An Antique Teacher Goes to Washington

The day dawned bright, cold and breezy in Washington DC on April 4. I layered up the clothing and headed downtown to the Dept. of Education. The crowd gathered there was much like the crowd I saw last year, but this year there were hugs and moments of “aha – a face to go with a name!” as activists from all over the country met in person for the first time.

As the time approached for the first “mic check” of Occupy 2.0, I was asked if I could talk. I summoned all the courage I had and took the mic. I honestly don’t remember every word I said, but I told the story of the WNYers for Public Education forum held in March. I told them that 6 people with a vision and a dream put together something that we weren’t sure would be well-attended or well-received. We took a chance and boy, were we ever SURPRISED! In the past month, Buffalo News outlets (both television and print) have exploded with news about “opting out”.

We hit a snag, though, because in NY, there is no “OPT OUT” provision in the law. As parents, we can opt out of vaccines, sex education, field trips, and even sports – but we cannot OPT OUR CHILDREN OUT of HIGH STAKES TESTS! So, the new word on the street is REFUSE! 

Apparently, this idea of a child refusing to take a high stakes test, has gotten the attention of the many “powers that be”. Superintendents have gone on TV to say “It’s part of life, get used to it.”

Just TODAY – the NYS Association of School Attorneys  released this document as ‘advice’ to school boards in regard to students refusing the test.

When I read it, I was FURIOUS – the veiled threat to check “attendance policy” resemble the outright threats that I’ve heard about from schools saying that refusing the High Stakes Tests could be considered “educational neglect”. My least favorite is the one to “check your student handbook” – clearly an encouragement to create some sort of PUNISHMENT for those children who refuse.

Then, I took a deep breath and remembered something : If they are pushing back this hard, it must be because they have HEARD US! They even reference Occupy in the memo!  This is actually GOOD NEWS! You see, the harder they push, the harder NYer’s will push back! Parents in NY are not going to be bullied – while in school the “Dignity for All” act teaches children that bullying is not acceptable! Parents will not allow their children to be held hostage all in the name of rating teachers, students, and schools based on high stakes tests DATA! These parents will show up at school with TV cameras and lawyers if needed, because, you see, the US SUPREME COURT has consistently held parental rights above the rights of the STATE. 

There are those that criticize me and other supporters of REFUSALS because they feel that children are being used as pawns or that children don’t really understand the idea of refusal. I’m sorry, but that is utter and complete BS! Students became pawns in this game long before their parents even knew what was happening. These students certainly understand that their days are full of “test prep” and that school isn’t really much FUN any more!

Further, I would argue that long before children can make thoughtful decisions, their parents make decisions for them: should they be vaccinated? should they eat fruits or vegetables? should they have a set bed time? Parents are “GUARDIANS” – they GUARD their children from danger! Parents who have decided to GUARD their children from High Stakes Tests should  have the right to do so. PERIOD.

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