Thursday, January 29, 2015

Moral Challenges to Teachers Under the Current High-Stakes Test Regime; Noble Moral Resisters Among Educators of Our Era & "I have read you this because I have to..."

'I have read you this because I have to. What you make of it is between you and your conscience.'*

We are living in troublesome times. We public educators are expected to blindly follow orders, orders that many of us often feel uncomfortable carrying out: imposing inappropriate curricula such as much many parts of the Common Core --that cause great anxiety in children, institutionalize New Criticism-- and abetting in the over-emphasis on inordinately high-stakes tests over enriching learning.

So, on the anniversary of the passing of a radical educator whose lessons often carried profound moral questions and who suggested that we regularly check the morality of our actions, particularly those done in the name of the government, we can express great reverence for educators that carry their moral conscience forth in advocating resistance to inappropriate high-stakes tests.

Kudos to the teachers of the International High School in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn, from In These Times:

On May Day 2014, a group of teachers at the International High School at Prospect Heights (IHSPH) in Brooklyn stood outside their school building and informed gathered reporters that they would not be administering the New York City English Language Arts (ELA) Performance Assessment Exam scheduled to take place that day. The test, which is part of a new teacher evaluation system imposed by the state last year, exists solely to rate teacher performance; unlike, for example the Regents Exam, which dates back to 1866 and determines whether students graduate. Thirty people—nearly all of the teachers and staff at the small public school—signed a statement declaring they would not participate.

Kudos to the teachers, of the Caucus of Education Workers in Philadelphia, this month that are under fire for resisting high-stakes tests, from PhillyMag:

Teachers at a Philadelphia school say they face discipline from the school district for helping parents opt their children out of standardized tests.
Kelley Collings, a teacher at Feltonville School of Arts & Sciences, said Monday she is one of a half-dozen teachers called to an “investigatory conference” on the matter, scheduled for Thursday. Collings is also on the steering committee of the Caucus of Working Educators, which helped organize the effort to help students and their families opt out of the tests.
Officials at the Philadelphia School District did not respond to inquiries on the topic.

Kudos to the supporters of the New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) resolution proposed for adoption by New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), in support of the "I Refuse Movement [the opt-out movement]":
Particularly relevant to this blogpost are these lines:

RESOLVED, that NYSUT will lobby the NYS Board of Education to eliminate the use of high stakes testing; and be it further

RESOLVED, that NYSUT will ask that all of its members have their own children refuse to take the Grade 3-8 assessments: and be it further  

RESOLVED, that NYSUT will organize other members and affiliates to increase opposition to high stakes testing . . . .

And special kudos to Carole Burris and the other principals and superintendents, who also at some risk, have considered their conscience and have spoken out against unjust, inappropriate educational policies.

     *          *           *
Hans and Sophie Scholl, of the White Rose movement

*Here is the full context and reference, to a German army officer in World War II, expressing moral conscience in suggesting resistance to an immoral directive. Of course, today we are not speaking of genocidal fascism; but the current posture of aggressive education reform-promoting public officials and schools supervisors down the ranks, is to insist on blind obedience.  Is it not very uncomfortable that we have lived with anxiety and disgust at supposedly civilized countries that had many that did terrible deeds, with the excuse that they were following orders? How hard it will be to resist when the deeds we are expect to commit become more noxious, and we cannot resist complying, because we have been conditioned to not question authority and to only critique in private?

"The company commander read us the [commissar] order that evening [mandating the summary execution of any captured Soviet commissar of the Red Army], saying he was duty-bound to do so. And then he said something more. And I remember it well, because we all felt it showed great courage. He said,

'I have read you this because I have to. What you make of it is between you and your conscience.'

We thought this was a great, really clear statement against an order. And we had great respect for our company commander after saying something like that."

-- “WW2 Documentary The Wehrmacht 3/5 The Crimes” by the Documentary Movie Channel, on the German Army in World War II

We must do better than be a nation of public servants that are just following orders. May there be more teachers as those cited teachers from Brooklyn and Philadelphia.