The real world is finally intruding into the Tweed fantasy that most New York parents are sheep that can be easily manipulated and fooled. I am lucky enough to work in a diverse middle class district in New York City. Most parents in my district truly value education and want their children to achieve. What they do not want is a school system that wishes to destroy the self-esteem of children because a test is of more value than a student’s affect.
Today I received a call from one of my colleagues who unfortunately works in a high need middle school in another part of the city. Unlike my district, high need parents in New York have to deal with multiple challenges, but many also want the best for their children. She told me an interesting story. Her principal received a letter from a high needs parent of a mildly disabled child. The letter basically said that the parent has reviewed the SIRS manual (this is a manual from the New York State Education Department which I call the accountability bible). The parent referred to a page which states that a child can refuse testing. The parent went on to say that she feels that this test serves no instructional purpose except to punish schools, teachers and disabled children. Any test that her child has to take should serve the purpose of developing appropriate IEP goals which will help her child acquire the skills needed to eventually master an appropriate curriculum that will enable her child acquire a high school diploma. The parent stated that on the day of the testing, the child will refuse to take the examination.
The Principal immediately called my colleague (an testing coordinator) down to the office and threw up his hands. Upset, the Principal said that if bunches of parents request this, the school’s annual yearly progress will be destroyed if the number of untested children go below 95%. He said that the school was at the cusp of being closed and that it was obvious that the parent was too stupid to write this letter herself. Someone had to have helped and advised her. She wanted my colleague to find out who could have helped this parent and if it was a teacher, she would make sure charges would be brought. She told my colleague that she sent the letter to “legal” and the “Network”.
This resulted in a conference call between the legal department of the New York City Department of Education and the special education administrator of her school’s Child First Network (or should we call it Child Last). According to my colleague, the special education administrator said to just ignore the letter. The network person said that disabled child is too stupid to understand why she is refusing and could easily be ignored. The lawyer for Tweed said parents cannot opt out according to state law. She said that the parent stating that the child will refuse testing is equivalent to opting out because the child’s justification for refusal derives from the parent and not the child. After about a half hour of banter, these administrator, principal and lawyer decided that if the child refuses, the Principal should suspend the child and the administration of children’s services should be called so the parent can be charged with educational neglect. Finally, the testing coordinator, who was part of this conference call, meekly added, “What if the parent seeks out a professional advocate and commences legal action?” The DOE lawyer said not to worry because such parents are too stupid to do this.
In shooting down the opinion of the test coordinator, the lawyer and special education administrator showed their true colors. These three birds show first, they have no respect for parents, have latent racist tendencies, and care nothing for democratic processes. They told the Principal that he should lay down the law. He was to tell the parent that when the child shows up for testing, the assessment will be given. If the child refuses to take the test, the child will be sent to a guidance counselor and any missed part of the assessment will be administered during a make-up day. They told the principal not to worry about any legal action, because if the parent went that route, it would take time and the child taking the assessment would be a fait accompli.
All I can say is shame on this Principal, DOE lawyer and Network special education administrator. They represent a culture of racism, corruption, and despotism that show no respect at all for teachers, parents and children. This is a culture brought to us by an out-of-control Mayor who rules with an iron hand. For the last twelve years, Mayor Bloomberg has ruled this Department of Education as a third rate dictator. He totally disregards parents and thus created a system which rubber stamps all his policies. Public education was originally meant to be a democratic institution with school boards elected by the citizens. Yes, it is true, that in the past, school boards have made decisions that were often harmful to students and teachers. We recall what happened in the South during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and those boards who would ban such books as The Catcher in the Rye. But a board could eventually be voted out when decisions went beyond the pale of reason. Here is a mayor who yells and screams about accountability, but he is accountable to no one. He is undemocratic and cares nothing about anyone’s thoughts and ideas. There is an old SAT prompt which asks whether those in power should listen to the ideas of people who are critical. Obviously, the answer is yes. When one listens, ideas are often fine tuned and when one listens, all stakeholders develop ownership of an idea or policy. Therefore, the idea has a better chance of being successfully implemented.
In New York City, no parent, no educator feels any ownership for the many failed reforms that Bloomberg has tried to implement. As was stated in this little scenario, those in power feel that parents as well as teachers are stupid. Like every reformer that is attempting to destroy public education, these elite individuals feel they know what is good for all of us. They are the elite who think they understand the whole picture while ignorant parents and self serving teachers are Luddites trying to prevent the inevitable. What Bloomberg and his minions do not understand is that their belief about what constitute a good education is based on faith and is nothing but a social construct based upon a complete fallacy. They have developed a new anti-democratic orthodoxy far more rigid than the Roman Catholic Church on the cusp of the Reformation. It is an orthodoxy bent on redistributing public funds to the few and stripping workers (teachers) of any power. They want a feudal system in which one lives or dies at the whim of the Lord of the Manor. That is why they want administers to have absolute power to either keep or dismiss teachers with little or no due process and to force an immoral and invalidtest on innocent children.
I have described a cabal that is completely dismissive of the thoughts and ideas of a parent. This parent is anything but stupid. Although high need, she was smart enough to probably get help from some advocacy organization in order to write this letter. This parent is demanding to be heard. A half century ago, many were dismissive of a woman who refused to sit on the back the bus and few brave young men who wanted to be served at a lunch counter. They were laughed at and ignored. By the way, history teaches us that revolutionary movements are never created by the elite or those who barely subsist. It is the middle and professional class who always lead the way and brings along those who are below. It is for this reason that the anti testing movement is starting in more middle class districts and will spread. This is a war of ideas. We write, we talk, and we research for one goal— to destroy the legitimacy of this fake reform movement. Think of how the anti-Vietnam War movement began and grew in the 1960s and early 1970s. The few who denounced the war at first were condemned by the elite at that time, but in the end, the movement became so great that those in power had to compromise and eventually end the conflict. The cornerstone of this democratic society is that power derives from people. Those who are presently in power have forgotten this. History again teaches us that those who refuse to share power or listen often have power taken away from them—sometimes by force. The anti testing movement that is being started by a few brave souls is just the beginning salvo of a greater conflict that I feel will come. What is at stake is the basic foundation of our democratic society—an expansive public education for all. I suspect that people are beginning to become fed up with tax money being redistributed to benefit the few—to allow public money that is supposed to educate everyone to enrich hedge fund operators at the expense of the commons.
In the end, they did intimidate this parent to force the child to be tested. However, although the Principal, Network special education administrator, and lawyer may have won this little battle, I have a growing sense that they will not win the war. And why won’t they win, we is the reason. We still have a constitution that gives us the freedom to speak out and to expose follies to the light of day. I have faith that teachers and parents will someday take back the commons to the benefit of a society that still, for the most part, believes in the preservation of the democratic institution we call public education.