The Accidental Advocate

Some of you might be familiar with the wildly popular Netflix series, "Stranger Things", where real life is mimicked in a horrifying version called The Upside Down. It's a dark place where monsters exist, and for the few who have witnessed the terror firsthand, they unsuccessfully try to raise awareness of this horror, while those surrounding them are slowly swallowed up, against those in charge who simply choose to ignore their pleas in response to this monstrosity.

Being a parent advocate is similar to stumbling into The Upside Down.  It certainly wasn't something I had my sights set on,  nor do I know anyone who chooses to be abused and ignored by the system simply because we want to raise awareness that our children aren't learning effectively. I've written about where I believe our strengths and energy should reside in our schools: firmly as an informed partner within the educational establishment, supporting best practices in the classroom and ensuring each and every child has fully mastered foundational arithmetic using explicit instructional methods that have already been proven to be THE most successful learning tools for young students. Parents should fully support teachers in achieving this goal, and vice versa.

But what happens when some of us start to notice that the reality of our child's learning environment, is a bit like the Upside Down? Do we pretend that it's not happening, or do we try and bring attention to it and risk being labelled "that" parent...the troublesome one, who doesn't get along and believes that monsters lurk where others pretend not to see them?

In North Carolina there is a very dedicated and informed group of parents who are trying to wrestle that math monster out of their School District and now, one has been sued by the resource publisher for speaking publicly:

"Mathematics Vision Project (MVP Math) is suing a Wake County North Carolina parent, Blain Dillard, for "libel and slander" and "tortious interference with business relations" after he publicly criticized the MVP math program and organized parents to try and get the district to stop using it.  MVP Math was designed to teach Common Core math standards.  The company claims that Dillard's comments were 'intentional interference' with company business."

Mr. Dillard states he is innocent of all charges against him and has secured a lawyer to launch his defense.

Mr. Dillard is part of a very organized, educated, group of parents who were fed up with the impacts this particular math resource was having on their children.  In true American fashion, they decided to do something about it. A student led movement organized a walkout in protest of MVP Math which saw over 400 of them leave their classroom to demonstrate their frustration with MVP Math.  Parents wrote letters to the editor. They attended Board Meetings and gave presentations. They did, what any other concerned parent would do when their child was falling through the cracks: they got involved.

I (and many others) have spoken ad nauseaum at public events, at board meetings, presented petitions to MLA's and other politicians, written editorials and presented at education conferences. We've spoken to thousands of parents, teachers and other concerned citizens across the country. What binds us together is dysfunction in math curricula that have been designed by so-called experts. We have overwhelming data and evidence that shows a disturbing declining trend of math performance across Canada and other jurisdictions, and yet in response, our education leaders stubbornly resist to acknowledge that their inquiry based practices are hurting our kids.

This brand of mathematics, which pushes inquiry, problem solving activities, usually in a group setting, goes against the evidence behind effective instruction. There is overwhelming evidence about why inquiry instructional methods should be used sparingly, and yet as these North Carolina parents have learned, our schools ignore our perspectives at our children's peril. Cognitive overload of the working memory occurs when children haven't achieved a firm mastery of facts and are then asked to perform a multitude of tasks that they cannot, and certainly do not, understand.  But our efforts at protest and change are ignored  by the edu establishment.  We are not welcomed by those we challenge.  I personally have been threatened with legal action merely for questioning methods demonstrated at a math night sponsored by our School District years ago. In my specific example, the SD dealt with the matter quickly, but it was an important reminder that parents are not supported when they question authority...even when our kids' futures are at stake. 

But this MVP Math lawsuit is in a league all on its own.  Challenging a parent's fundamental right to speak up when our kids aren't learning? It's suggestive that the only place parents are required, are when there's a bake sale to organize or to support fundraisers for their school. We are to told to allow the experts to experiment on our children unchecked, rendering them useless for the workplace upon graduation. This type of instruction, and useless curricula, is also widening the equity gap between those who can afford tutors, and those who cannot.

And that's just plain wrong.  Folks, we've arrived at The Upside Down. I hope you'll consider supporting Blain Dillard, in his fight to keep his house, his family and his livelihood intact.  It's not right that he be punished simply for trying to help his son in math class.  His fight is our fight. #WeStandWithBlain.


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