The sequel and the damage done

(Photo credit: ecastro)

(Photo credit: ecastro)

There must be something in books, something we can’t imagine, to make a woman stay in a burning house; there must be something there. You don’t stay for nothing.”

 -Guy Montag

It’s that time of year again in the land of homogenized milk and honey. From sea to shining sea, students are bowing their heads in reverence to the tsars of testing who have decreed that every student from third to twelfth grade must undergo a rigorous battery of tests to prove their academic mettle. With the advent of the Common Core curriculum, no primary student will be left behind in the race to top off the bottom lines of the multinational testing and publishing companies benefitting from this sea change. The newest testing regimen goes by the acronym PARCC, the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers. Because everyone knows that Kindergarteners should prove they are ready for college and careers before being promoted to the first grade. For all of the dubious legacies that former POTUS Bush, Jr. has left this country, perhaps, the most pernicious was the ticking time bomb of legislation known as No Child Left Behind. This federal education law, enacted in 2001 as an reauthorization of the Elementary and  Secondary Education Act, has single-handedly opened the gates of of corporate hell for the private testing, textbook publishing and for-profit charter school industries to saunter through. The current POTUS has only further codified these draconian policies through his sequel NCLB II: Race to the Top. In the past decade, schools that failed to show a certain level of progress were deemed “failing” schools and subject to corporate takeover. Predictably, the hardest hit districts have had high populations of poor and minority students.

The School Play

(Photo credit: nitram242)

The mass closings of “underperforming” schools have hit districts in inner-city Philadelphia and Chicago the hardest. As with everything that America touches, there are underlying racial overtones to these federal acts that have turned the gold the education “reformers” are spinning into straw before our very eyes. The usual suspects, the Gates, Walton and Eli Broad Foundations, have been hard at work applying the shock (and awe) doctrine on children. We should all beware of billionaires bearing gifts, especially ones who have found a way to have their cake and eat it too. States who adopt Race to the Top guidelines have linked teacher evaluations (and pay) to student test scores by way of an invalid and unreliable statistical algorithm known as the Value Added Model. When Gates-led Microsoft attempted to use VAM scores to rate employees, they were forced to backtrack in the face of low employee morale and high turnover. This has not stopped Bill Gates from leading the charge that these lazy, good for nothing teachers, who probably conspired to cause the 2008 global financial meltdown during their 40-minute planning periods, need to be held “accountable“. So rather than allow children to learn, play and talk within a context of authentic experiences that are thoughtfully constructed so as to shape their thoughts and ideas in a meaningful way, we have exposed them to the invisible pimp hand of the marketplace. Clearly, I need to remind my six and seven year-old students that they need to stop the bellyaching and just pull themselves up by their untied bootstraps.

School closings rally

(Photo credit: chicagopublicmedia)

Fortunately, push back is starting to take place around the country. The Chicago Teachers Union, one of the few unions to strike in protest of onerous contracts and school closings in the Chicago public schools, have come out publicly against the Common Core. In Seattle, teachers refused to administer the high stakes tests while more parents are opting out of standardized testing tied to promotion and retentions. As the neoliberal drum continues to beat, teachers will need to forge alliances with fellow labor unions and collectives. In this global struggle, if we try to stand alone we will fall alone. Only with arms linked in solidarity can we hope to turn the tide. This week, my class had to put their heads down for a minute to atone for excessive chatting. It struck me that if my 19 students chose to rise up and question their fearless leader, I would be outnumbered and, possibly, outwitted. My students are generally agreeable and revolution was not in the air that day but it was a poignant reminder to me that the system works because we allow it to work. The ruling class knows this lesson well and works diligently to maintain the illusion of omnipotence. It is far easier to make examples of Chelsea Manning, Mumia Abu-Jamal or Sister Megan Rice than physically suppress the entire population. The firefighter Montag once raged against the machine that had him starting fires rather than putting them out, “We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while. How long is it since you were really bothered? About something important, about something real?” Class dismissed.

Peace and solidarity to all readers.

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37 Responses to The sequel and the damage done

  1. “…these lazy, good for nothing teachers, who probably conspired to cause the 2008 global financial meltdown during their 40-minute planning periods…”

    No, no — they didn’t do it then, but what about all those lavish, overpaid, undeserved summers off!

    (Just kidding!) Thanks Jeff, for another well-aimed essay. – Linda

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You’re a powerful writer, Jeff, but this one really hit the mark. Well done. This line is superb:

    “With the advent of the Common Core curriculum, no primary student will be left behind in the race to top off the bottom lines of the multinational testing and publishing companies benefitting from this sea change.”

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Blind Noise says:

    I saw a great line from a teacher replying to a post on Diane Ravitch’s blog some weeks ago in reference to Gates and Company:
    Beware of geeks bearing grifts.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. skulzstudios says:

    If ‘culture’ burns all the books, hangs all the teachers, burns all the scholars at the stake, we are still cringing in the dark and baying at the moon. “The earth is flat” and ignorance reigns supreme.
    Hmmm, humanity as a species hasn’t evolved very far. That’s sad…

    Like

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      In the dark is exactly where the elite want us to be. Then, we feebly rely on their “experts” and think tanks to lead us like lambs to the slaughter. It is up to us to turn away from the shadows and claw our way out of the cave.

      Liked by 2 people

  5. lens1 says:

    “bowing their heads in reverence to the tsars of testing” Spot the hell on as usual Jeff. I’ve got two kids taking these…you might imagine they’ve heard what I think about it, yet still…I feel a bit powerless. My fire still burns but my candle keeps getting snuffed out by the lack of oxygen that surrounds most of the Homeland. Damned when I did–NDAA’d and Patriot Acted when many of us MovedOn.org

    Thanks Jeff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      I know how you feel, my kids were just starting their school “careers” when NCLB went into effect. I think that in most states parents have the right to opt out of standardized testing but the school administrators will almost never tell you this and many teachers aren’t aware of it either.

      Now, I tip my candle towards yours so we can both keep on keepin’ on.

      Like

  6. Eva van Beek says:

    ” but it was a poignant reminder to me that the system works because we allow it to work…”: the tragedy of our time and of each and everyone of us who keep it going (me included).

    Liked by 2 people

  7. It makes you wonder what we emphasize as important in children. Of course children should be given the opportunity for learning, thought and opinion and reading helps. I think about George Herbert Mead at the same time, and his work on empathy, and the role of games and role-play in seeing alternate positions. When I think about that, I wonder whatever happened to allowing children to play?

    Lovely post, Jeff. Always get me thinking.

    Like

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      You’ve expanded the scope of the dialogue here to include two critical areas…empathy and play. Social skills have long been neglected in the classrooms in the Wile E. Coyote pursuit of academic “rigor” and test taking proficiency. Play is another casualty in this war on children that happens to overlap like a cruel Venn diagram with the war on poverty and the war on drugs. More developmentally inappropriate curriculums and incessant testing are the new marching orders from the educational “experts” who almost all share one thing in common…little to no experience in an actual classroom.

      Good to hear from you, Nicci.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. minanaos says:

    Many of us see the ‘emperor’s new clothes’ for that which they truly reveal. As Rome crumbles, the “Nero” strata which seems to rule the country fiddles and tinkers with numbers and admonitions. We as a people have neglected one very significant area of investigation and development in our future – the spirit. We have replaced creative expression with entertainment of questionable worth. We have slathered out society with the material and sensational ‘guaranteeing’ happiness, riches and advancement . And when those same promises grow unfulfilled, we jump to compare other more successful countries and scramble for a new game plan that includes more numbers, more regimentation, more systemic testing, curriculum and 21st century change which can turn a profit for those deciders and less of that which is blatantly overlooked and so desperately needed. The human spirit requires consciousness-raising, a renewed focus on emotional and social intelligence in understanding our place, our mission in a world with others and the need for our spirits to feel, develop and thrive towards meaning and purpose in life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      This is a well-articulated response. An over reliance on material comforts and social status at the expense of spiritual growth comes with a price. I liked how you equate social and emotional intelligence with the “academic” intelligence that the schools place all of their emphasis upon.

      I second your call for consciousness raising. A fellow blogger recently reminded me of a like minded consciousness raiser…Stephen Biko, “The most powerful tool in the hand of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.”

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Jeff – if this wasn’t true it would be funny. . . you could dismiss all your classes once and for all and begin a career as a stand up comedian.

    Really – why can’t the “Powers that Be” come up with something like PARBTPP – Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for Being Thoughtful People of Peace.

    Of course this doesn’t serve these Profiteers and Plunderers. . . it doesn’t serve Progress. Although it would serve the children – and it would serve the wholeness of the planet.

    Keep up your good work Jeff. I appreciate your informing us of these absurdities (to put it mildly).

    Like

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      Or how about PARTY…the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for the Totalitarian Years. Seriously though, thanks to the fecklessness of our fearless leaders, the jokes pretty much write themselves.

      Bruce, you are clearly ready to be a thoughtful person of peace. Thank you for sharing the beauty of your native British Columbia with the rest of us. Sadly, this planet treats us far kinder than we treat her in return.

      Like

  10. Your blog is one of very few I’ll take time to read all the comments, always a good dialogue. And this time leaves me with little to say. As I think I mentioned before that my brief stint working in a Hopi elementary school showed me the foolishness of the common core, being applied to kids who in some cases had no running water or books at home. So, thanks for another enjoyable read.

    Like

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      Your presence here and insightful comments always add context and depth to the conversations here. For that, I am grateful and appreciative. The deeper the game gets, the more critical it becomes for us to come together in unity and stay grounded in our shared humanity.

      Wishing peace to you and your talented husband, Skywalker.

      Like

  11. cthebean says:

    Beautifully expressed Jeff. Thank you.
    And thanks to those who have commented..it has made for a rich read…

    Solidarity

    Like

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      Thank you, Christine, for your kind words and for sharing this article. It is encouraging to know that there are passionate people like yourself who are willing to get up and stand up for our nation’s students. I would like to add my thanks to yours for all of the tremendous commenters here who have helped make this blog far more than I could make of it myself.

      One of the greatest myths the elite have convinced us of is that there is nothing we can do to make a difference, A great quote by Paulo Freire, “It is necessary that the weakness of the powerless is transformed into a force capable of announcing justice. For this to happen, a total denouncement of fatalism is necessary. We are transformative beings and not beings for accommodation.”

      Liked by 1 person

  12. cthebean says:

    Reblogged this on and commented:
    This writer continues to bring me to my knees. This is the most artful and evocative piece I have read about the common core and how it weaves into our daily lives insidiously as a part a new and very dark stage of life on earth …..unless we become agents of change and stop the bitter trajectory

    Like

  13. carolahand says:

    Such a powerful discussion, Jeff. It is disheartening to realize that people who control most of the earth’s resources choose to use them in such destructive ways. Instead of viewing children as wondrous gifts and education as a sacred responsibility, they are seen merely as one more resource to exploit, one more way to exercise power and make money.

    This past semester, I witnessed the consequences of NCLB for the majority of students in the undergraduate college class I taught on social welfare policy. They struggled with critical analytical thinking and writing in ways I have not encountered before. I am willing to work with my students to figure out how to help, but many of my colleagues here and elsewhere simply require students to read dreadful textbooks, attend classes where they are talked at, and take on-line tests. How will this translate into future practice where graduates can effectively advocate for socially just policies in an ALEC-controlled environment that has seriously eroded the already inadequate social safety net for those in greatest need?

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      The elite also know that childhood is the most optimal time to instill social control and compliance. It also much easier to control the narratives through the textbooks and the highly bureaucratic institution that public education has become. You might say students make a captive audience.

      I’ve heard similar observations from college teachers that students are coming out of high school unprepared for critical thinking and analysis. The universities are also in the crosshairs of the corporate education “reformers” who are trying to implement highly subjective evaluations, undermine tenure and promote adjunct teaching with no benefits or job security. The mantra is “run the schools like a business” while conveniently ignoring the fact that accountability is nonexistent for the elite CEO’s and corporations who answer to no one outside their inner circles.

      Hope you had a restful weekend, Carol. I know the end of the semester is always hectic.

      Like

      • carolahand says:

        Thank you for the link to your earlier post, Jeff — it’s so eloquently-argued!

        Yes, universities have been in the cross-hairs for quite some time while allocations for technical colleges increased (at least in the past). They have become businesses that see students as commodities and compete to attract as many as they can and reduce the number of faculty and support staff to increase profits. But as odd as is may sound, I prefer to work as an adjunct, despite the sizeable reduction in income. Tenure, a system established to prevent large donors from dictating faculty decisions, has transmuted into a means of protecting the status quo. I’m not sure what the best options are for addressing this …

        Like

      • Jeff Nguyen says:

        My apologies if I came across as dismissive of adjunct teachers, Carol. At the public school level, tenure provides due process to teachers in danger of being let go. While at times it does protect teachers who have no business being in the classroom, it also allows teachers to feel safe from administrators who might otherwise retaliate against them or try to fire them without cause. As the union rep for my school, I’ve had many teachers come to me crying and in distress because of the callous and, sometimes, underhanded actions of administrators.

        This is why we’ve seen the attacks on unions in many states because management wants to be able dismiss teachers without the hassle of paperwork and actually having to justify their decisions. New teachers hired in Florida have no possibility of tenure and can be non-renewed at the end of every school year at the discretion of the principal. Thus, the balance of power shifts even more to management’s side.

        Liked by 1 person

      • carolahand says:

        It seems the word “tenure” means different things for K-12 teachers than it does for universities. I support teachers’ unions — I agree that teachers need protection and bargaining power, but they are rare for faculty at universities. Instead, decisions are made by tenured faculty and administrators (who are mostly “old-school” Euro-Americans) based on the “fit” of new faculty within accepted disciplinary paradigms and organizational structure. They have little tolerance for critical thinking and new ideas.

        I was distressed to see what Scott Walker did to teachers’ unions in Wisconsin — making public K-12 schools even less democratic than universities!

        Like

      • Jeff Nguyen says:

        The tenure process at the university level is pretty grueling and soul-sucking from what I’ve heard. I have a working theory that Governor Walker and Governor Scott in Florida were conjoined twins at birth.

        Liked by 1 person

  14. Great essay, as usual – always provocative, reaching depths untouched by the mainstream of society.

    This is another example of the kung fu grip the “rulers” exercise on our children’s minds. It would be difficult to even imagine something so insidious if it weren’t actually happening. It’s truly scary.

    Fortunately, there are a growing number of people becoming aware of the intricate, multi-layered plan designed to dehumanize the population by the smiling, fork-tongued sociopaths “in charge.” They’ve figured out how to “tame” the wild beast of creativity and turn the majority of the human race into something less than human.

    Thanks for your inspiring words. Hopefully, the tide will turn in favor of Life.

    Like

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      “Kung fu grip”…that’s a good description of the type of control the corpotalists want to instill in children. I do think the tide will turn as well or the system will eventually buckle under it’s own weight. The question will be what system will rise up to fill the void. It is almost certain that the ruling class has already planned for that eventuality. The numbers are on our side but time is on theirs.

      I highly recommend readers check out your thought-provoking blog. Much respect to you.

      Like

  15. Just wanted to say thanks for spreading the knowledge around. You’re spot on as always. I wish I could say it as well myself. I am fortunate to be able to bask in your radiant glow upon occasion. Some stars burn brighter than others. You sir are so bright that you are nearly blinding!

    Like

  16. maggiequinn says:

    Your really made me think. A jumble of questions have come to mind as a result of what I read in your article, “The Sequel and the Damage Done”

    About the “rigorous battery of tests” you mention, are they meant to test students, the teachers or the overall system? Are these tests an excuse for information gathering exercises meant to enrich the data banks of organizations whose own welfare comes before that of the students undergoing the testing?

    What do teachers teach these days?
    Do teachers nowadays teach Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson?
    I wonder whether any of these tests touch on the poetry or ideas or lives of writers such as Whitman or Dickenson?

    Do teachers make the best use of paid professional development days to exercise their own capacity for critical thinking in the interests of their students?

    What are their unions doing to ensure that what and how teachers are teaching is doing no harm to students entrusted to their care?

    Do the unions and professional associations have in place an adequate and shared whistle-blowing system to ensure that students receive the highest standard of education possible given the time, budget and other available resources?

    Are teachers unions and professional associations helping teachers to draw a clear line between teaching and social engineering experiments?

    Are the unions and professional association backing up the teachers and requiring the informed consent of parents before social engineering studies, surveillance and experiments are undertaken?

    Like

    • Jeff Nguyen says:

      You’ve brought up some interesting questions…

      About the “rigorous battery of tests” you mention, are they meant to test students, the teachers or the overall system? Are these tests an excuse for information gathering exercises meant to enrich the data banks of organizations whose own welfare comes before that of the students undergoing the testing?…The standardized testing regimen in it’s current form provides a narrow scope for viewing a student’s progress while offering a broad target to label teachers and schools as underperforming and ineffective in order to advance neoliberal agenda to privatize public education. The testing companies have documented ties to behavioral science groups that use longitudinal data to track students from K-12.

      What do teachers teach these days?
      Do teachers nowadays teach Walt Whitman and Emily Dickenson?
      I wonder whether any of these tests touch on the poetry or ideas or lives of writers such as Whitman or Dickenson
      ?…I am currently an elementary teacher but have seen firsthand the frustration and anxiety that the new common core curriculum is producing in teachers, students and parents. Good teachers will always find a way to “work the system” and teach literature using their own professional judgement and expertise but the pressure exists to conform to narrowing standards of pedagogy. An example…the emphasis on “close reading” seeks to remove context for children when discussing and analyzing texts despite ample research showing the importance of context and background knowledge to comprehension of text.

      Do teachers make the best use of paid professional development days to exercise their own capacity for critical thinking in the interests of their students?…This is a highly subjective question. I can only answer for myself that the scarce number of professional development days I receive tends to be occupied by my an overemphasis on data collection and analyzing and meetings with limited relevance or connection to the “real world” of the classroom.

      What are their unions doing to ensure that what and how teachers are teaching is doing no harm to students entrusted to their care?…The unions are the last line of defense between labor and management but in many states the corporate interests have done an end run around the collective bargaining agreements by getting legislation passed at the state level that under times teacher tenure (due process), institutionalizes punitive teacher evaluation systems tied to student test scores and diverts public funds to for-profit charter schools. While local teacher associations are strong advocates for workplace and labor issues, they are somewhat in over their heads when it comes to the curriculum/testing issues that have resulted from NCLB/RTTT.

      Do the unions and professional associations have in place an adequate and shared whistle-blowing system to ensure that students receive the highest standard of education possible given the time, budget and other available resources?…See previous response.

      Are teachers unions and professional associations helping teachers to draw a clear line between teaching and social engineering experiments?…See previous response.

      Are the unions and professional association backing up the teachers and requiring the informed consent of parents before social engineering studies, surveillance and experiments are undertaken?…See previous response.

      Some further resources that may provide more extensive insights than I have to the questions you’ve posed:

      http://dianeravitch.net
      http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com
      http://atthechalkface.com

      Like

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