Bad Plans for Mythological Goals

You will think, poets, performers and non-breeders, that this post has nothing to do with you, but I think it does. If you want to know why America can hardly contain its disdain for our way-of-life, you can just spend your morning the way I spent mine. Jaw clenched and fists curled, I just walked out of a curriculum meeting at my son’s school where they discussed the local, state and federal approach to educating my kids.

We begin with the assumption that we are falling behind other Westernized nations and are no longer competitively creating the scientists and computer wizards that will compete in the Future Global Economy. This Assumption has become a Proof, if you don’t mind my high school geometry allusion, because it’s a constant part of our news intake. Do a google search on “U.S. is falling behind…” and the auto-fill gives you “in education” as your first option.

So what does this mean?

1) 50% of reading should be non-fiction. Because a biography about someone who actually did live is far more important than historical fiction, in competing globally. Reading about the Peloponnesian War is totally good and reading The Lord Of The Rings is totally bad.

2) We can’t do math that has no real world applications. This has led my son to come home with homework that says, “We can divide apples into bags of one, bags of ten and bags of a hundred…” Which, OF COURSE, led my son to say, “why would you put one apple in a bag by itself?” and then, a short time later, “How could you lift a bag with a hundred apples in it? Wouldn’t the handle break?”

3) Social Studies is non-narrative. There is deep discussion of the vague responsibilities we have as community members, but no celebration of any one person.

4) Science is hands-on, actual real-world applications. Lots of stuff about how animals behave, or experiments that can be replicated.

Jesus, it just went on and on. Take your kids to the store and time the walk, have them figure out the prices of stuff. Have your kids read the PTA bulletins we send home and have them tell you the information. Have them fill out their Citizenship homework.

I thought my head was gonna friggin’ splode.

Couple things –


We’re just not. We’re not. Go look at the scores, we’re fine. The scores are all so close together that saying “we’re number 11 in math in the westernized world” is like saying “we’re fourth in the world in shoe ownership.” WE ALL HAVE MORE SHOES THAN ANYONE HAS EVER HAD IN THE HISTORY OF THE GODDAM WORLD.

Plus, we’ve never scored any better than we’re scoring now. There’s this ridiculous assumption, permeating ALL of our collective self-understandings, that there was a time when America was just *killing it* and we need to get back there. For conservatives it was the 50s and the 80s, for liberals it was the 60s and the 70s, and for assholes in my generation it was 1993 when flannel was awesome… But it doesn’t matter, that’s all a myth. IT WAS NEVER BETTER THAN IT IS NOW.

2) Math and Science are beautiful outside their real-world applications. My son came home with a post-it note of the number 27. He had two rows of ten and seven boxes. I said, “Oh man, I love 27,” and he asked me why.

It’s three cubed. It’s nine times three and, like every other number multiplied by nine, the digits in the sum add up to nine. It’s right in the middle of a stretch of numbers (5×5, 13×2, 7×4) that are all so strange and beautiful. Also, it’s the last breath of every month, it’s the age I was divorced and thought my life was over, it’s a hundred personal things.

It’s not two bags of ten apples and seven bags on one apple. That’s just… It’s just goddam stupid.

Social Studies is the story of individual people making decisions, struggling and changing the world. Even the robber-barons were people who made decisions. And if you think baking-soda and vinegar eruptions are more beautiful than the behavior of sub-atomic particles, then you’ve never met my kid and his friends. They get the beauty of an element, of an atom. They don’t need to know the life cycle of a squirrel just because they live in New York.

3) They’re preparing our kids for a future world, assuming it’s gonna be like this now, when it never has been. There were search engines before Google, there were social media sites before Facebook, but there wasn’t any *there* there yet. The people who made the earlier sites weren’t dumb, their sites weren’t bad, their timing was off. They weren’t *lucky*.

What if my kid becomes a plumber? And then… Holy shit, fracking actually changes the chemical make-up of the water and every single pipe and drain in the North East has to be replaced. My kid’s suddenly sitting on an empire of 200 plumbers and there are waiting lists two years long to get his services.

Couldn’t possibly happen, right? Just like the people today who wrote jokey emails to each other and goofed around with photoshop couldn’t *possibly* be making a fortune providing smart content for corporate twitter feeds and graphic designs for thousands of start-ups.


Look, I know… School sucks. I get it. In fact, screw you, I get it way better than you. It was literally insufferable for me – I had to stop going, I couldn’t bear it.

But then let’s all just admit that this is bullshit, and quit trying to pretend that we’re doing it better now. Don’t ask me to give to the PTA to bring in a teaching artist once a month to get all 1400 kids at my school to do a twenty minute sing-along, it’s NOT DOING ANYTHING.

We’re not doing it any better. When my kids are thirty, they’re all gonna give each other wry smiles and mock “Common Core”, it’s gonna be a joke about endless testing, endless word problems and real-world applications and… they’re not gonna feel any *worse* for it. They’re gonna be fine, the new world will *barely resemble* this world.

But I’m calling shenanigans. They can talk STEM all they want, they can panic about the tests, they can “suggest” we push our kids to “45 minutes of reading every night by April”, but I’m just gonna nod and smile.

And then I’m gonna tell my kids what makes a photon so amazing to me. I’m gonna let my kids watch My Little Pony instead of reading “Grover Cleveland, A Life”. I’m gonna give them legos and say, “See if you can build something that doesn’t make any sense at all.”

All year, they’ve asked the students to write one sentence per spelling word, to use it in a sentence. Barnaby decided instead to write a story about Rogerdt, an astronaut, who has visited a dozen or so planets at this point and met a wide array of aliens. He uses sometimes two or three spelling words in a sentence instead of one sentence each.

His teachers give him bonus points every time, and I can’t help but feel like part of that is just them being grateful that someone is doing *something* that isn’t in Lockstep. A moment away from this breathless, real-world Science, Technology And Math prep. Because as much as I might hate all this, I bet you a thousand bucks that the teachers hate it even more.