The following is an excerpt from Twists, Turns, and Yellow Brick Roads...
In 2012 my older son Drew was in third grade. He was attending a public school that had begun a carefully orchestrated transition into standardized learning and computer based testing.
After just a few weeks in his new class, my wife and I recognized some dramatic changes. Drew’s after-school behavior put us on high alert. In conversation, he just seemed disengaged. It’s not that he appeared sad or angry or anything overtly negative. He wasn’t getting bullied on the playground, wasn’t failing any subjects, and wasn’t subject to any other usual causes of disengagement. He was just no longer happy about learning, or even motivated to learn. He seemed to be sleep-walking through his days, going through the motions. Was he just a typical third grader going through changes? Were we being overly paranoid? Was I looking at Drew’s situation through the myopic lens of my own experience when the slow drip of certainty over my economic future seeped from the ceiling of my third grade classroom? How does one know? You get one chance as a parent. We were determined to find out.
We made an appointment to visit the school. When addressing our concerns with Drew’s teacher, she was professional, forthright, and honest. His teacher began by telling us about the new standards, teaching modalities, and motivations that had been implemented to ensure that no student falls behind. In fact, she was excited about the changes. She told us not to worry, that it would take a little while for the new standards to be properly learned and applied by the administration. She told us that Drew would be “just fine.” And while there is no need to go into too much further detail about other matters within the discussion, I will highlight the proverbial last straw – the very little matter to push me over the edge – to convince me that, yes, in many ways Drew was a typical third grader, and yes, I was being overly paranoid, and no, I would not accept that Drew was going to be ‘just fine’ while teachers and administrators slow dripped the ‘new standards’ into his brain.
What exactly are we learning? Who are our teachers? Where are the answers?
The last straw begins as follows. During our meeting, we were informed that the teacher thought we called the meeting because Drew was upset about something that happened in class. We were caught off guard. Before this meeting, we were not aware that something happened. Drew did not tell us about any something.
We have a rule in our home. No calculators. All math, addition, subtraction, multiplication and division must be accomplished on paper or in your head. No exceptions. Since Drew was perhaps 2 or 3 years old, we counted everything. Punch bugs, trees, blades of grass, my wife’s gray hairs. Call me what you will, but I have an intense distrust of machines thinking for my son. Drew obviously picked up on my paranoia. He caused a minor disruption in his class because the teacher insisted that he use a calculator to add and subtract three digit numbers. He refused. When the teacher gave him no option but to use the calculator, else he would fall behind, Drew learned a valuable lesson. If you do not listen to the rules made by your teacher, you will not fit in. You will fall behind. So Drew fell in line, did what he was told to do, kept the secret from his parents, and felt awful about the conflict he thought he caused.
Our decision was sealed. We spoke with Drew to address his feelings of having done wrong and immediately filed the requisite paperwork. Because we could not afford a private school, Drew would be home schooled, beginning in January. His younger brother would also be home schooled beginning in first grade the following September.
I wish to be very clear here. I am not passing any judgment upon Drew’s teacher. I am not criticizing public education. I am also NOT saying that children should not be influenced or taught by others. The clear point I want to make is that I believe that Drew’s third grade public school experience was one of the most important lessons that he would learn as a child and will forever be my guiding principle as a parent:
“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom."
This message from Victor Frankl also formed the first of Stephen Covey’s, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, and now serves as the guiding principle in our home school. Thanks to the Common Core and Drew’s third grade public school teacher, we now see that lessons of arithmetic and rewards from test scores are trifles in comparison to the intuitive lessons associated with finding the space between stimulus and response.
Space is invisible. It cannot be added, subtracted, multiplied, or divided. But it is everywhere. So then why do we need to find it? Why do we need to teach it? This is a puzzle that only appears mystical, metaphysical, or even, illogical. Because we just don’t yet see. And although quintillions of approaches to the riddle are beyond the self-pleasuring reach of invisible hands within Microsoft, IBM, the National Governor’s Association, and the other answering machines, teaching children to see the hidden solution requires a whole different perspective if they are to either become flying winged monkeys or if they are to choose a golden path to self-discovery.