Sunday, September 20, 2009

Why some days I really hate the internet

This excerpt from Max Blumenthal's new book Republican Gomorrah has gone damn-near viral on the web:

At the Charter School for Excellence, a school in South Florida inspired by Gothard's draconian principles that receives $800,000 in state funds each year, children are indoctrinated into a culture of absolute submission to authority almost as soon as they learn to speak. A song that the school's first-graders are required to recite goes as follows:

Obedience is listening attentively,
Obedience will take instructions joyfully,
Obedience heeds wishes of authorities,
Obedience will follow orders instantly.
For when I am busy at my work or play,
And someone calls my name, I'll answer right away!
I'll be ready with a smile to go the extra mile
As soon as I can say "Yes, sir!" "Yes ma am!"
Hup, two, three!


The larger excerpt is actually about the impact of Christian right self-help guru Bill Gothard, and don't get me wrong, Gothard and his devotees [who apparently include Mike Huckabee] are dangerous loons.

So much so that I wanted to find out more about this whack-a-doodle Charter School for Excellence in Florida.

There may be a footnote in Blumenthal's book, but there is not a note or a link in any of the excerpts I could find. So I went searching. Doing "Charter School for Excellence" Florida Gothard will only bring up multiple copies of the same excerpt at leftist blogs around the net. Hundreds of them. Thousands of them.

So I decided to leave Gothard's name out of it, figuring that the school might not reference him on its website. For "Charter School for Excellence" Florida you end up with The Charter Schools OF [not "for"] Excellence in Ft. Lauderdale FL. This is definitely NOT a Christian front school, as anybody with educational experience can tell. They use the Core Knowledge approach pioneered by E D Hirsch of Cultural Literacy fame, including the same literature series currently in use in Red Clay, as well as Saxon Math.

Could it possibly be the same school Blumenthal mentions?

Careful searching led me back to this May 1999 entry at AANews [an atheist watch organization]:

In our AANEWS for April 28, 1999 we profiled a "character education" program in Florida head by an evangelical extremist. Children at the Charter School of Excellence were being trained in this program, which included the mindless and repetitive recitation of the following frightening ditty...

"Obedience is listening attentively,
Obedience will take instructions joyfully,
Obedience heeds wishes of authorities,
Obedience will follow orders instantly,
For when I am busy at work or play,
And somebody calls my name, I'll answer right away!
I'll be ready with a smile to go the extra mile
As soon as I can say 'Yes, Sir!' 'Yes ma'am!'
Hup, two, three!"


I have been diligently trying to track down the original April 28, 1999 post, but it does not appear to exist on the net [although it may still be lurking in some archive accessible in search terms I have not discovered yet].

I have, however, found this February 1999 article with all the same information in the Broward/Palm Beach Herald.

From that story I found another potential link between the current Charter School OF Excellence and the 1999 Charter School FOR Excellence: the current school, which was founded in 1997, utilizes as one part of its curriculum the Character First! program, which was, if you look really really far down the page, at least partly inspired by Bill Gothard. However, and it is a pretty big however, lots of public school districts and schools across the nation use Character First!, without knowing [I suspect] that this program has any connection to a Christian self-help huckster.

But that 1997 date was troubling: could the two schools be the same? Turns out they are, or maybe they once were. You decide.

On the list of the Board of Directors is one "Hamilton C. Forman, Secretary."

This is what the Broward/Palm Beach Herald reveals in its 1999 story: Forman is a liberal Democrat with deep pockets for political donations who was in fact on the board of the school that Blumenthal described, and even at one point tried to push the adoption of Character First! statewide. Then he fould out where it came from and what was in it--to include the songs being sung. This was his reaction:

Howard Forman now says he doesn't believe Character First! should be put in Florida's public schools. "I never heard of Gothard, and I think his ideas sound kind of screwy," Forman says. "I don't support the kind of character training where people sing songs about discipline. I don't support religious extremists of any kind."


Character First! is still around, and if you look at the Character Qualities and Leadership Perspectives documents you may agree that while they seem to harbor many pieces of modern education-speak they can also be a little creepy, and definitely more than a bit authoritarian.

On the other hand, The Charter School of Excellence is both a US DOE Blue Ribbon school and an Excellence Award Winner from EPIC, both of which are highly prized by virtually every school in the nation and usually considered to indicate extremely high standards.

And Character First! is carried among the approved links of the Character Education Project, whose national boards of directors and advisors read like a Who's Who in American Education. Junior Achievement of Delaware aligned with the program in 2005-2006.

The true story, I believe, is that this particular Charter School in Broward/Fort Lauderdale FL probably was engaging in these pretty extreme practices ... before 1999. But it has obviously been cleaned up and is nationally recognized as a mainstream leader in charter school education. The bona fides of Character First! probably need some serious examination, given the wide and uncritical use of the program around the country.

But Blumenthal discusses none of this in his side-swipe which makes it appear as if little kids are still singing the Obedience Song in today's Charter School of Excellence.

If I'm right [and I have laid out all the evidence for you to make your own judgment], this means that Blumenthal is at best guilty of shoddy journalism/research, and--at worst--is fully aware that the practice he cites no longer exists, was denounced by the supporters who originally bought into it, and that his paragraph does a severe injustice to what appears today to be an outstanding school.

Yet how long will it be before the uncritical begin citing this anecdote as evidence in public policy debates?

It's already running at The Nation, and given Blumenthal's close association with HuffPo I will not be surprised to see it there.

Why this is so dangerous is illustrated by the flap that President Obama got himself into on September 9, when he cited what turned out to be a BS story about a man who died after being dropped from his health insurance during chemotherapy.

Note what the White House said about the story:

I raised questions about the Obama claim with the White House on Sept 10. The White House told me that Obama's speechwriters picked up the story from Slate and never vetted the facts independently. If they had, they would have realized that the Slate report was erroneous.


And it is damn difficult, in many cases, to vet such facts independently [although I would think the White House should be able to do so if anyone could], so what are we left with?

Repeat anything enough on the net and people who are prepared to believe it will believe it without really questioning.

Which raises the interesting question: How much of the rest of Mr. Blumenthal's work on this occasion is equally questionable?

This post is not intended as a shot at liberals, just because the source and content it attempts to debunk was a liberal author and a liberal talking point in the making.

It is, however, intended pretty much as a warning for anybody who actually cares about the truth not to take things at face value just because they seem to align with what you already believe. God [or the Flying Spaghetti Monster] knows that I have been taken in on numerous occasions, despite my best efforts.

6 comments:

Delaware Watch said...

"Why this is so dangerous is illustrated by the flap that President Obama got himself into on September 9, when he cited what turned out to be a BS story about a man who died after being dropped from his health insurance during chemotherapy."

I'm sure this Harvard study is BS too: 45,000 Americans die every year from a lack of health insurance.

http://pnhp.org/excessdeaths/health-insurance-and-mortality-in-US-adults.pdf

It's always BS when it involves a criticism of the private sector.

Steve Newton said...

Dana,
Get a grip. This story was BS because this guy didn't die because of the insurance company. He didn't even miss a single chemo treatment.

I don't dispute the awful things insurance companies do, and that people die from them.

But if you are the President and you stand up and say, "This particular guy died because...."

You damn well need to have your facts in order.

When you don't, it hurts your credibility.

Miko said...

If the initial source of this was a book, we can hardly blame the internet: it just makes everything (good and bad) happen faster.


I'm sure this Harvard study is BS too: 45,000 Americans die every year from a lack of health insurance.


Yes, of course it is. People can (and do) die from not having health care, but it'd be pretty hard to die from lacking health insurance.

Delaware Watch said...

"People can (and do) die from not having health care, but it'd be pretty hard to die from lacking health insurance."

Read the conclusion of the study. Besides, bright boy, the point is that many people don't get health care because they don't have health insurance.

Freedom's Truth said...

""Obedience is listening attentively,
Obedience will take instructions joyfully,
Obedience heeds wishes of authorities,
Obedience will follow orders instantly,
For when I am busy at work or play,
And somebody calls my name, I'll answer right away!
I'll be ready with a smile to go the extra mile
As soon as I can say 'Yes, Sir!' 'Yes ma'am!'
Hup, two, three!""

Dangit my kids need that. That's awesome. Anyone who thinks kids end up too unable in our culture to rebel and resist authority or parents has not been raising kids lately.

Freedom's Truth said...

Sarcasm/irony from previous comment aside, this is a great example of how we have gone beyond media bias. There is now a FakeMediaCulture inventing their own reality. one anecdote (which you have shown is probably invalid or false) => charter schools are cr*p.

Meanwhile the tons of data on the success of charter schools is ... what ... ignored by this guy?

We got that last week. NYTimes ignores ACORN story - it doesnt exist. Neither did the million people marching on 9/12. only 70,000? you gotta be kidding.

We have a complete breakdown in the credibility of news sources, *ESPECIALLY* the mainstream ones. Bizarre, in this 'information age' that most of it is just PR and garbage.