Monday, June 12, 2006

Interview: Beverly K. Eakman - author

Below is an interview with Beverly K. Eakman done via email. I think the first time I read anything by Beverly was when I came across her columns at I've noticed a number of people mention her in the same breath as John Taylor Gatto or John Holt. After doing this interview I can see why, she is an articulate critic of public schools.

I hope you enjoy the interview.

Brief bio:

Beverly Eakman taught in public schools for nine years, starting in 1968. She was a Science Editor and Writer at NASA. At NASA she wrote a technical piece, "David, the Bubble Baby," which was picked up by popular press and turned into a movie starring John Travolta. Beverly has worked as a chief speech writer at a number of national and governmental organizations, including the National Council for Better Education. She has written several books, including Cloning of the American Mind: Eradicating Morality Through Education . For more information about Beverly, check out her web site: BEV EAKMAN.

Q & A’s for Homeschool Interview Responses
© 2006 Beverly K. Eakman


Tell us about yourself. Where did you grow up? What was your childhood like?

I grew up in Washington, D.C.—one of the few natives of the Nation’s Capital. I had a lot to live up to as the daughter of two exceptionally gifted parents. My mother was a renowned musician, drop-dead gorgeous, with an IQ off-the-scale. My father was a child prodigy who toured the world at the tender age of 5, classically skilled with the violin—which is how I wound up born in Washington, D.C. By 1945, he was concert master of the National Symphony Orchestra. My maternal grandfather was so brilliant in engineering and language that he was sent behind enemy lines for both the U.S. and Britain to do intelligence-gathering during World War II under the cover of civil engineering. He wasn’t aware of his gift for languages until the government discovered that he could master practically any language, nuances and all—German, French, Farsi—it didn’t matter.

By contrast, if the term “hyperactive” had been in vogue during my youth in the 1950s, I’d have found my niche. But … I was born too soon. Too soon to be labeled with a code out of the nice little bible of psychiatric “diseases”—the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM), too soon for my misbehavior to earn a free pass as “a chemical imbalance in the brain.”

Happily, I had the luxury of maturing, altering my conduct, and even changing my opinions—the old-fashioned way. I didn’t have to worry about somebody accessing a computer file 20 years or so down the road and trudging up some label like Attention-Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder or Oppositional Defiant Disorder. I didn’t have to consider the possibility that I might be rejected by a coveted university, or worse, lose out on a career choice, based on a coded label I’d acquired for one of these “disorders” in the 4th grade.

Like the irrepressible cartoon character, Calvin, I fantasized glorious deeds and made myself the hero. The worst of the lot, I suppose, was “The Medical School.” The polio scare was all over the news in those days and a vaccine, hopefully, was on the way. And I had one of those Playskool doctor’s kits. Remember those?

Well, I replaced the make-believe plastic syringe needles—which looked rather puny, I thought—with Mother’s hatpins and threatened to inoculate the 3rd-graders with a mixture of Vicks Vaporub and salt water, until some spoilsport called my mother.

Then there was the classmate who handed me a pair of scissors and dared me to cut a slit in her dress. Well, you can imagine who got in trouble for that one! Stupid me, I fell for it. Now, if we’d just had school psychiatrists, they would have told Mother that I “failed to pick up on social cues”—a marker associated with mild autistic behavior—and I’d have been “home free.”

Unfortunately, I inherited none of my parents’ talents, not even an ear for music, much less the prerequisite coordination. When knee-socks were in style, mine could be found down around my ankles. I was the kid who spent hours dressing up to go somewhere, only to discover a strand of spinach lodged between my front teeth half-way through the evening.

Today, I would be a sure bet for Special Education. But my mother, fortunately, got into a conversation with a neighbor who was the principal of a public high school in 1949. He asked her where she was going to send me to school, and she replied that she hadn’t thought much about it, as I was only 3 at the time. He advised her to send me to a private school if she could, because the public schools, he said, were “becoming chaotic, uncontrollable and substandard.” He proved to be more correct than he knew.

Because my father was of foreign extraction (a naturalized US citizen from Argentina), she selected an international K-12 academy, Maret School, in downtown D.C. It was modeled on the old Swiss and French systems back when an international baccalaureate (IB) meant something. Today, an IB is wholly different. But back then, diplomats’ kids who went to Maret knew they were returning to somewhere in Europe and had to pass the thing. They only got three shots at it. The ones who didn’t make the grade would discover their options were limited to vocational school.

The foreign kids at Maret had no pictures at all in their textbooks, although we American students did have a few. Even so, we never knew whether our class would be in English or French (the international languages at the time). Our teachers were strict disciplinarians whom we called “mademoiselles” and “monsieurs.” Many of them had escaped to this country one step ahead of the Nazis, the Stasi, or worse. They valued the American heritage and way of life, while still retaining elements of their (and our) Western cultural heritage, which they passed along to us kids.

Unfortunately, the early 1960s brought a flood of former public school pupils into the private schools. That changed the values and character of private schools like Maret into a more liberal and lax (Americanized?) direction. The academics were still there, but the New Ethics and pop culture slowly made their way in.

What interests did you have?

I loved to write, especially poetry, from early on. I appreciated music and ballet, even though I wasn’t particularly good at either. Sports like ice skating and basketball were of interest, but I wasn’t good at these, either. I was more a spectator than a participant. I loved animals, especially dogs. I was interested in reading about medical breakthroughs, cryptography in World War II, archeology and geology and astronomy. An interest in politics, social issues, education and philosophy came much later.


You have had a wide and varied career. Why did you make the jump from a teacher to being a writer at NASA?

I was really a “natural” for the teaching profession. As a child, I was one of those quirky, pain-in-the-derrière kids who drive their elders nuts. But in 1974 I found myself disenchanted with the California classrooms and changed professions to technical writer. When we moved to Houston, I found an opening with a contractor for National Aeronautics and Space Administration. My husband was with the space program, and I had always been interested in subjects associated with that.

It was, in many ways, a dream job. I got to transcribe air-to-ground tapes for the Apollo and Apollo-Soyuz missions. I got to study courses I was really interested in and could talk to my husband about—crash courses in lunar geology, space medicine, chemistry, astronomy, astrophysics…. Later, as editor-in-chief of NASA’s newspaper, I got to do such things as cover Lunar Science conferences, write a research-policy tome on the potential of geosynchronous orbiting satellites as one solution to the world’s energy problems. I penned some of the first stories on Landsat—the now-well-known satellite-based earth-imagery satellite program. And then there was the proverbial human interest feature—“David, the Bubble Baby”—which changed my life.

In 1979, I was surprised with an offer of a teaching position in Houston’s Clear Lake district—home to many astronauts’ kids. This occurred shortly after the publication of my human interest piece, “David, the Bubble Boy”—the article that was turned into a film starring John Travolta. I was offered the debate team, creative writing and honors classes—all of which sounded a lot friendlier toward academics than what I’d endured in California. But I was wrong, and again left the profession in disgust.

In 1984, my husband’s company opened a branch in my old stomping ground, Washington, D.C. Suddenly more interested in public policy and social issues than I used to be, I decided to pursue an opportunity as a speechwriter. I was surprised again when I was tapped for speechwriter to the Chief Justice of the United States, the late Warren E. Burger, when he stepped down from the Court to head the Bicentennial Commission on the U.S. Constitution, and then again when I was hired away from the Commission to become speechwriter for the head of Voice of America.

But for some reason, the lure of education’s woes continued to beckon—this time from a public policy and political perspective. Clearly, all the things I predicted when I actually taught were now were being delivered in spades to the American people. Academics were in big trouble, as were the kids themselves.

How could something as straightforward as teaching a child to read go so wrong? When did schooling turn chaotic? Why were teachers spending so much time on surveys and social adjustment? Why was it that the more we made schools colorful and entertaining, the more the kids hated them? When did class discussions morph into political correctness? And how did juvenile misbehavior turn violent and criminal on such a massive scale?

Such questions eventually would overtake my real vocation. Like a dog with a bone, I couldn’t let it go. I penned three books, followed by countless articles, speaking engagements, talk shows, and interviews. All this forced me to return, mentally, to my college years, when I was first preparing for a career as a schoolteacher. Reconsidering some four years of teacher training and nine years actually teaching, I realized that our role hadn’t been the transmission of "basics," or literacy, or proficiency at anything, but rather the promotion of "mental health." Accountability, I learned, meant satisfying government mandates and bureaucrats, not answering to parents.
This, in turn, made me take a second look at my own grammar school years in Maret School. Suddenly, I understood that something massive was transpiring globally, that the schools were being used to institutionalize a political agenda.

How did your technical piece, "David, the Bubble Baby," gain national notice? Were you consulted on The Boy in the Plastic Bubble ? Did you meet John Travolta?

The “David, the Bubble Baby” feature was a fluke that proves the old adage about “life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” It was just one of many human interest features I had to do for NASA’s newspaper, which came out every two weeks. I decided one issue I’d do a piece on the NASA engineers who constructed a prototype space suit for an immune-deficient-born child—a sterile environment in which the boy could play and be more or less in contact with his family and other children.

I should mention here that Immune-Deficiency Syndrome (IDS) is not the same as Auto-Immune-Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) that is caused by the HIV virus. IDS is a very rare, but not unknown, condition, like being born without the capacity to feel pain. Most such children never survive infancy. But someone got a brainstorm that if the boy could just be kept alive long enough to reach adolescence, maybe a bone-marrow transplant would enable him them to recover on his own. Unfortunately, the bone-marrow transplant (at age 12, from his sister) failed, and the boy died.

Since that time, I have since become friends with Kelly Preston, John Travolta’s wife—a really lovely person, totally unassuming and genuine—as she speaks out with me, and others, against the psychologizing and drugging of America’s youth. Kelly and her husband didn’t want such methods applied to their own kids, and they recognized that the youngsters of actors and actresses are disproportionately targeted for psychobabble and prescription psychiatric drugs in the schools. They were outraged.

“David, the Bubble Baby,” however, had nothing to do with psychology, only with IDS and with the youngsters of NASA employees who tested out the suit. I did not have input into the actual film version of my story that starred John Travolta, nor have I actually met him. The story, of course, became the property of NASA, even though my name was on the byline. But it did earn me journalistic credentials and no doubt led to other offers of employment.

What did you do as writer-editor at the United States Department of Justice?

I wrote speeches for one of the program directors, then training manuals for the civil rights investigators. I answered and catalogued letters from the public, wrote up legal findings from attorneys’ notes—a hodge-podge of things. More importantly, I learned how to craft legal language, about how the criminal justice system works, and about how the government-grant and -solicitation processes. I learned how lawyers determine whether a prospective case was worth pursuing—i.e., has legal merit, or “standing.” I parsed this knowledge into complaints from parents about their schools.

The first time I remember hearing of you was when I came across some of your columns at NewsWithViews. I noticed you haven't written for several months. Have you stopped? Or are you just distracted?

All those years I spent researching my books and penning hard-cover pieces and columns—working weekends, evenings and holidays, and looking longingly out the window at my husband lounging on the chaise—I thought: “There will be other years for me to do that.” Well, I got to the point where I was overwhelmed, and I didn’t see any progress being made by conservatives on social, cultural or educational fronts. I got burned out. In re-organizing the various piles of research materials that had accrued—I try to do this every January—I experienced an epiphany, of sorts. It started, I think, with the passage of the New Freedom Initiative, a euphemistic phrase to describe a plan to do computerized, psychological profiles on every person in the nation, beginning with schoolchildren, a process which I exposed in my 1991 book, Educating for the New World Order. I looked around at all the clippings and research materials on the floor and realized that year after year, we were saying the same things, making the same complaints about the media, the schools, and so on. Worse, every new graduating class (both high school and college) was less able and less motivated than the last to read, to do comparative research, or to insist on the constitutional ideals that made us a great nation. Every new generation of parents is less able to transmit values to their youngsters and have adopted the feminist outlook of shoring up their own careers, egos, and so forth. Children have become virtual “trophies.” The population has bought into an entitlement mentality.
So, I basically stopped writing last February. I summed up my angst in a January 2006 column, Lost.

What are your plans for the future?

I am taking a long break from most things political and considering doing a novel based on my mother’s life—which was colorful, to say the least. It will be a research nightmare if I go through with it, requiring all my time, so I need to stop and smell the roses while I can.


Public education has greatly declined over the last fifty years, on many different levels, for example academics, safety, and the efforts to influence what children think. Do you see any bright lights in public education?

Between 1968-1975, standardized tests started looking more like opinion surveys than cognitive measures. Teachers like me were told essentially not to teach — not to put red marks on pupils' papers, not to say anything that could even be construed as a negative comment about a youngster's work, clothing, or speech.

Fewer and fewer prospective teachers pursue an academic major. They major in education, which translates to psychology—or, more specifically, social work. Even those few who do specialize in an academic subject, typically wind up "facilitating" some other area once they hit the classroom. A history teacher might teach science; a music teacher might cover math.

No, I see no “bright lights.” In comparative scores between nations, the U.S. continues its downward trend. As I am writing this, it is predicted that we will not have a skilled or educated enough work force in 20 years to remain competitive.

Over the years you have raised a number of concerns about public schools. When did you first start becoming concerned about public schools? And what were your initial issues?

The seeds of concerns about public schools were planted during my years as an education major in college. I realized my role was not to transmit basics, or literacy, or proficiency at anything, but to promote "mental health." Texas Tech University, where I decided to go, was out in the sticks: Hicksville USA—the last place in the world one would expect to find an essentially Marxist approach to teacher education. Most of my classmates were from tiny, backwoods towns, and yet they were eating up what their education professors were pitching. Of course, the professors were appealing in part to students’ budding urge to flee the nest and become their “own person,” just like professors did on other campuses around the nation that were actually rioting and demonstrating. At least there was none of that at Tech.

The majority of our course work consisted of what we called “ed psych”: education psychology, child psychology, adolescent psychology, and so on. I thought it strange that nobody really cared whether we had a grasp of any particular subject area.

My introduction to the new thinking first came in 1966 when this “psych” professor walked in, drew several concentric circles on the chalkboard, and announced: “The first thing you kids need to know is that there’s no such thing as common sense.” He tapped the Bull’s Eye. “That’s Ego,” he said. “That’s what’s important. These other circles represent things like religion, and family, home, and so on. All of that is peripheral. Ego is the center of the universe.”

Once in the classroom, I realized courses like logic, philosophy, rhetoric and chronological history, which once helped students get a handle on modern issues, had disappeared—both in high schools and at the college-graduate level. Nothing incorporated concepts about self-reliance, property rights, limited government (especially in the context of regulatory power), or the role of religion in society. In high schools, courses like physics, chemistry, calculus, and physiology started being reserved for those with very high IQ scores, who were then skimmed off the top for better things, or else they were rounded up to "mentor" slower students.
Then as a young teacher in California, I attended workshops by behavioral experts like William Glasser, who explained how children needed to be told their every accomplishment was wonderful, even when it wasn't. Other psychologists claimed the traditional approach to teaching and raising children was "creating a thousand neurotics for every one that psychiatrists can hope to help with psychotherapy."

Childrearing advice mirrored what was going on in the schools. Parents’ magazines of the mid-1960s suddenly were filled with articles by child “experts” advising moms and pops to lay off the discipline and give children their “space.” Remember that? Don’t snoop around in your youngster’s bedroom and closet. A child has a right to privacy, and so on.

This sort of thing had a predictable effect—youngsters totally out of control. Parents soon tired of being around their children, too, and by 1978, day care was big business. But when the fire hit the fan in the 1990s at Littleton, CO; then Springfield, OR; Paducah, KY; and Santee, CA, it was the parents who got blamed for not doing all those things the “experts” had lobbied against for some 35 years. By obliterating the lines between right and wrong and advising kids to “discover their own value system,” schools suddenly were awash in disciplinary problems never previously experienced, not even in the bad old days when pupils had to stoke the fire to heat up the classroom.

Yet, child “experts” today stick tenaciously to their misguided vision, calling the resulting atrocities “mental health issues” instead of moral issues.

Do you see any bright lights in public education?

What surprises me, I guess, is that public schools haven’t already imploded. I mean, what does it take? Of course, a huge number of caring parents have fled public schools and there are some great resources for them now that often are better, or at least as good, as options that expensive private schools offer.

Private schools have become more expensive because the demand for them has increased along with the bureaucracy and red tape required to launch one. Then there is the issue of vouchers, which again introduces federal dollars (and strings) into the equation. But now something remarkable is happening: Homeschooling parents, along with a few exclusive private schools and learning (tutorial) centers, are taking advantage of real scientific breakthroughs in learning. They’ve ditched the trendy, faddish stuff. For example the Bridgeway Academy Project—an online curriculum provider launched by Robert Salzman—offers a full K-12 curriculum, both CD- and paper-based. It’s accredited in all 50 states. The key is that Mr. Salzman took the trouble to determine exactly how a particular student processes information in the brain and then comes up with a method to teach the child.

I’ve been preaching for years that education problems could be solved in 15 years by thoroughly revamping teacher education in colleges and universities based on what we really know about learning. If we scuttle the psychobabble and the mush, and craft real diagnostic tests for entering schoolchildren, then rework the way we pair students with teachers, we could change the whole dynamic of schooling.

Excepting actual brain injuries and real diseases that cause retardation, only nine things can “go wrong,” as it were, in learning: spatial and abstract reasoning, visual identification, visual and auditory memory, perceptual speed, mental stamina, hand-eye coordination and thought-expression synchronization. Most people are weak in at least one of these areas.

These elements are not learning “styles”; they are make-or-break fundamentals. We’re approaching diagnostic testing as a mental illness, and that is completely wrong. Young pupils need to be paired with the teacher trained to handle a child’s weakest element, not his strongest. For example, if a student already excels at auditory memory, it’s a mistake to put him in an environment where the lessons hinge on oral presentation. He’s already good at that.
Education majors are not specializing in spatial reasoning or auditory memory or perceptual speed, etc., except in training programs aimed at tutors working in high-priced learning centers, places where wealthier parents send their floundering offspring. These folks know all about the make-or-break fundamentals because the first priority at a learning center is to establish a substructure of learning. Otherwise, the tutoring will fail and parents will not continue to pay for these centers.

So, yes, there is a way out. But the public school surely will not take it. The question is why our nation’s leaders are not taking advantage of what we already know about learning. I think part of it is political—the teachers’ unions, which are basically Marxist and have no interest in an educated populace. Another part is greed—politicians know that ignorant pupils become sitting-duck adults—easy marks for demagoguery, and perhaps votes. A third reason is that schooling has become intertwined with pop culture. “Everyone” sends a child to school—don’t they? And all of the hullabaloo like popularity, cliques, football and fluff that goes along with public schooling. Meanwhile we have school shootings, rapes, gangs and politically inspired curriculum—all part and parcel of today’s institutions.

In Cloning of the American Mind you focus on how the federal government is using public education to manipulate attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. The book was written in 1998. Has the federal government backed off since then, or is there more involvement in manipulating beliefs?

Since 1991, I have been chronicling how schools spend an inordinate amount of time pretending to “socialize” young people. In reality, they are trying to ensure a mass mentality toward socialism, not self-reliance—all of it covered in euphemisms about “mental health.” Here is a list of the New Ethics (a.k.a. “New Morality”) being transmitted in most schools today—via curriculum, questionnaires/surveys and even so-called academic tests:

· There is no right or wrong, only conditioned responses.
· The collective good is more important than the individual.
· Consensus is more important than principle.
· Flexibility is more important than accomplishment.
· Nothing is permanent except change.
· All ethics are situational.
· There are no perpetrators, only victims.

Parents today are not as shocked by the kinds of surveys and questions their kids are getting because they grew up in the world of Oprah and Geraldo and Rikki Lake and are accustomed to it. What none of the nation’s leaders who buy into this malarkey have stopped to consider is that what is politically correct today can change tomorrow. A national emergency like a massive earthquake, or traumatic event like 9/11 could send years of carefully advanced strategies for political correctness sprawling.

So now that youngsters are blowing away their classmates and teachers, the federal government comes along with this “New Freedom Initiative” (a.k.a. Universal Mental Health Screening Program), with incentives in every state to create state laws duplicating the federal initiative. Federal entities are able to “sell” such draconian programs because children are committing crimes unheard of in the 1940s and 50s, and parents increasingly are worried.

Today’s undereducated population hasn’t stopped to think that an allegation of mental illness is a conversation-stopper, a slippery slope filled with unintended consequences. Today the Gay Lobby, tomorrow the Skinheads. What kind of administration, in 20 years, will be determining who is “at risk” and who needs psychiatric “medication”? Don’t like it? Tough. A profiling mechanism is now in place, and the government is bragging about what it is doing instead of trying to hide it, as was the case pre-1998.

Meanwhile, schools continue to demonstrate more concern with psychological probing and “behavior modification” (“re-education”) efforts than anything else. Thus course “work” like conflict resolution, anti-bullying curricula, anxiety-and anger-management. Kids have class discussions with virtually no encouragement to find facts to support their views. They certainly are not advised to investigate all sides of an issue, especially any the teachers’ union might disagree with.

Statistics show that parents today mostly give up trying to transmit any values by the time their children reach the fourth grade because they see it is a losing proposition. Public schools don’t support traditional values; teachers have an anti-parent mentality; kids often leave school traumatized, drugged, ignorant, or all of the above.

What should parents do to fix public schools? What can parents do to protect their children from being brainwashed?

I think the public school is a lost cause at this point because it is so institutionalized and politicized. The only way parents can vote now is with their feet. Given the response to causes like immigration, I don’t see hundreds of thousands of parents descending upon Capitol Hill to protest the public school environment.

As for how to protect children from being brainwashed by the schools, that is a tall order, too. First and foremost, parents have to teach their children what kinds of topics are private. Kids pick up magazines like Seventeen and find all kinds of intimate survey questions, which they view as fun. They fill them out and mail them in. They have no idea what constitutes a “private” subject.

Topics like sexual positions and homosexuality are in a students’ face 24/7 from every conceivable entity, including the school. Special Education is billed as “remediation,” but in reality it is a peer-pressure-cooker with no remedial help in anything. So that leaves parents with the prospect of examining their children’s textbooks with a fine-tooth comb, doing lots of family things together (which schools discourage by heaping on the extracurricular activities), and generally undoing every single day the damage inflicted by 8 hours of public schooling. They might as well homeschool if they are going to do that.


You are very supportive of homeschooling. Do you have any concerns about homeschooling? What do you see as some of its strengths?

I am hopeful about homeschooling, providing parents are committed. But these same parents need to understand that the Powers That Be have ensured that if kids expect to get into the kinds of college that will lead to roles of leadership and influence they will have to at least appear to accept the New Ethics. These homeschooled youngsters will be faced with test questions and even oral, face-to-face interviews geared to sniff out any leanings toward traditional ethics or morality. They may find themselves with a nice letter that states, in effect, “Gee, your SAT scores and activities are very impressive and you seem so well-spoken and sociable. But the consensus of our staff is that you will be happier at another university or college.”

There is no way a student or a parent can argue with a letter like that.

This should not be surprising. A lady by the name of J.D. Hoye, a Clinton Administration appointee to the National School-to-Work office (Nov. 1994, and mentioned in my book, Cloning of the American Mind) gave an interview to Northwest Policy newsletter, in which she was asked how government would get certain values (under the rubric of “thinking skills”) out of kids who did NOT go to “state schools”—i.e., public schools. Hoye responded: “Most of these kids we’ve got through other agencies: …adult and family services, teen parent programs, corrections programs, and alternative learning [and recreational] programs…”

The primary strength of homeschooling is that no one is in a better position than the parent to know their children’s academic strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and to capitalize on those strengths while remediating the weaknesses. No one is in a better position that the parent to address the child’s character. Parents are in the best position to monitor their children’s friendships and recreation. Moreover, no one will care more than a parent, and no one, save the child himself, has a greater stake in the outcome.

Yes, homeschooling may mean that one or both parents have to give up some career goals for themselves, as well as TV time and vacations. But the alternative is a child with all kinds of emotional and social problems, expensive medications that don’t work and, in short, greater outlays than the whole homeschooling effort would have cost in the first place.



Anonymous said...

From the Land of Lincol....uh Social/Emotional Learning Standards and other "mental health" infiltrations, I thank you, Henry, for the interview and Beverly Eakman for granting it.

It's much appreciated. Great information!

Anonymous said...

This was the best interview I have read in a long time! Thanks so much to you Henry for initiating this wonderful piece, and to Beverly Eakman for taking the time to provide her incredible information and insight to so many readers. She has been an inspiration to many of us, and I have been fortunate to have heard her speak in person. I will be sure to pass this along to many people.