CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. – The way Donna Bennett sees it, the United States of America is in need of a little tender loving care these days.
Bennett, a former middle school math teacher, senses that too many Americans don’t have a proper understanding or appreciation of the people, ideas and founding documents that made this nation the envy of the world. She sees evidence of that by the way our elected leaders are behaving in Washington, D.C.
But recently, those concerns hit much closer to home when her 10-year-old son brought home an essay he’d written in school entitled “Christopher Columbus the Monster.”
While Bennett understands the explorer was far from perfect in the way he treated the indigenous people he encountered in the “new world,” she doesn’t see the point in having young students wallow in the negative aspects of America’s heritage.
“Kids need American heroes,” Bennett tells EAGnews.
Adding to her distress was the fact her son’s fifth-grade class spent two weeks studying the United Nation’s “Universal Declaration of Human Rights” – instead of the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address.
The assignments confirmed a general feeling in the lifelong Democrat that schools aren’t teaching students about our national heritage and that “patriotism” has become a dirty word for too many educators.
She summarizes her concerns by quoting Abraham Lincoln: “The philosophy of the school room in one generation will be the philosophy of government in the next.”
Bennett and two other former teachers in New York’s Canandaigua community – Coleen Avery and Frank Tischer – are trying to counter this troubling trend.
Next week, the trio is launching the first-ever “Freedom Camp,” a one-day, free event designed as a quick and fun-filled way of teaching children about their American heritage. The camp – which is being held in Bennett’s home – will introduce elementary and middle school students the Founding Fathers, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights.
Attendees will also learn how faith shaped us as a people (“one nation under God”), though no specific religion will be touted during the “Freedom Camp” – partly because all three teachers come from different religious backgrounds.
Students will also be led in some patriotic sing-alongs by Laurie Robbins, an accomplished musician who happens to also be Bennett’s mother.
“The kids will hear about how awesome our Founding Fathers were and how important the Declaration of Independence is,” Bennett says. “I’m so excited about it.”
Important topics getting lost under Common Core
While rebuilding a sense of patriotism is at the heart of “Freedom Camp,” it’s not the only focus.
Some of the day’s events are meant to teach students about topics and practices that are being cast aside as schools transition to Common Core. Tried-and-true approaches to math instruction are high on the list of Common Core’s casualties.
The decision to include some “math games” stems from the bad experience Bennett’s third-grade daughter has had with Common Core math. Bennett says her daughter has developed a strong dislike of math because it gets bogged down in the “why” of math calculations instead of the “how.”
For example, Bennett says her daughter gets confused with Common Core’s emphasis on solving a simple addition problem with a complicated, overwrought “tape diagram” instead of the time-honored practice of simply lining the numbers up and adding them.
Bennett is so concerned about the new approaches being taught under Common Core that she and her husband are strongly considering pulling their kids out of the public school and sending them to a private Christian school that has not adopted the new learning standards.
But for a brief time during “Freedom Camp,” Bennett hopes students will be reminded that math can be simple and fun.
Students will also be taught about penmanship and calligraphy, a lost art that will help students appreciate and connect with America’s founding documents.
Attendees will also participate in a time of personal goal setting and activities designed to bolster their self-confidence.
‘This is a movement’
Bennett says the group plans to hold two other “Freedom Camps” during school breaks in February and April, and a three-day event during the summer. She’s getting the word out through Facebook, and says the reaction so far has been very favorable. Her goal is to see “Freedom Camps” pop up all across the country.
To that end, the former teacher has developed an easy-to-follow curriculum – available through her website – that aspiring “Freedom Teachers” can follow.
Bennett thinks there’s a real demand for this kind of program.
“This is a movement – but it’s not that radical of a movement. We’re just getting back to basics.”