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Education Reporter

Victory in Northern Vermont
Parents battle Goals 2000 reforms
HOLLAND, VT - When classes began last fall in rural Orleans County near the Canadian border, some significant changes had taken place in the curriculum at Holland Elementary School. During the previous (1999-2000) school year, comprehensive education reform had provoked such parental outrage, concern and fear that by the end of the year the principal had resigned and a total of nine staff positions were open.

As one mother complained in her letter to the editor of a local newspaper, the family atmosphere that once characterized Holland Elementary had been replaced by a climate of "secrecy." The mother stated that she felt "powerless" whenever she tried to determine what her child was or was not being taught.

What prompted such a change? Parent David Knowles, whose daughter was in 3rd grade at Holland Elementary last year, summed it up in two words: "Goals 2000."

Curricula and Programs 
Knowles complained that the programs and curricula introduced at Holland included "new new" math and science courses without textbooks, guided imagery, cooperative learning, life skills, School-to-Work, and Total Quality Management. He characterized TQM as "psychoanalytical group therapy" and claimed it was part of what he called "the Annenberg experiment." (See box, page 4, top left.) The curriculum also included "Magic Circle"* - a counseling program that involves students and teachers sitting in circles discussing feelings and private affairs. Knowles dubbed these sessions "confession circles."

According to Knowles, one of the cooperative learning exercises was also performed in a circle every morning. "The kids would form a circle, and one child would begin by saying the word 'zoom,'" he said. "The next child would repeat the word until one of them reversed the sequence by making the sound of screeching brakes. The exercise would then resume going the other way."

Lockdown Initiated 
Although Knowles was not alone in his opposition to the curriculum and counseling programs, he was apparently the most vocal and, by his own admission, the most excitable. He met with school officials several times with no results. One morning last April, after walking his daughter to class, he spoke to a neighbor's 4th-grade son in the hallway. Principal Linda Aiken spotted him and asked him to leave. Knowles ended up threatening both his daughter's teacher and Aiken with a lawsuit over the curriculum.

District officials responded to his threats with a three-day "lock-down" at the school. The principal requested a police presence while students were being dropped off and picked up. Visitors were required to sign in. Rumors began to fly in the community of a potential Columbine-like situation, despite the fact that no charges were filed against Knowles and police conceded that he had "done nothing wrong."

At a school board meeting the following week, parents grilled board members about the administration's handling of the incident. Some felt the administration had blown it out of proportion. Many were angry about the lockdown. Others were upset with Knowles and fearful for their children's safety.

An uproar broke out in the local media. One newspaper reported that the principal and teachers made phone calls to other parents warning them about Knowles after his visit to the school. Some parents, however, took up his cause. "You have brainwashed our kids all week and put fear into them," one parent charged at the school board meeting. "It sounds like this was a big witch hunt," another declared.

A number of letters to the editor were published. One stated: "David is not alone in his thinking, nor are his opinions 'off the wall' . . . . perhaps those who fear David Knowles would do better listening to him."

Principal and Teachers Resign 
In May, 40 parents signed a petition requesting that Linda Aiken resign, citing "lack of strong leadership." She subsequently submitted her resignation to the school board. The teachers who also resigned claimed they did so because of "safety issues" and "personal reasons," although at least one reportedly had planned to leave before the turmoil began.

Of Aiken's resignation, Knowles observed: "She was a victim of the state and federal departments of education. She didn't understand the agenda, and I feel badly for her."

At the start of the current school year, the School-to-Work program was made voluntary, the "confession" circles and "life skills" sessions had been dropped, and math textbooks were added.

Knowles and his family have recently moved to upstate New York. He is pleased that some changes have taken place at Holland and says he plans to continue his activism in defense of traditional education.

* Magic Circle was introduced in public schools in 1978. Education Reporter initially reported on the program in April 1986. — Ed.

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