- Matt - This article is dynamite, and
I really appreciate your sending it to me. I will print it out, and will
forward it. I read every single word and wept. Such tragedy; really brings
tears to one's eyes. The people inflicting this emotional and mental torture
on little children are pure evil. And to think that the federal government
provides them with our money to inflict the torture under the guise of
scientific research based reading instruction!
- And, so few good parents have the faintest
- Thank you, Matt, so much...
- Charlotte Thomson Iserbyt
- Little Manchurian Candidates
- By Matt James
- "One ring to rule them all,
one ring to find them,
- One ring to bring them all, and
in the darkness bind them."
- Our six-year-old
daughter was so excited to start school. At our first parent-teacher
conference, Barb and I expected to hear the usual compliments and heartwarming
anecdotes about our bright little angel. From our experiences with
activities like T-ball and soccer, or dance and music recitals, we had
learned that parents always say nice things about the children of others.
If the compliments are sometimes unrealistic or excessive, well, parenting
is tough work. We can all use the encouragement.
- I guess
we had been spoiled. Jenny's teacher got right to the point.
She had some negatives to address. For one thing, Jenny was struggling
with her reading. The teacher confessed that one of the most difficult
parts of her job was deflating parents with the news that their children
were simply not exceptional. Jenny was, at best, an average reader.
She was not an Eagle; she was a Pony. Our job was to learn to enjoy
her as a 40-watt bulb rather than a bright light. Was it my imagination,
or did this middle-aged matron's sweet smile contain a trace of malice
as she related these tidings?
- I was confused
by this assessment of Jenny's reading abilities because it simply didn't
fit in with her prior history. She had a love affair with books for
her entire childhood. We have a photograph of her at 11 months of
age staring earnestly at the contents of an open book. I remember
reading to her when she was three. I stopped for some reason, but
she continued the narration. She knew her stories by heart.
Like many other children, Jenny had learned to read at home. She
was a bookworm, and she was an experienced and passionate reader before
she ever started first grade.
- The teacher went on
to explain that Jenny cried too much at school and that we needed to correct
this problem with the appropriate discipline. Barb and I exchanged
glances but didn't argue. We were in shock.
- I was curious
about the crying. Jenny was such a happy child. I asked her that
night what made her sad at school. Expecting to hear about something
on the playground, I was surprised by her answer. The listening-hour
stories made her sad:
- Once upon a
time there was a daddy duck with seven ducklings. They ranged in
age down to the youngest (who reminded Jenny of a first grader).
The daddy was mean. One day he demanded that all his children learn
three tasks, such as running, swimming, and diving. If a duckling
was unable to master all of the tasks, he would be banished from the family
to live with the chickens. The youngsters struggled under the cruel
eye of their father. When it came to diving, the first grader floundered
and was sent away to live with the chickens.
- This was the
story Jenny related, in her own words, as an example. I heard it
told a second time several years later, by my cousin Nancy, as a sample
of objectionable curriculum. We were impressed with the coincidence,
since our families resided in different states.
- Jenny told me
she also cried over stories in her readers. They made her sad and frustrated
in some way. What a mess! In one evening we had found out that
Jenny was unhappy at school, that her teacher thought she was a poor reader
and a dim bulb, and that she heard mean tales during listening-hour that
I wouldn't repeat to hardened convicts. What in the name of heaven was
going on at this school?
- I was determined to
get to the bottom of things. Since they didn't send books home with
students in the younger grades, I went to the school the following day
and spent a couple of hours reviewing the elementary readers. As
I read, my eyes opened wider and wider. I had assumed the purpose of the
reading curriculum was to stimulate the juvenile imagination and teach
reading skills. Instead, I saw material saturated with, to borrow
another parent's language, "an unadvertised agenda promoting parental
alienation, loss of identity and self-confidence, group-dependence, passivity,
- I once
daydreamed through a basic psychology class in medical school which described
the work of Pavlov and B.F Skinner in the twentieth century. Their
conclusions were that animal (and human) behaviors can be encouraged or
discouraged by associating them with pleasure or pain. This is such
an obvious fact of nature. It is amazing that anyone would bother
to prove it with experimentation, as if the carrot and the stick haven't
been used since time began.
- In behaviorist
experiments various stimuli, such as food or electrical shocks, were used
as rewards or deterrents. Over time, due to animal memory, a pattern
of behavior could be established without food or shocks coming into play.
This educational or training process is called "conditioning."
With enough conditioning, the dog will stop chasing cars.
- As I read
the stories and poems in Jenny's readers, I was astonished to discover
that they were alive, in their own way, with the theories and practices
of these dead scientists. But the animals to be trained weren't dogs
or rats. They were our young students. Pleasure and pain signals
were embedded into the reading material in a consistent way. Given
the vicarious nature of the reading experience, and by identifying with
the protagonists in the stories, it was our first graders who were "learning"
certain attitudes and behaviors.
- When a child-figure
in the stories split away from his group, for example, he would get rained
on, his toes would get cold in the snow, or he would experience some other
form of discomfort or torment. Similar material was repeated ad infinitum.
Through their reading, our students would feel the stinging rain and the
pain of freezing toes. They would learn the lesson like one of Pavlov's
dogs: avoid the pain, stay with the group.
- The stories
in the readers consistently associated individual initiative with emotional
or physical pain. Consider the example of the little squirrel whose wheel
falls off his wagon. When he tries to replace it, the wagon rides
with an awkward and embarrassing bump, noticeable to his friends, who then
tease him about it. Another attempt to repair the wheel results in
an accident, with bruising and bleeding and more humiliation. The
cumulative effect of this and similar story lines, given the vicarious
nature of the reading experience, would be to discourage initiative and
reduce self-confidence in the first grader.
- Animal dads,
moms, and grandparents were portrayed over and over in various combinations
as mean, stupid, unreliable, bungling, impotent or incompetent. Relationships
with their children were almost always dysfunctional; communication and
reciprocal trust were non-existent. A toxic mom or dad, for instance,
might have stepped in to help our youthful squirrel repair his wagon, only
to make matters worse and wreak emotional havoc in the process. Jenny's
heart would be lacerated by stories which constantly portrayed parent/child
relationships as strained, cruel, or distant. I could see her crying
with hurt or frustration.
- It occurred
to me that over the long run, at some level of consciousness, our daughter
would have to hold us accountable for permitting her to be tortured in
school. Logically, Barb and I had to be stupid, unreliable, uncaring, or
impotent, just like the parents in the books. By sending her to school,
we were validating the message in her readers, contributing significantly
to the parental alienation curriculum. Continuing in her school-based
reading series, Jenny's relationship with us would have become tarnished
or eroded, and an element of bitterness or cynicism might have crept into
- I borrow
the term "anti-intellectualism" to describe another dominant
theme in the readers. Many of the compositions were, essentially,
word salad. They lacked intrinsic interest, coherence, or continuity,
and they often demonstrated a sort of anti-rationality. The stories
and the corresponding questions seemed to require the student to suspend
the natural operations of his intellect, such as the desire to make sense
out of things or the impulse to be curious. Under this yoke, a student
could learn to hate reading or even thought itself.
- The following
"story" and "comprehension" questions are representative
of the anti-intellectualism that I found in the readers:
- Once upon a
time there was a little green mouse who hopped after a tiger onto a yellow
airplane. The plane turned into a big red bird in flight, and the
mouse turned into a blue pumpkin. The pumpkin fell to the ground
and its seeds grew into pots and pans. Blah, blah, blah
- 1) "What
color was the mouse?"
- 2) "Why
do mice turn into pumpkins?"
- 3) "How
do seeds grow?"
- I can
see children getting frustrated over material like this. It is debatable
as to which facet of the exercise is more onerous, the reading or the "comprehension."
I almost incline to the latter. Among other concerns, I wonder if
it is a good thing to pressure children to respond to stupid or unanswerable
questions. Such a process would lead to passivity and a loss of confidence,
to a little engine that couldn't.
- According to
Pavlov and B.F. Skinner, repetition of unpleasant reading experiences would
turn a student off to the reading activity. Predictable consequences
would be a child who hates reading and loses out on vast intellectual benefits
and development. In addition, his reading failure would tax his self-confidence,
and he could be branded with one of society's popular labels such as dyslexia.
- I considered Jenny's
reading struggles in the context of performance expectations as well as
grading and comparisons with other children. It seemed as if she
faced a nasty dilemma: force herself to read alienating material, or disengage
and then disappoint parents, teachers and self. What an impossible
predicament for a young child. Once sunny and blue, the skies had
turned dark and stormy for our happy little girl whose only offense had
been to attend her friendly neighborhood school at the innocent age of
- It has
occurred to me that the cause of America's illiteracy crisis has been discovered.
It is the reading curriculum in our schools. Unfortunately, the damage
to children appears to extend way beyond reading failure. One wonders
if the hidden agenda in the readers has created our victim culture, a generation
of withdrawn and resentful children, alienated from themselves, their parents,
society, books and ideas.
- I was reminded
of the plight of our neighbors. The father and mother were loving,
dedicated parents. He was an accountant and she was a homemaker and
community leader. They were nice people, and so were their children.
The two teenagers were bright but got poor grades and hated school.
They hung out with the crowd and participated in the kind of self-destructive
behaviors that are commonplace today. I asked these young people
why they would behave in ways which would cause pain for themselves or
their loved ones. They smiled quizzically and professed not to know.
Maybe the ideas that moved them truly were subconscious.
- We are all familiar
with kids like this (Our own kids are kids like this, or they come too
close for comfort). They spend a lot of time "doing nothing"
with like-minded friends. Passive-aggressive with suppressed individuality,
they all seem cut from the same mold. Self mutilation with tattoos
and body armor is almost universal. Some of their groups are virtually
masochistic cults. Sadism is the other side of the masochism coin.
- That so many of these
dysfunctional teenagers come from loving homes and neat families is inexplicable
and shocking, until you realize that they have all been tortured together
in school since the first grade. They are a batch of little Manchurian
Candidates with attitude, victims of the obscure behaviorism that I found,
and that others have found before and since, in school readers.
- Barb and I had
seen some perplexing changes in Jenny's reading since she started in first
grade. For one thing, she had stopped reading her favorite books
and stories at home. Before starting school, she had feasted on Grimm's
Fairy Tales. Although she still begged us to read these to her, she
now explained that she was not supposed to read them herself, according
to her understanding from her teacher, because they contained big words
and content in advance of her abilities. Barb and I, holding our
tongues, exchanged tortured grimaces and cross-eyed glances.
- When reviewing
the school readers, I had noticed an impoverished vocabulary, composed
mostly of three and four letter words. I brought this up with the
teacher. She explained that the readers were integrated into a district
policy that no more than five hundred new words be introduced to students
during any grade level. The idea was to protect children from the
dizzying and confusing effects of an overabundance of words and ideas.
I nodded as if I understood, but I didn't really get it.
- Barb and I had clearly
used the wrong approach with Jenny. We had allowed her to read anything
she wanted and had provided her with a flourishing home library.
Furthermore, we had encouraged her to run around in the grassy meadows
and on the sandy beaches. She must have collided with great numbers
of unfamiliar words and ideas, as well as a perilous diversity of flowers
and sea shells. It's a wonder she survived at all.
- We considered
the various elements of Jenny's brief experience in first grade. She
had a clueless teacher. She was regressing in her reading skills,
vocabulary, and enthusiasm. She was being indoctrinated with character
destroying qualities like passivity and group dependence. Her intellectual
development was being stunted and she was being bombarded with a curriculum
of parental alienation.
- Judging by her crying in the classroom,
she was part of a captive audience being repeatedly exposed to painful
stimuli. To put it plainly, she was the victim of ongoing torture
and cruelty. Along with her classmates, she was becoming, as one
of her school poems pointed out, "Small, small, small, just a tiny,
tiny, tiny piece of it all."
- In our state
at that time, compulsory education began at the age of eight. Jenny
was not obliged by law to attend school. With our various concerns,
we pulled her out of school while we tried to figure out what to do.