Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Cowardice

I proctored our state end of course biology state exam today.

At least somebody's profiting from all this

I watched the passive resignation of young adults who finished a pointless section in less than half the time allotted, then sat there on a mid-May morning.

They were polite--they've been trained to be.
They were silent--they've been coerced to be.
They were compliant--it's what we want them to be.

I felt dirty.
I went home and planted a few moonflower seeds I had soaked overnight.
So it wasn't a totally wasted day.

By KeepOpera, CC 3.0

But I had no right, none of us do, to subject children to a test that does not count for anything, when they, too, could have planted moonflowers.

And in July, as the sun is starting its journey back south, and the fragrance of a blooming moonflower under a full moon makes me brave again, I'll remember this sin, and ask forgiveness.





At least I can fearlessly teach science until the end of the year now.





11 comments:

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

I am curious--what will you do with this fearlessness?

John T. Spencer said...

I was going to blog about this topic -- as a teacher and as a father. You beat me to the punch and you wrote it more eloquently than I would have. Thanks.

Kathryn J said...

I know that feeling. I also always feel like someone leading lambs to slaughter - seriously the reading level of our state's Chemistry test is so far above the capability of most of my students.

They get stuck on words like yield, composed of, indivisible. My students are fine with words like proton, neutron, valence electron, ion, etc. those they can do. I can't predict what everyday English words will trip them up. I know that our district average for the state summative test for my course is 25% passing.

How much longer do you have classes? My students' big test for my class is on the afternoon of June 20 - the last day of state exams, the very last day given. Many will have taken as many as 5 other Regents exams - some a shot in the dark hope of passing a required exam.

It makes me sad.

doyle said...

Dear Jeffrey,

That's assuming I/we ever truly get brave enough--a big if.

The obvious answer, one that could well lead to termination, would be refusing to give the test. If done in isolation, it would be about as effective as an act protesting against the boot of an adult human.

The more effective solution would be to mount a collective response to a bad situation. This particular test does not count for the kids, and they know it, which leads to essentially an invalid test.

We have the absurd situation where a quarter of NJ high school students are taking an exam at considerable expense because of the inertia of prior tests built to comply with NCLB when NCLB no longer applies to us.

At any rate, I've only gone as far as asking forgiveness. A start, I suppose.


Dear John,

Thanks--care to take on Jeffrey's question? =)

doyle said...

Dear Kathryn,

Our last day of full classes is June 8. Many believe we're done. We're not.

Language is a huge issue--part of our directions is telling kids that answers MUST be in English. Translators are not allowed. It's a science test, not a language test.

My hope is that parents get more involved--I'm not sure they realize how crazy the testing has become.

John T. Spencer said...

I'm stuck. I try and push things boldly, but the biggest force (the test) is one I can stand up to as a parent but not a teacher. I write blogs and tweet and talk to neighbors and all that, but ultimately that is still a chicken way of handling my anger toward standardized education.

I love teaching to much to risk my career. I could get another job, so it's not the money. And ultimately, that fear of losing a good thing is what keeps the best teachers from speaking up.

This Brazen Teacher said...

This post made me think of one of my favorite stories by Paulo Coehlo: "Veronika Decides to Die" Specifically, this part:

"Stay insane but act like normal people. Run the risk of being different, but do it without attracting attention. Concentrate and allow the "I" to reveal itself."

"What is the 'I'?" asked Veronika.

"It's what you are, not what others make of you."

Maybe my late night thesis shot brain is stretching the metaphor too thin, but I guess I just don't see you (or John... or any great teacher for that matter) as a chicken or a coward. Rather I see you as "insane" among the "normal." Voices of reason sound insane when everybody's nuts... and you can't crash that party if you don't wear the mask.

And at the end of the day, it's what's under the mask that matters.

Jenny said...

Moving from 5th to 1st grade allowed me to ignore this question for a few years. I don't have to make my little darlings sit through a test like this one any more.

Now my oldest is a 3rd grader and will take her first, official, state mandated standardized test tomorrow. In addition, she has an anxiety disorder. I've considered exempting her from the test, as is my right as a parent.

But she goes to my school and I know she'll pass the test. We need her scores.

(In my defense she does not have any anxiety about the test. Her anxiety seems to stay related to social issues, not academic ones.)

I know that a part of me will feel like a coward many times over the next few weeks as she sits through five multiple choice tests.

Aron said...

We have three post-test weeks here in TX. There is a freedom in knowing that not everything at this point has to relate to a standard someone else determined. Today we walked the 1.360 mile (thank you google maps) perimeter of my school to survey some plant and animal life. They saw stuff they never knew existed and had been all around them the entire time. Besides, they deserve some fresh air. They were inside testing all last week. Take this fearlessness and teach them everything you should/would have taught them.

Jeffrey Michals-Brown said...

Sorry, Doyle. I meant the question much more immediately and practically: what will you do with these last days? What do you teach when all that "matters" is you and your students?

Malcolm said...

to make the invigilating task seemingly more 'important', i refer to the job as 'invigorating' an exam. some students actually appreciate the humour that gets dispensed! in BC (and the rest of Canada) the universities are moving away from the results of Provincial exams as a mark for entry into university and relying on more of a portfolio of sorts...complete with volunteer services and (letters of reference, i think).

thank dog.

still...the marks needed to get into uni is disgustingly high (90+). been some issues from some (private) schools of bumping grades/marking easy.
Too many smrt kids who don't know how to do anything...