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Chapter 9: It's the Test Scores, Stupid! (Pt. 1)

A Full Reward: Reformation Through Family-Run Christian Schools

Rev. Aaron Slack

Pastor, Author, Marketing Manager, Preschool Director

Chapter 9

It’s the Test Scores, Stupid! (Part 1)

“It seems schools are measured on every standard except results. The comparisons vary from ‘our school is better because the classes are smaller’ to ‘our school is better because the teachers are educated at the best schools.’ The teachers’ union loves this way of comparing schools. To the teachers’ union, the only heresy in comparing schools is test results.”—Ellsworth McIntyre

What Makes a Good Preschool?

What makes a good preschool? How do you tell the difference between a quality preschool, one where the children actively learn and are prepared for kindergarten and later grades, and one that’s more or less just babysitting? The question is asked once in a while in newspaper articles and on TV programs. Think tanks and research groups with impressive-sounding names grapple with the conundrum. The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) puts out an annual report called, The State of Preschool, in an attempt to provide an answer. A recent edition made some waves in the media. Multiple newspapers in the state of Florida ran articles discussing what it said about Florida’s Voluntary pre-Kindergarten (VPK) program. Childcare gurus are not pleased.

“Experts” are befuddled by Florida’s success. Approximately 76% of eligible children in the state of Florida are enrolled in VPK—that’s a lot of kids! Parents obviously consider it a good thing to place their children in preschool, in VPK. Experts, however, disagree. Indeed, these experts have universally panned Florida’s achievement. They are unsatisfied with Florida’s preschools.

If you listen to these experts carefully, you will realize the one thing they universally want is this: more money. It irks them to no end that the amount of money Florida spends per student per year has actually gone down since Florida’s VPK program was initiated. Members of the elite early childhood education community feel cheated when they compare Florida’s pre-K budget with what other states pay out. Less money means local bureaucrats have less power over programs, and fewer employees to work with. It isn’t really about learning at all.

Why is Florida ranked so low? There is a list of criteria experts claim quality childcare programs meet. NIEER ranks pre-K programs according to a set of these so-called “benchmarks” of quality:

  1. The state must have “comprehensive early learning standards.”

  2. Lead teachers must have a BA.

  3. Lead teachers must have a specialization in pre-K.

  4. Assistant teachers must have a CDA or equivalent.

  5. Teachers must complete at least 15 hours of in-service training each year.

  6. Maximum class size of 20 or lower.

  7. Staff-child ratio of 1:10 or better.

  8. Vision, hearing, and health screenings and referral are required.

  9. At least 1 meal per day is offered.

  10. Site visits are required.

Florida’s teacher to student ratios are not as low as in some other states, and unlike many states, Florida’s VPK providers are predominantly private. Florida’s VPK meets only 3 of the quality criteria, according to NIEER. Florida, frankly, is not up to snuff.

As I have discussed elsewhere in this book, the emphasis on “higher” education, particularly for teachers, is sadly misguided. Or rather, it would be if it was not a deliberate tactic of the educational establishment aimed to keep control over what children are taught and not taught. A teacher with a BA has almost certainly been educated out of his right mind and inducted into the priesthood of statist humanism. It should come as no surprise that the state and its cronies want these kind of teachers in preschool classrooms. Furthermore, the salary demanded by these professional, credentialed teachers drives the cost of childcare up (more expensive means it’s better, right?), causing preschools to depend more and more on government funds.

Florida does not yet require its teachers to have BAs. Florida’s VPK is considered a laughingstock by the professional early childhood education community, and yet it is very successful due to relatively little government oversight (compared to other states, that is; I assure you there is government oversight) and the fact that most VPK providers are private centers—two things the early childcare people hate.

What you will not hear in any of these news stories about state pre-K programs is any questioning of the criteria experts use to judge them! The sad fact is that these criteria are arbitrary and highly dubious. Let me explain with an analogy.

Phony Quality

I could invent a list of criteria for determining whether a car is good or not. Perhaps I might require things such as a shiny paint job, spinning rims, an engine with a certain number of horsepower, backup cameras, making sure that any mechanic that has changed the oil on the vehicle had at least a BA (not that difficult anymore in this economy), and clean windows. I could give a higher rating to a car that is more expensive, because expensive obviously means better quality. That sounds pretty good, right?

I could go down my checklist with a particular vehicle, and it might fulfill every criteria; I could then give the vehicle a top rating, as it meets all quality benchmarks. Here is the problem: going by these quality standards I have listed, the vehicle in question could be an undriveable piece of junk and still receive a top rating. We have just such a situation with the current method of rating pre-K programs.

Just as my imaginary car-rating system tells you nothing about whether or not a car is in good enough condition to drive, NIEER’s VPK rating system says nothing about whether children actually learn anything important during their year in VPK (i.e., whether or not a VPK program is any good). The emperor has no clothes, but no one will state the obvious.

There is a new push to add additional testing to our VPK assessment arsenal. This sounds good, but the question must be asked: for what are they testing? The answer is not encouraging. As it currently stands, children who attended VPK are tested within their first thirty days of entering kindergarten. Calling these screenings “tests” is inaccurate. A large portion of the score is taken from various extremely subjective assessments teachers make while watching children play. Social and personal skills, social studies, creative arts, and physical development are some of the things observed and assessed during this portion of the screening. Another portion of the screening supposedly checks that students are on track for “reading readiness.” It tests things like basic letter recognition and “phonemic awareness” (i.e., whether or not children are aware that words are made up of sounds). What about actual reading? It’s not even tested for, as this is something that children are not supposed to be taught until elementary school. Some would like to administer a screening at the beginning of VPK as well, so it can be compared with the kindergarten test and academic progress can (in theory) be measured.

There are other methods of assessing preschools, among them the various “environmental rating scales.” These rating systems, such as ITERS and ECERS, are worse than useless. They do not attempt to measure learning at all, only to rate programs by assessing the “learning environment.” Because these assessments demand that centers spend more and more money and time on frivolous things extraneous to actual learning and interaction with the children, centers actually compromise their programs in order to achieve high scores on these scales. The result: children become victims of government-funded ivory tower educrats.

The true academic goal of a pre-K program should be to teach children basic school skills, most especially reading. The academic component of a school or preschool can be assessed with one question: Are the kids learning? The corollary to this question is: How can you tell? The answer: test scores. In which pre-K programs do kids actually learn? Not the ones following state educational recommendations, for sure. Go to a state-required childcare class or VPK standards course and it will be pounded into your head over and over that teaching children to read is not developmentally appropriate. That’s right: VPK teachers are told by the state from the get-go not to teach reading and actual math skills to their students.

Indeed, should children actually be found to be reading in preschool, it could be considered evidence of child abuse, according to government experts. What about basic addition and subtraction skills? Those are also bad. Children should not be taught any of these things, we are told. It is a great irony that the government forbids teaching reading to young children, but has no problem with sex ed classes being taught to the same age group!

Is it any wonder that voters and politicians question sinking more money into such pre-K programs? Early childhood education gurus love to talk about how for every dollar invested in preschool, society reaps many dollars in return. They are quick to point out that these benefits come from quality preschool programs. When you hear an expert talk about “quality pre-K programs,” understand that they are not speaking the common language. They are referring to programs that meet the arbitrary quality benchmarks of organizations like NIEER. In other words, expensive preschool programs that don’t necessarily teach anything. Does education have to be expensive? Grace Community School has proven that the answer is no!

Grace Community School students are frequently put in gifted classes when they enter public schools, and for good reason. Our students, working at multiple grade levels ahead of where they would be in the public school or our private competition, are frequently bored when they enter “regular” school; the material they already know entering kindergarten will not be taught until years later in the public school. What a testimony that a private, Christian preschool can do so much! Our clients love the education we at Grace Community School give our students. Parents still don’t really buy the modern “learning by playing” idea for the most part. Deep down, they know that a real education comes from deliberate teaching and actual academics—things that can be measured by test scores. In addition to academic learning, the Christian must also insist that instruction be fundamentally Christian. Here we see an even deeper divide between Grace Community School and its competition.

ECE and the Humanist Manifestos

Many parents may find it surprising that modern early childhood education doctrines are quite in agreement with the beliefs set forth in the various Humanist Manifestos. These are the Humanist Manifesto I (1933), Humanist Manifesto II(1973), Humanist Manifesto 2000 (1999), and Humanist Manifesto III (2003). Humanism is unabashedly set forth as a new (albeit with ancient roots) and rival religion to “traditional” and “obsolete” religions like Christianity (i.e., religions that believe in the existence of a personal God and absolute moral principles). At the same time that humanism denies any faith in God, faith in man is affirmed. (Without any evidential support for this belief, I might add. A cursory look at the atrocities of the 20th century—even mentioned in the Manifesto II—should be enough to destroy any faith in the basic goodness of man.)

The Manifestos are much more honest than many atheist and agnostic literature. Quite correctly, they admit to man’s basic needs for beliefs in something beyond what can be measured empirically. Faith is needed, they tell us. Faith in man. This is the hallmark of the religion of humanism.

It is this same faith in man that underlies all that is taught today by the so-called experts of early childhood education. Rooted in the ancient philosophies of men like Plato, and continued by those such as Rousseau, Piaget, and Maslow, humanism has so pervaded and perverted the field of early childhood education that even most Christians fail to recognize the indoctrination present in almost every aspect of childcare practice.

While verbally affirming God’s role in the development of a person’s character and morality, in practice almost all Christians buy in to the humanistic dogma that people are shaped by their environment. The full unleashing of the potentiality in man (sometimes called “the divine spark”) is the goal of humanism. Whereas the Bible tells us God redeems us and makes us who we are, humanism tells us that the ability to be all that we can be (what Maslow called the “self-actualizing person”) lies within every human being. As long as the proper supportive and non-corrupting environment is supplied, man will naturally ascend ever upward to his full potential. As Humanist Manifesto II points out, you don’t need to be an atheist or an agnostic to be a humanist. “Many within religious groups, believing in the future of humanism, now claim humanist credentials.” Don’t we tell children that, when they grow up, “You can be whatever you want to be”? Many so-called Christians are fine humanists.

It is no mistake that there is an extreme emphasis on children’s raw, undirected creativity in childcare teaching today. Creativity is an attribute of God. Since man is God to the humanist, this emphasis makes perfect sense. Look at any typical “developmentally appropriate” classroom and the “artwork” hanging on the walls (or stuck haphazardly around the room anywhere the children felt like putting them). Art projects are to be entirely creative. No rules, no lines to color in. Gods do not need guidelines to create. Whatever the child comes up with is good, even if it resembles something a chimpanzee might make with its feces. In such creativity lies the hope for mankind’s future, say the Manifestos and early learning experts.

Humanists have a tremendous amount of faith. Faith in the goodness of man, that society is evolving and getting better all the time, and that truth is something man creates. Humanistic morality “teaching” is based on the presupposition that children will naturally, given the right environment, choose what is best for themselves and others. The healthy, normal child will develop through stages of moral evolution, ascending to ever higher moral planes. Just as biological evolution is ever upward, so is the morality of a child unless stunted by authoritarian rules and the guilt of rigid Biblical morality.

Our children need “character development,” say experts. Children need values and morals to be healthy, fully actualized members of society. Few parents and teachers would disagree with these statements. But what is meant by “morals” or “values”? For the humanist, there is no such thing as an absolute value. Traditional, authoritarian morals prevent children from reaching their full potential, it is said. Just as humanity emerged from natural evolutionary forces, morals coalesce spontaneously from human experiences. They are not static, but are continually evolving and being tested. Through experiential education and common activities, children in humanist daycares and schools (and almost all church daycares and schools are included in this category) create their own morals and values, their own ethical code. In fact, the little gods construct their own reality, in all its aspects, including morality and social structure. It is no mistake that there is an emphasis on cooperative decision making and problem solving in modern childcare. According to Piaget, the healthy child evolves beyond believing in absolute rules (the heteronomous stage) to the realization that rules and morals are just things constructed by other people like himself. If they can make rules, so can he (the autonomous stage). What we consider wrong today may be considered right and good by our children tomorrow. Values are to be tested and judged critically, not by the Bible and God’s teaching, but by our own reason and intelligence, guided by the experiences we have with others. The Humanist Manifestos and early childhood educators and theorists are in complete agreement on these points. Is it any wonder that the children educated in our current system grow up to despise the morals of their parents and culture?

Among the most abominable traits of our current society is the rampant sexual promiscuity and disregard for God’s laws concerning marriage and sex. The repression (read: Godly restraint) of sexual urges and conduct is something to be abolished, according to both the Humanist Manifestos and early child development theory. As the Manifesto II says, “Moral education for children and adults is an important way of developing awareness and sexual maturity.” What might this “moral education” consist of? In addition to the formal sex education given in the public schools to children as young as kindergarteners, government childcare classes urge daycare teachers to promote individual and mutual “exploration” of the child’s own and other children’s bodies. Participants in these classes are told that the teacher should never discipline a child for such voyages of discovery, lest the child feel shame and have his or her development stunted (see Erikson’s “Shame vs. Autonomy”). Despite the fact that the vast majority of parents are opposed to this kind of education, the educational elite continue to promote the unfettered sexuality of children as a good thing. The healthy animal is a sexual animal.

Next to man, the humanist places his greatest faith in reason, logic, and the scientific method (as do many Christians, I am afraid). With a supreme stated confidence in the ability of man to solve his own problems through cooperation, science, and education—without God’s help—the humanist state is only too happy to step in and “assist” those who work with children in the “development” of pedagogical knowledge.

The State to the Rescue!

One of the many requirements the state of Florida has imposed on those wishing to work in the field of early childhood education is 45 hours of childcare classes, taught by state-accredited instructors. The classes have titles such as “Identifying and Reporting Child Abuse and Neglect,” “Child Growth and Development,” and “Child Care Facility Rules and Regulations.” These courses are taught with the utmost solemnity, as if God Himself had inspired the lesson material. And in a very real way, this is true. This is the Word of the “god” of the almighty state.

You don’t have to spend much time in government childcare classes to figure out what they are all about. Rather than imparting practical knowledge about how to teach children to read, or practical tips for classroom control, the unwilling (or unwitting) participants are spoon fed a steady supply of government-approved humanistic propaganda. I can think of no clearer example of the maxim that all teaching is religious.

They are indoctrination sessions, pure and simple. The goal is to educate people out of their right mind, lest they bring any biblical ideas or habits into the classroom with them. The research of secular humanists is presented as truth, and whatever the government wants us to do in our centers is declared “best practice.” Dissent with the instructor’s opinions is not well-received, to put it gently.

Like any god worth its worship, the state has its prophets. It’s not that any of the instructors have actually read these prophets, they just know what the prophets said because it’s in the lesson book. An often mentioned “prophet” of early childhood education is Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Rousseau (a great influencer of those responsible for the bloodbath called the French Revolution) is held in such esteem by the childcare elite that I have joked about bringing a bust of Rousseau to one of these classes to get in good with the instructor.

Rousseau is credited with two wonderful advancements: the concept of “developmentally appropriate practice,” and the notion that a child’s environment determines success in the educational endeavor. Rousseau denied the Bible’s doctrine of original sin, claiming that a child was “unmoral,” incapable of doing anything morally wrong. Children are born sinless, Rousseau said. It is the environment that corrupts, and thus the educator’s primary task is to protect the child from anything that might alter his innate goodness.

The Doctrine of DAP

Developmentally Appropriate Practice, also known as DAP, is one of the most talked about concepts in early childhood education today. Any internet search will turn up a lengthy list of web sites and research papers on the topic written by organizations such as the National Association for the Education of Young Children and state universities. It is an accepted doctrine that, on the face of it, sounds rather innocuous and reasonable. The basic idea is that a child must be taught at his or her own developmental level. You wouldn’t attempt to teach a child who was still mastering pedaling a tricycle how to ride a unicycle.

In practice, however, DAP is used by the state to effectively censor material they would rather not have children learn. A major problem is this: Who defines what is developmentally appropriate and what is not? In our heavily regulated educational environment, the answer is simple—government experts. “Developmentally appropriate” usually just means “politically correct.”

It is not in the state’s best interests to have an educated, literate citizenry. DAP is frequently the excuse used for “dumbing down” the curriculum used with pre-Kindergarten and younger ages. Despite what generations of children have learned at a young age for hundreds of years, the early childhood educational elite have discovered that kids should not be expected to learn many things educators used to teach them. The instructor at a class I attended purporting to teach standards for Florida pre-Kindergarten students told us that basic addition was not appropriate for four year olds! I have heard many other similar statements over the years from representatives of government agencies and other “educators.”

The teaching of reading to young children is certainly not Developmentally Appropriate Practice, according to the state! Reading is hated above all by so-called “early learning” experts. Much like Rousseau, who did not consider it important for a child to learn to read until the age of fifteen or so, they would rather put off teaching reading as long as possible. This is a carefully guarded secret, however.

The early childhood education agencies and organizations (such as the NAEYC) have a major public relations program in place to reassure the world that they are doing all that they can to increase literacy rates in our country. “Reading Readiness” and “Early Literacy” are promoted as top priorities. Despite what they sound like, neither of those things are actually used to teach reading. Teaching children to read is presented as a supreme challenge, something to be attempted only by accredited experts after the child has had years of schooling in preparation.

I can attest from many years of experience, from both personally teaching children, and training teachers (many of whom came from non-English-speaking backgrounds) to do it, that teaching children as young as three years old to read is not especially hard. With the correct phonetic techniques, and combining one-on-one practice and group drill times, learning to read is not difficult for most children, and is even fun. Government childcare experts disagree, however.

The very idea that children would be told to sit down and listen quietly to a phonics lesson, particularly one in which the child is encouraged to memorize something, is considered bordering on child abuse in the current educational climate. Despite the proven results of children learning to read at our Grace Community schools, government representatives continue to deny that it is possible.

Further infuriating the humanist educational elite is our use of rewards to encourage learning and good behavior. We call them “badges.” The critics call them “bribes.” Either way, used properly, they work. Competition, particularly competition for tangible gain, is not politically correct. Rewards given by teachers encourage children to become what authority figures want them to be. It molds behavior. (This is why it is extremely important that the authority figure uses biblical standards as the basis for rewards.) Praising a child for obedience is horrible according to the humanists. Children are to create their own standards of right and wrong! The entire concept of “good behavior” is false, they say. The bottom line is that the giving and withholding of rewards for behavior and achievement is far too much like the system God uses. Blessings and curses are not recognized by the humanist.

The time-honored (because they work) techniques of memorization through drill and work sheets are also forbidden by DAP. Color inside the lines? Children are to make the lines! Just as exposure to books and printed words is somehow supposed to turn into “literacy” in children some time down the road, handwriting will spontaneously emerge from a child’s scribbles it is claimed. Participants in child care classes are shown figures of how a child’s handwriting somehow naturally changes over time from random hen scratches, to letter-like scribbles, to printing more and more legible words, all without the aid of penmanship instruction or “ditto sheets.” I can’t help but be reminded of the famous diagrams of the supposed evolution of man from stooped-over apes to erect homo sapiens. If evolution is true, why not?

In case you were wondering if flash cards could ever be considered developmentally appropriate in early childhood education, the answer is no. The sight of flash cards is, however, known to cause apoplectic attacks in representatives of government childcare agencies. It is anathema to everything they stand for educationally and religiously. Flash cards represent absolutes and rigid authority, and a rebellion against modern humanistic pedagogy. Even worse, they actually work.

Even more disturbing than how experts use DAP to destroy academic learning is how it is used to deny children basic discipline and moral training. Requiring a child to wait a turn for a toy or the drinking fountain is considered unconscionable. It is not developmentally appropriate to expect three and four year olds to sit still for fifteen minutes while the teacher reads a story or teaches a Bible lesson, we are told. No talking? Children are to be free! After all, they are born inherently good, so what is the worst that could happen? True Developmentally Appropriate Practice, as it is defined by childcare authorities, requires the abdication of the teacher’s authority. Children are to lead the classroom. Teachers are to willingly relegate themselves to the sidelines, merely helping facilitate the children as they learn through play. Children should be encouraged to find truth themselves, wherever and whatever that might be.

In fact, teaching children about things like stealing and coveting, having them say Bible verses and the Lord’s Prayer, and other similar things is not allowed by DAP. Anything absolute is labeled as too “abstract” for kids to understand. It’s not meaningful enough to them. Teaching should be done in the form of asking open questions, without one right or wrong answer, about things they experience with their senses on a regular basis. This pretty much excludes Bible stories. Of what possible benefit could it be for a child to hear about something that happened thousands of years ago to adults on another continent? How can they ever experience with their own senses, say, something like the story of David and Goliath? (Oh, and it’s too violent, as well!)

Just like Rousseau, modern “experts” declare that teaching young children morals, biblical concepts, and reading is not developmentally appropriate. Developmentally Appropriate Practice is all about what helps a child develop most optimally, according to those who define it. Since they reject the Bible, of course they will say the Bible will not help children grow and develop. In fact, the sense of guilt Bible teaching creates in children when they do wrong is seen as harmful—stunting the development of a healthy animal. Religious (meaning Christian) concepts are not seen as necessary or desirable for young children to learn. Instead, humanistic social values are integrated into the curriculum, under the euphemism “character development.”

Humanistic Morality

I had a government inspector and purported early childhood education specialist seriously recommend to me that Grace Community Schools dispense with our Bible curriculum and replace it with a book on sixteen “virtues” which were to be taught to the children. The book’s so-called virtues included pride, tolerance, humor, and sharing, all taught from a secular, Marxist perspective. She said to me, “They’re like the ten commandments.” Sadly, the typical “Christian” daycare or school would be able to integrate these humanistic virtues into their curriculum with no problems at all. This is called “moralism,” boys and girls, not to be confused with “morality.” Indeed, you can even search for “character development” curriculum online, and find publishers selling curriculum sets that come in two flavors: faith-based and secular, both teaching identical virtues. God and His law are not seen as necessary for creating virtuous children. Clearly what they are saying is that good character (dubiously defined) does not require any supernatural intervention at all. An atheist may be a very good person. But their god is not my God.

The strongest theme in Rousseau’s perspective on education is a faith in the “natural” man. Natural is good. Original sin is a myth. Society and its values are what corrupts. All vices are learned. The closer a child remains to the natural state while growing up, the better. In fact, that is the primary goal of the educator: to protect the child from what might make him bad. Since an infant is good, an infant’s wants are all good, too. Rousseau advocated satisfying all of a young child’s needs before he even had a chance to cry out. This is exactly in line with what is taught by most childcare experts today. If a child does anything wrong, society or the environment is to blame.

After Rousseau, the most admired pioneers of modern childcare are a trio of twentieth-century secular humanist psychologists. They are what I call the trinity of humanistic early childhood education: Erik Erikson, Abraham Maslow, and Jean Piaget. Their theories are presented as fact without qualification to all those taking education classes. Although contradicting each other on various points (not that the instructors tell anyone that), what all these theories have in common is this: truth comes from man, and man is basically and naturally good.

Conspicuously absent from any of these theories is any discussion of absolute right and wrong. In fact, they claim that teaching absolutes can have a negative impact on a child’s self-esteem and thus his development. Since theorists like Piaget hold that morality is a purely human construct, children are to invent their own morality and be their own consciences. Authority has no authority.

When the innate goodness of man is presupposed, the entire education system is built on a foundation of sand. Insanity results. Children become little gods, creating their own realities and deciding what is to be true amongst themselves. The teacher has no authority. He observes and makes sure the environment does not stifle creativity, damage self-esteem, or otherwise corrupt the pure natural man. Since the child is good, what a child wants is good. A child’s every need (defined very loosely) is to be satisfied immediately, or disaster could result. Above all, we are never to say “no” to a child. Negatives destroy a child’s self-worth. Children cannot be healthy, we are told, without being autonomous (i.e., sovereign). The child who wants to touch another child’s private parts should not be shamed or discouraged from “acting naturally.” The healthy person is one who stays closest to his natural tendencies.

Since the godless theorizing of Erikson, Maslow, and Piaget (and others like them) underlie everything in the current early childhood education system, it is not surprising that traditional—more importantly, biblical—methods of measuring success in the classroom are not favored by the educational elite today. Among the most disturbing and insidious of these methods are ERS, Environment Rating Scales.

Environmental Tyranny

Modern childhood education is overwhelmingly environmental. By “environmental,” I don’t mean Al Gore and Earth Day environmental (though that is there too). I mean that most educational “experts” believe that what surrounds a child during the educational process determines the outcome of that process. Change the environment, change the child. It’s as if the classroom were supposed to be some kind of biodome (complete with plants and animals!) with the kids running free inside, and the teachers were only researchers tweaking the parameters within the classroom environment. This view has infected modern childcare to an almost unbelievable degree, in both secular and “faith-based” programs. If you have worked in any early childhood education setting in recent years (church related or not), you may not even have realized the humanistic theology underlying how modern classrooms are set up and run.

It is a testimony to the pervasiveness of environmental theology that there is a major push to make Environmental Rating Scales the primary means of inspecting, rating, and judging early childhood education programs. It is considered a given that any center with a good educational environment (as defined by state experts) will produce a good educational product. It is also a given that the state and its agencies and partners are to be the judges of what is a good environment.

Although there are many, two of the more common ERS you may encounter are the Infant/Toddler Environment Rating Scale (ITERS and the revised ITERS-R) and the Early Childhood Environment Rating Scale (ECERS and the revised ECERS-R). ITERS and ECERS were developed by a humanist educational A-Team that would make Piaget, Maslow, and Erikson proud. While childcare centers who take government funds have traditionally been victims of “Health and Safety”-type inspections, these are more and more being supplanted in favor of these more esoteric and abstract environmental inspections.

Oh, we’re not actually supposed to call them “inspections.” The approved term is “assessments.” As in, the government will “assess” your school to see how much help they need to give you. Beware when the government wants to help you! (Rule #1: You don’t want the government’s “help.”) These days, ERS ratings are increasingly being used to determine levels of state funding and punish centers ill-favored by their state regulating agencies.

When we at Grace Community Schools first heard about them, ITERS and ECERS were promoted to childcare providers as an objective, non-judgmental way to assess centers and increase quality. We were assured that there would be no sanctions attached, and that the objectivity of the assessments was such that two inspectors would come up with identical scores under the same conditions. We quickly found out how far from the truth this was. (Rule #2: If the government assures you strongly of something, it’s most likely a lie.) Our lengthy battle with the government over its attempt to use ITERS and ECERS to discriminate against us for our religious teaching is one of the more interesting stories in the history of Grace Community Schools.

The story doesn’t make much sense unless you remember something crucial: we were and are waging a battle with the state over souls. The civil government is fully aware of this. Little children who grow up on government aid are traditionally future Democrats. Dependent on the state for everything (and thus willing to eternally defend it), these proletarians are the source of Big Brother’s power. The state wants no competition. It seeks to drive everyone else out of the childcare business and force parents to use government childcare, or at least government-controlled childcare. ITERS and ECERS is a means towards this end. Sure, there are still plenty of “faith-based” centers out there, many even licensed by the state. But make no mistake: the civil government has no intention of allowing a non-castrated, commandment-teaching Christian daycare program to operate without severe opposition. The average church daycare with its easy believism and compromised theology is not a threat to the state. (Rule #3: If you’re not taking flak, you’re probably not over the target.)

Enter Grace Community. We were trespassing on territory historically held by the state and its stooges: caring for children from low-income families. Of course, we were doing far more than caring for them in the usually-accepted sense: We were teaching them to read and evangelizing them. While conflicts with the state were nothing new to us (we don’t take a license, after all), in 2008, things began to get worse. The problem for the state was that Grace Community facilities had no problems passing their health and safety and paperwork inspections. Buildings were clean, paperwork was in order, fire drills were held regularly, teachers attended the proper classes, and so on. Given a fair test, we could play by the rules and win. Environmental Rating Scales were to be the game changer.

Much like public safety or cancer awareness, almost anything can be done in the name of “quality.” Quality was what providers were told would be increased by these new inspections. Instead, ITERS and ECERS became an excuse to establish an ever-growing government foothold in our schools. Long bemoaning their lack of control over our curriculum, this was exactly what the state had been looking for. Not being able to dictate what we did every minute of every day, now they could at least score us as low as possible and make us face consequences for our substandard “performance.” Note that environment rating scales do not measure results (and especially not educational results), they only take into account the environmental conditions that supposedly existed at the time the inspector was present. The fact that children in a classroom know how to read is at best irrelevant. At worst it is evidence of child abuse. The ERS program was begun with gusto.

Initially we were told that in the interest of making sure that what was observed was a typical day, Grace Community management could veto particular days and reschedule an assessment due to teacher illnesses, special events, and so on. This was later to be done away with. The flagrant disregard for our school operations finally extended to performing ERS assessments on the first day of the school year (understandably one of the most chaotic and untypical days on the calendar) at one of our schools. So much for the typical day!

Little warning was given as to when these inspections would take place, in spite of the supposed protocol: “Observers must arrange for the visit before arriving at any program. Permission is needed to observe, teachers must be notified, and a clear explanation of what to expect should be provided.”[1] We did not expect the Spanish Inquisition! We and the parents of the children in our schools (who complained about the inspections) were startled by the hostility these individuals showed us. Staff, children, and parents were all made to feel extremely uncomfortable and stressed by the presence of these dour scrutinizers. To say that our classroom operations were affected is an understatement.

Environment scales like ITERS and ECERS are broken down into subscales, which are sections such as Space and Furnishings, Personal Care Routines, Activities, Interaction, and Program Structure. Each subscale is comprised of various items, which in turn are made up of what are called “indicators.” Indicators are checked as yes or no, and used to score the items. Item scores are then averaged to create an overall score for the subscale. Subscales can be averaged for a grand final rating score.

It all sounds quite reasonable, if somewhat complicated. By breaking the scale down into a few hundred yes or no questions, we are assured of objectivity, right? Alas, no. The individual yes/no indicators are incredibly subjective, and totally dependent upon an (in our case, very prejudiced) individual inspector. A great example is from the indicator used to mark whether a playground area is generally safe or not. Inspectors are asked to check the cushioning used on outdoor play surfaces to aid in marking this indicator. While many childcare centers use wood or rubber mulch for their playground surface, all Grace Community Schools use a type of artificial grass designed for use on children’s playgrounds. It is safer (according to documented lab testing) and cleaner than mulch by far. After being hassled at a couple of our locations by state-sponsored officials about the safety of this playground material, we obtained and distributed to inspectors a lab report from the play surface manufacturer. This report certifies that the artificial grass we use completely satisfies applicable safety requirements. Unfortunately, government inspectors refused to accept the lab report, relying instead upon an inspector going out onto the playground herself and seeing how it felt to bounce up and down on the turf! Based on this highly empirical test, the playground safety indicator was scored the same as if we had a playground with no fence next to a busy street or exposed rusty nails sticking out of the slide. Our complaints were to no avail.

Other areas of the assessment had similar issues. At one Grace facility, the inspector claimed that the teachers did not disinfect the changing pad between diaper changes, and that parents and staff did not share information related to children(!). It was written down that asking the toddlers to help clean up the toys before the next activity was a negative thing. Time out away from the group was labeled “harsh discipline.” Posters on the wall in the toddler room about body parts and food were said to be “not meaningful.” In the infant room, diaper bags touching was used to say we had no facilities to store children’s belongings. I could go on.

After a botched attempt to retrain their own inspectors in the dark arts of environment rating scales, inspectors were contracted from outside organizations in an attempt to add the appearance of objectivity to the assessments. These outside inspectors were even bolder in their condemnation of our operations, especially our Bible curriculum. After each ERS inspection, different inspectors (“specialists”) would come in to provide “Technical Assistance” (TA). Incredibly, these assistance sessions were sometimes even worse than the preceding inspection! Ostensibly, these meetings were held to reveal the results of an ERS inspection, and provide help in improving low-scoring areas of a facility’s operation. In reality, these meetings were not even technically assistance. They were just an excuse to find something to write a “Notice of Noncompliance” about, bringing further opportunities for inspections and sanctions.

A further problem with how these ratings scales were administered was the continual use of one item to denigrate the entire program. For example, under General Supervision of Children, an inspector’s note read, “During this observation, it was noted that there was sand on the floor near the sand table. Although it was neatly swept up, it was left on the floor. Therefore, credit cannot be granted.” Again, we received the same score as if something much more serious were going on—the minimal score. When we pointed out to “specialists” sent in to discuss our results that giving the lowest possible score in an area for a minor infraction left no way for an inspector to rate a truly terrible program, no answer was given.

One inspector wrote down in her notes (either through stunning incompetence or intentional misstatement) that we did not have any names written on the children’s rest mats, despite the plainly visible names written in black Sharpie on both sides. This would be a health violation (were it true), because children are required to have their own individual mats to sleep on, in the interest of not sharing germs. When this mistake was brought to government officials’ attention, they acknowledged the error, but refused to adjust our score. Apparently there was no appeal process.

The incidents I have described and others convinced us of the severity of our situation. In our desperation, we attempted to document inspections ourselves with video cameras. We quickly found out how little freedom we had in our own centers. Memos from higher ups in the regulatory agency threatened us with cessation of funding for our programs. Contracted inspectors were given instructions to walk out and report us if they saw a video camera, or even if a manager attempted to document the inspection in the classroom with paper and pen. ITERS and ECERS came to be used as disciplinary tools against us and our Bible teaching. We were left with no choice but to remove ourselves from taking School Readiness funds. God, in His providence, made it clear that Grace Community School did not fit in with the modern ECE establishment.

Why Daycares Instead of Schools?

One of the slogans of Grace Community School is, “Instead of Daycare, Why Not a School?” Why is this so revolutionary? The simple reason is that it is now out of vogue for institutions of early childhood education to call themselves “schools” at all, or indeed to even seem overtly educational. This name change is deliberate and important. We want our parents to understand that we are not a babysitting service—some place that just watches the kids while mom and dad are at work. The word “school” in “Grace Community School” has very important connotations and best describes what we are.

Words and the definitions of those words are important. Part of our civilization’s attack on Christianity has been a degradation of traditional language (the language created in a more Christian era). Just look at the word “gay,” for example. The common meaning is not what once was; it has been twisted to conform to the particular agenda of those in power. The Newspeak of the modern educational elite is similarly degraded.

Where once institutes of children’s learning were called “schools,” this is no longer considered appropriate. The more common terms are “centers,” “providers,” or just “daycares.” Schools educate; daycares provide “care,” a very different word. Teachers are now called “caregivers”; the word “teacher” brings to mind an authoritarian figure, a disciplinarian who dispenses knowledge and is in charge of a classroom. This does not fit with modern early childhood doctrine. Teachers do not teach. This is the role of the environment. The teacher (caregiver) facilitates. She more or less lets the children lead and teach themselves, staying on the sidelines adjusting the environment. If there are any rules to a classroom, they must be rules that the children themselves have created. Caregivers do not control the children in a classroom in any meaningful way, instead they “observe.”

Early childhood caregivers in Florida must take an entire class (funny how adult courses still require direct instruction) about how to perform classroom observations. For example, when two children have a disagreement, the caregiver is not to intervene unless actual injury is imminent. Instead, she is to observe the children, taking notes and evaluating their socio-emotional development. If intervention becomes necessary, a “caregiver” might tell the children that they need to respect each other’s feelings, not that there is anything necessarily wrong with what a child did. The worst thing she could do would be to judge the children by some kind of absolute standard!

What we think of when we think of a school is a scene totally out of place in a modern daycare. Experts tell us young children, even kindergarteners, cannot be expected to sit still and listen to a lesson. Strong discipline, even if it is just verbal, is inappropriate and harmful to children. We have gone further, however; direct instruction itself in any form (what we used to call “teaching”) is labeled developmentally inappropriate. Something developmentally inappropriate by definition is considered to interfere with a child’s healthy and natural development. Teaching has been replaced by play.

Play is the New Learning

You can read entire books written on the subject of children’s play, and I have. These books all have the same message, that play is learning. Anything else is not. Not just play, but something called “free play.” Free play is play chosen by the child, with no extrinsic goal whatsoever. It must be play for play’s sake, for the enjoyment of the child. Play chosen by the teacher is bad. Play assigned by the teacher may appear to the child to be work—something to be avoided at all costs! The child must be in charge, to have power. As Grace Community School found out, childcare programs that take state funding are required to have a certain number of hours of free play per day. Teacher-led activities (still a far cry from actual teaching) are extremely limited.

To a rational person, all of this seems insane. It is, but it is more than that. It reflects the prime tenet of humanism: man (in this case, the child) is God. I keep coming back to this point because it is impossible to grasp where modern educational theory and practice is coming from without understanding this. Educational theory holds that any activity that does not reinforce this image of the child as God is harmful to the child, causing later learning difficulties, depression, and who knows what else. I read one book in which the authors insinuated that youth suicides were a result of children going to “regimented” preschools! This is consistent with other beliefs of humanism like evolution—order from chaos. When you think about it, it’s not surprising at all. This is just humanists being consistent. The message to children from this is that success does not come from careful, directed and disciplined work; it comes from doing whatever you want to do. And most people share this belief, at least tacitly.

Learning comes from the chaos of free play, not from paying attention to an authority figure or doing school work. I agree that children will learn one thing by this: work is bad, obeying is bad. Children taught that the world has no rules grow up expecting the world to be something totally unlike how it really is. This is real cruelty. Is it any wonder that older children have so many discipline and drug problems? Their entire world view is at odds with reality, by design.

If you do any reading of early childhood education material you will encounter “discovery-based” and “experiential” learning. These are related to an education philosophy called “constructivism.” Basically, constructivism holds that reality is not in existence until it is created in the minds of each person through their own personal experiences. In other words, children don’t receive knowledge from a teacher, they construct it themselves using things they discover in their environment and the experiences they have. If a child is taught something through direct instruction, it’s not really knowledge.

If children don’t fully understand it, care about it, and discover it for themselves on their own by their own volition, it’s not knowledge, only rote memorization. (In case you still hadn’t figured it out, learning by rote is very bad, according to modern ECE experts.) This of course would rule out memorization of addition and multiplication tables, phonics sounds and rules, Bible verses, the Ten Commandments, and the like. The child is God, and only what God chooses to learn is knowledge.

Feng Shui and the Classroom Environment

Since Rousseau, progressive educators have held that a student’s primary teacher is the environment. Knowing this, it is not surprising that most books on ECE are focused on creating the perfect learning environment. Hearing an authority talk about classroom arrangement is a lot like hearing someone talk about feng shui.

The dictionary says feng shui is “the Chinese art of determining the most propitious design and placement of a grave, building, room, etc, so that the maximum harmony is achieved between the flow of chi of the environment and that of the user, believed to bring good fortune.” Modern classroom arrangement and feng shui both rely on esoteric texts and mystical sages for guidance, and both believe the environment to be the prime determiner for almost everything. As I said before, tests have been replaced by assessments of the environment. Great portions of these assessments are dedicated to proper room arrangement, and entire books have been written to help childcare professionals with this task. You see, if only you have the right environment, kids will learn pretty much all by themselves. The caregiver, preferably with her higher degree in early childhood education, is just there to tweak the environment settings.

Back when we took government funds we would have entire inspections dedicated to checking what toys we had in our classrooms. I remember the first time I saw this, I couldn’t figure out what the inspector was doing by taking toys out of the toy buckets and writing down how many dolls we had, what kind of play food we had, what science toys we had, and so forth, all in dead seriousness. I have since become educated in the matter. To an outsider, it seems absolutely ridiculous that the be all and end all of education is having the correct play things. To those educated out of their right mind, it is taken for granted.

Whereas an old-time schoolhouse could get away with just a chalkboard and school books, today’s early childhood classroom must include a vast array of “essential” supplies and toys. We have evolved, you see. We know so much more about how children learn and develop. Science tells us we need these toys for children to learn, based on decades of peer-reviewed research. The old one-room schoolhouses were barbaric! To acquire all the toys and furnishings required by, say, the ECERS environmental assessment for even a very small classroom requires thousands of dollars. The environment is everything.

Early childhood learning environments are very complex things. Besides basic personal storage areas for children and staff, a sleeping/resting area, and a toileting area, the ideal classroom includes many different “learning” centers. (Remember, learning equals play.) A proper developmentally appropriate learning center will include a reading/library center, cozy corner, listening center, water play area, sand play area, manipulative center, writing area, small block area, math center, art center, science center, cooking center, large block center, dramatic play center, doll area, puppet show theater, music and movement, wood working and tool area, “Circle Time” area, and gross motor area. All of this together takes up a tremendous amount of real estate, and must include a certain amount of required square footage per child to meet childcare regulations. Each area or center has its own comprehensive list of furniture, toys, and supplies needed for it to fulfill its purpose. Is it any wonder that daycares increasingly depend on government funds to stay in business? There is more. It’s not enough to just have these toys, furniture, and centers, they must be arranged in that feng shui way just right for them to be effective. Is the block center too close to the library center? You might as well not have those centers at all, according to environmental rating scales. We’re not yet finished.

There is another factor influencing classroom materials, generally known as “diversity.” Not only will ECERS assessors and government inspectors score you on classroom toys and materials, they will score you on how well your classroom materials reflect racial and cultural diversity. For this reason you need dolls of all colors and hair types, and toy foods from all cuisines: American, Mexican, Italian, Chinese, Japanese, and so on; posters on the walls showing people of different races, skin colors, and abilities, and even a variety of “family types.” As you can see, there are agendas at work here. It is not appropriate to show only traditional (biblical) families to students, they must see single parent homes, children raised by grandparents, and so forth. I am sure that requirements for showing same-sex parents are in the works.

Those influenced by the traditional ways of schooling will be struck by how none of these things relate to real education and teaching whatsoever. I’m not saying that there is anything necessarily wrong with having toys for kids to play with; I am saying that these things are extraneous to education. Teaching a child to read does not require hundreds of dollars worth of toys and an interior decorating guru, just a few dollars worth of flash cards and someone who can follow the right system. This brings us to the next section.