The Tacet Underground

What if He didn't exist? At all. What if long ago, visiting ETs decided that the easiest way to keep these creatures (us) complacent was to chisel out some stony rules and promise a heaven and a hell, much like a kindergarten teacher promises stickers for good behavior and time out for bad behavior? Sure - it's crazy. But just for a minute, what if?

What if the bible is not the 'word of God' as it is so flippantly called while held up and venerated? What if you discover that it is a collection of stories jotted down by the fallible and earthly predecessors of Aesop and the Brothers Grimm, later bastardized and edited and tilted to meet the selfish needs of a corrupt church hierarchy?

What if you woke up tomorrow and none of it made sense anymore? 'Why would an all-seeing and all-knowing god be vengeful?' 'Why revere a book that promotes misogyny, revenge, slavery and killing?' 'Am I a thinking person, or was I indoctrinated before I had a chance to make a choice?' What if it all seems so remote and unbelievable that when someone brings it up, your brain has to click into gear: "Oh yeah! - I forgot that people still believe in that!"

Imagine how truly looney it would then seem if you heard the DOJ's very own Imp of Darkness justifying the cruel and inhumane treatment of emigrating children by quoting a bible verse. Imagine how genuinely frightening it would be to hear former White House aide Omorosa Manigault Newman report that Vice President Pence thinks Jesus tells him to say things. For the almost one out of four Americans that do not believe in God, it is chilling.

The Founders were very clear about the need for separation of church and state:

"The purpose of separation of church and state is to keep forever from these shores the ceaseless strife that has soaked the soil of Europe in blood for centuries."

In this, one of the most fatherly-feeling quotes from our Founders, James Madison and the other framers are looking out for us in the way that parents try to impart hard-learned wisdom upon their children. How many times have we wished our kids would listen to us?

There is a musical term, tacet. This tells the musician to do nothing - still pay attention to what's going on, but do nothing. To make a sweeping and reckless generalization, atheists know how to tacet. It is simply easier to nod and smile and say nothing than it is to get into it. Sure, there are atheists at every turn that have no problem declaring their non-belief, but they didn't get there without also learning how to deal with feelings of disenfranchisement, ostracization and condemnation.

It isn't always easy to say, "I don't believe in god" when those around you do and when the indoctrination you've received makes you feel many emotions - but primarily guilt - just for entertaining the idea. Even for the loud proclaimers, it is usually easier, quicker and less trouble to tacet.

The approximately 25% of Americans that make up this Tacet Underground form a much larger subset of the population than the 1% that are Muslim, the 2% that are Jewish, the 2% that are Mormon, the 4% that are either LGBT or Q, the 12% that are Black or the 19% that are Hispanics/Latino, yet these other groups are constantly protesting, demanding and making themselves the news while atheists are mostly content to tacet and pay attention.

In 1795 John Adams said, "The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."  Atheists take this seriously and are deeply offended when ignorant people like Donald Trump pretend that it is.

The Vice President's proclamation that he is a Christian first, a conservative second and a Republican third is deeply offensive to the (at least) eighty-some million Americans that do not believe in his god and consider that statement alone to be grounds for him to be removed from office. On the other hand, even nonbelievers may sometimes hope that hell exists, comforted by visions of Jeff Sessions roasting marshmallows with Beelzebub.

As has happened over a long period of years with the LGBTQ community, 'coming out' as an atheist carries less of a social stigma with each passing day, although small town folk and conservative communities may still find a way to disparage anything out of the norm. Time passes and the number of people that distinguish themselves as atheist will increase as the stigma lessens and the dark side of religion is continually revealed by people like Jeff Sessions, Dana Rohrabacher and Donald Trump who insist on evoking the Bible and Jesus for evil.

By 2020 the Tacet Underground could include not one in four citizens as it does now, but one in three. That would be over a hundred million Americans that don't want to hear religious dribble or quotes from the bible, but instead want logical and well thought-through plans based on research, testing and evaluation. At some point our politicians are going to have to grapple with the fact that one out of three Americans think the bible-thumpers and scripture-quoters and evil-doers are more than a little nutty and start giving us more than the incessant stale rhetoric about abortion, guns, gays and God.

School is for Winning

"I don' wanna go to school!"

How many times was that phrase uttered across America today? And how can we be failing our children to that degree? Children are nothing but curiosity! They are literally programmed for learning. How has the very institution set up to feed that curiosity and facilitate that learning become a place that often engenders icky feelings, scared feelings and sometimes even defeated feelings for our children? Really - what the hell are we doing?

As our nation emerged from colonies to country, educating our young was a local affair, each community raising a building and money to meet local needs. Often, simply being able to read and write qualified one to be a teacher. There were no books about child psychology … heck, the term psychology wasn't coined until 1879! 'Spare the rod and spoil the child' were the watchwords of the day, and children being children was dealt with at school the way it was at home - punitively. The fact that four hundred years later we are employing the same Puritanical values and approach to education in spite of the fact that we have read Piaget and Skinner and Bandura is a granite testament to the power of the status quo and the keepers thereof.

We have got to stop telling kids that they failed. No more!
Education must be about winning.

The standard A through F grading system was devised at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts in 1897. Originally the lowest grade at Mount Holyoke was an 'E', however after one year administrators purposely changed the failing grade to 'F', and so it has been since. These grades don't help anyone but college admissions officers and overall they do far more damage than good - especially in elementary school. Considering all we have achieved and learned and undertaken in the last one hundred and twenty years, any system or procedure that was initiated in 1897 and is still in use is certainly worth examining and reevaluating.

We must get beyond the well-intentioned but silly idea that all children should be treated the same and given the same opportunities. It sounds nice, but it serves to limit many children by necessarily including them in classes or activities for which they are truly not qualified or interested, as the classes and/or activities for which they are qualified or interested do not exist. Additionally, and more damaging, it mandates that all children be forced onto the same academic path, the status quo endorsing the notion that it is the only path, where they are measured and ranked in relation to each other.

We don't actually want our children to be treated the same and given the same opportunities - we want our children to be treated as special and unique creatures, with opportunities provided for them to grow into the best them that they can be. It is important to acknowledge that for the majority of our youth, the best them that they can be is not going to include advanced knowledge or understanding of the classidemics - math, science or literature, and THAT'S OK!!!

It is absurd that the word intelligence is typically applied exclusively to those with an aptitude for the classidemics. Everyone is intelligent! Everyone has an aptitude for something: art, engines, computer code, cooking, music, mechanics … what are you good at? Are you not intelligent? Instead of telling students who do not possess an aptitude for the classidemics that they are not intelligent, let's help them discover the area/topic/subject(s) in which they have an aptitude/intelligence and then nurture that gift.

Of course the curriculum still needs to include readin', writin' and 'rithmetic, as well as geography and computers and music and art! When report card time comes around, there needs to be only one column for each subject, into which teachers will provide a subjective assessment of the student's effort ranging from 0 to 10. Here's why that is better than A through F:

Jordan is someone we would (cruelly) call a 'C Student', meaning she does not have a strong aptitude for the classidemics and her results on standardized tests place her directly in the middle of the curve. She pays attention and does her homework but cannot seem to score higher than a C. If we continually give her report cards with a letter grade C for math, despite her honest and sincere efforts, she may very well get discouraged, think less of herself, be told she is less by others and stop trying. If we continually give her report cards with a ranking of 8 or 9 for effort in math, due to her honest and sincere efforts, she wins and she continues to make efforts. Either way, she knows no more or less math in the end!

So instead of trying to force X amount of a course curriculum into a student's brain, the goal would be for the student to learn as much of the curriculum as they can effectively process, retain, and use; which in many cases will be more than they would have accomplished by struggling through the entire curriculum. Why not let them have this knowledge and a win, instead of the same knowledge and a feeling of being 'less than' or 'average'?

A lack of effort or caring is one thing, but to tell a young person that tried their best to do something that they are not naturally inclined to do, that they 'failed', is like kicking the dog for not being able to fly. Let's please stop penalizing kids for not doing well in subjects we knew they wouldn't do well in before they cracked the book. At the very least, grade A through E again and ditch the 'F'.

We've got to employ new methods.
Education can now be effectively personalized.

Things have changed. A lot. They always do. Styles, music, words - all alive and evolving. Fifty years ago, a popsicle meant a Twin Pop. The Twin Pop was meant to be divided. It had two sticks and an indentation in the center that made it very easy to split it in half - to share.

There was one TV in the house and watching it was a family activity. You shared not only the program, but the time together to laugh and maybe cry and sometimes learn a bit. Most families shared one phone, and some folks shared that on a party-line with their neighbors! Young people shared their music via fifteen inch woofers that could be heard around the block, and sharing the old bench car seats could make a night at the submarine races magical. Society was in a sharing mindset. We're not now. We are very much about the individual - except at school.

Today's young people have their own phone - a device that is also a personal TV, radio and stereo. Popsicles are a treat for one and bucket seats have aided the love life of no one. We are a 'pay attention to me', 'pay attention to my kid', 'pay attention to my blog' society. This is how today's children are growing up, it is what is normal for them, and the way we try to teach them must adjust to the unstoppable trend.

Learning through the use of video presentations/documentaries, interactive software applications, podcasts of lectures and other resources already at the students' fingertips can all be effective, especially if followed up with discussion, and can free up that teacher to give personal attention where needed. Such autonomous learning also allows students to advance at their pace, not hampered by students with different aptitudes, and enables all students to pursue studies in the area(s) in which they excel/have interest. Available resources make independent and small group projects/learning more feasible than ever, and at an earlier age than ever. The ability to interact with schools and students across the globe presents almost infinite possibilities.

However, none of these modes of learning fit into the classic shared learning space, schoolroom model. Will we adapt proactively and give our young people a step up in the world, or will we continue to complain about property taxes and underpay teachers and underfund schools and lag even further behind the rest of the world? Again, what the hell are we doing?

Which brings us back to where we started. So how does any of this make kids want to go to school?

The social reasons (kid issues) that might keep children from wanting to go to school can, in the allotted space, be only mentioned, acknowledged and left for another blog. The academic reasons (grown-up issues) that might keep children from wanting to go to school will surely be lessened if we do away with A through F, allow and encourage students to nurture their unique intelligence and stop making students wrong when they've tried.

The pressure from parents and teachers and grandparents to "do well in school" is misguided. It is hard to live up to and hard to achieve and is the wrong measure. By replacing "Are you doing well (getting good grades) in school?" with "What are you learning?" or "Are you giving it your best effort?" or "How do you feel about your progress?", 16% fewer children will resist going to school.

Remove the pressure from parents to bring home a report card with "all A's and B's" or whatever the household standard is, and another 19% fewer kids want to stay home today. Be proud and happy when your child learns, regardless of how much or little or what grade was given, and 11% fewer children will become anxious when they have to go to school. Enable, empower and encourage students to spend part of their day exploring and learning about things that interest them, and 26% fewer students will feel yukky in their tummy tomorrow morning.

People that win usually enjoy it and want to win again. Students that win in school will want to go to school. Anything is easier said than done, but it really is simple.

Equipped with all we now know about psychology, the history of education in America and its results and about currently available technology, how can we not shake this four-hundred-year-old punitive, pressure-filled, unthinking, often cruel, sometimes demoralizing approach and begin to educate 21st century children as though we are living in the 21st century?

Are we going to be able to adapt or are we just not as clever as we think we are? Can we find a crowbar big enough to squeak open our wallets and fund schools like responsible citizens who care about our children? Can we be brave enough to decide to make school about children winning?

"C'mon Mom - I don' wanna be late for school." That's what we want to hear!

A graduate of Portland State University, Steve (Reeno) Kloser is the author of Beginning Band - A Guide to Success and Let's Make Music - Classroom Recorder Course. He is also an accomplished teacher, conductor and composer, having penned numerous pieces including La Vida and Fly With Me.

Teacher, cook, Packers fan and proud American, Reeno's usually slanted outlook often presents an unlikely perspective on issues old and new.

Reeno currently lives in Portland, OR.

Follow Reeno on Twitter

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