Friday, April 22, 2011

Civil Disobedience

To demonstrate his opposition to the Mexican-American War and slavery, Henry David Thoreau refused to pay poll taxes for six years, and when the tax collector demanded payment, Thoreau went to jail for his principles. But his aunt ended up paying the money for him, and he went free the very next day. He was a little disgruntled.

My great act of civil disobedience this year was going to be to write a letter to exempt Dan from the STAR Tests in May. The STAR tests are California's answer to No Child Left Behind (now repackaged as Race To The Top). In my opinion (as well as those of many respected others such as Alfie Kohn and Diane Ravitch) they are useless and wrong and a waste of money and time. They are administered to all California public school students in 2nd grade and up, and at Loyola, the tests and the associated paperwork will take one hour every day, for eight days, first thing in the morning.

The state requires that parents be allowed to exempt their children from taking these tests. They anticipate that the most likely candidates will be parents of students with learning disabilities, and what the education folks call English Language Learners. Because it's not fair to quietly shepherd the low-scorers out and artificially boost a school's scores, if more than 15% of students at any school opt out of the STAR test, the school's overall scores become invalid. Also, schools may not encourage students to opt out.

Dan's school, with its highly educated parents, high student test scores, and correspondingly high neighborhood real estate prices, is gunning for the top. No one knows that they can opt their kid out; in fact, no one even wants to. Why forgo an opportunity to excel? Why risk invalid scores and possibly lower property values?

In a post last June, I agonized over what I would do come STAR test season 2011. I talked with two other Loyola mothers who, along with me, attended a lecture by Alfie Kohn on testing, homework, and grades (bad, mostly bad, and bad). One, whose son is in Dan's class, seemed determined to write her letter; the other was still on the fence as of yesterday.

I took two big steps towards making my little political statement:
1) Last month, I decided that I would write a letter to opt Dan out.
2) Today, I emailed the class list and told them they were allowed to opt their kids out if they so chose.

Second step first: I chose today because it's the end of the week-before-the-week-before. This should give parents the weekend to talk about it and a few days to act, and not give the administration a lot of time to react. Although as I mentioned earlier, I think most parents are pro-testing, not protesting, ha-ha. Dan's teacher even said that parents have been calling her and asking what they should do to help their child prepare for and/or do well on the test.

And now, a tangential rant: Excuse me, but WTF? A useless, no-stakes test that has no impact whatsoever on the child's education except that he or she loses eight hours of classroom time, and a huge negative impact on the education of thousands of underprivileged kids, and they're worried about how their second-grader can get a top score? For what reason? To what end? I'm flummoxed.

And back to the program: The first step, which was the reason I began to write this very long post.
I sat down with Dan a few days ago and said, "In a couple of weeks, your class is going to take something called the STAR tests. It's one of those ones where you fill in the little circles, you know?"
"It's going to take about an hour every day for eight days, from 9:00 to 10:10, and it doesn't count for school."
"But I can write a letter to Principal A and get you out of it, and you can just sit and read a book instead of taking the test...what do you think?"
He thought for about two seconds. Then, "I think I'd like to take the test."
And went back to reading his book.


Completely taken aback, I thought of Thoreau and his law-abiding aunty. Where's the fun in getting all pumped up to civilly disobey on behalf of your child--on behalf of All the Children in California, even--if your child goes all establishment on you? I mean, talk about the air going out of the balloon.

More to the point, now what? I checked carefully, trying not to ask leading questions, and his reason for wanting to take the test seems to be curiosity and competitiveness rather than self-consciousness about being the only one not taking the test.

So do I educate my child? Give him a little lecture on The Evils of Standardized Testing, Especially for Young Children? Is that brainwashing, or is it, clarifying?

Do I let him take the stupid tests, despite my ethical, philosophical, and political objections, thus supporting an institution that I really don't support?

Whose pawn will he be? Mine or the school's?

I'm inclined to let him take the darn things, but I'm not letting him do it without a little more information.

On a totally different note, it was Superhero Day at school today, in honor of Earth Day. The tenuous connection: Save the Earth. Dan, of course, agonized over whether and how much to dress up, and then subjected the rest of us to several tantrums this morning as a result of his anxiety. He eventually settled on a Batman shirt under a sweatshirt and a few other items in a bag, to be extracted if lots of kids were wearing costumes. His somewhat less neurotic friend S arrived at school as Captain Underpants, complete with a red cape around over his shoulders and a pair of white briefs over his jeans.

1 comment:

  1. i don't think he would be your pawn, if he didn't take the tests. like you said, you don't believe in the tests, or what they represent.