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
Heads will roll.
God help them, and us. Very enlightening and unfortunately, depressing.
As I sat in on many classes in our area, I was quite surprised, in this age of policital correctness, how aware teachers were between "ordinary" students and "gifted" ones. Although I'm a conservative who sees differences among people, I felt very uncomfortable at this characterization. Kids tend to live out the expectations handed to them. I only saw one teacher who expressly designed her lesson plans to mirror the advanced content of the courses she once taught at a private school. I was very impressed at the results of her class. She assured me that if you challenge any kids to think and learn, they will (there are always individual exceptions; I'm talking here about the group). Her "ordinary" students gave her the same level of results as did her prior private-school students. I think that's because she expected them to.
This philosophy dates back to the origins of compulsory government education not only in America, but right back to the Prussia of the early 1800s. Fichte, the German atheistic philosopher thought it best to school the "elite" 1% in separate schools which would provide something like a classical education. Another 5% would be trained to be professionals (doctors, lawyers, etc.) The remaining 94% were to be prepared for being drones. The curriculum for these children was designed to actually diminish their intellectual abilities. Especially important was the goal of diminishing an interest in self-education. Preventing them from reading was the key. The technique to accomplish this? Whole language.
The absolutely stunning history is outlined in John Taylor Gatto's The Underground History of American Education
I forgot to mention that the first eight chapters are available to read now on-line. Click on the link above. The chapters dealing with whole language are included in the available chapters.
Another good book for information regarding the origins of whole language is Sam Blumenfeld's "NEA: Trojan Horse in American Education." Gatto's history seems to be more extensive though.
I'll condense what I read from Gatto and Blumenfeld.
Sight reading is appropriate for languages like Chinese where pictures represent words. Phonics is appropriate for languages like ours in which letters represent sounds.
"Sight reading" has been promoted by advocates for the reasons you mention it avoids the drudgery of flashcards and learning letter sounds. The drawback is that it is a very bad paradigm for deciphering unknown words. There is no way for someone who has learned to sight read only to "sound out" previously unencountered words. The resulting frustration leads to anger, despair at reading and an association of reading with pain. This is the effect that whole language advocates like Dewey desired. His goal for youngsters was two-fold, to encourage children to work together to guess at the meaning of words and to limit the ability of the child to read, and hence learn, by himself.
There is a marked correlation between whole language instruction and declining literacy rates wherever it has forced out phonics instruction. Perhaps the most notable example is the decline in reading ability of American GI's from the 30's to the 50's and the drop in California test scores ten or twenty years ago when whole language was implemented statewide. Check out Gatto for his sources.
Did you know that dyslexics can't learn phonetic reading, and that is their main reading roadblock? So, there are two groups who benfit from sight reading, visual learners and learning disabled.
I've read the opposite. From what I've read, the "brain pattern" testing that was performed decades ago and upon which that conclusion is drawn is wrong, but has become textbook orthodoxy.
In my school district (along time ago), a classical education was the goal for everyone. Rather than condemning some to a lesser education, you had to opt out. Up to five years of Latin was offered and advanced classes were open to anyone who was interested. The school scored in the top ten in country on Iowa tests.
The history of American government education is very tangled and there are many threads running through it. On one hand you have the elitist/dumbing down vision of Horace Mann, The Columbia Teacher's College, Thorndike, and Dewey. On the other hand you have the classical approach that has its origins in grassroots American self-education and religious instruction. The origins of compulsory education in the 18th century are an incoherent mixture of Protestantism, Hegelianism, Unitarianism, socialism, social Darwinism, and psychology.
The influence of Protestantism declined linearly from the early 1900s through the Supreme Court decision banning school prayer in the mid-1960s when the schools became the exclusive domain of humanists, socialists and psychologists.
That explains why you could still receive a classical education "a long time ago."
Give Gatto a read. You won't be disappointed.
I never thought of my learning style, but I do try to visual things to draw upon knowledge. I also try to "see" a text in my mind. Thank you. Very, very interesting!
My experience confirms this. At age four my first daughter learned to read competently (could independently handle short Dr. Seuss books) after about 30 hours of teaching (1/2 hour a day for two months) with Blumenfeld's book, Aphaphonics. My second daughter was even faster, learning in about twenty hours. But she was 4-1/2.
Both already knew their letter sounds from watching Sesame Street.
Sounds like a great topic. You're dead on. That's why euphemisms are so important. Language doesn't directly, mechanically determine thought, but it heavily influences thought and most importantly seems to set up boundaries over which the formed mind is reluctant to cross.
The answer to the last question is a resounding yes. Gatto covers some of that territory too.
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