Ah, the scent of children’s tears and crushed dreams is in the air–must be time to go back to school.

I remember how much I dreaded this time of year when I was little. I knew I could look forward to spending my days getting mocked by my old Communist teacher, who hated my family for not being Communist, and attacked by my Catholic schoolmates, who hated my family for not being Catholic. After long, blissful months of drawing, reading and flying off on imaginary adventures, I had to slouch back into the building where everything I was and liked would get stomped on as “weird” and “stupid”.

Later on, my school experiences in places other than my mind-stifling Polish hometown were much better, so much so that I would look forward to September. Positive teachers and welcoming classrooms made all the difference. So this year, I’m wishing all the kids going back to school a place which expands their imagination and desire for knowledge rather than squashing it. A place which is considerate of students with different religious and political beliefs. And may the butterflies they feel be ones of excitement, not of anxiety and fear. School should not be a scary destination.

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I’ve been hearing so much fearmongering about Common Core lately that I just had to go and check it out for myself.  Common Core is a set of new educational standards which has been adopted by most of the country at this time, and it has already been compared to the Hitler Youth and described as Marxist indoctrination.  As always, rumors of the Apocalypse are much exaggerated.

When I went to the Common Core page, I saw scary objectives for kids such as this one:  “Describe characters, settings, and major events in a story, using key details.”  I looked in various sections, such as History and Science, to see if I could find any propaganda about climate change or sneaky suggestions to share your financial profits with the less fortunate.  But I found nothing except requirements for mastering specific technical and analytical skills in each grade.  For those of you who are petitioning against Common Core, if I have missed something, please let me know.

Perhaps this is the problem:  “Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.”  Many of the commentators who bash Common Core are not just religious, but of the fundamentalist religious bent, and I’ve found that fundamentalists dislike the idea of children being taught to dissect and challenge what they read–after all, one day they might challenge what they read in the Bible, and then what?

If people are this scared of something as simple as Common Core, I can’t imagine how they would have felt about my Dutch education, which included very open sex ed and a class on world religions, in which kids from different religious traditions were encouraged to describe their faith to their fellow students.  I think I’ve turned out just fine–and I can tell the fundies that I didn’t end up sexually promiscuous or an atheist–but they probably think I’m messed up anyway, so I won’t waste my time.

Oh, look.  Somebody isn’t happy with President Obama’s policies.  Specifically, with his and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan’s education policy.

“This isn’t an education program…. It’s a sorting and killing program, and one we have to stop.”

Sounds pretty extreme.  Is this Glenn Beck ranting again?  Nope.  It’s President Obama’s best friend ever, the left-wing ex-terrorist Bill Ayers.  What else did he have to say about the President’s approach to education?  From the Chicago Maroon article:

He characterized Duncan’s program by three fundamental beliefs:  the idea that education is a market that should be privatized, the view that there is a single metric to measure student intelligence, and anti-union sentiment.

But, but…isn’t President Obama a radical Marxist/Muslim who spent his youth palling around with this guy and blowing up buildings with him?  Privatizing education and anti-union sentiment doesn’t sound very Marxist, does it?  And the President’s Communist friend doesn’t seem very happy with him.  WND and The Blaze have made a big thing out of the fact that Ayers congratulated Obama on his re-election win…but that open letter, again, mostly criticizes the President’s education policy and tries to prompt him to re-examine it.  Not exactly a love letter from a BFF.

Hey, I realize it’s easier–especially after the election didn’t go your way–to go back to portraying the President as a one-dimensional “radical” caricature.  Too bad he keeps failing at being that imaginary person, over and over again.

As the election approaches, I find myself once again pondering the inconsistencies of our political philosophy.  The message of this election–like that of most American elections–is all about America remaining “number one”.  But how serious are we really about keeping our country at the top of the list?  (And this, naturally, presumes that we’re still there.)

Conservatives are proud of our powerful and technologically advanced military, with its intelligent soldiers.  They brag on achievements like the Curiosity Mars rover.  “We’re still the best!”  But they despise the idea of giving money to an educational system which could teach people needed technological skills, and they are fine with cutting unnecessary frills like financial aid to college students.

President Obama is portrayed by his opponents as the man who will make America slide down that global list.  But would a President Romney be more helpful?  Not that I’m in favor of excessive debt, but will debt really be the thing which causes our demise?  Or the more appropriate question–will it contribute to our demise more than a lack of investment in science and education will?

So let’s not make rash assumptions about who will keep our country stronger and more powerful.  And this might be a good time to rethink what makes for the best place in the world.  Maybe we don’t *need* to be number one…just decent to our own citizens.