“First they came for the……and then they came for me, but there was nobody left.” Most of us can quote Pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous lines, at least some of them. At least the gist of it. Most of us give tacit voice to it’s message. We get it, so of course we’d like to think we would stand up for the oppressed, the least among us.

Well, people, the time is now.

CHOICE. STANDARDIZED TESTS. PUBLIC HUMILIATION OF TEACHERS AND SCHOOLS. FOR PROFIT CHARTERS. We’re seeing the newest fads in public education take over our lives. Yet where is the movement to counteract it? We’re watching an entire generation of teachers who have learned nothing but to “teach to the test.” And students, if they care at all, are learning to spew factoids in record time.

“Grandma,” my six year old granddaughter told me, “If I don’t get to Step Six in math I can’t go to second grade.” What! Believe me, people, she did not think that up all by herself.

Kids are being judged on tests that may not even be valid or reliable (remember those words from Statistics 101?) and we’re being told that the only skills worth testing are reading and math.

Reading and math are important, sure, but what about the legacies that civilizations leave? See, for example, Ancient Greece, Mozart, cubism, Michael Jordan. Need more examples? Where do we teach about racism, imperialism, gender bias? Where do we allow Mexican students to see themselves reflected back in the curriculum? Arizona, are you listening?

The tests drive the curriculum. “If we’re all taking the same tests then we’d all better be teaching the same content.” Teachers, you know better. You know the danger that lurks behind those dictates. You know that children learn at different rates, that they have different interests, come with different skills. You know that tests are culturally biased. And if you don’t come from a place where the word ‘spectacle’ is used, you’re out of luck on the test, kid.

So, just for today, let’s agree to agree. Let’s all say that we know that fads come and go, but this one has a chance of wiping out a whole generation of students and the teachers who teach them. Now, let’s see what we can do before it’s too late. Here are some ideas:

1. Encourage every teacher you know to get onto Facebook, Twitter, or any social media site that connects them to others who are striving for the same ends. Ask them to friend others, to tweet, to support the efforts of those on the front line of real educational reform.

2. Read blogs. Comment on the site. Let the authors know you’re out there. Some of the really wonderful ones include: Valerie Strauss at The Washington Post, Diane Ravitch and Deborah Maier who blog at Edweek.org; Susan Ohanian, amazingly passionate at EdNotesOnline; Peggy Robinson at PegWithPen.

3. Be the change you want to see. I know it’s a cliché, but if was good enough for Gandhi it should be good enough for you. Don’t wait to be loved. Don’t wait for others to join. It only takes one other person to form a group. Watch this clip to see how it’s done.

4. Show up. I know you have children at home, food to cook, car pooling to do, tests to grade. I know you’re tired after work, I know you hardly sleep now, I know.



About The Author

Nancy Letts

Nancy Letts consults with school districts, professional organizations and public sector agencies.Her teaching appointments have included public schools in Pennsylvania and New York, and at Pace University and the City University of New York. She and her work have been the subject of articles in the New York Times, Teaching K-8 Magazine, Thinking: the Journal of Philosophy for Children, and on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” She has been a contributor to the Teachers College Record, The Quarterly at UC Berkeley, and Teaching magazine. Audio tapes include”Building Learning Organizations,” and “Getting Started With Portfolios,” from the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. Her book "Creating the Caring Classroom" is published by Scholastic Professional Books.

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