I created The Reason We Learn to help concerned parents, teachers and taxpayers navigate their way through a world of education that bears no resemblance to the one they remember, or imagined their kids were experiencing. I act as translator, guide, counselor, and coach, with one fundamental goal in mind: to protect the next generation from educational malpractice, exploitation and abuse.
In other words, I aim to help build a truly BETTER Education, one child at a time!
BA American Studies, Colby College, Waterville, Maine – 1987
Junior Year Abroad, Institute for European Studies Vienna, Austria – 1985-86
MSed, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – 1990
The following list does not include all the positions I’ve held, just those related to the work I do now, in chronological order.
Classroom Teacher * After-school Program Teacher * Tennis Camp Counselor * Private Tutor * Human Resources Generalist & Trainer * Computer Training Coordinator * E-Commerce Consulting Client Services Associate * Principal Information Architect * Homeschool Educator * ESL Teacher * Content Creator * Public Speaker * Education Researcher & Consultant * Community Manager
My concerns about the state of education in America go all the way back to my own time as an elementary school student. I’m one of those people who has vivid memories of childhood, all the way back to preschool, and my memory of the jarring transition from Montessori to public school at the age of eight probably had as much to do with my decision to become a teacher as any other contributing factor.
Memories of Montessori
Montessori school felt like a continuation of childhood, in and around a single location, with other children within a few years of my age. Learning wasn’t something orchestrated by adults, it was something I did just by being in this environment. There were areas of the classroom where different kinds of materials were readily available for us to use, where an adult would be to help us if we had questions. There was a reading loft with what seemed like an endless array of books at every conceivable reading level, and a small theater of sorts with bins full of costumes where we could act out our own stories. We conducted science experiments, threw pots on the pottery wheel, hatched chicks, and planted a garden, and in between, we ran around and hiked outside in the woods. It was real life someone called “school,” and I loved it.
A Traumatic Transition to Public School
When I was eight, my parents decided I should attend the local public school instead. I assume it had something to do with the cost of the Montessori school, but to be honest I’m not sure. I only know my mother left us, and my Dad registered me for a different school. I remember being confused and sad, yet hopeful things would be just as good, maybe even better. After all, the other kids on our block all went there. My best neighbor-friend went there, and she had things like textbooks and homework, which I assumed were “cool” because everyone in the neighborhood had them, except me. Incidentally, that’s how kids tend to think when they’re eight; that whatever the majority of kids doing is by default “cool.” I learned why this is true in graduate school, but I empathize with kids who feel this way because of my own memory of feeling this way.
Public school quickly became a daily hell I just had to endure. I could read well beyond my so-called “grade-level,” so they put me in fourth grade rather than third. At the same time, because Montessori didn’t push me to learn math at an arbitrary pace, I hadn’t yet mastered my multiplication tables, and my fourth-grade class was moving on to long division. My teacher didn’t seem to like children at all, and rarely smiled. She approached her job as if she’d been assigned our class like a punishment, and I even saw her throw a boy up against the lockers one day because he wasn’t moving fast enough to get his books and get into the classroom.
Socially I was an outcast. I’d come from a school where kids wore pretty much whatever they individually wanted to wear, and the public school culture was rigid. If you didn’t have the “right” brand of sneakers or jeans, you were a “loser.” To this day, I remember the shame I felt when the other kids laughed and pointed because I’d showed up in lace-up leather oxfords rather than Adidas or Puma. No matter how much I begged for the “cool” brands, my father said no, and told me I shouldn’t care what other people thought. He wasn’t wrong, but I wasn’t able to hear that because I was EIGHT, and my brain didn’t know how to think logically yet.
Learning to “Fit In”
Things didn’t get much better after that. I somehow managed to cope by becoming a bit of a class clown. I leveraged my tiny size, and sense of humor to poke fun at myself, and deprive my classmates the opportunity. I underachieved and, despite being technically more advanced in every area other than math, I earned nothing more than a C until ninth grade. It wasn’t “cool” to get good grades, or so I thought. Truth be told, I really had no idea what my peers were getting on their report cards, and mistakenly assumed they were as “average” on paper as I was. Many were, but not as many as I’d thought, and the impact began to catch up with me.
By ninth grade, I’d been “tracked” into the average classes with the kids who couldn’t do the work at my level, and I was bored out of my mind. My father realized what had happened, and petitioned the school to move me into other classes, but they refused until I could pass a test demonstrating I wasn’t as slow as my grades indicated I was. Thankfully, I passed the test, and moved into the other classes, and immediately began figuring out how to “study” and work hard enough to show the teachers I deserved to be there. On the one hand, it was a good lesson, this almost falling through the cracks, on the other, it was a testament to the inability of the system to recognize, properly diagnose, and help an underachieving student. Without my father’s help, I definitely would have been stuck.
I’d also learned how to function well enough to get a couple of As, a few Bs, and only one C, in Math. I had even figured out how to navigate the arcane social system of the public high school, playing soccer, running track and hanging out with the theater kids who accepted my particular brand of weirdness even though I wasn’t technically one of them. School was beginning to feel like less of a prison, and more like a job when my father decided to relocate us from the suburbs to the city, Manhattan to be exact, and I was told to choose a private school. Having enjoyed being outdoors in nature playing sports and running, I told him there was no way I could attend school in a city building, so he suggested I take a look at a “Prep” school, otherwise known as “Boarding School.”
Rescued by Prep School
Boarding School sounded good to me. I’d loved summer camp, and this seemed like that all year. I chose a school where I could make the soccer team, that also had an award-winning theater department. I joined the costume crew, and honed my sewing skills. I played varsity soccer, and during the winter, skied every day at the nearby mountain. There was just one problem starting out: public school had not prepared me for the rigors of my academic classes. I thought I could behave in class, skim the reading the night before the test, and get As the way I’d done in public school. After all, the only reason I’d done poorly for a while was I was practically trying to fail to play my role as the class clown. I wrongly assumed being smart, and paying attention was good enough. Oh how wrong I was!
I failed my first science test, and found myself assigned to Friday night study hall where I’d sit with a proctor, rather than hanging out with my friends. It was miserable, and I had to stay there until I could get at least a B on a test. Feeling cast out for wearing the wrong jeans was nothing compared to Friday night study hall. I had no choice but to figure out how to really study, and that meant changing the way I learned in the first place. No one showed me how to take notes, or prepare for exams, I had to work it out observing my peers, but at least in prep school that’s what the majority were doing, and I got to watch because we lived there. Rather than imagining what went on at my friends’ homes at night, I could see my classmates at the library after dinner, or sitting around the dorm in study groups. I quickly learned why it’s called “prep school” in the first place.
Prepared for College but Not for Life
Fast forward three years, I graduated with honors, having been on the Dean’s list for all but that first rough semester. I attended Colby College in Waterville, Maine, which turned out to have been a mistake because it was too similar to prep school. I chose to spend my Junior year abroad in Vienna Austria, which turned out to be one of the best decisions I ever made.
While living in Vienna, I traveled to what were then still Soviet-controlled, East-bloc countries, including East Germany. I saw communism up close, and even met students living under it who were so brainwashed, they thought everyone in America was a gangster or drug addict. The Chernobyl disaster happened while I was there, and I experienced living under a literal cloud of radiation, and had to make do with the food and water shortages resulting from it. To say I came home after that year a bigger patriot than when I left is an understatement. I even vowed I’d never be the kind of person who’d stay silent in the face of creeping tyranny because the thought of living, working, raising a family, and growing old in a society like the ones I visited, terrified me.
My senior year at Colby saw me more on the outs with my peers than I’d ever been. They were burning Reagan in effigy on the quad after the Grenada incident, calling him a “fascist” and claiming he would cause a nuclear war with the Soviets. I heard my fellow students say it was “paranoid” and “discriminatory” to speak of countries as being “behind the iron curtain,” and I consistently stood alone telling them they were wrong. There they were, all comfortable in the woods of Maine, able to burn their flag, and the likeness of their President without worrying about being “disappeared” forever into a prison for dissidents, and all I could think about were the students who literally couldn’t leave East Berlin, even for a visit to the other side of the city.
As much as I’d learned about life and myself during my college years, I hadn’t learned much at all about functioning in the real world as an adult. Graduation came, and all I had to show for it was a transcript full of As and honors. My interests were so varied, I wasn’t sure what to do next. The thought occurred to me I could teach, especially since I still remembered hating school, and wishing other kids didn’t have to go through what I’d gone through, but at just twenty-one, I didn’t feel mature or knowledgeable enough to do a good job. Instead, I tried working in a variety of fields, starting with retail management, and then catering. Neither field met my need for a career that offered me a lifestyle that could support having a family, and that was the only consistent aspiration I’d ever had, so I resolved to go to graduate school, get my Masters in Education, and become a teacher after all. That’s right, I consciously chose the field because I would have summers, evenings and weekends off, and it mystifies me that teachers today don’t admit that’s a perk.
First Red Flags – Graduate School
Not even halfway through my graduate program at the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, I heard the phrase that would change my life forever, even if I didn’t know it then: “Teaching is a political act!”
The man who said it was my professor for Teaching Social Studies, and I challenged him to explain why. He handed us Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and explained we were becoming teachers to “liberate” our students from “oppression.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Didn’t this man know about communism? Didn’t he understand these ideas were Marxist? Wasn’t this America? It took me a few days to realize I was the only student in the class asking these questions, or having any sort of problem with his position at all. If I’d felt alone defending America in college, it was nothing compared with defending it in the school preparing me, and dozens of other students to become TEACHERS in American schools!
In Pursuit of My Values
After graduation, I hoped my first teaching job would allow me to leave his Marxist theories where they belonged: behind me. Alas, I hoped in vain. It’s not that my first job in a first-grade classroom required me to be a Marxist, it’s that the whole culture of the school was collectivist. Focusing on the individual student was discouraged. Using the science of reading (phonics) was not allowed. Teaching there was such a thing as correct spelling, grammar, punctuation, and even vocabulary usage, was frowned upon. I was in hell. It seemed clear to me the goal wasn’t to pursue excellence, but rather to help the students “feel good” in the moment, and have what was called “high self-esteem.” I challenged everything I was told, and quickly made enemies amongst my colleagues, and after two years, my Principal suggested I consider the middle school level because I just wasn’t “nurturing” enough for Elementary. I went to the middle school, and was told I was too small in stature to properly “manage” the classroom of students, many of whom were taller. I got the hint, and I left teaching, and went to work in the private sector working in Human Resources as a trainer helping administrative staff learn to use their new Windows OS PCs.
From there, my career took many twists and turns, always in the private sector. I went from that HR job to managing portfolios for the same financial services company. This involved a lot of data entry and spreadsheet production, and I hated it. After a few years, I thought I’d go back to the food service industry I’d tried right after college, and went to cooking school, after which I was a pastry chef for three years. I loved the work because it was so objective. When you’re baking, you either do it right, or wrong. The work product is good, or not, etc… This was a nice break from the politically-charged atmosphere of the corporate and education fields. At the same time, I was mentally bored. I missed having to learn new things every day, and of course the hours weren’t conducive to achieving my long-term personal goals either. So, I reluctantly returned to the corporate world in 1996, this time working in a marketing department helping the company write copy and produce their first website.
The great thing about web content production was that it forced me to use lessons from all my work experiences:
Working with cross-functional teams of designers and developers is analogous to working as a pastry chef in a kitchen where each person plays their part in creating the whole meal, which must be aesthetically pleasing and meet the end-user’s needs. Gathering requirements from internal and external clients is akin to assessing student needs and designing lesson plans to address them, and finding the right assets to support a campaign is not much different than working on a design for a cake or special dessert. In short, I felt right at home, and enjoyed my work very much, until the fateful “dot-bomb” period right after 9-11 when, like so many others in my field, I was “downsized,” and found myself unemployed.
Around the same time, I met and married my now ex-husband. We had our first child a year later, and because we’d already been living on one income, we decided I should just be a stay-at-home mom, and homeschool our children. This was a dream come true for me, especially because I’d been tutoring here and there to bring in money while unemployed, and had seen what passed for “education” since I’d left teaching, and was horrified. I had two more children, and homeschooled the older two through what would have been third-grade work, even though the younger of the two who were school-aged would technically have been in Kindergarten. That’s how much more we could get done at home; my girls were on track to finish elementary school entirely by the time they were eight! Sadly, however, it didn’t work out that way. Their dad and I split, and I had no choice but to enroll them in public school where, to my horror, they proceeded to have an even worse transition than I’d had thirty-eight years prior.
I did the best I could to keep track of what was going on, to supplement where I could, even to volunteer in the school. I even tried to get re-certified to teach again, if only to be near them. Unfortunately, however, the process for certification was costly and time-consuming. The state wanted me to go back to school and get what would have been the equivalent of my Masters all over again!
Attending school all over again wasn’t an option, so I opted to return to freelance tutoring and content creation, which allowed me to make my own hours, and be more available to be involved in my kids’ education.
Finding the Hill I Will Die On
By 2020, I had seen enough in my work as a parent of kids in schools, as well as tutor and researcher, that I felt compelled to go public with my views on American education. Here’s just a partial list of trends dating back to the early 1990s:
- Students I tutor who have no identified special needs, who are nonetheless consistently multiple years behind in their reading, grammar and composition proficiency, not to mention lacking in knowledge of basic elementary level geography and American history and civics.
- Schools in multiple states that refuse to use the Science of Reading, and fail to teach math facts before the end of 5th grade.
- Teachers who are incapable of constructing grammatically-correct sentences, and are unwilling to assign age-appropriate materials.
- Teachers who unapologetically ignore students’ special needs, including those with 504 and IEP plans.
- Students who are bored and frustrated, who hate school, and increasingly hostile towards all “book” learning.
- Students socially-promoted to the next grade, multiple years in a row, irrespective of their ability to do the work at that level.
- Teachers, Principals, and Superintendents hostile to parents who complained about any of the above.
- Partisan politics and activism brought into the classroom by teachers, and encouraged (sometimes demanded) of the students.
- Censorship of teachers, administrators and parents who did not share the progressive, Democrat party values and or policy positions.
- Anti-bullying polices that celebrated victimhood, and redefined “bullying” as “holding the wrong opinions” or expressing them verbally.
- Discipline policies that punished real victims of abuse if they held the wrong views, or were of the wrong demographic (white, male, Christian, Jewish, straight, conservative, i.e., “not progressive”).
- Teachers who are ignorant of brain science and child development theories, who present developmentally inappropriate materials and concepts, and behave like spoiled children (making demands on TikTok; mocking parents), while treating children like adults.
- Teachers who primarily see themselves as liberators and social justice warriors.
- Schools re-segregating students by race in “affinity groups,” including the charter school my children attended that took some students on an overnight field trip segregated by race and gender: “BIPOC girls only.”
Witnessing these trends has convinced me that American children are being manipulated, expolited, and abused on a mass scale, and taxpayers are being defrauded on a daily basis.
This site, and my work are evidence of that conviction. My goal is to use my experience and knowledge to teach parents, teachers, and concerned citizens, to recognize what America’s children should have, but are not getting, so they can do what they need to do to find it, or build it.
Education in America is in crisis, and part of what makes it so hard to protect your kids is that so much of what’s written about it is highly politicized word salad.
Let me be your translator!