Here’s a great article by a parent in Philadelphia – ideas I completely agree with and I really hope Reformers are listening.
And here’s a little story of my own:
I pulled my daughter out of public school last year.
It was one of the most difficult decisions I have made in recent history; one I dreamt about, talked incessantly about, and did everything possible to not make the decision I ultimately made. And even though Hayden isn’t in public school right now, I continue to fight (and scream, and blog, and cry, and work) for public education.
Hayden now attends the “Freedom to Grow UNschool” (sounds lovely, huh?), and with one year under our belt, I am so relieved that I did make that decision. Her third grade year, which would have otherwise been overshadowed by the mandatory state test, was incredible. She studied a local park, researched the medieval times and questioned economic inequities reflected in housing and fashion, she planned and carried out a fashion show as a result – from start to finish, she experienced what it was like to edit the school newspaper published once a month, she studied the Mississippi floods, accelerated her understanding of foundational and analytical math, she learned about the Children’s March during the Civil Rights and connected it to civil rights issues today and what children can do to make a difference, she learned how to compost, how to track animals, identify trees, and use some basic survival skills in the wilderness. She painted and constructed and read and danced and wrote and pretended and analyzed and experimented and inquired and sang and laughed and learned the messiness of maintaining a community where everyone is valued even when everyone doesn’t agree with one another.
All in one school year.
And in a school where there is a “no homework” policy.
Her achievements in 3rd grade were remarkable – truly impressive even if I wasn’t her mother:) And I know things would have been entirely different for her and us had we left her in the school she was attending – a Title I school under the stresses of NCLB where the 3rd grade test is all that matters, teachers were required to be “on the same page”, the gifted class is focused on state standards, field trips are rare, recess almost non-existent, and homework every night. During her 2nd grade year she cried on a regular basis; begged us not to take her to school; had nightmares in her sleep; accidents in her pants (!); regularly lost her 10 minute recess for having to use the restroom at the wrong time of day; and learned that school was a place she had to go, but she never expected it to be a place of joy, curiosity, creativity, exploration, and building a foundation of lifelong learning and engaged citizenship.
What State legislators and other Educational Reformers don’t understand is that parents, like us – even the hard-nosed-public-education-is-the-backbone-of-democracy parents, are sick of the education we have been stuck with since the NCLB hammer started pounding on local schools.
We are sick of the small-thinking.
We are sick of the stress.
We are sick of the standards.
We are sick of the essential questions.
We are sick of the pre-tests, the post-tests, the practice-tests, the “real” tests, the awards for tests, the pep rallies for tests, the “how-to-parent-during-state-testing-week” newsletters, the computerized tests, the reading tests, the math tests, the “if you can write it down on a piece of paper we’re gonna test it” test.
We are sick of AYP.
We are sick of homework that brings on tears and resistance and family misery every night.
We are sick of every child being in “intervention” – constantly – to improve test scores. (Yes, every child in my daughter’s school went to “intervention” every single day…what in the hell kind of education are we creating called intervention??!!)
We want schools to belong to us and to our children and we want inspired and compassionate and intellectual teachers to lead us.
We want our teachers to be creative, and inspiring, and spontaneous, and curious – not stressed out because they’re not on the same page or lesson as the teacher next door, or that they might lose their job because the school isn’t meeting AYP, or that their evaluation and salary might be positively or negatively impacted by students’ test scores, or that their lesson plans aren’t in the right format, or that they didn’t get all their pre- and pre/pre- and post- and post/post- testing done in time. I mean with all that stress, who can respond calmly and compassionately to a child sitting in front of you? Or who can jump up and decide that third or fourth graders studying literary uses of the weather need to run outside when it’s raining to see for themselves all the different ways rain could be used in literature as symbolism? Or who has the energy to schedule guest speakers and local field trips during an intensive study of the local economy and how a community can build sustainable practices and promote more equality amongst its citizens when they have mountains of paperwork to complete and more tests to give and prepare to give? (Oh – and sustainable communities isn’t a part of the Standards, so it’s a side-project to begin with, strategically hidden from other teachers and supervisors).
We want our children to love to learn, to read, to question, to analyze, to contemplate, to sing, to perform, to draw, to play, to have friends, to feel like school is a happy and meaningful place to be.
We want our children to have recess. (Yes, we actually believe that children and adolescents need unstructured play time during the day – we prefer not to think of our pride and joy heading into a sweatshop every day).
We want our children to smile. To feel valued. To be perceived as possibility and promise – not as a potential test score.
In short – my family specifically, and lots of families across this country have suffered because of Educational Reform. And we’re sick of it – every single bit of it. Even the incredibly condescending and superficial “family engagement plans” schools now have to have parents sign and return to school each year.
Give back our teachers.
Give back our rights for a well-rounded, rich, high-quality education.
Give back our children’s childhoods.
Give back our family’s sanity.
Listen up Reformers – you are driving us mad, and driving us away. We are looking for something completely different from the menu of options you are serving.