Skip to comments.Testimony of parent whose son committed suicide [1 of 4] after attending the Ark. Gov.'s School
Posted on 09/25/2002 11:51:24 AM PDT by Aquinasfan
Arkansas Governor's School
TESTIMONY NUMBER ONE
Testimony of parent whose son committed suicide after attending AGS.
Given before Joint Interim Education Committee
(One of four known former AGS students who committed suicide)
My name is Shelvie Cole. I have much to say, and I will talk as quickly as I can. I think once I get started you will understand why I have a lot to say. The first thing I would like to say is I am not a religious zealot. I do not belong to the religious right, and I am not conservative in my beliefs. The reason I am saying this is because anytime anyone seems to have a negative comment toward the Governor's School, they are automatically categorized into one of those groups, somehow negating their comments.
I am speaking to you today as a professional and as parent. As a professional, I am a trained school psychologist. I have worked over twenty years in the field of education and mental health. As a parent, my youngest son, Brandon, attended Governor's School in the summer of 1990. In September of 1991 Brandon committed suicide. I find it very significant that it was three years ago today that Brandon committed suicide.
I had no idea the impact that Governor's School had on Brandon until I read his log after his death. I knew that he had begun to change; but then when I began reading his log, I understood some of the things that had gone on within Brandon that were the result of some of his experiences at Governor's School. I am not going to be \giving you a second hand information today. I am going to let Brandon talk for himself because I am going to read directly from his diary that he kept while he was in Governor's School.
One of my concerns about Governor's School is the way it is set up. I understood or I thought when Brandon attended - he was a very talented student - A/B student, well grounded, played on the tennis team, president of his computer club. He did not have emotional problems. He was the ideal son. By the way, my oldest son, Hank, is here with me for moral support.
When he was selected as a musical student, I understood or thought he would go and spend the majority of his time studying music, being exposed to composers, having experiences with other outstanding music instructors, and spending a lot of time with students who had similar likes. Some of that did occur.
During the six weeks of Governor's School the students are really encouraged to disassociate themselves from the outside world. That in itself has its effect on students. A friend of mine who was in the Marine Corps said that it reminded him of boot camp when they separate young men from their parents and their friends so that they can get them thinking in a military way.
Brandon's words: "We truly have been plucked out of our world. We live in the Governor's School world. I saw a newspaper the other day and realized how no outside events were talked about here. I don't think I will be able to leave after this is over. Let me warn you I am changing inside. I hope you will still like me as I am, but I am learning a new outlook on life and reality. Everyday activities are so trivial now to us here. I feel sorry for people who aren't here. The outside world is so blind toward world events."
A letter to a friend said, "I think I saw your grandparents at the Human Development Centers Fireworks Show. We actually got to go out in public and go over there. Missy, [who is his friend] and I saw a friend there and stopped to talk to her. Someone from Governor's School saw us and told us, 'you are not to socialize with anyone while you're here.' Can you believe that?"
His final entry in the log says, Governor's School helped me to separate myself from most of the people around me. This absence of being who I was known for gave me a chance to look inside of my real self. After I came back from the break, my friends and I could tell that we had suddenly been transformed into free thinkers. I was no longer worried about who was having the next party or who was going out with whom. I feel like I've awakened from a fourteen year sleep."
These are my words: There's a false sense of security in Brandon's statement because when he completed Governor's School he doubted friendships and support he had had most of his life. And he questioned values and relationships that in the past had been extremely important to him. But most of all he began to question himself. He was told so many times at Governor's School that he was going to change during his time spent thee that he felt that if he didn't change he would fail to be a part of what was expected of participants.
After these students have severed the links with their lifetime friends and family, they are sent back i8nto the real world with no follow up and means of support to help them as they continue their quest to discover who they are after this change.
Even though the Governor's School is under the umbrella of the Department of Education, no one in the department seems to be responsible for overseeing the curriculum of seems to have any say as to what materials are used while they are there.
Bruce Haggard, a biology professor at Hendrix College, is the director of Governor's School. When my husband and I discussed our concerns two years ago, we questioned why it is necessary to have articles included in the students' text, The Tree Book like the one on "The Morality of Homosexuality". Dr. Haggard acted as if he was unaware of such an article, but we found out later that the article has been and continues to be a part of the curriculum.
Then there's Areas II and III , and I think that's what you are going to hear today, what most of the parents are concerned about.
This is how Brandon described the Governor's School experience. He said, "We have Area I class twice a day. This class is for what you were accepted in. Then everyone has Area II and III. Area II is where they try to get you to state something you believe in and then they rip you apart until you don't agree with yourself anymore.
"Then everyone has Area III. Here everyone cries and tells sad stories about themselves. Here everything you deal with is so deep. They encourage us to open up and say anything. In Area III one girl stood up and told the instructor to f--- off. The instructor just smiled and said, ' Why do you feel that way?' Can you believe that?"
Another letter he wrote said that, "We have Area II class where the object is to state something you believe in, and they reverse the way we feel totally. In Area III everyone listens to your problems; we've realized that life is not real, life is just a dream. Things like chairs and tables, numbers, trees, World War II, etc., die not or do not exist. Here they want you to relax and question the meaning of life."
He wrote this letter to a friend while in Governor's School. He said, "Robin, (who was his best friend since first grade) came and visited me on visitor's day last week. It was good to see her but everything she talked about was so trivial. We learn her things like the fact that we may not really be here. Do we have a soul? Do we create reality or does reality create us? Governor's School has really changed me."
"Area II is where you argue whether or not you are really here, why we're here and things like that. Then in Area II and III, we find out who we really are inside. Everyone cries and spills their guts to our group."
This is me talking. These classes are being taught like philosophy classes and psychotherapy groups. In my opinion the staff members who lead these discussions are not qualified to deal with such issues. If they were employed by our public school, they would not be allowed to conduct classes such as these because they lack the appropriate training to do so.
For instance, I met with Area II and Area III faculty a summer ago to discuss suicidal tendencies of Gifted and Talented students. The faculty was made up of two college level language teachers, an assistant junior high principal, a freelance songwriter, and English teacher, and a Presbyterian minister and a high school Gifted and Talented teacher. If we are going to continue to have these types of discussions as part of the curriculum, I feel the least that we can assure parents is that those who would lead the discussions would have the credentials to indicate that they have the training and the expertise to do so. The same credentials and requirements that we adhere to in the public schools should be the same standards at Governor's School.
If Governor's School continues, which I hope it does, and if it continues to be supported by taxpayers' dollars, then every taxpayer in the state should feel reassured that if their child attends Governor's School they have the same safeguards regarding curriculum and credentials of the faculty as they would in the public school district. If this is not the case, then Governor's School should receive its funding from another source and not be under the umbrella of the Department of Education.
I would like to close by reading you the first entry into Brandon's log, and then I will read one that was written three weeks later. This is the first one: "Moms are the best people around, and my mom is the best mom on earth. As a child she cuddled me and showed me the way like a guardian angel watching my moves, supporting me through times of confusion and lifting me off the floor of desperation. My mom is great!"
Three weeks later, three weeks later this is what Brandon wrote, "My mom is so closed minded I feel like we will have a standoff soon over issues. She doesn't see people for who they are, only for the way they act."
I had to ask myself what could happen during a young person's life during three short weeks to make such a drastic change in his attitude toward a parent, and I think it is a question you need to ask yourselves today. Thank you.
[This parent stated in another interview on video that she had not even seen her son during those three weeks.]
End of Testimony
It's the only possible way to get out of this. You identify the only weakness below:
Some people say that if we did that then muslim wahabis will have schools or that wickans or devil worshipers would have schools. The american born mainstream education professionals will do a lot more damage to america in their schools than these other small groups will do in their schools.
I don't see how a KKK, satanic or Wahabi school could be allowed. Then again, where do you draw the line and on what basis? I don't see a big demand for KKK or satanic schools, but Wahabbi schools are a possibility. One tentative theory that I've come up with is prohibiting vouchers to schools that advocate the overthrow of the government or the establishment of a federal religion.
Which would not be so bad if not for the fact that institutions and the people who 'teach' this are only promoting it for those who are under their power, for themselves they reserve the right to deem those who disagree with them as wrong and themselves as always right.
That's news to me. Do you mean financed by the town? The first state-wide compulsory attendance laws were passed in Massachusetts but that was somewhere around 1850.
Which would not be so bad if not for the fact that institutions and the people who 'teach' this are only promoting it for those who are under their power, for themselves they reserve the right to deem those who disagree with them as wrong and themselves as always right.
And the statement that "there are no absolutes" is an absolute assertion. So it's self-contradictory nonsense.
It's a violation of the most fundamental first principle of reasoning, the Law of Non-Contradiction. But since government school detainees have absolutely no training in logic, they're helpless before such nonsense.
My name is Chris Yarbrough. I attended Arkansas Governor's School in 1991, my junior year. When I went to Governor's School I went in the area of math. My expectations were to deal strongly in math subjects and to get a preview of what college life was going to be like living in the dorm, what to expect after I graduated from high school. What I found instead of concentrating on the area you were chosen to go in, they concentrated more on psychology and philosophy, and do you exist. I found area one very educational, very fun, which is the area that deals with math. Then you get to Area II, and it is a very common appraisal around the Governor's School that Area II tears you apart and Area III puts you back together. They show such films as "Blade Runner" to go with the tree book and they discuss, 'do you exist?' If you do, prove it. Or are you just a figment of imagination in some supreme beings mind? Can you prove you are not? Are you really in Governor's School? Are you alive? Is anybody alive, which like the lady said while ago, really gets into deep conversations. We read the meditations of Rene' Descartes which came from the Tree Book. There were other articles from the Tree Book, "certain things Christians cannot do "which implies Christianity is foolish because it states a scenario where if you have a man beating a child to death if you are a Christian you cannot kill him. You cannot protect the child by harming the man or else that makes you not a Christian. It makes it immoral.
Then you get to Area III. Area III is what I refer to as the feeling class. You go there and first they teach you that what you say and do in Area III stays in Area III, very confidential; you can be what you want to be, say what you want; it doesn't matter; nobody is going to think less or more of you. You can be anybody you want to be in there. It is very confidential. My instructor in Area III gained the groups trust (he was a former pastor) and he gained the groups trust by informing the group of an affair he had, an extramarital affair on his wife-he shared with the group. He said that he felt it was okay since it was a physical attraction and that's all. He said there were no feelings involved, just physical. So he gained the group's trust to let them say what you want; it didn't matter it was more freedom than what you needed. We were supposed to read books such as On Lies, Secrets, and Silence. This by a radical lesbian feminist. (Chairman interrupts and asks, "what is the title of that book"). It is On Lies, Secrets, and Silence by Adrienne Rich. And in her quote from the book she is talking about a lady who is an anti-feminist (she is reviewing and critiquing her article) and in it she says "this author is an admirer of the American Society and I am not; that is one difference between us." This book, if someone wanted to read it, have a discussion on it, I would have no problem with that; but as mandatory reading, this is not a book that I would choose to read or would like to read. I agree that they can have readings, but they should let you choose a topic and let you discuss what topic you want to talk about.
After three weeks I left Governor's School midway and did not complete the last three weeks. I was overwhelmed; I felt like my views and my ideas were not represented. I talked to Dr. Haggard after I came back from the break after the first three weeks and I asked him why other views were not represented in lectures. There was one lecture by an animal rights activist, very extreme; and I asked him why there was not somebody with the opposing side to that; that you can't just look at one side of the story and expect us to make a decision on what we believe and what we think. His quote every time I asked him was, 'we usually do; this year we didn't.' I have heard that same thing from people who attended different years. That has gotten to be a catch phrase.
EO: don't know much about Gov's school here in VA, but one thing I do know: the one person I know who went there is seriously disturbed... As well as being suicidal...
Here's a very rough outline:
1) In the US (1776-1840), informal (home teaching) of the three R's and Bible study. Also, Protestant Church schools doing the same thing. A few Catholic schools exist, mostly seminaries. Schooling usually ended by age 10 or 12. Between 1800-1840 school funding began to come from towns.
2) Prussia introduces the world to compulsory government schooling around 1810 following Fichte's "Address to the Prussian People." Students are marched into school at bayonetpoint. The Prussian system provides a classical education to the elite 1%, a professional education to another 5%, and an anti-intellectual education to the remaining school-age population.
3) Horace Mann (a utopian/socialist) and several others (industrialists, psychologists) begin to militate for the establishment of compulsory government schools in Massachusetts based on the Prussian system. Mann presents several reports to the Massachusetts Board of Education. Report #7 extolls the virtues of the Prussian schools that were in recess when he visited. He never saw a Prussian school in operation. (Report #6 extolled the virtues of phrenology, the pseudo-scientific association of personality traits with bumps on the skull).
4) Massachusetts experiences massive waves of Irish immigration in the 1840s and 1860s to the displeasure of the dominant non-Catholic population. This anti-immigrant atmosphere gives rise to the American Party or the Know Nothings as they're more commonly known.
5) To force Catholics into the quasi-Protestant government schools, in 1852 the nation's first compulsory attendance law is passed in Massachusetts. In response, Catholics set up their own school system that is still with us today.
The Know Nothings also add language to the state constitution prohibiting "state aid to private (i.e. Catholic) schools and hospitals." This amendment is added to every state constitution admitted to the union thereafter. They are called "Blaine amendments" named after the speaker of the House of Representatives.
6) In 1885 the militia is sent into Barnstable County Massachusetts to keep order as Barnstable County becomes the last county in Massachusetts to adopt compulsory attendance laws.
7) Compulsory attendance laws spread through the northeast. In Pennsylvania at the turn of the century many schools are burned down.
John Taylor Gatto outlines the history in his book The Underground History of American Education
1808 Elizabeth Seton establishes a school for girls in Baltimore
1821 The first public high school in the United States is established
1826 The first public high schools for girls open in New York and Boston
1833 Oberlin College in Ohio is founded, the first coeducational college in the United States
1837 First permanent women's college in United States, Mount Holyoke, is founded
1837 The State Board of Education is created in Massachusetts; Horace Mann is its first executive secretary
1838 The first state normal school in the United States opens in Massachusetts
1838 Mount Holyoke College, the first seminary for female teachers in the United States, is founded in South Hadley, MA by Mary Lyon; it opens the following year with 87 students
1840 Blackboards are introduced, prompting educators to predict a revolution in education
1844 Horace Mann describes the Prussian school system in his Seventh Annual Report
1846 The "potato famine" begins in Ireland [massive immigration to Horace Mann's Boston]
1852 Massachusetts is first U.S. state to mandate compulsory school attendance
1852 n North Carolina, the first state superintendent of schools is appointed in a southern state
1859 Horace Mann dies [hurray!] 1859 John Brown attempts to start slave insurrection at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia
1861 Civil War begins
1867 U.S. Office of Education is established
1870s Teachers in Massachusetts now majority female [Males forced out in order to provide a more motherly school environment following on the new psycho-therapeutic school model. This is done by embarrassing the men by paying the women more. See Gatto].
1873 First public school kindergarten is established in Missouri
I wouldn't put disingenuousness past them. I've been searching on Horace Mann and it seems that his history has been largely whitewashed. (I found some hard info though, his 10th Address to the Massachusetts Board of Ed. I'll provide exerpts below) But in the case of the history of American education, it's very hard to find hard facts. There are many threads running through its checkered history.
It is impossible for us adequately to conceive the boldness of the measure which aimed at universal education through the establishment of free schools. As a fact, it had no precedent in the world's history; and, as a theory, it could have been refuted and silenced by a more formidable array of argument and experience than was ever marshaled against any other institution of human origin. But time has ratified its soundness. Two centuries of successful operation now proclaim it to be as wise as it was courageous, and as beneficent as it was disinterested. Every community in the civilized world awards it the meed of praise; and states at home and nations abroad, in the order of their intelligence, are copying the bright example. What we call the enlightened nations of Christendom are approaching, by slow degrees, to the moral elevation which our ancestors reached at a single bound."Charity = Duty"? Sounds like something from "Animal Farm."
The alleged ground upon which the founders of our free school system proceeded when adopting it did not embrace the whole argument by which it may be defended and sustained. Their insight was better than their reason. They assumed a ground, indeed, satisfactory and convincing to Protestants; but at the shat time only a small portion of Christendom was Protestant, and even now only a minority of it is so. The very ground on which our free schools were founded, therefore, if it were the only one, would have been a reason with more than half of Christendom for their immediate abolition....
...there is not at the present time, with the exception of the States of New England and a few small communities elsewhere, a country or a state in Christendom which maintains a system of free schools for the education of its children....
I believe that this amazing dereliction from duty, especially in our own country, originates more in the false notions which men entertain respecting the nature of their right to property than in any thing else. In the district school meeting, in the town meeting, in legislative halls, everywhere, the advocates for a more generous education could carry their respective audiences with them in behalf of increased privileges for our children, were it not instinctively foreseen that increased privileges must be followed by increased taxation. Against this obstacle, argument falls dead. The rich man who has no children declares that the exaction of a contribution from him to educate the children of his neighbor is an invasion of his rights of property. The man who has reared and educated a family of children denounces it as a double tax when he is called upon to assist in educating the children of others also; or, if he has reared in his own children without educating them, he thinks it peculiarly oppressive to be obliged to do for others what he refrained from doing even for himself. Another, having children, but disdaining to educate them with the common mass, withdraws them from the public school, puts them under what he calls "selecter influences," and then thinks it a grievance to be obliged to support a school which he contemns.[!]...
I believe in the existence of a great, immortal, immutable principle of natural law, or natural ethics,--a principle antecedent to all human institutions, and incapable of being abrogated by any ordinance of man,--a principle of divine origin, clearly legible in the ways of Providence as those ways are manifested in the order of nature and in the history of the race, which proves the absolute right to an education of every human being that comes into the world, and which, of course, proves the correlative duty of every government to see that the means of that education are provided for all...
In regard to the application of this principle of natural law,--that is, in regard to the extent of the education to be provided for all at the public expense,--some difference of opinion may fairly exist under different political organizations; but, under our republican government, it seems clear that the minimum of this education can never be less than such as is sufficient to qualify each citizen for the civil and social duties he will be called to discharge...
...So far is it from being a wrong or a hardship to demand of the possessors of property their respective shares for the prosecution of this divinely ordained work [government schools], that they themselves are guilty of the most far-reaching injustice when they seek to resist or to evade the contribution. The complainers are the wrong-doers. The cry, "Stop thief!" comes from the thief himself....
The three following propositions, then, describe the broad and ever during foundation on which the common school system of Massachusetts reposes:--
1. The successive generations of men, taken collectively, constitute one great commonwealth.
2. The property of this commonwealth is pledged for the education of all its youth, up to such a point as will save them from poverty and vice, and prepare them for the adequate performance of their social and civil duties.
3. The successive holders of this property are trustees, bound to the faithful execution of their trust by the most sacred obligations, and embezzlement and pillage from children and descendants have not less of criminality, and have more of meanness, than the same offences when perpetrated against contemporaries.
For public, free education alone, including the direct outlay of money and the interest on capital invested, Massachusetts expends annually more than a million of dollars. To support religious institutions for the worship of God and the salvation of men, she annually expends more than another million, and what she gives away in the various forms of charity far exceeds a third sum of equal magnitude. She explores the world for new objects of beneficence; and, so deep and common is the feeling which expects and prompts all this that she is gradually changing and ennobling the definition of a cardinal word in the language of morals,--doing what no king or court with all their authority, nor royal academy with all its sages and literary men, can do: she is changing the meaning of charity into duty.
A brief history of US education
...This plan is embodied in programs like the New Standards Project, which calls for vocational training, Goals 2000, the Title One Reauthorization Bill, and School to Work Legislation, which calls for job-oriented college training. The legal mechanisms to put such a plan into place are found primarily in two relatively recent pieces of legislation: HR1617, which runs to about 1000 pages, and Senate 143. If one wishes to plow through their legalistic jargon, the follow five step program will emerge:
1) All students will be evaluated according to national benchmarks, mapping individual psychological potentials for jobs;
2) Students will be trained only for jobs, and the government will decide all societal needs and determine quotas;
3) A structure of mastery certificates will be established to control college entrance and to address the problem of overtraining;
4) Students and jobs will be forced together by a system of rewards and punishments, utilizing the techniques of behavioral psychology;
5) Individuals will be tracked lifelong through a computer database, incorporating birth, medical, school, work, police and any other records into a dossier for the necessary behavioral evaluations.