Monday, April 27, 2015

"What A Healthy Thing That Is!"

Back in 2007, when Barack Obama was running for president, I showed up at my local Democratic party caucus for the first time. I'd always voted, of course, but this was my first exposure to the unruly, messy sausage-making that is grass roots democratic politics. I had no intention other than to talk to my neighbors, cast my vote, then go home, but when it came time to select delegates I found myself standing in a circle, expressing my frustration with the No Child Left Behind Act. It was the first time I ever spoke publicly about my opposition to the corporatizing of our public schools. My fellow citizens thought enough of what I had to say that they elected me as a delegate to the state convention.

The values we care about the deepest, and the movements within society that support those values, command our love. When those things that we care about so deeply become endangered, we become enraged. And what a healthy thing that is! Without it, we would never stand up and speak out for what we believe. ~Mister Rogers

In New York, nearly 200,000 families have opted out of the most recent round of Common Core standardized testing. A Florida school district, the fourth largest in America, has drastically slashed its use of high stakes tests. The entire junior class at Nathan Hale High School here in Seattle stayed home on test day.

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has responded threateningly, warning that state's may be punished by the federal government if they don't meet the Common Core testing goal of 95 percent participation. Chancellor of the NY State Board of Regents Merryl Tisch implied that families who were opting out were just poor little puddin' heads who accidentally got caught up in a "union dispute." Seattle Public School Superintendent Larry Nyland threatened teachers with a loss of their teaching certificates, while State Superintendent Randy Dorn is attempting to scare parents with lies and half truths.

First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. ~Mahatma Gandhi

It appears our corporate-aligned opponents are done ignoring and laughing at us. They are now on to phase three of Gandhi's famous four step plan for democratic victory: they are starting to fight us. I reckon it could get nasty. They have the deep pockets of billionaires and powerful political operatives on their side. We, however, are an unstoppable alliance of parents, teachers, and students. It's a classic democratic showdown: the wealthy and connected versus a mass movement. The goal will be to divide us, which they are already attempting to do along racial and economic lines. Several times, Duncan has implied that middle class whites, and in particular "housewives," are opposed to the "civil rights community" (i.e., blacks), clumsily playing the race card. Tisch is clearly attempting to drive a wedge between parents and teachers unions. Our state officials are threatening teachers and parents.

So far it's not working. What I love so much about the Nathan Hale High School story is that when the school district threatened the teachers who were considering refusing to administer the SBAC test, parents and their children protected them by opting out en masse, taking matters into their own hands. As long as we stay together, we will win. No one can stand before students, parents, and teachers united in this good fight.

We are winning in America because we have the best interest of our own children at heart. We're winning because there are more of us than there are of them. We are winning because we've stuck to it for a long time. And we're winning because we are right: Common Core and it's regime of high stakes standardized tests is a disaster. We have made our parade. And right on cue, political leaders, from both parties and all parts of the nation, are putting their fingers to the wind, and rushing around to march in the front:

Teachers shouldn't be forced to teach for the test, they should be allowed to teach for the student. Students shouldn't be forced to learn for the test, they should be allowed to learn for life. ~Sen. John Tester (D-Mont.)

(The) unintended negative consequences that have arisen from mandated, annual testing and its high-stakes uses have proven testing not only to be an ineffective tool, but a destructive one as well. ~Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)

My experience as a social worker in Arizona schools for nearly a decade taught me the importance of empowering teachers and parents. Teachers should focus on the content they want their students to master -- not simply material for an upcoming standardized test. ~Rep. Krysten Sinema (D-Ariz.)

(Students) have been failed by the current system. ~Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ken.)

Congress is prepared to de-fang the No Child Left Behind Act I spoke out against eight years ago, and which ushered in our current high stakes testing mania. The re-authorization will greatly curtail Arne Duncan's education department's ability to follow through on its threats to withhold our education funding.

I'm willing to let them take the glory, but we will always know that we are making this happen by speaking up, opting out, and sticking together. This is restoring my faith in democracy.

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1 comment:

Rafer Nelsen said...

Ran across this profile of a Nathan Hale student senator earlier today. He sums it all up nicely at the end, his superintendent needs to read it. - RFR

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