Each week I try to find a short piece of information to share with my staff to get them to think about their practice. Dyan Watson’s “A Message from a Black Mom to Her Son” (spring 2012) is the longest piece I have included to date because I could not find a part to edit or synthesize. Even though we have never met, her voice came through loud and clear.
I work in a predominantly white school in a predominantly white community, and I am actively working with other leaders in our building and community to give our students of color more of a voice and a sense of belonging. As a white man, it is difficult for me to talk about issues of race and privilege from anything more than an academic perspective because my personal experience is from a position of power. This letter has given me another insight and a meaningful way to discuss these issues with my staff.
Assistant Principal, Bexley Middle School
I currently teach integrated chemistry and physics in an urban/rural community in northwest Indiana. I wanted to hear from a mom like Dyan Watson. I want to be able to make a difference for every child, regardless of who they are and where they come from. In particular, I am deeply troubled by the disparity, the disconnect, the disengagement of our black male children. I cannot imagine what it is to be in their skin, but I want to be able to make them love who they are. I want what Watson wants for her son.
Although I teach science, my passion is history. My father is predominantly Cherokee. Something I am discovering as I go back into my own history is the horrid history lesson in my heritage. I am both saddened by and overjoyed to understand so many things about the way my family was/is. We must begin to educate holistically, compassionately, inclusively. Dr. King said it best: “We are not makers of history, we are made by history.”
Thank you, Dyan, for putting your heart out there.
Educator, Michigan City Area Schools
I am a public school teacher in upstate New York with 27 years of experience. I am one of those teachers whose experience has become an impediment to my credibility and places me in the category of “has been” and “ineffective due to age.” I am also one of those teachers who finds my way out to my car long after the custodians have finished their rounds with a book bag filled with student writing and professional journals sprouting colorful Post-it notes.
I have seen my lessons go from thought-provoking discussions and written responses about an author’s message to identifying facts related to a narrow and uninspiring question written by a publishing company. I don’t ask my students to think or problem-solve and I watch their creative ideas and communication skills plummet in response to a test prep curriculum. I look around me in fear, seeing only scared and obedient teachers abandoning reason for the sake of following the rules. I wonder where the outrage and questions are. Am I overreacting? Is it possible that I am wrong?
So I set out on an internet journey to see if there is someone out there who sees what I am seeing and is willing to say out loud, “The king is naked.” When I found Stan Karp’s article, “Challenging Corporate Ed Reform and 10 Helpful Signs of Resistance” (spring 2012), I breathed a sigh of relief and knew I wasn’t alone. Thank you for the inspiring and enlightening words. I now realize that the only way to cure my fatigue and frustration is to seek out fellow travelers along this long road and find the courage to speak out against a system that is seeking to send the minds of our young people into hibernation.
Schalmont Middle School
Schenectady, New York
We are a small but growing group of resisters in Indiana, where the most extensive voucher laws are now in place. A small group of parents and educators have put together a petition against the I-Read reading test, which will automatically retain 3rd graders (change.org/petitions/indiana-legislators-tell-the-idoe-to-scrap-iread-3). The petition was signed by 100 people in the first 24 hours! The biggest challenge is to inform parents about the big picture, efforts to privatize, ALEC, etc. That is what we are in the process of trying to do.
Just wanted to share our own resistance. Thanks for being a wonderful resource!
Chair, Indiana Coalition for Public Education of Monroe County and South Central Indiana (sites.google.com/site/icpemonroe/home) Bloomington
I have resigned my position as a teacher with the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) as of Sept. 23, 2012. The environment at CPS has become toxic and the focus on training for tests undermines authentic learning/teaching. New teachers are being deformed by this “train for the high-stakes tests” mentality. Experienced, highly qualified teachers are made uncomfortable and are quietly pushed out by being ignored and undervalued. Those who can afford to leave are taking that step.
Unfortunately, the most passionate teachers, those who have given their own resources and time to improve the learning environment for students, are being undermined by the business model of profitability and short-term results. The impact of these shortsighted policies and, now, habits will be felt in the future as students try to grapple with the process of creative thinking. Private schools may be the last hope to nurture the future of America.
Therefore, I will not be needing your wonderful subscription. I have enjoyed it and find the articles relevant to the past, current, and future generations of learners/problem solvers.
I recently read Ruth Ann Dandrea’s “About Those Tests I Gave You: An Open Letter to My Students” (spring 2012). I am as far beyond 8th grade as one can get. I’m 90, not educated in this country, English is the third language I learned to speak, write, and read. But I have children and grandchildren educated in this country. My grandchildren, now in high school, have talked with me about those tests. They wondered what they had to do with the subject!
I’m afraid you are right that the machinations in D.C. are meant to dumb down We the People. I had expected that this country would have been a (or the) leader in getting the world out of the retro-swamp we seem to be wallowing in. But, on the contrary.
Thank you, Ruth, for writing to your 8th-grade students. I am impressed—with you and with your 8th graders.
University of Hawaii
Island of Hawaii
Ruth Ann Dandrea’s letter to her students is one of the most compelling, meaningful, poignant, and honest things I have read in some time. I spoke to a few of our friends who are public school teachers. Their story is the same one she told. I have a slightly skewed view on the notion of testing as I spent a few years working as a consultant to the Educational Testing Service (ETS). ETS develops, administers, and scores more than 50 million tests annually. There was no shortage of smart people at ETS. I would often attend meetings where every seat at the table was taken by someone with a terminal degree in their discipline. I learned quickly the problem wasn’t with the people developing the tests. It was somewhere else, someplace I could never quite sort out until I registered my own child for public school and then read your letter today. The problem, it seems, is all of us.
Collectively, we need to demand a change to the nature of testing and education. We need to shift our priorities and embrace the fact that, in truth, there is nothing more important than education. There will be nothing to celebrate, defend, tax, export, or eat if we do not educate our children properly.
Jason Alan Snyder
New York City