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New Seattle Test Boycott Erupts: Nathan Hale High School votes to refuse to administer a Common Core test

I AM AN EDUCATOR

Today, I found out from my good friend Doug Edelstein that his school community decided to collectively refuse to administer the new Common Core test, the SBAC, to 11th graders. Doug teaches at, and graduated from, Nathan Hale (in fact, my step-dad was a classmate of his).  The Nathan Hale Senate–a body made up of the teachers, administrators, parents and students–voted nearly unanimously that this test was inappropriate. The vote was taken after careful consideration and much discussion and inquiry, including two school community forums — one of which included University of Washington professor of education and renowned scholar on high-stakes testing, Wayne Au.  This is the first year that the SBAC is required in the Seattle Public Schools, and this action represents an escalation of the high-stakes testing resistance that erupted against the MAP test in 2013.  In taking this action, Nathan Hale has became the latest focal point of…

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Stop all the Clocks: You Should Have Made the Cover of Time, John Goodlad.

Last week, I re-blogged Deb Meier’s reflections on November 30 recommending that we ALL read The Public Purpose of Education and Schooling by John Goodlad and Timothy McMannon. (http://deborahmeier.com/2014/11/30/the-public-purpose-of-education-and-schooling/). This morning, I learned that John Goodlad passed away on the evening of November 30.   I only know John Goodlad passed away because after hours of reading his work and interviews online all night, I stumbled into an In Memorium page deep inside some website.

As an avid education news follower, I am stunned that I hadn’t heard of the passing of one my education heroes until my accidental web wandering.  It seems to me we all should all have heard, and it seems to me this nation should have mourned for the loss of this great, thoughtful and gentle man.

We should also take the time to reflect and mourn the loss of having not practiced his ideals and not heeded the recommendations from his unprecedented extensive research.

I hope every educator, administrator, parent, student, and citizen takes Deb Meier’s advice and experiences the eloquent and timeless prose of John Goodlad in The Public Purpose of Education and Schooling. Maybe we could try something new and actually make our actions match our beliefs and aims about education.  That would be the way to honor the life of John Goodlad, democracy, and our youth.

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
-Auber

Thank You to a Few Teachers

I was reading about corporate educational reform in the middle of the night, as usual, when a contributor challenged readers to recognize the teachers who made a difference in their lives as a reminder of how many great teachers there are out there.  I thought that was a good idea since the rich and the powerful are trying to ensure that those kinds of teachers become extinct- to be replaced by the ones that keep everyone quiet preparing kids for unethical, invalid, poorly written tests that will judge their worth- both child and  teacher.  So, here’s a few:

Mr. Kastelic- changed the way I think about the world and for some reason, saw me as someone who could change it; I am the teacher I am today because of him.  (11th grade American history, student taught for him 6 years later, mentored by him for years after that) RIP

Mr. Hawk- treated me like an olympian though I was just an above average cross country/track runner with some heart; He cheered me on in my first (and last) marathon; he said he admired me, which means a lot to a shy invisible kid (11th, 12th grade p.e., coach) RIP
Mrs. Hunt- taught me a love for music, art, and literature by making it accessible  and by making us feel like it was there just for us, and we were worthy to appreciate it.   (11th grade humanities) RIP
Mrs. Clayton- gave me permission to love to read and to read anything I wanted to, no but’s or even though’s. (11th grade reading, 12th grade t.a.)
Ms. Figuerelli– liked me even though I sucked at Spanish; I could be just okay at something and still be likeable, at least in her class. (11th grade Spanish)
Mrs. Adams- treated me as a special girl, came to my house for lunch, my inner world said “I am no one,” she said louder, “you are someone.” (2nd grade)
Mrs. Krause- for letting us act out Huckleberry Finn instead of just sitting there pretending to read for a whole year; it’s literally the only thing I remember about 7th grade! She obviously knew child development. (7th grade English)
Mrs. Boylin– for asking me if she could enter my essay into a contest (9th grade) RIP
Mr. Smith– for letting us give presentations in front of the class and make a huge deal out of it; I’ll bet I’m not the only one to remember most of my speech; mine was on the digestive system (5th grade science)
Dr. Papalagos- for rocking my world about political theory and appearing to be delighted by me, as a person, too; though that was my partying year in college, he didn’t seem to notice the lateness or the truancy, just my presence. (political science, undergraduate)
Dr. Margolis- for letting me become a thoughtful reflective teacher, pushing us go deeper than we thought we could, wanting us to dialogue about our readings, writings, and thoughts; for letting me write the thesis I wanted and appearing to be very happy with the result. (education, graduate)
Kris Boggs- my dearest friend and colleague; for inspiring me to stay true to myself as we taught next door to each other for so many years; so different from me as a teacher, but embracing and honoring my practice, when even I wanted to throw in the towel to those who wanted me to conform. You’ll simply never know how good of a friend you’ve been. (colleague)
Scott Jacobs– my other friend who I will think of until I die; we pushed each other further than we could go by ourselves; I wonder if together, we would make a perfect teacher..probably not. 🙂 may we re-unite again someday to complete the conversation. (colleague)
All the teachers I read in the blogs these days- who are fighting the good fight for kids to have a meaningful and worthy education, despite all forces working against that end. I was too busy all these years teaching and fighting my own battles to realize there are others like me out there. They inspire me, too, though I never met them.

And the countless great educators– who I was privileged to be required to read in college, who were hopefully the driving force behind most of what I did in the classroom.   I always knew the moments when I wasn’t doing the right thing for all sorts of conformist reasons, but in those moments, I had a conscience that nagged and nagged because of these great teachers and educators.  My greatest wish is that every one studying to become a teacher would get to read them, too.

 

We have got to fight to preserve the institution that brought us these  lifelong educators who know what they’re doing and why they are doing it.  They care for the students and our society so deeply that teaching is their calling and their life’s work.  Let’s change the tide before history blames us for allowing Teach for America and Kahn Academy to replace the American public educator, who once upon a time, helped kids tap into their power, their potential, their importance- who, once upon a time, taught American youth how to freely choose to use their power, potential, and importance for the betterment of all.

The Public Purpose of Education and Schooling

so good to hear these words and recommendations; don’t feel quite so lonely!

Deborah Meier on Education

Dear readers,

I just finished a book published in 1997 edited by John Goodlad and Timothy McMannon. I could quote every page. But… Read it! Title: The Public Purpose of Education and Schooling, Jossey Bass Publishers. Especially Parts Two and Three which are a dialogue between some wonderful and thoughtful participants. (Part I consists of six essays by some of the distinguished crew.) Who? Benjamin Barber, Theodore Sizer, Linda Darling-Hammond, Gary Fenstermacher, Dona Kerr and Roger Soder. The second conversation included as well Don Ernst, Mary Ellen Finch, Susan Ropert and Mark OShea

publicpurpose

These conversations came right at that height of the onslaught of the “new reformers” which wiped out so much of the work described here by Goodlad and Sizer’s —NNER and CES. Their optimism about the work they were doing was hard for me to read—knowing as I did the future. Sobering. But my “half-full” brother’s…

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If Public Schools are Dying, Ailing, or Thriving; So, Too, is America

The undemocratic federal and corporate control over public schools has become nothing short of fascist. The attempt to malign and eliminate public schools is a vile treasonous act that will destroy our democracy quicker and in a more sustained way than any terrorist group. Moreover, our complacency within the public schools that brought about all this reactionary behavior has been just as destructive. Americans’ highest priority as a nation must be to democratically create schools that are truly committed to an education that results in independent, enlightened, critical, caring, self-aware, self-actualizing individuals who will be active participants in our democracy.

I have been so heartened by the grassroots activism of parents and educators across the country to preserve and protect public schools.  I get goose bumps as I read the hundreds of blogs so intelligently and vehemently exposing the false assumptions and bad data espoused by supporters of standardized testing and corporate influence in our schools. I am moved to tears every time I hear of a teacher walk-out or a student walk-out, standing up for our precious children and our fragile democracy. With all this determination and courage, we may just win this.  But make no mistake, if we win, our work will have just begun.

Despite rhetoric to the contrary, the recent standardized testing insanity has not caused radical changes in our schools. Radical change is what I imagine may have occurred in places like a Deb Meier school or a Ted Sizer school. What a sacrilege.  But for the most part, what the “reform” movement has done is simply locked the shackles we already had imposed on ourselves.  But by locking those shackles, “reformers” have raised the ire of two groups of educators whose voices are finally being heard.

First, there are the educators, good teachers, who basically follow the factory model and do what is expected of them, so the shackles don’t chafe them when they teach. But they are conscientious, caring, effective, and pure in their motives. They love the kids, and they care about the students above anything else.  When the shackles were locked, though, they realized how important even small deviations from the norm really were, to them and to their students, whether it was the field trips or the circle time or the plays or the projects.  And as though those kids were their very own children, this group of teachers, one by one, saw the damage that was being done, and their wrath would not be appeased, and hopefully they won’t allow their voices to be silenced.

The second group of educators who have been forced to join this fight to preserve public school are the thousands of subversive civilly disobedient educators, who choose to walk to the beat of the drum that leads their students toward the true aims of education.  And throughout their march, they rarely were praised, often were reprimanded, and they never fit in.  Somehow, they stay as true as they can to the noblest aims of education- to self-actualize, to become caring people, independent thinkers, and democratic citizens.  They try to follow the research and evidence based practices written in scholarly journals and presented at conferences and their master’s courses.  They reflect on and try to follow the great educators like Nel Noddings, John Dewey, Jane Roland Martin, Deb Meier, Ted Sizer, Herbert Kohl, Jonathan Kozol, and so many others.  They teach with grace as though the shackles aren’t tearing their flesh and weighing them down, as though they aren’t being shunned by administrators and colleagues. But to these unsung heroes, it is still worth it because they are reaching kids, making an impact, and following their principles as best they can while remaining in the system. But, again, just like the first group, when the shackles were locked, they became trapped like caged animals, with no room to follow principles and keep their jobs.  This group can no longer be silent, either. If we do achieve a critical mass among educators, it will be because of these two minority groups.

As Howard Zinn has taught us over and over again, it is not the Constitution that protects our rights or our democracy.  We, the people, breathe life into our democracy.  We, the people, have to be willing to fight, tooth and nail, for every lofty ideal that this country stands for.  If we don’t, our democracy will be overtaken.  Our rights will be taken away. The single greatest way we can protect our democracy and our rights is to care for our public education system. The heart and soul of our democracy is our public education system. We should sacrifice everything to preserve and improve it.  With that much power, comes just as much responsibility.  And we should be held accountable for the fruits of our labor.

American public education can be credited for the protests against Eric Garner’s death and the outcry against the use of systematic torture in Afghanistan. We can also be blamed for perpetuating institutional racism and torture.  Public schools are responsible for the minds that create our society. It’s that simple.  Not for the ridiculous test scores- how absurd and short-sighted, not to mention self-serving and oppressive! But public schools are responsible for the generational changes for the better and for the worse in this democratic society.

When this battle is won due to the heroic voices and activism of educators and parents across this nation, we must remain vigilant in that activist stance when we return to the classroom unbridled by standardized testing.  We can create schools that can take credit for the elimination of institutional racism, that can take credit for the highest voting participation in the world, for being the human rights champions of the world, not just in word but in deed.  We can create those schools.  And I would welcome being evaluated on that kind of criteria.

It is time to reclaim the true purpose of education, re-commit to our public education system, and re-vitalize it to fulfill its wondrous potential.  We owe that to our children and the generations to come.  We all need to remain conscious of how heavily the survival of our nation’s fundamental principles rely on the sacred institution of the American public school system.

“Can We Follow Our Own Mission Statements, Please?”

Countless schools districts include the desire to create life long learners of their students in their mission statements. The most common attributes in school goals across the country are: mastery of basic skills, career education, intellectual development, enculturation, interpersonal relations, autonomy, citizenship, creativity and aesthetic perception, self-concept, emotional and physical well-being, moral and ethical character, and self-realization. I’ll bet you can guess which two we pay attention to and which ten we don’t.  I think that’s why most young adults leave school without a strong sense of any of these unless they were developed outside of school, and sadly, we haven’t made major inroads on the two we obsess on, basic skills and career education.

How many schools have inspiring quotes on the morning announcements or on the dry erase board at the front of the classroom that say things like, “Education isn’t the filling of a pail, it’s the lighting of a fire, or, “Education isn’t preparation for life, it’s life itself,” then we spend the rest of the day making sure all fires are extinguished and if anyone questions what we’re doing, we say, don’t you want a job when you get out of school? We are trying to prepare you for life in the real world.  If only they could read and acquire job skills, we say, then we could light their fire.  I fear we’ve been putting out fires for so long, we forgot how to light one.  If we would start revisiting what it takes to light the fire within each child, the job skills and reading skills would come.  If we want our kids to care about school, we need to give them something worth caring about.

My fire was not lit throughout my k-12 education, but I had enough desire to please my parents and be a “good” girl that I went on to college, and thank goodness, my fire for learning was ignited there. I was on fire pretty quickly because, from the get go, they kept asking us all sorts of questions that I was never asked before in school, what is our purpose? what is right and wrong? who are you? what kind of world do you want? what is the best government? what is the good life? Is there a God?  Then when they asked these questions, they seemed to really want to know my opinion, not just my opinion, but everybody’s opinion. In no time at all, I realized that life is a much a grander mystery than I had imagined, that I loved trying to figure it all out.

When I graduated high school, my religious and political views were on the far end of the left right spectrum, and by the time I finished my bachelor’s degree, those views shifted to the complete opposite end of the spectrum.  The change didn’t occur rapidly. There was no revelatory experience. It happened so slowly that I barely noticed on a day to day basis. It didn’t occur because I was brainwashed by a bunch of liberal professors. In fact, I challenged the views of my far left professors to the bitter end. Not only did I express my views in class,  I was an activist. And I wasn’t just part of a group, I was leading groups. Looking back, I don’t know where I found the guts to do half the things I did. I was shy and introverted, plus I was raised to be a polite quiet good girl who doesn’t make waves. One morning, I saw a political group gathering for a moment of silence for a man who was executed in the electric chair the night before, so by lunchtime, I held a gathering for a moment of silence for the victims of his crimes. Leave it to me to find a way to turn a conservative world view into a pseudo-hippie activist movement.

Later in my education, my political science degree was earned from a brilliant cadre of conservative political philosophers, who reinforced my views and developed them with the ideas of incredible writers, social scientists and theorists that deepened my understanding of my assumptions about human nature, for example, and how that translated into my views about sin, foreign policy, the role of government, and many other aspects of human existence.

But by the time my liberal arts experience was coming to a close, I found myself no longer holding the views of the girl who went off to college four years before or those of the parents and community that raised me.  Another person going through those same experiences would have come to quite difference conclusions.  My conversions in thought and perception were mine alone. I can honestly say that none of these changes were intentional or rebellious, in nature. I had entered adulthood with views of the world that I had acquired for myself, which I submit is the very purpose of education.

I believe I transformed into my authentic young adult self for a very simple reason.  I was in an environment that allowed me to. I was expected to spend my time thinking, discussing, writing, reading, making connections, finding inconsistencies, reflecting, synthesizing, evaluating, and making sense of the world.  I was in a setting that was incredibly tolerant of whatever views I may have held at the time.  I felt safe to debate the opposite view.  I felt safe to have undeveloped views as long as I was working toward their development. I am certain my Marxist history professor from my freshman year would go into shock if he knew how far I am now from where I started.

Every young person should have that experience, not so they can move across a spectrum, but so they can become independent critical reflective thinkers who have a chance to question and uncover and re-think all assumptions, beliefs, and behaviors. Some will shift their views. Some will re-commit to their previous views with a more authentic and profound depth of understanding. But every person will change and evolve. That is the beauty of education, to armor our youth with tools for self-actualization and citizenship.

Our greatest crime in education is that, despite what we say we want for our youth, colleges and our k-12 system are moving further and further away from providing this experience. Even if colleges were still offering this kind of education, there are two major reasons we must do the same for our primary and secondary students.  First, many of the students who receive a good liberal arts education have been too programmed to think of school in the way we trained them to think about it in public education- do the work to get a good grade to get a degree to get a job. So by the time they get to college, they don’t see the value in it. They could have been presented with the key to the meaning of life itself, but they wouldn’t have recognized it unless it was going to be on the test, and the value of the key would be getting the right answer, not finding the meaning of life. By the time kids are 18, we have done far too much damage for them to know a good education in college when they see it. We never prepared them for a college liberal arts education that seeks to develop their mind.  In a sad irony, the reason they are so unprepared is that we were busy preparing them for college by teaching them to write research papers, to find evidence from the text to support a main idea, to take notes, to turn in assignments on time, and to take tests.

The second reason we need to embrace a liberal arts approach to education in k-12 is because when we don’t, we are denying access to this journey to anyone who happens to choose not to go to or who is unable to go to college.  If we educate our youth to become independent thinking life-long learners like we say we want to in our mission statements, our young adults will have the skills and passion necessary to become active participants in our democracy, to continue to learn and grow as an individuals throughout their lives, and certainly, to find their way in the workforce.

If my own children received that kind of education in primary and secondary school, I would not be so insistent that they go to college.  I would rest easy seeing them off to a vocational school, to perform blue collar work, or to do a minimum wage job.  There is nobility in all kinds of work as long as we are active participants in our democracy and we are life- long learners, knowing that our quest on this earth is to seek understanding and improvement of ourselves, others, and the world.

If we start graduating kids who see themselves as the heroes that they are, who are on a grand quest that is theirs alone, intending to bring their ideals and their highest self-which is different from every other person on earth- into their every day existence, we will have graduated, not just heroes, but hope for America and the world.  This is the true aim of education and what makes teaching a calling.