Tuesday, May 31, 2005


Besides following up on K-12 education legislation as the Unicameral winds up this week, Go Big Ed is launching a summer series that needs your participation.

Do you have a question about something that’s going on in K-12 education? Do you have something to praise, or something to criticize? Need a term defined, or wonder whether a certain technique is empirically sound?

Starting next week, Go Big Ed will kick off a summer of public-service reporting by attempting to research and answer questions posed by Go Big Ed readers. They don’t have to be specific to Nebraska, although I’m trying to cover the state thoroughly and welcome input on local issues.

Just reply to this email with your question. You can remain anonymous, send just your initials or your first name, or use your full name. It would be great if you would identify your town or city, but it’s not necessary.

Here are some questions already in the hopper, to give you an idea of how specific to be. Answers will be fewer than 350 words – short, but sweet.

Q. What are some of the things that our most effective, top-quality teachers do that all teachers could emulate?

Q. My son’s reading and spelling skills are really horrible. We live in a small town with no tutoring services around. What can I do to help him over the summer?

Q. Are there studies that prove that all-day kindergarten is better than half-day kindergarten, or do we just assume that more time results in more learning?

Q. How much private, personal information about my child and our family does the school district and state and federal governments have in their electronic files, and how will they be using and perhaps abusing that information in the future?

Q. Private high schools are starting to require their students to purchase laptops, and public districts all over the country are purchasing them by the thousands with our tax dollars. Is there any evidence that this ultra-expensive technology truly helps kids academically?

Q. What’s the secret of getting a good score on a writing assessment such as the new SAT essay?

Q. The federal courts have said that public schools must provide K-12 education free of charge for the children of illegal aliens, even though everybody knows the parents are breaking the law. At a cost per pupil of $7,000 or $8,000 per year, we are having trouble affording the educations of bona fide American citizens, much less these children. Meanwhile, schools can’t help but “dumb down” the curriculum and instruction of bona fide students in order to tend to the special needs of these functionally illiterate children. What’s to be done about this crisis?

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Thursday, May 26, 2005


(Go Big Ed is reporting on developments in K-12 education in other states this week.)

A friend of a friend is heading up an interesting and inspiring nonprofit organization, Foundations for a Better Oregon. The goal is to find out what citizens of Oregon want from their public schools, and then set a course of action to deliver it.

Come see:

Five private, nonprofit foundations are collaborating with resources to put this project together. It requires only one paid staff member, the executive director, who works with a board made up of one trustee from each of the five foundations. There’s a professional polling and research firm helping out with the 18-month information-gathering phase, which is now wrapping up.

That phase has identified five key desires of the public for Oregon’s K-12 schools. These are very likely identical to what Nebraskans would pinpoint:

Parental involvement
Quality educators
Good readers
Budget accountability
Funding stability

The organization uses verbiage I love: to help inform the public about education issues so that they can “address the tough choices and trade-offs required to build quality schools,” and the intent to “raise the noise level” so that more people with diverse perspectives are involved and contributing.

The formal recommendations are due out soon. Go Big Ed will report back on the Chalkboard Project to see how Nebraskans might think . . . not to mix metaphors . . . take a page from that chalkboard.


Go Big Ed will resume Tuesday, May 31. Happy Memorial Day!

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Wednesday, May 25, 2005


(This week, Go Big Ed is looking at K-12 education developments in other states.)

Should the government, or the parents, be in charge of early childhood?

The government’s own studies show that nine out of 10 children come to kindergarten rarin’ to go. In states like Nebraska and Minnesota that percentage is probably much higher.

But there’s still a nationwide push to drive K-12 No Child Left Behind governmental standards and regulations all the way down to the cradle under the banner of “kindergarten readiness.” Why? Because of those few disadvantaged kids who really do need help. But all children are being pulled in as a consequence of governmental action to help a few.

How? By using “public-private partnerships” with wealthy, politically powerful foundations and corporations allied with government agencies armed with state and federal tax dollars to steamroll private-sector day care and preschools, especially those operated by family members and in churches, out of the way.

The itty bitties and their families will be subject to the same mental health screening, career slotting, social activism, socioemotional assessments, intrusive data collection and reporting, and Politically Correct distorted curriculum that is now pestering K-12 curriculum.

If these new systems go through, then the feds will be told whether there are guns in the home of individual preschoolers, whether a young child is having problems “understanding gender” despite the use of anatomically correct dolls and explicit pictures of body parts, and whether they are “at risk” for school failure on down the road just because, in the subjective opinion of some 19-year-old preschool employee, they can’t sit still or otherwise live up to the government’s “norm.”

I call it “sandbox specs.” But I don’t think it’s cute, not in the least bit.

A highly effective grassroots advocacy group in Minnesota doesn’t, either. And they are doing a fabulous job warning the public about all the dangers inherent in the big push to standardize early childhood education.

Come see their rebuttal to the educrats who are trying to push a $185 million program through in Minnesota:

There’s a similar fight going on, mostly under the radar, right now across the country and across Nebraska, as efforts continue to standardize preschool care. They’re using carefully-worded and highly ambiguous state regulations, innocent-sounding standards that can be easily changed, politically-savvy “partnerships” with nonprofit foundations associated with big employers, and federal and state tax dollars. It’s going on in North Platte and many other communities as “pilot programs” for “at-risk” preschoolers that no doubt will transform into ongoing entitlements and, eventually, mandatory universal preschool for all.

In the Unicameral, there was at least one bill, LB 577, that would have put early childhood education into the state-aid formula, and double the amount of the early childhood education grants for disadvantaged kids, from $9.5 million to $18.6 million.

And for a better idea of how far into all of this Nebraska has already fallen, see the Early Childhood Training Center run by Educational Service Unit #3, and check out the programs by which government employees are working with preschool “clients” on “home visitation,” “early learning guidelines,” “special projects and partnerships,” “career development” and “mental health.”

There’s a lot going on in the sandbox these days. Best that parents and taxpayers not . . . bury their heads in the sand.


Update on the battle for Nebraska’s country schools: a good account of the compromise bill that appears likely to be signed into law is available on
www.northplattebulletin.com Headline: “Small Schools to Remain; Boards Eliminated”

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Tuesday, May 24, 2005


(This week, Go Big Ed is looking at K-12 education developments in other states.)

Here’s an example of what’s good about the Internet: a group of Iowa taxpayers would have a hard time affording the publication of the information they would like to distribute about school performance and efficiency on paper, all across the state.

But with this website, they can inform the public about education issues and rattle some cages at a fraction of the cost.

I’ve heard that people in Des Moines are really paying attention, because the information they’re gathering is very instructive as to what needs changing in their K-12 schools and associated governmental services.

You could spend all day on this site. Come see:


How come nobody in Nebraska has developed a site like this? You’ve got me. Do you think it would help? I think it really would.

If my fairy godmother appeared right now, after an instant 20-pound weight loss, I’d ask for funding for a quality website like this, and I’d do it, in a heartbeat.

Since she’s likely to be otherwise detained, why don’t YOU send me ideas for stories or statistics you’d like me to report, and I’ll try to keep up with this group.

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Monday, May 23, 2005


This week, Go Big Ed will look at some positive developments affecting public education in other states. The goal is to give our policymakers a clue about where we ought to be spurring our educational hosses.

You’ll remember that Nebraska lawmakers this session killed Sen. David Landis’ bill that would have outlawed vaccinations that contain mercury. The reason the ban makes sense: there are demonstrated links to learning disabilities, including autism, and the mercury-containing preservative thimerosol in many childhood immunization shots.

These learning disabilities are costing taxpayers a fortune, not to mention destroying or reducing the enjoyment of countless people’s lives. Shots without mercury would cost maybe a dollar more per dose – in the long run, far cheaper than to look the other way on this. But apparently our state senators didn’t believe that the link is real.

But lookie here: the State of Missouri is now doing just that. The nonprofit organization,
www.NoMercury.org, reports that a similar bill passed the Show-Me State legislature earlier this month. It protects pregnant women, and children from birth to age 3. There’s also a symposium planned in Missouri this summer on neurodevelopmental disorders, to help determine whether the ban on mercury-containing substances in shots should be outlawed for older children, too.

Missouri now joins California and Iowa in bans on neurotoxins in immunizations, with numerous other states considering such bans . . . except, of course, Nebraska, where they didn’t “get it.”

You know the “dumdum” song on those Cingular TV ads? Doot-doo, doot doot doot!!! Yeah, well . . . that would be us.

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Friday, May 20, 2005


Speaking of actions by educrats that are contradictory to what educational evidence shows is best for kids . . . word has it that they’re ready to fish or cut bait in the Legislature on the most divisive and difficult issue of this session.

It’s LB 126, the silver bullet that would kill Nebraska’s 231 small country school districts. They would be forced into what the educrats looooove to call “governance” by the urban K-12 districts. The word “governance” to an educrat is like the word “chocolate” to the rest of us. In other words, they would come under educrat control more tightly and lose their freedom and individuality.

Bye, bye, another slice of American pie. It makes me really sad.

The attempt to close the state’s small schools comes in the face of mounting evidence nationwide that smaller schools are better for kids than larger ones. That’s true in everything from academics, to opportunities to participate in extracurricular activities, to strong relationships with teachers, to safety.

It’s why I am among those who would urge the thousands of Class I parents whose schools would be nuked by this bill that, if it passes, don’t worry, be happy . . . just form a private school and get out from under these guys altogether. They’ve shown they don’t care what you think is best for your kids, anyway. So why keep dancin’ with them? Become do-it-yourself’ers. Keep on providing quality education -- even though it’ll cost you a lot of money – because it’s worth it.

State senators who have been trying to help the Class I parents keep their schools open have said that the pro-consolidation forces, led by Sen. Ron Raikes of Lincoln, will brook no dissent and have a full head of steam to get this done.

Look for the union label on this bill, bigtime: the real reason behind the big push is to move the Class I teachers into the town-school personnel pools to raise the union pay scale “basis” for teachers statewide. It’s kept down somewhat by the relatively smaller salaries that are acceptable in small towns where job options are much fewer. But it’ll be bye-bye, reasonably sane pay scales, if this takes place. And that’ll hurt all of us who pay taxes.

However, the Class I proponents said many senators have been influenced by the fervent grassroots efforts of the Class I community, and may be able to stave off at least an immediate homicide of the traditional small schools.

It has been instructive and inspiring to monitor their lobbying efforts on their blog,
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/class_1s_united Hats off to them for mounting a good campaign.

Check out these two links provided by the Class I blog with good information on the benefits of small schools:



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Thursday, May 19, 2005


I’ve been pondering some of the iffy decisions Nebraska schools have been making lately:

-- the push toward block scheduling and year-round schooling, as if spending more time doing the same things with kids is going to make them any smarter

-- the lust for technology instead of simpler, more cost-effective curriculum and instructional methods

-- the drive to spend more money instead of figuring out where to cut spending

-- the emphasis on the process of learning instead of the content

-- the R- and X-rated sex ed

-- expecting the public to believe that by meeting the state’s “high” standards, the schools are doing an excellent job, when we all know those “standards” are targeted toward the lowest common denominator

-- the censorship of Christmas, Easter, and any mention of God

-- the elevation of equity over excellence, and equal outcomes instead of equal opportunity

-- fostering “creative chaotic confusion” in the classroom instead of authority for the teacher, and order and clear rules for behavior for the students

-- and the attempts to kill off three things that are precious to my heart, and most other taxpaying and parental hearts: small country schools, classic kiddie lit, and memorization, drill and repetition of the math facts in the early grades until those skills are really automatic for the kids.

With just a few clicks of my mouse, I can refute each and every one of these “school deforms.” How come educators never seem to know the OTHER side of the story, when it comes to where they want to spend our money next?

Why is that schools so often do the OPPOSITE of what the evidence suggests is best? I was perplexed.

Then, this morning, a Go Big Ed reader asked for background information on Bloom’s Taxonomy, and boom! I got it. THAT’S why educators keep doing the counter-intuitive things: they are following the line of thinking that goes with standards-based education.

They have bought in to the Hegelian dialectic on which Bloom’s Taxonomy is based – that there is no such thing as right and wrong, only compromise and consensus. It’s the old story: Snow is white, but sometimes snow on the side of the road looks pretty black, so actually, snow is black.

One’s opinions and feelings trump knowledge and facts, in other words.

It’s regurgitated Marxist philosophy, that we need to throw out the old, and design our own “new” that labels anybody who thinks any differently than the party line as a nut case or intolerant, and therefore intimidates anyone who might otherwise critique what’s Politically Correct. How convenient for the powers that be.

Here’s how you can tell: in Bloom’s Taxonomy, knowledge and comprehension are at the bottom of the scale. They’re devalued. All systems of thought that are highly subjective – and thus open to manipulation and brainwashing – are at the top of the scale.

Therefore, a student with a broad knowledge base is no good, and a student with strong convictions is no good. Why? Because you can’t manage, control, tweak or “transform” a student like that. Soooooo . . . you have to convince teachers that knowledge and comprehension, and convictions and beliefs taught in the students’ homes, are no good.

You do that with standards-based education and Bloom’s Taxonomy. That’s what’s behind the endless workshops and inservices on this stuff. Brainwash the teachers to think it’s cool, and you’ve won the entire generation of upcoming students, who want so badly to get good grades from their teachers.

I don’t think the impact is reflected just yet, because it didn’t become popular in schools until the Goals 2000 years really kicked in, in the 1990s. I believe the changeover from objective thinking to subjective thinking in our schools is in full flower now, though. Very soon, the only students with truly classical, traditional, content-based educations will be those in private schools and homeschools.

I’ve also been reading a lot about the traditional style of education, the “trivium” – grammar in the early grades, logic in the middle grades, and rhetoric in high school. That’s what I want for kids, of course.

But Bloom’s Taxonomy has yanked our schools away from that tried-and-true approach to teaching kids how to think and use what they’ve learned. Instead, they are being taught to submit themselves to carefully engineered and “facilitated” discussions to drive them to a pre-planned consensus on what is true and how to feel about it. Ewwww!

It’s ‘way past time we returned to the trivium – and drop-kicked Bloom’s Taxonomy over the highest mountain and into the deepest sea.

Here’s my explainer from my CD-ROM of educational advice, available from my bookstore, www.DailySusan.com:



Bloom’s Taxonomy and Critical Thinking

Q. There’s a poster in my child’s classroom labeled “Bloom’s Taxonomy.” What is that all about?

Not taxidermy and not school taxes. “Taxonomy” is a method of describing and classifying things. Usually, it refers to biology. You know: kingdom, phylum. . . .

But “Bloom’s Taxonomy” is a term for a six-step classification system for thinking, developed by educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom of the University of Chicago. Some observers feel his work has been a highly destructive influence on content-based, knowledge-focused K-12 education.

Why? Because in Bloom’s paradigm for learning, facts form the least-important level:


Bloom’s 1964 book, “Taxonomy of Educational Objectives: Affective Domain,” was about process management and behavioral psychology. Bloom theorized that intended behaviors among students could be produced by targeting the “input,” or their curriculum, toward the desired outcome – what the students would know and be able to do, and what attitudes and beliefs they would have. The goal: to make everybody the same, and functioning in a group, rather than as individuals.

It was a lot like programming a computer: you pack into a child the material you want him or her to learn, and then you measure the output. Never mind that the child’s knowledge base is greatly reduced, as long as the child shows “mastery” of those few items and skills you programmed.

Teachers trained in the “Taxonomy” practice the dialectic . . . thesis + antithesis = synthesis. It’s highly subjective: nothing is true and stands alone; everything has a mix of truth and error. This is what passes now for “critical thinking” and “higher order thinking skills” in our schools.

Bloom’s ideas revolutionized the education establishment toward focusing schools on the “affective” side of life – socialization of youth, shaping their ability to work in groups, challenging their fixed beliefs, and reforming their opinions, values, beliefs and emotions.

The mixing of cognitive and affective goals has had a huge impact on everything from assessment to curriculum development.

Homework: Chapter, “Benjamin Bloom: Godfather of OBE,” in Samuel L. Blumenfeld’s book, “The Whole Language / OBE Fraud,” or a rather chilling explanation of how the Taxonomy is like communist brainwashing on http://www.crossroad.to/Books/BraveNewSchools/3-NewThinking.htm

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Wednesday, May 18, 2005


Sorry to see that the Omaha Public Schools is expanding block scheduling, with two high schools and eight middle schools slated to use that cornerstone of the dumbed-down, standards-based education philosophy next fall.

There’s so much hard evidence out there that block scheduling is bad for academic achievement that it makes you wonder: are they TRYING to crash their own test scores, to try to get more money to “fix” these poor kids?

It’s only common sense, but scientific data backs it up: block scheduling is bad for academic achievement. Research has shown that block scheduling reduces actual instructional time by 20% or more. Why? Because the teacher’s focus shifts to the portion of the student population that’s not understanding the lessons, going over and over the same material.

Consequently, the majority of the students, who DO get it the first time, go into “idle” mode and do repetitive busy work and time-wasting hands-on group activities. Test scores consequently drop “markedly,” studies show, including a big one by Iowa State University and ACT Inc., and several in Canada (see below).

While test scores may rise a little for the bottom 50%, they fall for the top 50%, and they fall overall. That means more kids go to the workforce, not college, after graduation, and more kids go to community college and not four-year schools, and more Nebraska kids can’t get in to top schools in other states, for the simple reason that they aren’t qualified academically.

Again, you have to wonder: is this on purpose? I certainly hope not.

The deceptive push toward block scheduling is following true to form for how this dumbed-down time management philosophy has been jammed into public schools from coast to coast, starting with Oregon about 15 years ago: there’s a high-paid “consultant” involved who is trumpeting erroneous, misleading, distorted “data” to grease the skids.

The World-Herald quoted Elliot Merenbloom of Baltimore as that consultant, and he claimed in Tuesday’s paper that the research shows that block scheduling helps student achievement.

Baloney. See the website listed at the bottom of this page for ample documentation of evidence to the contrary.

Tell you what: if you know anyone with a child in OPS, send them that website, and urge them to switch to private school. Of course OPS will realize that block scheduling is a rotten idea, but it will take four to six years for that – that’s the learning curve all around the country, apparently – and by then, waves of kids will be damaged.

Oh, well, though, huh? This just follows that popular educational credo: “What’s nuts? Let’s try it!”

Here’s my advice column on the subject:



Block Scheduling

Q. Block scheduling cuts the number of classes a student takes in half, but nearly doubles the time spent in each class. That would help minimize disruptions between classes, and sounds great for science class. In a 40- or 50-minute period, students must just get their science experiments set up and then it’s time to put it all away. A 90- or 100-minute class period makes a lot of sense. But in other kinds of classes, is block scheduling a smart way to schedule the school day?

No. It’s terrible. Teenagers have shorter attention spans these days, especially those with learning disabilities. Teachers report that actual delivery of academic content drops by 20% with block scheduling, because neither kids nor teachers can stay sharp for an hour or a half or more per class period. So a good chunk of class time is spent playing cards, watching videos, doing homework from other classes . . . and academic achievement suffers.

Block scheduling is aligned with standards-based education, which is in place in most public schools around the country. It’s geared toward preparing students to pass statewide tests. But by definition, that dumbs down schooling for 50% of the kids, since the statewide tests are targeted to the norm.

Block scheduling significantly reduces instruction time, amount of academic content, freedom for electives such as music, and test scores. Its key victim: retention. It is well understood that “distributed” lessons are best. In them, content is delivered in small, evenly-spaced increments. Example: classes that meet five days a week for 50 minutes a day.

With block scheduling, though, an entire school year’s content is delivered in one semester, or in class periods that are nearly twice as long but meet only two or three times per week. Because the spacing of the material is less “distributed,” learning retention drops significantly.

A study by Iowa State University and ACT Inc., of 568 high schools in Iowa and Illinois revealed “markedly lower” ACT scores in schools with block scheduling, especially in rural areas.

Homework: Great documentation on the hazards of block scheduling is found on

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Tuesday, May 17, 2005


We really enjoyed our daughter’s graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill last weekend. It was easy to smile: she graduated with highest honors, was designated as Phi Beta Kappa, and was awarded a special prize for writing the best honors thesis in the English Department.

There was a separate ceremony for English majors, and we got to meet many of her professors. We made sure to congratulate them on their outstanding core curriculum, which is heavy in grammar, logic, classic literature and lots of other good things.

They made sure to tell us what a great scholar our daughter is, how hard she works, and to please send our other children there so that they could have the pleasure of teaching more like her.

I’m not bragging. There are many families like ours, who put a top priority on education and are probably having pleasant conversations like this with their child’s teachers right about now. I just wish every parent of a preschool child could walk a mile in the shoes of the parents of a college graduate for just a day, and get a bird’s-eye view of what works, so that the “learning thermostat” in their home could be set to optimum from the get-go.

That’s why I hope young parents and educators will pay attention to the ideas in the following book, described in this week’s educational advice column from my website,
www.DailySusan.com We all should help as many students as possible to get a leg up on learning, any way we can.


How to Make a Student ‘School Smart’

Q. Kids come to school with such incredibly diverse backgrounds. When they are from an “academic family,” they have what they need – books in the home, parents who value school highly, high expectations, clear rules about homework, and good role modeling for getting along with teachers and other students. Kids from chaotic homes and low-income homes often are at an incredible disadvantage because they lack those things. How can we as a society help level the playing field without holding back the kids who are “school smart”?

Author Jim Burke has come up with the “four C’s” for students who want to build up their “cultural capital” for educational success, and educators who want to help them:

1. Commitment: how much students care about their schoolwork, and consistently try to succeed, with the help of their parents and their school. It really helps students stay committed to academic effort if they have allies, guides and coaches, he says. They must consider school a haven where they are cared about and understood.

2. Content: it has to be a solid mixture of classic academics, and what is relevant, engaging, and practical for today’s students and tomorrow’s citizens. The content of the curriculum should not be narrowly limited to intellectual knowledge, but also contain the rich depth of moral, social, personal and practical strands of study as well.

3. Competencies: these are the skills students need, starting with reading, writing and figuring. Keys include the ability to communicate ideas, evaluate and make decisions, and generate ideas, solutions, and interpretations. Specific competencies run the gamut from organization to developing allies and mentors.

4. Capacity: beyond the basics, but starting with them, students build their capacity for learning. They need reading skill at a level that gives them confidence, dexterity, fluency, joy, memory, resiliency, speed, and stamina. Tolerance of risk and complexity are factors identified by Burke as affecting capacity.

Homework: The book is available on
www.amazon.com: “School Smarts: The Four C’s of Academic Success,” by Jim Burke (Heinemann, 2004).

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Friday, May 13, 2005


Here’s my story from my other blog, DailySusan.com, that seems appropriate at this time of year for an education blog, too. A salute to all graduates at every level, and to your parents, spouses, families and friends. Here’s hoping that you hear your fair share of praise this graduation season. Congratulations!



Pleasant words are as an honeycomb,
sweet to the soul, and health to the bones.
— Proverbs 16:24

We’re going halfway across the country to attend our eldest daughter’s college graduation. We’re bringing loads of Kleenex and film. We will wear bikinis and carry umbrellas for a typical May day in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Like a million other mothers at graduation time, the soundtrack in my heart is the song from that old Kodak ad, “Where Are You Going, My Little One?”

And, like all those other moms, I’m wondering if I did my job OK. Did I pack love into every molecule of our daughter’s being, enough to last her through thick and thin?

Can she function in a kitchen, the executive suite, or both? Can she thread a needle, dance the tango and change a tire?

Does she have her feet solidly on the ground, and yet is still reaching for the stars?

Most of all: did I praise her enough to polish her heart ‘til it glows?

Sometimes, we mothers are more critics than coaches and cheerleaders. And that’s too bad.

All children desperately need words of praise from the important people in their lives. That’s how they get the crown of blessing . . . the knowledge that they are somebody special, one in a billion, irreplaceable, irresistible, unique, awesome, amazing and miraculous.

They get a glimpse of how God sees them. And that’s crucial, for a happy life.

My mother did it for me. She used to call me her “joy child.” Wow! I felt important! My siblings might have been smarter and funnier and better-looking. But I was the one who gave my mother joy.

Ever since, I’ve tried to live up to that billing, and give people joy. I don’t always make it. But I try.

It’s funny how my mom tagged me, so young. Or maybe her words created that desire in me – the spark of a self-fulfilling prophecy.

All I know is, you can provide a turning point for someone else’s whole life with just one comment. And it doesn’t cost a thing. That’s God’s economics: a little goes a long, long way.

The praise can be from strangers, too: when Jordan was two days old, my milk hadn’t come in yet at the hospital. They could give her only sugar water while we waited.

She was frantically hungry and crying nonstop in the nursery, waking the other newborns. The nurses brought her to me every hour, hoping milk production would begin so she’d eat, and quiet down, before they lost their minds or their hearing, not necessarily in that order.

Consequently, I had gotten little sleep for 48 hours. My anxiety was building moment by moment. In the middle of that long, terrible night, one nurse carried Jordan, still screaming, out of my room, crooning melodramatically, “Oh, you poor little thing. You’re so hungry! So hollow!”

I burst into tears. I was a complete failure as a mother. Better put her up for adoption. Maybe she can have a decent life with someone who’s competent.

But an hour later, a different nurse brought her in. There was still no milk, but this nurse was patient and smiling. On the way out, she looked at the baby’s nametag, and exclaimed with a voice full of sincerity and awe:

“Jordan Williams! That sounds like an AUTHOR!”

An author? Gee! What a compliment! The nurse couldn’t have known that I worked as a news reporter, and considered authors a cut above, worthy of high praise and admiration.

It made me feel sooooooo good. I relaxed. I slept. Next morning, Dairy Queen opened for business.

Now fast-forward 21 years. Jordan Williams is graduating Phi Beta Kappa as an English major, and her honors thesis on poet Edmund Spenser was named the No. 1 best undergraduate thesis this year.

That sounds like an AUTHOR, all right!

She lived up to her billing!

But what do you expect? It’s in her blood. She’s a joy child, born and bred.

Happy graduation, Jordan . . . and all you other graduates. You’re great! You’re wonderful! God loves you! Now, get out there and spread some joy!

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Thursday, May 12, 2005


At last, a sensible court ruling about outrageously pro-homosexuality sex education courses in public schools: a federal judge in Montgomery, Md., has blocked the use of controversial sex ed materials for the rest of this school year because it is biased, unfair, inaccurate and boneheaded.

Well, he didn’t exactly say THAT, but that is the gist.

That’s a good thing. Here’s hoping that common sense, and calling a spade a spade, will spread into Nebraska schools, and soon.

An irate grassroots parents group hauled the public school district into court over the curriculum, which graphically discusses condom use and affirms homosexuality. It describes Christian groups that oppose homosexuality as "intolerant and biblically misguided,” and implies that Christians are causing hatred and oppression against gays.

It is almost laughable, but the curriculum seeks to teach students that homosexuality is inborn, innate, and can’t be changed – which flies in the face of scientific evidence and the clinical results of thousands of people who were able to leave behind the homosexual lifestyle after counseling.

U.S. District Judge Alexander Williams ruled that the curriculum gave preferential treatment to pro-homosexual advocates. "The court is extremely troubled by the willingness of the defendants to venture, or perhaps more correctly, bound," he said, "into the crossroads of controversy where religion, morality and homosexuality converge."

According to news accounts, a video accompanying the sex ed curriculum informs students that "buying condoms isn't as scary as you might think," then adds, "Sometimes it is hard to choose, though, and it can be a little overwhelming at first."

It then offers suggestions for how to choose the "right condom" — in the most graphic terms possible.

It maintains that “sex play” among adolescents of the same gender is normal and harmless, and that adopting gay identity and behavior is no more “sick” or “abnormal” than being left-handed.
The curriculum is targeted toward junior high and high school students.

Mat Staver, chief counsel of the religious-liberties law firm Liberty Counsel, brought the suit on behalf of concerned parents. He said the parents’ group tried to add a balanced point of view, offering rebuttal information and the perspectives of ex-gay people and so forth, but the school district turned that down.

"This curriculum is one of the most liberal, pro-homosexual agendas I've ever seen in the public schools," he said.

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Wednesday, May 11, 2005


Most of us are pretty mad at the French, those no-shows in the war on terrorism. But three French educators have recently come out with books that are of supreme relevance to what’s going on in our public schools, including almost all of them in Nebraska.

They make so much sense, they almost redeem themselves – or at least, if U.S. educators would listen, it would do our country more good than if France had sent a few hundred troops and bombers into Iraq.

The three books all blast the widespread philosophy of education in the early primary years in public schools in both France and America: “child-centered education.” They don’t say it, but we can all “thank” psychologist Jean Piaget for that, a Frenchee who was highly instrumental along with John Dewey in removing intellectual development from the primary school things-to-do list in favor of socialization and hands-on experiences.

Instead, these teachers plead for content-based educational methods, such as teaching reading with systematic, intensive, explicit phonics.

With that system, children learn the structure of our language in 16 weeks of lessons and can begin the high-octane knowledge gain that comes from independent reading. But kids in a child-centered classroom, which follows the constructivist philosophy devoid of direct instruction on how to read, may take several years to reach that stage. Further, with child-centered schemes, the teacher is marginalized and sidelined, and these teachers scream about what a stupid idea THAT is.

One French educator describes child-centered classrooms as equivalent to “the organized deprivation of knowledge.”

Another calls the Whole Language non-method of teaching reading a “cultural catastrophe.”

They sure make a persuasive case for demanding that our schools go back to the basics, and quit all this philosophical mumbo jumbo.

Sounds like marching orders to me. Is that “The Marseillaise” I hear?

Read what they have to say for yourself – don’t worry, it’s in English – on the online publication, Spiked:


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Tuesday, May 10, 2005


According to a study by the Nevada Policy Research Institute, homeschooling saves that state’s taxpayers between $24.3 million and $34.6 million a year, and private schools save them an additional $101.9 million to $147 million, because those children weren’t enrolled in public schools.

Now, we all know about Nebraska’s budget crunch, and how much worse our state aid to education crunch would be if Nebraska’s homeschoolers and private-schoolers were all enrolled in the publics. It would sure be nice to see what these same figures are for the Cornhusker State. I bet they’d be pretty impressive.

The estimates are from the report, "Homeschooling in Nevada: The Budgetary Impact," by John Wenders, Ph.D. and Andrea Clements, Ph.D., as reported in an article in School Reform News,
www.heartland.org, by Krista Kafer.

The full report is available at

In 2003, Nevada’s home- and private school students allowed school districts to avoid costs totaling between $126.2 million to $181.7 million -- "amounts far in excess of the 'lost' revenue in state aid," Wenders and Clements wrote.

"The argument that homeschooled children cause school districts to 'lose' money is based on the false premise that children are automatically the property of their local public school," Wenders said. "Children are not, by default, the property of any school, and public schools cannot 'lose' what they do not own. Children are, first and foremost, in the care and keeping of their parents, who then have a right to decide what education is best for them."

The bottom line is that home- and private schooling is a 'win-win' arrangement for both taxpayers and individual public school districts," the authors wrote.

Responding to the claim that the study's methodology doesn't address fixed costs that do not decline when students choose nonpublic schooling, the authors state, "their logic is belied by their own figures when student numbers increase. When student numbers increase, costs are said to increase and additional funding is required. When student numbers decrease, however, costs are never said to decrease. Plainly there is a self-serving asymmetry to this argument."

The article reports that, during the 2003-04 school year in Nevada, 4,136 students were schooled at home and another 17,894 received education at private schools.

Nationally, the number of homeschooled students has increased from 15,000 in the 1980s to an estimated 2 million in the current decade. According to Wenders and Clements, homeschoolers now represent from 1.8 percent to 3.7 percent of the U.S. student population.

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Monday, May 09, 2005


Something that’s a little scary about math instruction in Nebraska and the nation is that “curriculum alignment” is pretty much pulling the wool over the public’s eyes about how well kids really can do math.

When bad curriculum is “aligned” with the test, the test can’t help but be bad, too. Of course it’s true that the whole point to assessment is to see how well the kids learned the material you taught. But when that material is the wrong stuff, average test scores could be 100% and the kids STILL wouldn’t be getting the kind of rigorous and effective math instruction parents and taxpayers want them to get.

But the public doesn’t realize how much the curriculum has changed. The public doesn’t ever see the test questions. We’re at the mercy of what educators say the scores mean. So the public doesn’t see that “rising” test scores over the last few years are concealing an increasing weakness in the overall math ability of our kids, due to the weak “whole math” curriculum that’s in place, K-12.

Someone on an education loop I belong to describes “whole math” this way: “guess and check, little-to-no-computation, non-algorithmic kinds of problems.”
He’s an educator in Ohio, and he says the statewide third-grade math test in Ohio had only one out of 50 items that required computation.

Only one out of 50! That calls for an “AA-OO-GAH”!!!

I’d say the only answer is to force school districts to publish their test questions after the kids have taken them. Then we can see if that’s happening here, and put a stop to it, pronto.

Does that . . . compute?

Along these same lines, here’s today’s educational advice column from


Ten Myths About Whole Math

Q. Is there broad consensus on how we’re teaching math these days?

No, there are two opposing camps. The “whole math” methods developed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), is under fire from New York City HOLD (Honest Open Logical Decisions), which favors a more traditional approach.

The latter is made up of mathematicians and scientists, K-12 teachers of mathematics, educational researchers, and parents nationwide. They claim to have defined 10 myths about math education that form the basis for the NCTM’s standards, which they vigorously oppose. To capsulize whole math vs. traditional math:

-- Only what students discover for themselves is truly learned. No; kids need direct instruction of math concepts.

-- Children should invent their own ways of doing math. No; standard skills such as long division are crucial to higher-level math and must be taught explicitly.

-- Children need problem-solving rather than “drill and kill.” No; there’s no getting around the need for mastery of basic skills in order to do the conceptual type math.

-- NCTM math is better for learning-disabled children. No; they need structure.

-- NCTM math is better for disadvantaged children. No; their teachers disagree.

-- Calculator use is a great way to build math ability. No; the better the math student on the secondary level, the less calculators were used before sixth grade.

-- Foreign countries beat us on math tests because they “cherry-pick” their top students to go against our entire student bodies. No; participants are randomly selected.

-- Math should be taught “in context,” with stories. No; they’re a good tool but shouldn’t take center stage, or students won’t have sufficient practical application.

-- NCTM methods are what higher-performing countries use. No; math class in Singapore and Japan is like the skills-based methods the grassroots group proposes.

-- Research shows NCTM is effective. No; that “research” is self-serving, opinionated and far from conclusive; it looks effective because assessments have been modified to fit the NCTM method, instead of what kids really should know and be able to do.

Homework: Read documentation at

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Friday, May 06, 2005


It’s very inspiring to learn that a volunteer organization, 100 Black Men of Omaha, has been sending guest readers into an inner-city preschool as a powerful witness to disadvantaged kids that they can be anything they can imagine themselves to be.

Group president James Mason Jr. told The World-Herald in a story about the effort that the reason he goes to read to and interact with the children is because “what they see is what they’ll be.” Group members have found success in a wide variety of fields, and children need to see that success personified. It’s the best way to motivate them to put a higher priority on their educations so that they can reach their goals, too.

Members have donated a number of culturally-appropriate books for the classroom so that the children will see grownups and children that look like them, and environments that look like theirs.

The service is especially valuable in inner-city schools, where the children’s exposure to books, reading, and high-vocabulary verbal interaction in their homes tends not to be as good as in more advantaged homes. The more words young children hear, and the more positive interactions they have, the more brain pathways they build, and the bigger their vocabularies and the better their thinking skills will be.

If there’s one thing all schools need, it’s more refreshing, drop-in reading volunteers like these guys. They wrote the book on how to make something of yourself, and now are trying to help others write their own.

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Thursday, May 05, 2005


I just found out that a 17-year-old boy I know is having his dream come true, and it never would have happened if he hadn’t been homeschooled.

He lives in eastern Nebraska, and his mother has homeschooled him since sixth grade. He did so well that he has already “graduated” from high school while his age mates are still juniors. He already has 35 college hours under his belt, with a 3.9 GPA and membership in the honor society. So he’s more than two years ahead of them in his schooling, and doing great.

But not only that: the freedom of homeschooling allowed him to concentrate more on his strengths and his loves. His dream: to become an automotive designer.

While his mother made him study all subjects, not just science, he was able to restore a 1962 Criss Craft boat, and rebuild several cars, and learn to weld and run a lathe, and to design, turn, photograph and mount his own crankshaft. Finishing his high school curriculum early afforded him time to take computer-assisted design classes and build more and more design skills as well.

The portfolio he has gathered through all those homeschooling projects won him entry into the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif. – one of only five schools in the WORLD to offer exactly what he needs to fulfill his dream.

He will have to go to a nearby city college to obtain higher-level rendering skills next year, but that was the only hitch in his ability to “make it” into a world-class training school, whose graduates are happily plucked by the likes of Toyota and GM. Most of his classmates will be 10 years older – but that’s OK. Through homeschooling, he has learned how to be friends with all ages, not just his own.

You know, whenever I run into people who try to paint homeschoolers as some kind of lonely weirdos, in Pilgrim’s outfits writing on slates with homemade chalk, out of the loop technologically, and not very smart, I just want to scream, scream, scream.

Someday soon, I bet I can drive around in a beautiful CAR that this kid has designed, and scream, and THEN maybe somebody will pay attention.

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Wednesday, May 04, 2005


West Lawn Elementary School in Grand Island put on an all-school “Poetry Café” in late April reminiscent of the beatnik hangouts of the 1950s. It is not known whether the youthful poetry presenters wore berets, but the principal had the kids all snap their fingers twice after each presentation. So that’s close enough.

What a great vehicle for teaching children about poets and poetry. They wrote original poems, memorized or read aloud famous ones, acted some out, and posted others on the Internet. Each classroom found an age-appropriate way to participate, and volunteers made the event special with plastic tablecloths and a makeshift stage, just like a real poetry reading, according to reports in the Grand Island Daily Independent and The World-Herald.

Considering that Nebraska has produced the nation’s poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner, Ted Kooser of Garland, it’s fitting that this school has chosen a focus on poetry. It’s an oft-neglected literary tool and source of great beauty and inspiration for all ages through the centuries.

Rhyme and poetry are tremendously important in the development of literacy skills, especially fluency. Apparently, the orderly arrangement of sounds and words in poetry is helpful to a child trying to make sense out of sounds and words in what often seems like a chaotic world. With a good grounding in poetry, a child is more able to catch on to the rhythm of a piece of writing.

It’s too bad so many preschools and public schools have erased childhood poetry from the curriculum, including the nursery rhymes that have given so many generations a leg up on literacy. For the same reason, it’s a shame most schools have erased phonics, choral reading, short-verse memorization and recitation from their K-2 curriculum. Kids really need to feel the beat, and hear meaningful, well-arranged sounds, so that they can silently read them in an orderly, meaningful, rhythmic way.

Parents should make sure kids hear and speak a lot of poetry and songs at home, even if their preschools and schools do not grasp this. According to The Read-Aloud Handbook by the beloved Jim Trelease (Penguin Books, 1979-2001), kindergartners who can’t suggest words that rhyme are “prime candidates for later reading problems.” (p. 62)

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Tuesday, May 03, 2005


Did you know that three of the nation’s very best mathematics teachers are working in Nebraska? They were honored last year by the Mathematical Association of America as among the best of the best math teachers, based on how well their students do on a national exam.

They are:

Linda Coates, St. Margaret Mary School, Omaha

Jessica Kent, Westside Middle School, Omaha

Leona Penner, Lincoln East High School, Lincoln

They were among about 50 teachers on the junior-high and high-school levels who won $100 and other prizes through the Edyth May Sliffe Awards for junior high and high school math teachers.

Awards are distributed based on the top three scores of a teacher’s students on the American High School Mathematics Examination. Your students have to rank in the top one-third of the region for three years to qualify, evidence of ongoing excellence in the math instruction you’re delivering.

The awards were bequeathed by a longtime math teacher in California who noticed top math students getting honored year after year, but little recognition given to their teachers. It’s a neat example of how one individual can take a stand for excellence that has far-reaching ripples in the academic pool.

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Monday, May 02, 2005


This week we’ll give a tip o’ the hat to Nebraska schools that did something enriching and special this year to add a little meat and spice to the academic stewpot.

Let’s start with St. Paul’s Lutheran School in Arlington, which offered kids a day of mini-courses taught by people from the community. Examples:

Primitive tools
Making wind chimes
Blanket tying
Bead making
Cookie decorating

It took a lot of energy and time to put those workshops together for the kids. It sounded like a lot of fun. What a good example of community involvement that lifts the learning experience above and beyond the same old, same old.

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