Cruel Society

I take the bus to work every day. Since I transfer downtown I am accustomed to seeing people sleeping on the sidewalks. At 7AM this morning, I saw for the first time in my life, two young males sitting on the sidewalk with their sleeping bags wrapped around them, shooting up. As I approached they just looked like run of the mill homeless people. But when I walked right in front of them I could see that one of them had the needle still sticking out of his arm. The other one was rocking back and forth, tears streaming down his face, eyes rolled up inside his head. It reminded me of the utter cruelty of our society.

This realization, year after year, is what drew me into public education. Education seems to be the best way to work for a better world, which is where my heartfelt commitment lies. But in our society educators encounter relentless opposition to doing the work necessary to making progress. The root of this opposition in not philosophical, it is economic. Enough resources are never adequately allocated. Policy makers are full of idealistic rhetoric but consistently fail to come up with the cash.

If we as a society turn a blind eye towards the cruelty of leaving junkies in the street, how are we ever going to face the harmful effects of a resource starved public education system whose main function in society is to sort and rank our population? As long as the education system performs this function which solidifies the social hierarchy, it will be funded, but only up to the point of mere life support. With the development of policy under Betsy DeVos, even life support could be pulled.

The blind eye turned toward the problems that can be addressed through education is far removed from the general gaze. It is not in your face like what I saw this morning. I had a very clear snapshot of human suffering that is not being addressed. But the suffering we face in the schools exists in the dimension of time. One snapshot rarely tells the whole story the way a needle dangling from the arm of a young male couched on Third and Lenora does. To see the inherent cruelty of public education policy, you have to be in the clutches of it, all day, every day.

The same cruel society that allows the junkies of this generation to flounder, allows schools to fail the next generation. It is the cruel society that cherishes money over humanity, that encourages corporate greed over mutual aid, that allows a few to have too much and too many to have so little. It is a cruel society that only shares enough for most to just get by and ignores the pains and sorrows of those who cannot get by at all and need help.

 

It really doesn’t have to be this way. The greed that is the ultimate driver of this suffering is a sickness. It is a risk to public health. But it can be managed. All of it can be managed, the greed and suffering can be managed if we, all the individuals in society, make the moral choice to do so.

 

End Times for Standardized Testing

My experience and expertise about why it must end now

By Jeff Treistman

“Characterize people by their actions, and you’ll never be fooled by their words.”

I grew up Jewish in the shadow of the holocaust. I was born ten years after World War Two when the memories and images were still fresh. One lesson that I learned early on was that the Nazi Holocaust of the Jews showed that racism and eugenics were wrong.

As it turns out the founders of the testing movement were academics who promoted the racist idea of eugenics. I learned about this when I was in high school, which was the late sixties and early seventies. Along with the desire for relevant, hands on learning, it is one of the reasons I sought a progressive education in high school and college.

I went into the teaching profession fifteen years ago. I was not in favor of standardized testing then but since I was newly inducted into the teaching corps I went along, because I needed the job. It was at precisely the same time that the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) was rolled out in the state of Washington; it was the first wave of mandatory, high stakes tests. There were many more to follow.

Watching the parade of hundreds of students became my personal image of dystopia.

When I became a middle school librarian, ten years ago, I was assigned the duty of test coordinator. It was that experience and all of the research I’ve done since then that set me on a course of total opposition to the practice of standardized testing. Watching the parade of hundreds of students into the computer labs for testing, closing the library for weeks on end, became my personal image of dystopia.

There are a lot of other reasons to end standardized testing but to me the most urgent one, given the state of our country’s politics, is because I see them as racist. Dr. Ibram X Kendi, Director of The Antiracist Research and Policy Center, put it best when he wrote, “Standardized tests have become the most effective racist weapon ever devised to objectively degrade Black minds and legally exclude their bodies.”

The thing that these standardized tests do well is to sort students by socio-economic status. Which is exactly what they have been designed to do, so they are doing their job. The problem is that they do absolutely nothing to end racism. They are advertised as an equalizer but in fact they are barriers. They are racist through and through and that is no longer acceptable.

The bad news is that there are a lot of things we are doing completely wrong, raising the next generation. The good news is that there are a lot things we do right and ways to fix the things we do wrong. But at some point we have to face the music. This is my song.