Why We Have a Generation of Narcissists: My Response

There’s a Current Events and Hot Topics conversation happening right now on CafeMom pertaining to a Fox News article about why we have a generation of narcissists. The writer puts forth his ideas. Here I’m giving you mine. If you disagree, fine. But it’s what I witnessed from my window on the world during a certain time in our nation’s educational history, and I know my view is shared by many.

For those of you who missed the 1980s and early ’90s, it all started back then. Roughly, from the moment Bill Clinton took office. Not that it really had anything to do with him. Education reform happens regardless of who’s in office.

The biggest and wealthiest of the world’s corporate leaders knew we were headed for globalization. They needed globalization for increased profits. After all, they knew jobs would be going overseas. And so they brought in social change agents and “educrats” to dumb-down America. The six Federal Education Labs (spread geographically across the U.S.) went into action, creating the new curriculums.

The federal government released its Tool Kit, an actual downloadable document, which laid out step-by-step instructions for school districts on how to make education reforms that were already in the works seem like they were grass roots instead of top-down. The NEA (the national teachers union), put out documents on recommended tactics for teachers and administrators on how to handle disgruntled parents who were unhappy with the new approaches; how to disarm them with “divide and conquer” methods and take away their power.

I was told that I and other parents who were also upset that the teacher had no instructional materials for teaching phonics could not meet as a group with the principal in her office. We would have to come singly. I had been hired on that year as an on-call substitute teacher for the entire school. The principal called me to the office one day and said if I didn’t stop talking to other parents about the fact that the teacher was not teaching reading, I would lose my job. In fact, she would run me out of the system.

Some, like me, began keeping files. I met other parents with files, too, from other parts of the country. I learned that self-esteem classes and values clarification classes had become common place. One, promoted by Lions Club International, was called QUEST. It had kids spying on their parents and writing down anything the parents said to hurt their feelings. It also had students questioning laws established for public safety, like stopping at a red light. This was onlysuch curriculum in use at the time. It was used to undermine parental authority. How can we motivate our kids to learn if we have no authority?

I was playing darts with a Frenchman at the home of a friend one day, and told him about the situation in our schools. He said, “Why would a country want to do that to its people?”

“Accelerated Learning” was another flawed education reform strategy responsible for producing a narcissists. Teachers jumped into advanced concepts without first teaching foundational knowledge. These concepts were more important than basic facts, educators promised. Learning facts is boring!  My daughter’s first grade teacher began teaching graph-making instead of simple arithmetic. Kids cannot know what they don’t know. They were being dumbed-down.

Mastery-learning guru William Spady, author of the Outcomes-Based Education model, brought his in-service workshops to local school districts, promoting a new paradigm that took the focus off student out-put; and the late Theodore Sizer, former chairman of Brown University’s Department of Education – and the most highly endowed educator of the day, according to a Wall Street Journal article – brought in the Coalition of Essential Schools, which was called something different everywhere and simply not announced to parents. In New Mexico it was called RE:Learning.

I saw it all come toppling down. If it wasn’t happening where you lived, you were lucky. But it happened in more places than people realize. And they never knew what hit them. The trend became a way of educating students.

At the time, Goals 2000 was the new dictate. It had standards and pedagogy and assessment strategies for teachers and admins. And those standards came with a carrot called funding. Teachers who were not amenable to the changes were given early retirement, or given lesser assignments or sent to lousy schools. Elementary teachers were told not to teach phonics.

They hastily rewrote all the state standards to match the federal standards. It was a joke. They were all identical. And they were using the workplace model called TQM (Total Quality Management), adapted for schools, which relegated parents to the role of “stakeholders.” It took power away from the people who mattered most, the ones who are ultimately responsible for their children’s education. Parents who had been educated by the old standards of the ’50s and ’60s had been hoodwinked.

I saw the country divided into zones for vocational education, i.e., School-to-Work. I served on the NM Home Economics Advisory Committee and saw the map of the U.S. they had laid out. Each area of the country was assigned industries, from daycare to construction, from tourism to computers. Kids were to be groomed for the workplace starting in kindergarten.

I have a quote that is part of Congressional Record, from an elected official, saying that in the future it will be more important for kids to get along with people of other ethnicities than to know how to read.

I wept when I learned it was happening around me. And the people in charge of NM 2000, the state arm of the federal act, had been brainwashed. They all thought it was greatest thing since sliced bread. Every night I worked with my kids on imbecilic homework assignments, like word searches and acrostics, and sometimes wrote notes across the top of the page, things like, “This work is meaningless.”

I was at one meeting, quite by accident, at which Rockefellar Foundation people were writing a grant for “Communities of Learners,” an education reform model. They’d invited local teachers and administrators to participate, but really, the Industrial Areas Foundation’s local arm, Albuquerque Interfaith, and their local head, a former priest, was running the show. This organization was founded by Rules for Radicals author and labor organizer Sol Alinsky, and used aggressive strong-arm tactics all over the country to make social change. Their leaders attended workshops on manipulation, and they used manipulative tactics to write a pre-ordained agenda into the grant. No one with another idea or opinion stood a chance.

I couldn’t believe I witnessed that. When I talked to Samuel Blumenfeld, the late publisher of the Blumenfeld Education Newsletter and arguably the foremost education documentor of the 20th century, he said it was all laid out in the Federal Department of Education’s Tool Kit, the most devious document I’d ever seen. They were using quasi-religious groups like the Industrial Areas Foundation to fake grass roots involvement in education change in America.

Communities of Learners was a do-nothing approach. It promoted  more preparation time for teachers, longer school days, and social services on school premises. Schools were suppposed to be like places to live, not places where teachers taught your kids and sent them home.

All these models of school reform benefitted the people writing and producing them, with grants from major foundations like Rockefellar and Carnegie and Pew. It benefitted the publishing houses. And the people doing all the teachers’ in-service workshops to change the way they thought about teaching. But they did nothing to impress upon children the need to strive, the need to pursue excellence.

What can I say? It changed the way schools do business, and our kids were the losers.

As part of the new paradigm, the standards put the student- instead of the teacher – at the center the classroom ( I have my state’s new-at the time – Standards for Education document that shows this). “Time” became the new Variable. It used to be the Constant. “Grades.” which were formerly the Variable, became the Constant. So in other words, as long as it took for kids to learn something, they would keep teaching it, regurgitating, reworking. When kids began to see that they could not fail, the stakes went down. The need to strive disappeared. In my kids’ sixth grade social studies class, all they learned for the entire year was how to make maps! Why would anyone think this was a comprehensive social studies curriculum?

The new teacher packet I saved from that time details instructions and inspiration from the principal. It reads like the Communest Manifesto. Groups are important, the paper said, no longer the individual. Group learning, not individual learning was tantamount. It was all new, and the way of the future, my child’s teacher said. No wonder kids stopped caring.

In some schools, like my children’s, grades became a function of HOW WELL A CHILD COULD POTENTIALLY SUCCEED. The method is called On-Going Authentic Assessment, one teacher told me. Pencil-Paper tests went out the window. The principal said she was adhering to the SCANS Report (The Secretary of Labor’s) Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills. I had to go to UNM to look it up on ERIC, an education search engine. Our kids were being prepared for the workplace of the future – in a marriage of education and labor. They would not be told to strive for their personal best. After all, without jobs, they would need to tone down their career goals. It all sounded positively Skinnerian. They were now being told they could be just the way they were, learn according to their own inclinations. There would be no punishment for failing because it was no longer possible to fail. Their classes included “multi-cultural ed” and “self-esteem.” It was more important for kids to feel good about themselves than to actually strive.

When I confronted her about her approach to teaching reading, my daughter’s first grade teacher told me that if kids were exposed to books, by the time they entered middle school they would just “blossom.” I imagined my daughter about a foot taller, sprouting leaves. This was “whole language” verbiage. I told the woman she was no longer my daughter’s teacher. End of story.

The reform continues. The names may change, but it’s still happening today

Unfortunately, there’s no “Honesty in Education” act forcing schools to inform parents of their pedagogical policies and assessment strategies. And parents have to dig to find out who’s funding the changes. Back then, it all circumvented the legislative process.

When parents become horrified enough, they take their kids out. The circus simply continues.

As a sort of disclaimer, I apologize to those stalwart teachers who have remained true to the profession. I wish them well.

But I believe the major players remain the same, and children continue to be groomed for a workplace that makes giants even bigger.

I did this research for three years. I still have the files. FFG


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