organization—VO engages in critical on-the-ground organizing and has been demanding justice for under-resourced communities in Charlottesville and around Virginia since 1995. They operate with integrity and work for equity and we are so proud to be one of their partners.
Image credit: Jen Creasy Koym

Visit this organization at Center for a New Dream


From Coppermines to the Alamo: Why Stories are Important in the Classroom

I grew up in a family that loved to tell its own stories.  My father’s family traveled all over the world and when my uncles and grandparents came together around the dinner table, the stories went on for hours with laughter and tears, joy and grief.  They had been to the pyramids in Egypt.  They told funny stories of bungled air travel and lost luggage. There were funny stories of the mischief of their three rowdy American boys growing up in Morocco, Spain and Iran.

Through their stories, I was introduced to an exotic culture who wore gourds on their penises in the jungles of Irian Jaya where my grandfather’s employer, Bechtel built a copper mine before I was born.  They talked politics, religion, culture, science, family lore, and more!  Many stories I heard retold again and again and they became well-loved.   This coming together through story made a big impression on me as a youngster. 2ce7cc3556efd4d6486604bf8d0eec63

My father in particular was well known for telling stories, making people laugh, and making his point clear.  Because he was so well traveled, he could stretch his listener’s imagination to these faraway places he had been.  He had a keen memory, and a great sense of timing for telling jokes.  He leaned as easily to the philosophical or political side of a conversation as he could to the humorous and ironic.

Perhaps this is part of my attraction to Waldorf Education.  In a Waldorf school where I teach, all areas of the curriculum are presented through oral storytelling given by the teacher to the students.  The teacher is seen as an artist, cultivating within themselves a love of the content through the stories, and delivering the stories with real human life and warmth directly to the students.  Rudolf Steiner, the original founder of the first Waldorf school, called story the “soul milk” of teaching.   Steiner taught his teachers at the first Waldorf school that from age 0-7 a child needs the physical milk of its mother, and from age 7 until the age 14, the child needs the “soul milk” of story. I relate to the concept of soul milk well as I reflect on my own upbringing and the rich stories I was exposed to.

So in preparing to teaching my new first grade class at Great Oak School, I wanted to beef up my storytelling techniques.  I signed myself up for a storytelling retreat in the summer of 2014.  We stayed as a quiet home-like bed and breakfast in the green hills of western Massachusetts. There about half a dozen participants.  We each chose our own stories to practice for the weekend.

Fairy tales form the basis of the first grade language arts curriculum in the Waldorf school, so naturally I practiced one of my favorites, a story from Grimm’s Fairy Tales, The Devil with the Three Golden Hairs.  Fairy tales are normally quite long stories and require a storyteller to stretch his or her detailed imagery and memory through the act of storytelling, but not too far above the children’s level.

The workshop was led by an experienced storyteller and trainer named Rona Leventhal at the Storytelling Institute in Massachusetts.   From it I gained some practical ways to make my stories richer and more engaging. She used movement and theater improvisation to cement the images into our telling.  It was genius. Movement is a powerful and often underused mode of teaching and learning which Waldorf schools try to embrace as often as possible.

Preparing for storytelling is like building a road through an uncharted area.  The storyteller must lay the ground work for the road in his mind.  The road, or the path of the story had to be cleared, paved and well-marked.  The storyteller must walk over the road many times before being able to lead their listeners to the final destination. This takes the majority of my time in lesson preparation.

I learned that in telling a story, I am the tour guide. I have to know my landmarks, the history of that place well.  I have to walk that road many times, observing carefully, noticing the sights and smells, making note of the facts and interesting points to I want to bring to my listener’s attention. And the trouble with this, is it cannot be easily reproduced if a child misses school.  It is impossible to find an extra 20-30 minutes to sit down with a child who missed a main lesson to re-tell the entire story to them in exactly the same was as I told it the day before. Inevitably, if they miss it, they just missed it.


If you were on a tour of the Alamo, you would want your tour guide to be able to tell you about Davy Crockett and Jim Bowie, what they were like, what clothes they wore, what weapons they had, what they ate for lunch.  You would also want your tour guide to describe the battle scene when Santa Anna showed up with his army.  You would need to know the facts and the figures about how outnumbered the Texans were compared to Santa Anna, but you wouldn’t want to bore your audience with too much of that.  Stories come alive in a totally different way for children when they are told them rather than being read aloud to.

Certainly a rollicking retelling of the battle of the Alamo from a well-prepared teacher or tour guide would be more exciting than reading it from a textbook.  Reading is wonderful and important part of our education today, but a storyteller exemplifies the power that the human being has when he relates in a personal way to another human being.  Every story alone has power, but it is also important for children to see that a human storyteller also has power.  We are all storytellers.  We all have the potential to be storytellers in our lives everyday.  This is a big key to the power and beauty of this type of teaching, as Joseph Campbell would say,

“Myth is much more important and true than history.
History is just journalism and you know how reliable that is.” 

― Joseph Campbell

“We have not even to risk the adventure alone
for the heroes of all time have gone before us.
The labyrinth is thoroughly known …
we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.
And where we had thought to find an abomination
we shall find a God.

And where we had thought to slay another
we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outwards
we shall come to the center of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone
we shall be with all the world.”

― Joseph Campbell, from the Hero’s Path



Why Storytelling?

Stories are gifts wrapped in words.  They touch people by expressing the whole range of human experience and emotion, allowing us to see the world through a different lens. Weaving the thread of the tale thorough each listener, the storyteller binds an audience together. Listeners are invited in, and the gift is passed. This power of story has been used for centuries as a gateway to learning about ourselves, cultures and history, the natural world, and of course to entertain.  They’re effective, magical, powerful tools for growth, transformation, knowledge, and wisdom.

10 Reasons to Tell Stories in the Classroom

  1. Storytelling is fun.
  2. Storytelling stimulates learning.
  3. Storytelling strengthens the imagination.
  4. Storytelling enhances communication.
  5. Storytelling builds cultural awareness,
  6. Storytelling enhances empathy.
  7. Listening to stories encourages critical thinking.
  8. Storytelling builds literacy skills.
  9. Storytelling creates classroom culture.
  10. Storytelling changes the world.

Benefits and Skills of Story Listening

  • Develops the imagination muscle
  • Auditory memory
  • Gain familiarity with story structure
  • Hearing descriptive language
  • Hearing the rhythm of language
  • Vocabulary building
  • Sequencing
  • Improved reading and writing skills
  • Increased motivation to read and write
  • Eye contact
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Exposure to other cultures
  • Developing empathy
  • Appreciation for the spoken word
  • Storytelling is oral language and oral language is often a form of literacy that is overlooked in schools.


Family Storytelling Ideas

  1. Spontaneous stories: Fantasy. Have your child choose one or two characters and a location.  It is also easier to have a problem that you have to solve.  You can make this up as you go along, have your child choose one or make up a set of cards for your child to choose from. To create a story, simply start telling a story, and ask your child questions about what happens next?” “What did he/she say?” Emphasize descriptive language, bringing in all of the senses.
  2. Real life: Create a story with real-life issues: A fictional character who you would like to be your best friend, the best holiday party you can imagine, a favorite toy that broke.
  3. Issues: Create a story for and with your child about a difficult issue she/he is dealing with. For example, if kids at school are making fun of him/her, make up a story about a character who is rejected at first, but is respected in the end by showing that he/she is a good person, has something to offer, has a hidden talent, etc.
  4. Books: Have your child re-tell his/her favorite version of a book you’ve read or just change the ending. Have your child make up a story from a picture book.
  5. Objects: Create a story around an object, or show an object that has a story for you. Tell them the story, and have them make up their own story about the object, or something it reminds them of.
  6. Family stories: Tell about the people, places, events of your family, a funny aunt, the summer house where strange things always happened, an uncle who was a hero.
  7. Nature: If you spend time outside with your child, create stories about what you see. Where did ants come from? What are they going to do with the bread crumbs they marched away with? Look at cloud shapes and make a story about the things you see.  Most importantly, have fun!

The above was taken from handouts and notes given at the Storytelling Institute, August 2014.  Rona Leventhal.


Additional Links on Storytelling

Storytelling podcasts for Adults

Storytelling Podcast for Adults

Story Podcasts for Children

Is outsourcing mothering the best way to create a healthy society?

When I went to college and studied elementary education to become a teacher I always thought I would work and have a career, along with having a family, but becoming a mother changed that priority that for me.  My oldest was born in March and I thought that when that summer came I would apply for a new teaching job and return to work that fall.  It never happened.  Summer came and I couldn’t fathom handing my baby over to a stranger while I went off to teach other people’s kids in a school. That made no sense to me.  I was highly educated in child development. I was the best and obvious choice in childcare for my child.

For the following eight years our family struggled to make it work financially for me to stay at home with our young children.  I always had to a little part-time work to help here and there.   Both my husband’s family and my family quietly disapproved of my choice to stay at home with my children.  Even my husband would have preferred me to work, so that he would not have to carry the financial burden alone.  I felt pretty unsupported in my choice to be a full time mother on all fronts.

Not much longer after our first was born, we welcomed our second child.  With two children close in age, we felt more certain that staying at home with our children was better than struggling to put two in daycare with little left over after my teacher salary.  We scaled back our home and lifestyle, moved to a cheaper neighborhood, drove modest cars, wore modest clothes, didn’t take vacations, worked second jobs, and shopped in secondhand stores.  We did what we had to do to put our kids first. Despite having less of the material wealth, it was a very happy time in my life.   I babysat children for a little extra money and tried other side business income ideas.  Once I worked a night job while when my husband came home in the evening.

Then along came our third child and the time came when our two oldest children were ready for Preschool and Kindergarten.  As a teacher I knew people who were homeschooling and I thought that might be something we could do.  But as a teacher I also knew the social benefits of community and school and my middle child was asking to go to school.  The strength that he wanted to receive by being in contact with other caring families on a consistent basis and being around children his own age was something I could not deny him. It was time for me to return to teaching.   This is perhaps why I ended up being involved in starting private schools and was never able to fully embrace homeschooling, though I still admire those who can do it successfully.

I found a wonderful woman to watch my daughter in my own home and paid her as well as I could for the work she did.  She took care of her own son and my daughter together in my home until my daughter was ready for preschool.

I took a different path than most. Through wanting better choices in schools and childcare for my own children I have spent the majority of my life so far, my career, and almost all of my private and free family time devoted to the founding of new schools.  It is exhausting work.  Let me assure you it is much easier to homeschool a child than it is to found a school.  It is also much easier to go back to a paid career in teaching than it is to start a school, and certainly much better for one’s personal finances.

For three of my prime working years I worked so hard at board meetings, making websites, hosting events, designing marketing materials,  but got paid nothing for it.   It was a drain on my parenting time, my marriage, and our family and finances, and not to mention pretty hard on some of my friendships over the years.  To my family I wish to apologize for all of that.

But every day, when I arrive at work each day I see about a hundred children playing, laughing, and enjoying the fruits of all that labor.  I see young families I don’t even know coming and going who are enjoying Great Oak School everyday.  Seeing that reminds me that sometimes the sacrifices we make are painful, but sacrifices are worth it for something bigger than yourself.

The very same is true when making hard choices about daycare. It is a sacrifice in the early years for all parents, but it is worth it.  Children are better off if we sacrifice for high quality care, whatever that means in your case.

There are lots of reasons to stay at home with a young child, but the biggest reason is because the best quality care for a child under the age of 5 is 1:1 with a loving adult, preferably a family member, most preferably the mother if the mother is healthy and able.

The next step down from that would be a very small group in an in-home setting, with a ratio of 1:3 or better.  A childcare provider should be well paid for their work and respected, given good training and support.  This can be expensive, but if you can afford it for a few years it will be worth it.  The next step down from that would be a small or very small ratio in a day care setting on a part time basis.  The next step down from that is raising the ratio very high and going all the way to full time 5 or more days a week.  The higher the ratio, the more difficult it is to meet their needs for love, attention, bathroom help, eating, and other.  Surely there are a thousand combinations and creative paths that families are trying to make it all work.

Why is it so hard arranging quality care for young children? I guess it’s just quite simply the economics of it.  It is expensive to raise a child.  A child is also biologically programmed to develop a certain way, and historically that has been with its mother. I remember the hard decisions that I had to make when our children were very little.  I remember many nights crying to my husband, arguing and worrying and feeling guilty about the financial burdens we faced, but not being willing to hand my children over to strangers or settle for a second rate education.

People have this unspoken idea that stay at home moms have a lazy lifestyle or that their work is not important to society, but what are the effects on humanity when we outsource motherhood? Let’s consider that as we watch my generation, which grew up in the 70’s and 80’s and the generations that follow come to political power.   I think we already know the answer.

I did a little reading on the web today and found these two articles.  I am still struggling with this question of how do I meet my overwhelming financial obligations and be a mother at the same time?  Starting schools was the stupidest thing I ever did for my finances, but I still don’t regret it. We need better schools. But I love this author’s question:

 “I believe we also need to ask a truly radical question: whether ‘outsourcing’ mothering is the best way to create a healthy society.”

That sticks with me today.

Perhaps as a society it is time to really consider how to restructure government, business, the flow of the workday for the average worker, the family friendliness of a workplace, and the social world to support the importance of mothering, especially on the earliest years of a child’s development.  I think in America, we have a lot more we can do.  If we aren’t going to do something about supporting motherhood and early childhood development then we better get busy beefing up our law enforcement, prisons and mental healthcare programs, because the overall health and development of humanity is going to suffer greatly.


Read more:

Scientific Proof Stay At Home Mothers benefit children
Follow us: @MailOnline on Twitter | DailyMail on Facebook

Should I send my child to daycare?

Reasons to be a Stay at Home Mom

On Learning a Foreign Language

For the past year I have been taking a weekly Astrology class.  It starts at 7:00 pm on Tuesdays nights and ends at 10:00pm.  By Wednesday morning I have all the answers to the meaning of life and I’m quite full of myself.  By the following Monday night, I am all out of answers again and I get in my car on Tuesday night and drive back to my next class.

My drive is an hour each way, from my home in the north side of Houston, all the way to the west side of Houston in Spring Branch.  It’s a monotonous drive over non-descript elevated freeway with little to offer in the way of scenery.  It has been a huge commitment for a tired teacher on a school night, a commitment not so much in dollars, but in energy and sacrifice of family time.

I’m able to make the sacrifice because my search for understanding goes back many years.  As a ten-year-old, I would read the newspaper horoscopes but joked to my parents that the horoscopes were not written for kids to enjoy.   It didn’t seem fair.  Why did they only talk about grown up stuff? Why couldn’t they write horoscopes a kid could relate to?  I would have to wait many years before it started to make any sense to me.

As a teen, I read each description of the 12 zodiac signs and I was so relieved to find out that my combative bossiness could be explained.  I was an Aries! I learned that side by side with my bossy, self-centeredness was also some fine leadership potential if well channeled.  Armed with some new self-acceptance I had a way to frame a more positive and balanced picture of myself.  For many years I would continue to read horoscopes with more than casual interest. I always had a keen memory for everyone’s sign.

Eventually I got more curious about “real” astrology.  Astrology was a like a new, exotic foreign language that I wanted to learn.  It was especially true during and after my Waldorf teacher training and after reading Bernadine Jocelyn’s Citizens of the Cosmos. I began to understand more about the cycle of Saturn, and how itimpacts one’s adult life, the formation of the ego and one’s life purpose, the 7 year cycles, and other planetary cycles.  I started to get it, all humans have a cosmic blueprint based on the chronology of birth.

Two years ago I had a medical astrology reading done for some health issues I was having.  It was fascinating what I learned.  At the time I did not even know what an ascendant was, I had little vocabulary for understanding the bigger picture being shared with me.  Then it became a quest to penetrate that vocabulary.  I began to read basic astrology books and to study my natal chart more intensely. As I gained more vocabulary, I got a few more professional readings done.   I began looking at the charts of loved ones and friends.

Then a year ago I began taking classes at the Houston Institute of Astrology.  I’ve now logged some 90 hours of astrology class time.  I have studied between 30-45 charts of friends, acquaintances, and family members, attended some additional lectures and listened to probably a hundred hours of Adam Sommer’s Astrology podcasts.   It is still fascinating to me and I still feel I am at the beginning.   I guess I’m hooked.

I don’t worship astrology.  It isn’t a religion.  To me, an astrologer doesn’t require believers or followers.  I personally feel astrology need never conflict with any religion.  It is a symbolic language connected to ancient wisdom, mythology and archetypes.  It’s also a bit like watching the weather.  It is a way of connecting the meaning of personal patterns and events in our lives through a universal symbolic language and how it might be applied today, it need not conflict with faith.  It’s a tool, but where watching a weather forecast might only help you plan your day or your week, astrology might help you make make sense of things or make decisions on a larger scale.

When I started studying this a few years ago I had this idea that I would be using astrology to understand the psyche of fictional characters, to write stories.  I would emerge from my hobbit hole as the next JK Rowling, a successful novel in hand, retire a rich author to my lakeside cabin in the woods and defect from the folly of all human society with a full bank account.   It’s a nice fantasy, until I eventually lose my mind all alone in the woods without internet access, and get attacked by bears.

What I have come to accept is that Astrology will be a field of lifetime study for me and it’s only the beginning.  I’m not sure where it will take me, but the train has left the station and I can’t turn back now, sorry guys.

The 12 Archetypes

The 12 Archetypes Applied to Successful Business

Being on Time

Growing up I got used to hearing my parents rail against anyone who failed to show the courtesy of being on time.  So it is partly due to my upbringing that 1. my blood pressure rises disproportionately high in comparison to the relative importance of being late and 2. I feel a tinge of resentment towards others when they don’t show up when they said they would. I don’t think I am as intolerant as my parents were about lateness, but if someone is habitual with it, I do tend to see it as the character flaw of self-centeredness.

Whether you are usually punctual or perpetually late, you will enjoy reading The Waldorf Mom Blog, written by Panjee, a Phillipina Waldorf parenting veteran of 19 years.  Panjee has assembled a nice range of topics on her blog: Waldorf discipline, being present, festivals, media and more. My personal favorite was this gem about punctuality. It encourages me to find new ways to communicate my needs for punctuality, to have empathy with myself when I am late, and with others too, and to continue to strive to Be on Time as a life habit. This shows courtesy to others.

I share it in the spirit of the new school year right around the corner.



What Every Texan Should Know about The Bush Family and Pearson Testing

One afternoon when I was driving downtown to attend a fiction-writing class I had the chance to hear an interview on the radio of an educator who had received notoriety for her many years of service in teaching and administration in Title 1 schools  and for her success in working with improving schools.  Her 50 or so years of service amounted to more than the years I had been alive and she was old enough to be my grandmother.

This lively and astute woman made a comment that stuck with me in which she was recalling all of the changes she had seen in education and in which she was so clear and unabashed. She said in effect, “the biggest hoax in history every pulled over on American children is the lie of standardized testing.” I have since tried to go back and find out more about this outspoken lady in this interview which was so compelling, but have not yet located it.  But I knew that she was right.  It was a good reminder to me.

I would sometimes like to forget about testing because I work in a private school that does not test children. But, I can’t because we have children apply at our school every year who are refugees of the testing-centric society we live in.  Yes, testing causes anxiety, but there is another reason to not trust the testing regime.

If you are a librarian or if you became a teacher once upon a time like me, chances are you know who Jim Trelease is.  Jim Trelease published one of the most respected books about reading to children. He was most well known for stressing the importance of reading aloud to children with his book,  The Read-Aloud Handbook, published in 1979.

Top things every Texan should know item #1 – The Bush family has  very close connections to Pearson testing.

Trelease has some interesting things to share about the Bush family connection to Pearson testing, the company which oversees a huge market share of the standardized tests given in government-runs schools.

Can you say hoodwinked, boys and girls?

In particular, if you are a Texan, you will want to be more familiar with this fact and how far the money trail goes.  I suggest reading a few of Trelease’s articles, in particular this one:

Bush-McGraw Connection

On his website, Trelease has a whole grouping of articles about No Child Left Behind you might find interesting if you want to go a little deeper and broader.

NCLB Articles

I first began reading about various manipulations of the school system in a book by John Taylor Gatto called The Underground History of American Education. Full text of Gatto’s book here.  He was  New York City Teacher of the Year who quit his teaching job due to the ineptness of the system.

Here is his compelling public resignation, published by the Wall Street Journal.

I’ve taught public school for 26 years but I just can’t do it anymore. For years I asked the local school board and superintendent to let me teach a curriculum that doesn’t hurt kids, but they had other fish to fry. So I’m going to quit, I think.

I’ve come slowly to understand what it is I really teach: A curriculum of confusion, class position, arbitrary justice, vulgarity, rudeness, disrespect for privacy, indifference to quality, and utter dependency. I teach how to fit into a world I don’t want to live in.

I just can’t do it anymore. I can’t train children to wait to be told what to do; I can’t train people to drop what they are doing when a bell sounds; I can’t persuade children to feel some justice in their class placement when there isn’t any, and I can’t persuade children to believe teachers have valuable secrets they can acquire by becoming our disciples. That isn’t true.

Government schooling is the most radical adventure in history. It kills the family by monopolizing the best times of childhood and by teaching disrespect for home and parents.

An exaggeration? Hardly. Parents aren’t meant to participate in our form of schooling, rhetoric to the contrary. My orders as schoolteacher are to make children fit an animal training system, not to help each find his or her personal path.

The whole blueprint of school procedure is Egyptian, not Greek or Roman. It grows from the faith that human value is a scarce thing, represented symbolically by the narrow peak of a pyramid.

That idea passed into American history through the Puritans. It found its “scientific” presentation in the bell curve, along which talent supposedly apportions itself by some Iron Law of biology.

It’s a religious idea and school is its church. New York City hires me to be a priest. I offer rituals to keep heresy at bay. I provide documentation to justify the heavenly pyramid.

Socrates foresaw that if teaching became a formal profession something like this would happen. Professional interest is best served by making what is easy to do seem hard; by subordinating laity to priesthood. School has become too vital a jobs project, contract-giver and protector of the social order to allow itself to be “re-formed.” It has political allies to guard its marches.

That’s why reforms come and go-without changing much. Even reformers can’t imagine school much different.

David learns to read at age four; Rachel, at age nine: In normal development, when both are 13, you can’t tell which one learned first — the five-year spread means nothing at all. But in school I will label Rachel “learning disabled” and slow David down a bit, too.

For a paycheck, I adjust David to depend on me to tell him when to go and stop. He won’t outgrow that dependency. I identify Rachel as discount merchandise, “special education.” After a few months she’ll be locked into her place forever.

In 26 years of teaching rich kids and poor, I almost never met a “learning disabled” child; hardly ever met a “gifted and talented” one, either. Like all school categories, these are sacred myths, created by the human imagination. They derive from questionable values we never examine because they preserve the temple of schooling.

That’s the secret behind short-answer tests, bells, uniform time blocks, age grading, standardization, and all the rest of the school religion punishing our nation.

There isn’t a right way to become educated; there are as many ways as fingerprints. We don’t need state-certified teachers to make education happen–that probably guarantees it won’t.

How much more evidence is necessary? Good schools don’t need more money or a longer year; they need real free-market choices, variety that speaks to every need and runs risks. We don’t need a national curriculum, or national testing either. Both initiatives arise from ignorance of how people learn, or deliberate indifference to it.

I can’t teach this way any longer. If you hear of a job where I don’t have to hurt kids to make a living, let me know. Come fall I’ll be looking for work, I think.

John Taylor Gatto wrote this article for The Wall Street Journal, July 25th, 1991. 

He left his teaching post the year I graduated from high school.  Needless to say, things have not improved since then with regard to the way schools are run.


Millions of STAARS

Free your child blog is my quiet little way of protesting what is happening to children everywhere.  At the root of starting a democratic Sudbury model school in 2001 and then becoming a Waldorf teacher in 2007 and helping to start a new Waldorf school in 2009 in my area was my fervent refusal to hand over my children to the public school system when they became kindergartners. Why?  Because our system is broken.

As a public school teacher in my early twenties, I felt that our public schools in Texas were being ruined by high-stakes testing and I see no improvement in that regard since the 1990’s, only further decline and the federal institution of No Child Left Untested.

The State of Texas and the Texas Education Agency require all Texas children to take the STAAR test.  Millions of kids will take the STARR again this year, at all levels.  It is a powerful industry, the money involved with these tests.  STAAR is required for graduation and the TEA says parents have no right to opt out, even if parents morally oppose the testing regime.  The dominance of these testing practices are derailing the work of good teachers and ruining schools, not to mention the joy of learning for children.  Now that I am seeing my high school age sons take part in the public school system after being in private schools for their grade school years, I am even more firmly of the belief that this over-emphasis on one test is ruining schools.

Elementary children have the most to lose with the over-focus on standardized testing.  To fit in the needed time for test prep, school districts have to throw out too many activities and subjects that young children need to thrive and that help them take joy in learning. Middle school and high school students have the same to lose too, but I think it is even more damaging for the youngest of children, who face the longest journey ahead in dealing with the mind-numbing effects.

Goodbye to what used to be “kindergarten.” The old first grade curriculum we all grew up with is now pushed down to the preschool level and kindergarten level. All that pretend play kids used to do in kindergarten had to go.  Teachers have to get their students reading, writing and doing arithmetic as fast as possible.

Sorry kid, say goodbye fingerpainting.  Goodbye class plays and playing dress up, discovering music, and more: fewer field trips, less time for that hands-on science experiments.

I’m sure the list could go on of what else has been thrown out with the bathwater.

The American public stood behind our lawmakers when they instituted standardized testing perhaps because everyone knew about the problem of social promotion.  Everyone knew that schools were graduating kids that could not read or do math and that this was a problem we knew we could not leave unaddressed.  But we have gone way too far in the direction of basing our entire purpose of the schools on one single test.

Parents may finally be waking up to this and taking action, as you can read in the Dallas Morning News or the Houston Chronicle about parents who are opting out.  Though anything you read put out by the Texas Education Agency or schools districts will promptly point out that parents have no right to opt out of state tests.     Change needs to happen at the state level.   I don’t imagine change coming from the teachers, as most probably fear losing their jobs if they are too vocal about their criticisms of the test.

I think the “opting out” parents are trying to make a point, and I admire that.  But, I think if people truly want change, they will need to find and elect leaders who share their views and more people could contact their state representatives, demanding change.  The districts have no power to overturn these state regulations alone, but active, vocal voters do.

Could we at least summon the nerve to demand a more humane, holistic and balanced approach to assessment and protect the youngest children in their rights to have a childhood? To play?

The other thing parents can do, is take their children out of the public schools, especially in the younger grades, or never place them there at all.  This is a financial sacrifice many cannot afford to make, but many parents find ways for their children’s sake to make it possible.
Listen to a KPFT story about parents who opted out.