Wednesday, March 14, 2018

#WalkoutWednesday

It was interesting to follow all the news today about the National School Walkout day. Some schools were very supportive of the students' desire to make a statement; some schools tolerated the walkout but didn't exactly support it; and some schools denied the students an opportunity to join together with other kids around the country so their voices could be heard. Detentions, suspensions, truancy reports: kids, and likely adults, were punished in different ways.

The thing that made me shake my head, though, was the social media memes and posts from parents who were obviously against the whole idea. I mean, I'm not shocked that some adults found the walkout ridiculous because they tend to be the same adults who call Generation Z spoiled snowflakes who can't handle anything. I read posts from numerous parents who said they went to the walkout themselves just to make sure their children weren't participating.  One parent even said she told her son before school that if she saw him outside during the walkout period, she would "whip his ass in front of all of his friends." Classy.

Then there are the people who post the meme about how kids should just be kind to one another at school instead of doing the walkout because kindness can cure any ill. Don't get me wrong: kindness is a vital part of a happy and healthy existence. I think our world could use all the kindness it can get; however, it's not a panacea, and in our hearts, we all know that.

What I realized is that I envy the parents who feel there is no need for a walkout, that things are fine the way they are. It must be a wonderful feeling to wake up every morning in a cozy bubble of rainbows and puppies. When their kids head off to school, they probably feel completely at peace because nothing bad could ever happen where they live. Everyone smiles and bluebirds perch on beautifully blossoming trees when they're not helping princesses clean little cottages. At night, doors are left unlocked while families eat popcorn and read in front of a roaring fire. Such a lovely vision. I envy those people because I would love to thrust my head in the sand and keep the fantasy of a perfect world at the forefront of my mind. Sounds nice, right?

Instead, I live in a quiet, albeit constant, state of gnawing despair.  Every morning, I send out wishes and hopes to whatever deities or higher powers choose to listen to me to keep my children safe because I know what can happen. Our school system is no stranger to violence, so I can't pretend that we are completely sheltered. I trust our administrators to do the very best they can to protect our children, but I'm not so naive to think that's always enough.  Why? Columbine, Sandy Hook, Parkland, Red Lake. That's just in the last twenty years, and it doesn't even include universities.

I choose not to live my life in complete fear because that isn't living, but I cannot completely erase the insight that when I watch my children get on the school bus, I am sending them to a place that may or may not be safe, that may or may not become a target for a bad guy with a gun. My kids live in a time when school shootings are commonplace. They will never know a school that doesn't have a buzzer and a camera at an entrance that is flanked by bulletproof glass.They have grown up with the Internet, Taylor Swift, and lockdown drills.

I support the students and the adults who participated in the walkout today just as I support those who couldn't participate due threats of repercussions. I support the parents and community members I saw today in front of our local high school. What I can't support, though, are people who continue to insist that everything is hunky dory. We cannot maintain the status quo and expect anything to get better. It's time for change, big, BIG change, and I have faith that the kids who agree that they have had #Enough are the kids who will reconstruct the nation.

Every town for Gun Safety
March for Our Lives

Thursday, March 1, 2018

The ISTEP can kiss my...foot

It's no secret that standardized testing has spiraled out of control. Starting in third grade, students throughout Indiana take the ISTEP test, Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress.  Teachers start a lot of lessons with "This will be on the ISTEP." They prep, they assess, they prep, they assess. The students are reminded to be on time for testing, to eat a healthy breakfast, and to get good sleep. This is the way our state wants to check in on our children: test them. Choose the right answers and impress us so your school can get money. C'mon kids, go out and make the fat cash.

I hate these tests. I hate that our kids are made to feel that they have to fit into a certain box in order to succeed. Pass, Pass Plus, and Fail: that's all they get. There is no grey area, no room for individuality, no chance to show different types of intelligence, and no time for different points of view. We spend time teaching kindness, and fairness, but we test them on nothing but memorized facts: fractions, punctuation, state capitals, elements.

We decided to opt out of testing this year for Lottie. She has spent the last three years stressing over the test; no, she stresses over the results of the test. She does her homework with an intensity that should be reserved for heart transplant surgery because she knows the information will be on the test. Then the questions begin. Will she be held back if she fails? Will she be forced into remediation? Does failing make her dumb? Will we be mad if she fails? What if she's the only one in her class who doesn't pass? Will the other kids know? These are the thoughts of her eleven year-old mind.

Imagine our shock and disgust when we were told that our district doesn't allow parents to opt out of standardized testing. Not. Allowed. (Odd how there are other parents who have done that exact thing throughout the state, but no one here is allowed to rock the proverbial boat. Apparently the Fourteenth Amendment isn't recognized 'round these parts. Odd how a former superintendent of an Indiana school system assured me that Lottie couldn't be forced to take the test and that his system never punished students who did opt out. Odd that the IDOE doesn't have a policy on opting out because it knows it legally can't.)  I'm a product of this school system, and I was even hired once upon a time to teach in this system. We moved back here, in part, because I had faith that the schools were the best we could find. I thought this system would be different and treat its students like real people instead of statistics. Mea culpa. Big time.

I can't even keep her home on testing days because she'll be made to take the make up tests as soon as she returns. We have to put our daughter in the middle of this ridiculousness because someone in some office who has no idea or memory of what a real classroom is like has decided that we don't have the right to refuse an assessment that only assesses test-taking ability and not true knowledge.

So, anonymous person, let me tell you about my daughter and what she knows. She knows kindness and compassion. She can make you laugh like no other. If you're sad, she'll do whatever it takes to make you feel better. She can mimic any voice with absolute precision, and she can climb any tree in the world. She loves Taylor Swift, gymnastics, slime, her friends, and her family. I'm pretty sure her dream is to open an animal sanctuary for any poor creature who needs a home. She wrote a Valentine to her brother that would make you believe in magic. She is happiest playing outside with the wind blowing on her face. Her favorite books have scary plots, and she is counting the days until she can see an R-rated movie without my permission. She's easy-going and adaptable, and she knows how to let loose and have fun without caring how it looks. She wakes up with a smile on her face every single day. She knows so much more than you can assess with a computer. She is the sun and the moon, the brightest star in the universe. You don't have to love her, but if you meet her just once, you will.

If the district is so set on having Lottie take this unnecessary, useless, irresponsible test, it will get its wish. Fair warning: she will do it her own way with our blessing. If the district doesn't like it, it can take the Jumbotron and all of its other priorities and stick it where the sun don't shine because one thing my girl knows for certain is that in our family, we value hard work, joy, and heart more than test scores.

34 problems with standardized tests
Diane Ravitch: Why all parents should opt their kids out of high-stakes standardized tests
ust Say No to Standardized Tests: Why and How to Opt Out 
Truth in American Education
8 reasons to opt out