Crimes in Education – Homework and Dumbed-Down Curricula – Part I

Tuesday, December 14th, 2010

(The following is excerpted from my book POOR CHEATED LITTLE JOHNNY, available HERE.)

We are frequently reminded that the level of literacy is dropping.  Of course, those reminders of fading glory are generally in writing, so who’s left who can read them?

Where does your country fall in terms of literacy?  Well, the U.S. as of 2007 tied for 21st with about 20 other countries.  Who triumphed with better scores?  Cuba, Barbados, Slovenia, Lithuania, Armenia, Russia, Poland and Tonga (and I confess that I’m not quite sure where Tonga is), among others.  Who is tied with the U.S.?  Antigua, Iceland, and Albania, among many others.

That said, our literacy rate (we are told) is about 99%!  That’s higher than almost any country at almost any time in history!  And yet we’re tied for 21st!  So is literacy getting worse, really?  Sounds like it’s getting a lot better, does it not?

Yes, well, that depends on your definition of literacy.  If it’s “can read and write by age 15”, as it is defined in the U.S., um, sure, then literacy is probably at 99%, since we’re not asking how well each person can read and write at age 15.

Here is the miserable truth – numerous studies show that millions of American simply stop reading after they finish school.  They were forced to read in school.  They read stuff that they hated.  They learned to hate reading, and when school ended, they stopped.  Such people are “functional illiterates”, able to read stop signs and maybe the menu at the local diner. That’s about it.  I guess they’re literate if your definition of literate is very generous and loose and, um, wrong.

In 1993, in the most extensive test done to that date, it was found that up to 23% of American adults were incapable of “finding information in text”.  In English, so that you and I can understand, that means that 23% of the adults tested could not read.  They were illiterate.  That was over 40 million illiterate adults in America.  That was all the way back in 1993.  If you think that the numbers would be better today, you’re kidding yourself.

It gets worse.  In that same test it was found that only about 15% of adults could function well as fully literate people.  The other 85% could not.  This was in 1993.

But don’t you worry, because the schools are riding to the rescue – of schools.

Most schools and curriculum providers seem only too happy to accommodate this trend towards illiteracy.  After all – who needs to be in school more than an illiterate?  Talk about developing a need for your own industry!  Ka-ching!  Great marketing tool, illiteracy!  And don’t think that the big textbook providers are not dining at this table with the schools.  The longer you must stay in school, the more books they sell.  Accordingly, so far as schools and educators and textbook companies are concerned – it makes good financial sense for education to happen (when it happens at all) very slowly.

Compare a textbook from the 1920s or 1930s to a text for the same level (say 8th Grade) today.  You will be saddened indeed. Modern texts often appear to have been written with poorly literate students in mind and hence mightily contribute to the downward spiral of literacy.  Not only is the language “dumbified”, but the information offered is appallingly so.

In an age when there is so much to learn, the trend to simplify what is taught seems frightening and destructive.  In truth, in comparing text books past and present, what was taught to ten year olds in math, history and even science fifty years ago is often taught to 17 year olds or thereabouts today.  Or it is not taught at all.  And what happens to the rest of what was taught those last eight years of school prior to college?  And what of all the additional info ready to be learned that has developed over the past 50 years?  Some of it is taught sporadically.  But you can drive many a Mack Truck through the holes in a modern education.

Recently an acting student of mine, a young man with a college degree in computer sciences, decided to compete on a TV game show where they test an adult’s knowledge against the knowledge of a 5th grader.  I decided to quiz him first and asked things that I had learned in Elementary School.  He couldn’t answer any of the questions I asked him.  Not one of them, including such questions as “name the planets in our solar system”.  He’s a college grad and a truly capable and bright guy.  But the education he received, even in the private schools he was fortunate enough to attend?  Completely inadequate.
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As you probably know, I am an advocate for homeschooling. It’s my belief that homeschooling potentially provides a student with a vastly superior education than schooling in any form. This is backed up by a lot of numbers and research. I’ve taught for public and private schools, at the University level, as a private instructor in thousands of workshops, and as a homeschool dad running a homeschool group. Homeschooling by far works best for most students- and most families.

But I understand that many parents do not believe they can effectively homeschool. They’ve been told that they “don’t have degrees,” and that they “aren’t qualified.” This is all nonsense, of course. You’re legally not required to have any kind of a degree to homeschool your kids anywhere in the U.S. A lot of people who have degrees and who call themselves “professional teachers” are simply awful, and even destructive at what they do. A lot of parents…hundreds that I know of…have homeschooled their kids right into universities and careers.

In a serious effort to make homeschooling easier to do, and more commonly successful in terms of education received, I’ve authored my own curriculum. It took some 15,000 hours to write, over more than a decade of work, and is intended to replace the need for schooling a student from age 5-Adult Continuing Education. The curriculum is called Connect The Thoughts (or “CTT”). It has been used by over 20,000 students worldwide over the past 10 years. Hundreds of “success stories” attest to how well CTT works.

CTT courses are written in a way that gradually allows the student to take over his own education. Each course itself largely does the teaching, relieving mom and dad of that duty unless they wish to use our daily lesson plans in various subjects as springboards for family discussion and discovery – as many families do, every day. The parent has the job of making certain the student is working and has what they need to study. (And you’ll need to find a good math program for homeschooling as we don’t provide one. There are many.)

Below are links to our site discussing each level of curriculum, and every subject at that level that we offer. (You can start any level at any time. We don’t have “semesters” that start at a certain time, and each course stands alone well.) You’ll find free videos describing how every subject and each level works. You’ll discover free samples of every course we offer. Our site offers many other services and surprises, including numerous free courses you can download and try out.

Starter is for ages 5-6, and for preliterate students of any age. It focuses on starting to develop literacy skills, while teaching about various subjects. Starter includes full two-year programs in Reading, History, Science, Creative Writing, and Living Your Life, courses that develop life and study skills for the youngest students. Every lesson plan at the Starter level works to develop literacy.

Elementary is for ages 7-8, and for students who are developing literacy. It includes two-year programs in Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing (which also teaches the parts of language at this level), and Living Your Life courses which develop life and study skills in preparation for more advanced studies to come.

Lower School (ages 9-10) offers two-year programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, P.E. Electives, and in various arts such as Animation, Music Theory, and Acting. At this level, students must read fairly well, and studies are progressively turned over to the student.

Upper School (ages 11-High School, and Adult Continuing Education) provides programs in Study Essentials, Reading and Spelling, History, Science, Creative Writing, Current Events, Literature Guides, P.E. Electives, and in arts such as Animation, Acting, Music Theory, and Music History.

For parents who wish to teach at home, but are intimidated at the thought, and for parents who just wish to improve the homeschool experience, we offer a ten course homeschool program for homeschool teachers, as well as several books about education and homeschooling today.

We want you and your children to win with homeschooling!

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