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Tuesday, April 9, 2013

CHERRY BLOSSOMS AND FREDERICK DOUGLASS

Dear Friends,

Internet access was spotty and the mile-long walk to the occupy site left me too exhausted to cope with Mailchimp while I was in Washington, which is why I did not send more updates. Now that I am home, though, I’ll send you updates I wrote while I was there. 

My first report from Washington. It is lovely here: steeped in history and cherry blossoms. There is an image of Frederick Douglas etched into the sidewalk right outside the front door of my hotel with this quote: “I prefer to be true to myself, even at the hazard of incurring the ridicule of others, rather than to be false, and to incur my own abhorrence.” 

Now to Occupy the Department of Education (DOE). There is so much information I’d like to share, so in order not to bore you to death I will keep you informed in a series of short letters. If anyone is interested in a meeting of some sort where I can share and we can discuss, let me know. I would love to do that. 

The news from what is happening in the education systems out east is not good. I have heard these stories but did not realize they were already happening. The beauty of coming together is that the stories are so much more real when you talk to the people experiencing them. 

I met a man who talked about the scripted teaching in his Rhode Island classroom. His schedule is posted in 12 different locations. If he is not doing exactly what he is “supposed” to be doing at the exact time, he is written up. Good-bye to everything we ever learned about teaching. Good-bye teachable moment. Good-bye to answering questions from curious minds. Good-bye to consoling a child for loss of a loved one. Good- bye to recess, art and music. They are not on the test, so don’t teach them. It was so bad, he quit – on YouTube. You can find it at Rhode Island Teacher Resigns. 

Teachers are fired and schools are closed, based on the test scores of young children. The stress causes the most vulnerable students to have melt-downs and hospitalizations. Katie Osgood is a social worker at an in-patient mental health treatment center in Chicago. She told us that during the week of high-stakes testing, referrals increase. If they do poorly on these high-stakes testing, not only do the children feel terrible about themselves, but their teacher could be fired or their school closed. The stress does nothing to improve education but weighs heavily on them. School closings are causing an increase in violence, even leading to children dying because those closing the schools know nothing about the neighborhoods they are dealing with. As a result, they have kids crossing through gang territories to get to school. 

The good news is that parents are opting their children out of testing. Young people themselves are opting out. I even heard of a wise, brave superintendent opting out his entire school district. 

Troy Grant, a dynamic young teacher from St. George’s County told us a story about opting his students out of a test. He was instructed to give three tests in one week, but by Friday, the kids were exhausted. He realized that testing the children would be educational malpractice, so he simply did not give the test. Nothing even happened, which led him to wonder if anybody was even reading those tests. 

Next installment, the march on the White House . . . . 

Mary V.

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