“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.”
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 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.
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.