I was born in 1926, which makes me probably older than anyone reading
this magazine. This means that I have a sense of history, that is, an
understanding of cause and effect, that most young people lack these
Is it important? As Sarah Palin would say, “You betcha!” In other
words, I know history intimately because I have lived through it: the
Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and
the current wars. That’s a lot of history to know first-hand.
Although I was born less than ten years after World War One, that war
seemed as remote to me as if it had never taken place. That’s the way
the memory works, and that’s why I can understand why so many people
today cannot know what it was like to live through World War II or the
Korean War, or even the Vietnam War. And I have no idea how the
schools teach these wars these days.
I was born on Manhattan Island in the world’s greatest metropolis, the
most expensive and legendary piece of real estate on the planet. I was
born in one of those tenements in East Harlem which was filled with
new immigrant families and their new American children.
At age five I was sent to kindergarten at the neighborhood elementary
school, P.S. Number something or other. Of course, I walked to school.
A very nice policeman at the corner helped us cross the avenue. In
those days kindergarten was play time. Formal education started in the
first grade. I remember the name of my first-grade teacher, Miss
Sullivan. Or was it Miss Murray? She taught us to read with phonics
and to write in cursive. So our little brains were totally activated
to become lovers of books and writing. There was no such thing as
dyslexia in those days, and certainly no such thing as Ritalin.
The classrooms were clean and bare back then: just a portrait of
George Washington hanging on the wall, and a cursive writing chart
over the blackboard. We sat in desks bolted to the floor. Today, kids
sit around tables facing one another, coughing into each others faces,
pestering one another. Back then you faced the back of a fellow
pupil’s head and you did not chat. You were quiet and attentive. The
teacher was the focus of attention. She wasn’t a facilitator. She had
your attention, so you couldn’t possibly get attention deficit
Back in those days we went home for lunch. My mother usually prepared
a fried egg sandwich and a glass of milk. Then I walked back to
school. On Sundays my mother would make a herring and onion sandwich
on a roll, which I loved. She would buy a salted herring out of a
barrel at the appetizer or fish store and that would be our Sunday
breakfast and lunch. They were delicious. That was Eastern European
Your taste in food is developed very early in life by what your
parents feed you. So I’ve always liked fried egg sandwiches. Today,
schools serve breakfast and lunch, so parents have less of an
influence on what a child gets to eat.
Once, during a school outing, we were served tuna-fish sandwiches and
tomato soup. I had never had that at home, and I liked them. My
sister, two years older than I, had friends who introduced her to
foods my mother was unfamiliar with, such as mayonnaise. Once we
discovered mayonnaise, it became a household favorite. My sister also
introduced me to chow mein in the local Chinese restaurant. I’ve loved
Chinese food ever since.
For some reason tomatoes tasted better in those days. That’s probably
because the taste hadn’t been altered by so much special scientific
breeding. But you can’t stop progress. And so the advent of the
supermarket with its myriad of packaged and frozen foods and the rise
of so many fast-food franchises has made it easier for Americans to
feed themselves with as little fuss and time as possible.
As for education, progress in the public schools has seemed to go in
the opposite direction. Despite all of the computers and new
textbooks, reading skills have declined. According to “Reading at
Risk,” a report issued by the National Endowment of the Arts in 2007,
American literacy is in serious decline. Dana Gioia, chairman of the
Endowment, stated, “This is a massive social problem. We are losing
the majority of the new generation. They will not achieve anything
close to their potential because of poor reading.”
In short, instead of getting smarter, our kids are getting dumber.
High-tech executives complain that young Americans lack the basic
skills that are needed in today’s high-tech industries.
And that is why homeschooling is where you find real progress in
education: high literacy, enhanced academic skills, interest in
technology, government, history, geography, and most important of all,
If you want to see what educational progress looks like in the 21st
century, just attend one of the many homeschool conventions that now
take place every spring across America. You’ll see parent-educators in
droves listening to lectures, examining books and curricula, making
sure that what they do at home will enable their kids to become the
best educated young adults in America.
Born and educated in New York City, Samuel Blumenfeld has written ten
books on education, including several that are considered homeschool
classics. His phonics program, Alpha-Phonics, and How to Tutor the
Three R’s, are available from Ross House Books, 209-736-4365 ext. 12.
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