apWhen my children were younger, their operative word was “FAIR,” as in: “It’s NOT fair!.”

[quote] “It’s not fair. Liz can stay up later than I can.”

“It’s not fair. Jeff doesn’t have a curfew, and I did.”[/quote]

Most parents hear it. And most say, “I will give you what you need. You and Jeff are different and need different things. That’s what’s fair.”

It seems so obvious that those who believe “fair is the same as equal” are about three years old. Or 15. But not older, more mature adults. Not those who demand we all take-and are judged by-the same standardized tests. Not the feds who compare all apples [children and their teachers] to all oranges. Oh, wait!

Either we’re all the same or we’re not. Either we each need the same time, love, access, information.. OR WE DON’T.

Is there an adult who honestly believes it’s fair to compare students in Scarsdale with students in East LA and that they both need to be compared with kids in Kansas City? Who is the adult who refuses to acknowledge the irrefutable fact that where you live determines how well you’ll do on standardized tests?

It is an abuse of power to hold all students and their teachers accountable to the same tests. It is an abuse of children to treat them all as if they are a variation of the same child. It is an abuse of intellect to tell what children DO NOT know instead of showing us what they CAN do.

Some flexed their parent power and decided they had the right to opt their children out of their states’ standardized tests. They believed that our democracy depends on a healthy, diverse public education system. They know that teachers are being judged unfairly when the data and the theory are unreliable and invalid. These parents believe that an educational experience should be challenging, focused, and child-centered. It should not be dependent on hours of test prep and drills. No one who ever went to school would put up with hours and hours of test prep! Fill in the bubbles, answer the correct question. Do it again and again. Faster. Faster. Paper airplanes would be sailing through the air at my elementary school. (Do you hear me, graduates of Bell Avenue Elementary in Yeadon, Pa?)

Americans who continue to believe that public education has produced the most innovative and savvy students in the world have begun to recognize the Kool Aid offered in the guise of “choice,” charters, vouchers. They are taking a stand the only way they can by removing their children from abuse.

Fair does not equal equal. And here’s what not fair:

  • It is not fair that 20% of our children live in food insecure households (read: they come to school hungry). Hungry kids do not think about solving math problems, so those kids will never…. you know

Think it’s not your problem because: your kids are in ‘good’ schools, or because you don’t even have kids in school, or maybe you think it’s the problem of those in poverty to pick themselves up and get a job? Think our democracy can continue to survive when our public schools are left to pick up our pieces?

It is our problem because when the human race neglects its weaker members, when the family neglects its weakest one – it’s the first blow in a suicidal movement (Maya Angelou)

What is fair? Here are some ideas:

  • Opt-out from the standardized tests. You have the right. And the responsibility to vote with your refusal to drink untested Kool Aid.
  • Vote in School Board elections for candidates who are supportive of public education.
  • Inform yourself regarding how candidates for school boards are being financed (Why in the world would outside forces want to contribute $5,000 to a candidates’ coffers. Hmm…)
  • Make friends with a teacher, offer to volunteer in his/her classroom, learn how to counter those who believe the media hype about inferior education and lousy teachers (and their unions).
  • Read something-anything-about the history of public education in America. Why it began. How it fosters the best and the brightest. When the courts tried to make diversity the law of the land. And when the courts decided we’ve had enough of democratically integrated schools. Start here or here.

[quote]These men ask for just the same thing, fairness, and fairness only. This, so far as in my power, they, and all others, shall have. – Abraham Lincoln[/quote]

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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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