At 96 years old, Frances Crowe is still keeping on—marching, protesting, getting arrested, organizing, and speaking out. And in the process she has touched thousands and thousands of lives. She has definitely touched mine.
A few years ago at a peace rally in New York City, I had a conversation with a man marching next to me. When he found out I was from Western Massachusetts he asked if by any chance I knew Frances Crowe.
“She was my draft counselor during the Vietnam War,” he said. “I will never forget what she did for me.”
Frances Crowe never stops. She humbles and inspires me. And that’s why my decision to retire from education at the end of this school year was so difficult for me to make.
You see—I can’t fight the fight anymore. Since the inception of No Child Left Behind our
schools have turned into something I don’t even recognize, all in the name of accountability.
I don’t want to imply that there aren’t great teachers working hard for kids every day. I admire, applaud and thank them for always doing right by kids. And I know there are administrators, principals, superintendents who empower their teachers.
But, all in all, our schools got ahold of the poison and they drank. Educators became afraid of losing their jobs or having their school taken over, so they bowed down to an accountability system that reduces a child to a data point on a chart.
So we teach reading, writing or math so students can pass a test and improve a district’s report card. That’s the underlying philosophy guiding our schools at the national, state and local levels.
And it gets worse. Districts are adopting scripted curriculum programs. Teachers are given this mandated curriculum and told to stay on the mandated schedules with the mandated script. And in one district I know, if teachers are going to be off this schedule by even five minutes they have to put a note on the door justifying their errant behavior.
And so goes inquiry. So goes deep discourse. So goes student passion.
This mandated curriculum is created by someone who doesn’t know the kids sitting in front of that teacher, doesn’t know their dreams and hopes, their passions and interests. This curriculum is created by a corporation (Pearson) that is making lots of money off of the backs of taxpayers. (Notice I used the word ‘that’ not ‘who’ after corporation. I don’t believe that corporations are people and they certainly don’t care about the kids).
And it keeps getting worse. I was recently told that music, art and recess were taken out of the early childhood curriculum in an urban school district. After all, you have to help these four-year olds become career and college ready.
A first grade student asked her teacher after her weekly DIBELS test, "Did I improve?" The student didn't tell the teacher how excited she was about the story she finished reading. She didn't ask the teacher how to find a book about something she wanted to learn about. She didn't tell the teacher that she loved to read. She merely wanted to know if she did better on the test.
I don’t have to go on and on about the abuses that are thrown on kids every day. But I could. You’ve seen them. And in the process of those abuses, we have taken away the excitement and joy of being in school. We have destroyed the learning process.
We should teach reading so that students can access the thoughts and ideas of thousands of authors.
We should teach writing so that students can express their deepest hopes and dreams.
We should teach math so students can be powerful in their analytic thinking and be able to solve any type of problem they encounter in life.
We should encourage science inquiry to help kids answer all the questions they have about the world around them.
We should empower and encourage students to have a voice and become participating citizens in our democracy through our social studies curriculum.
We should help them value their bodies and keep them healthy through our physical education program. They need recess to learn how to play, share and innovate. In some schools, they have paved over playgrounds.
And the arts are what we live for. They plain and simply make us better people.
I have met with politicians, written letters, organized meetings and forums, spoken to district personnel and state officials. Nothing helps.
Why? Because our schools are now being used for corporate profits (Pearson) and you simply can’t fight profit especially from within.
I have the best job in the world. I get to hang out with twenty year olds ever day as a college professor and teacher of future teachers. But here I am—another one of those people who leave the education system because they can’t morally stay in it anymore.
Every time I send a student into the field to observe the abuses there, I feel unethical. And every time they come back with their stories, I get angry. I mean who in their right mind would make a class of six year olds sit cross-legged for thirty minutes and reprimand them when they move their legs. All in the name of accountability. And don’t think that calling it criss-cross applesauce makes it any more pleasant.
I don’t want to go to work angry anymore. I don’t want to be complicit with an immoral system anymore. I don’t want to collect artificial data about my student’s lesson plans anymore. I don’t want to hear the stories anymore.
And so I quit—with a heavy heart because I have loved my job. I know there is a place for my voice on the outside. I’ll find that place.
In the meantime – to all you early childhood, elementary, middle and high school teachers. Carry on. Fight the good fight. Speak out. Don’t be complicit with an immoral system. Put your fears aside and do what’s right for kids. You have the power to change this. And hopefully you have the energy. Money doesn’t go down without a fight.