Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

One Faith, One Cornbread, and One Reading Method

by Susan Ohanian

Vermont Society for the Study of Education (VSSE) Senior Fellow Alis Headlam’s remarks in the Rutland Herald on Sept. 6, 2007, were picked up by the Liberal Politics US blogger in a national survey of discontent about NCLB reauthorization, which is the corporate politico name for the federal takeover of public school curriculum. In Alis Headlam’s words:

Schools and teachers no longer have a say in how reading is taught. Tomorrow it will be math and science. The imposition of a simplistic teaching model is detrimental to both teaching and learning, and ignores what good educators know: Students learn in many different ways. Ignoring this is tantamount to child abuse. . . .

Other than publishing an occasional op ed, the Vermont media have remained indifferent to the ways the federally-imposed curriculum guidelines imposed on schools applying for NCLB Reading First grants distort very basic Vermont values. When VSSE held a press conference in Montpelier to launch the publication of A Roadblock in Vermont’s Design for Education, a small book exposing the highjacking of tenets about education reached through discussion in communities throughout Vermont, not one member of the media showed up.

In marching to the corporate-politicos' tune blaring out of Washington, D. C., the Vermont Department of Education has strayed far from the principles of The Vermont Design for Education, a statement of belief about how children learn issued by their predecessors at the Department of Education in 1968. You can no longer fimd The Design on the DOE website, but VSSE displays it proudly. We believe in its principles and pledge our commitment to spreading word about these principles.

Counting student art work, the Vermont Design was 25 pages long and covered all curriculum. The Vermont Department of Education application for an NCLB Reading First grant, covering just the federally-imposed rules for K-3 reading, contains no student artwork and is 196 pages long.

In 1968, the Vermont Department of Education wrote, “Education in Vermont, if it is to move forward, must have a goal toward which to move, a basic philosophy which combines the best which is known about learning, children, development, and human relations with the unique and general needs and desires of Vermont communities.”

As soon as word got out about the remarkable document, 30,000 out-of-staters applied to teach in Vermont.

In his 1971 letter accompanying the fifth edition of The Vermont Design, Education Commissioner Joseph H. Oakey emphasized that:

[T]he local district. . . is being placed in the position of creating its own design for education. The local district design can be that of the Vermont Design but it can also be of its own choosing, subject to the approval of the State Department of Education. The Department is making its total resources plus those of a mutually agreed upon consultant available to the local community. The local design committee will include representatives from all segments of the local society.

In 2003, the U. S. Department of Education Expert Review Team Report explained why Vermont’s first application for a Reading First grant was not accepted:

  • not scientific enough

  • extra criteria sent by Vermont not acceptable. Only the criteria sent by the Feds may be used.

  • The Feds didn’t like the reading materials Vermont wanted to use

  • The Feds didn’t approve of some of the activities Vermont proposed to implement.

  • The Federal government allows a choice of 38 Available Emblems of Belief for Placement on Government Headstones and Markers, including ones for Atheism, humanism, and, after an 18-month battle, Wiccan.

    But when it comes to reading instruction, the Feds follow the precept of the line memorialized in a Wendell Berry poem, “Meditation in the Spring Rain." While walking through the fields during a rainfall, listening to the water, Berry remembers the story of crazy old Mrs. Gaines, who wandered the town singing a hymn she had created entitled “One Lord, one Faith, and one Cornbread.”

    Our corporate-politicos in Washington will allow 38 faiths but only one belief about reading.

    — Susan Ohanian
    Vermont Commons


    This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.