THIS THANKSGIVING, I raise my glass to the nuts. I toast Americans who care enough to fight and push and demand quality in the world around them. I give thanks to parent activists who have worked to restore phonics to reading instruction, sanity to math curricula and rigor to dumbed-down schools.
I can’t name them all, there are many. Suffice it to say that when I think of the great nuts, I think of people like the godlike — watch her thunder — Marion Joseph, the Phonics Queen recently appointed by Governor Wilson to the state board of ed. Molecular biologist Mike McKeown and statistician Paul Clopton and all the other nuts at Mathematically Correct in San Diego, who are pushing for strong math programs. Stanford’s Hoover Institution prof. Bill Evers and the dissident parents of Palo Alto. Wisconsin mother Leah Vukmir who founded Parents Raising Educational Standards in Schools. Bay Area math teacher Monica Brown and colleagues who have begged for challenging books and programs.
For their trouble, they’ve been called every name in the book — evil, mean, rigid, anti-education, anti-public school, pinheads who don’t want children to think for themselves, rote nazis, tools of the Religious Right, extremists. Nuts.
It’s true. They are nut cases. Many could afford to send their kids to private schools that cleave more closely to their idea of a solid education; instead they work to change the public schools. A thankless task. They don’t just think of helping their own children, they also want to help other people’s children — and that makes them nuts.
They make waves. They think their own thoughts. They rely on their common sense instead of common dogma. They believe in knowledge, not process- mongering. They must be crazy.
When they could be dining out, they are pouring through research on various curricula. They don’t blindly trust in the experts. Unlike many of the reporters who write about proposed standards and many board members who vote on them, these loons actually read drafts in their entirety. Folly. Worse: work!
Then they go to board meetings where they are told that their informed opinions don’t count and aren’t welcome. Good parents aren’t supposed to question educational orthodoxy. Good parents should sit up straight with their hands folded. Good parents should behave like battered wives — love the system, even when it hurts the kids.
Sometimes, these parents tell me I am brave. Sorry, I get paid to write a column. I know that what I produce will be taken seriously by someone. These parents put in months on commissions, or attending groups for parents who aren’t welcome on commissions, often only to be shunned. They pour their hearts into projects — all the while knowing that they are battling an establishment more interested in proving itself not to have been wrong than in exploring how it could improve. They labor, then they’re laughed at.
They question school authority, then fear their children may be punished for it. They stick to their principles.
This week, the PBS series “Liberty! The American Revolution” has shone the spotlight on America’s unlikely patriots — dreamers who risked all for the hope of a better world.
Modern Americans have elevated achieving personal comfort to an art form. Life is so easy that standing up for an ideal is something only quacks do. In an age when eating in all week is considered a hardship, I sometimes think such giants could not be found today. But then I think of Marion Joseph, Mike McKeown, Bill Evers, Leah Vukmir and Monica Brown.
You can read Debra J. Saunders on The Gate at www.sfgate.com.
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