Home-Schoolers Expose Public School Flaws

Jacob Cieslak, left, and Avery Seaman

News Analysis

CLASSROOM –  Like most of us, I’ve become more and more aware of flaws in our public school education. The speed of deterioration has increased, and parents’ eyes and other citizens’ eyes have been opened, and as a result, many parents and other concerned citizens ran for seats on Boards of Education recently, and many of them won! Now, they’ve begun the Herculean task of “mucking out the stables” that are our public schools.

Sometimes the very personal can be a floodlight on the universal. With that in mind, let me tell you a tale of the schools in Craven County, North Carolina.

Our Board of Education is a seven-person board, and there is reason to hope five of them are conservative. Two of the five, Lauren Kitzinger and Jennifer Dacey, ran on very conservative platforms. An additional two, Scott Murphy and Brent Manning, are believed to be conservative Christians, and the fifth, Kelli Muse, seems dedicated to achieving a good, down to earth, practical education for students who are not necessarily going to college.

Our new school board has already uncovered several problems that were “hidden in (almost) plain sight” by asking a series of probing questions at meetings, but one of the significant problems was uncovered when two young home-schooled men (one of whom is a neighbor of Board member, Lauren Kitzinger) showed some real initiative.  

Avery Seaman and Jacob Cieslak are the catalyst that got the ball moving, and it’s typical of them. They’re active in the Civil Air Patrol, take the super-hard courses, and recently helped form the New Bern area chapter of Turning Point USA.  Avery is the President and Jacob is the Vice-President.  Avery and Jacob became aware that at least one local school was getting rid of library books, so they went to the library and visited with a staff member and asked questions.

It seems the books to be discarded (or “weeded” to use the term school media specialists seem to use) were books that held “misinformation,” or had old publication dates, or had been separated out as inappropriate for the student population, or were in bad condition. 

On its face, that sounded reasonable, but then the boys got a look at some of the books that were getting the boot. There were a couple of copies of the Holy Bible (one illustrated rather elaborately), Moby Dick, A Tale of Two Cities, Oliver Twist, and other classics. They were in good condition; why did their publication dates matter?  Some of the books were history books, and some contained the writings of our founders.  Misinformation?  One had something ugly written on one page, but none was in poor condition. It didn’t make sense.

The bottom line was that Avery and Jacob got several large boxes of books they were happy to get. They shared the books with other home-schooled teens, and kept a representative selection for themselves, and they let Lauren Kitzinger know about what had happened and how strange it seemed to them. 

Lauren Kitzinger and Jennifer Dacey each took a selection of books to the Board of Education meeting on January 17 –  a meeting at which they had requested a briefing by the media specialists on the status of the implementation of the $2.5 million dollar contract that was approved by the prior school board  for the purpose of buying new library books. To say they asked probing questions is to practice British understatement.  

Under questioning, several things became clear. The “media specialists” were using vague criteria suggested by the American Library Association (an organization that needs to come under a microscope).  It became increasingly clear  the vague criteria could be manipulated inappropriately. They also spoke of a “Media and Technology Advisory Committee” in each school to choose the books, but it was soon obvious that they are dominated by staff. Parents and other taxpayers who pay the freight (pay taxes) need not apply.  Personally, I think parents and other taxpayers should dominate these committees, don’t you?  Ah, and perhaps throw in some of those charming retired English teachers who are fierce grammarians to really keep things ship-shape!

Further questioning uncovered a real bombshell.  Although roughly half of the $2.5 million dollars has been spent, the Board of Education has not been consulted about a single one of the books that have been bought in spite of the fact that the legislature of North Carolina has clearly placed responsibility for the selection of books in the school board’s hands!  Are the inmates running the institution?

Fast forward to January 22.  The Coastal Carolina Taxpayers Association (CCTA) has a weekly, hour long, radio program, “Wake-Up Call,” which airs on 107.1 fm on Saturdays at 6 a.m. and Sundays at 11 a.m. and again at 8 p.m.  Board of Education member, Jennifer Dacey, and a parent of children formerly in Craven County public schools, Heather McManus, were interviewed on air, and boy did they provide an earful of things that are being uncovered. 

Jennifer began the interview with a description of the information Avery and Jacob provided them and what they had been able to learn since. Jennifer also broke the bombshell revelation about the school staff’s usurping the Board of Education’s responsibility and prerogative relative to choosing books.  She also mentioned that Follett Publishing (the publishing company with whom they have a contract to purchase the books) seems to have an inordinate amount of control in that they also have the online tool for ascertaining the books’ contents, in addition to owning the online tool for rating those books. 

Doesn’t that sound like Follett is well positioned to affect outcome?  Do they steer toward more expensive books?  Toward more of their own services?  Toward particular biases?  

Heather McManus reported that this past October, the school’s guidance counselor came into her son’s 7th grade math class to talk to the students about mental health instead of math. The students were informed they would be given a mental health survey to be filled out daily. Also, Heather became aware that the students were being given Panorama Surveys, and that the survey results were interfaced with “powerschool” creating a permanent record – and that any student who scores in a certain way “receives ‘correctional’ instruction,” but that the child’s parents are NOT informed.  I expect you will not be surprised to also learn that because of these discoveries, Heather removed her children from public school last October.

Saving her own children from the “tender mercies” of public schools did not end Heather’s quest to find out the full range of things happening in those schools.  Nope.  Bless her.  Heather did a survey of the contents of Craven’s school libraries specifically looking for books about gender identity, slavery, and homosexuality.  Interestingly, she found only three books about slavery that predated colonial America, and she came to the logical conclusion that much of our early history is being ignored. Heather did find a book entitled This Book is Gay in the Grover C. Fields library, and it contained very graphic information about two young men and two young women engaging in sexual activity, but the book is no longer there, and when one searches the records for it, it no longer comes up. What happened to that book?

Jennifer Dacey speculated that This Book is Gay is now in a specially marked section of the library. I inferred  the probability is that the section is sequestered from inquiring parents and other taxpayers, but not necessarily from all students.  In fact, I seem to remember Avery’s saying something about some of the books being in special sections that weren’t universally available. That is something else that needs to be looked into.

At about this point in the radio show, Heather contributed that at one point while her son was still in public school, a sexually explicit Tik Tok advertisement came up on YouTube on his school-issued I-Pad. Heather took the offending I-Pad back to the school and turned it in. Her son’s grades did not fall because of his not using a school issued I-Pad (as some parents fear) after that.              

In addition, Heather told her audience that once her son was no longer in public school, she discovered that in spite of his having been in the top 10 percent of students in English language arts in public schools for more than three years, he was unable to compose a complete sentence in writing.  Fortunately, he is now getting special help in this area and is showing continuing improvement.

It is coming to light that a lot of the controversial theories being introduced to children and teens in public schools are not necessarily coming from normal classroom studies but through what’s currently called “social and emotional learning,” or SEL, and much of it is coming through guidance counselors and/or “mental health specialists.”  Jennifer shared that James Lindsay is an expert on SEL, and suggested that it would be useful for people to become familiar with his work (see footnote below).

Heather’s parting advice was for parents to get involved  and alert to what is going on in his or her child’s education.  Jennifer agreed and added that “we’ve just scratched the surface today,” and said that “community involvement is needed in addition to parental involvement.”  

When I asked for a review of this article for correctness by the people mentioned in it, one of the things Heather said was that if she had it to do over again, she’d tell parents one simple, effective thing they can do.  She said, “Parents must Opt Out (#OPTOUT) of the technology agreement with the school district.”  She added, “By not allowing the school district to put a device in their child’s hands, they will end the school district’s ability to survey them and will essentially cripple the data mining, profiling, and thought reform that’s being performed via the devices.”  

Mary Griswold, CCTA’s Chairman, closed out the radio program by announcing that CCTA’s next public meeting will be a panel presentation by concerned parents and citizens. The meeting will be at Stanly Hall Ballroom at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, February 21, at 249 Craven Street in New Bern.  School Board members, parents, and all concerned citizens are enthusiastically invited to attend.  Bring your questions and concerns.

Avery Seaman and Jacob Cieslak started the ball rolling.  Will you join in and aid its increased momentum?  

  • Upon reviewing a video, Heather McManus has corrected the fact that her son’s school guidance counselor initiated the daily mental health surveys in September, not October.