Because I love my daughter…Because all of our children are simply that important!

We are opting our children out of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core testing craze because our children deserve public schools that are focused on providing all children with a comprehensive, quality and empowering public education.

We are fighting back against the so-called “education reformers” because public education is the foundation upon which fulfilling lives are built.  Its purpose is not to make the corporate elite richer.

We are taking back our public schools because education is more than a standardized test score and our public school teachers should be evaluated on the quality of their work and not on test scores driven by factors beyond their control.

This weekend, the 2016 Opt Out Conference in Philadelphia is bringing together parents, teachers, academics and public education advocates from across the country to discuss developments and share strategies in our ongoing battle to protect our children, teachers and public schools from the corporate education reform industry and the standardized testing companies that are turning our children into guinea pigs and our public schools into little more than testing factories and profit centers.

Steve Singer, a public school teacher, parent and fellow education blogger and advocate, was among those who have been participating in the sessions.

His willingness to be a powerful voice for children, parents, teachers and public schools ranks him as one of the true heroes in the movement to put the fundamental concept of “the public” back into public education.

After the first full day of the conference, Steve Singer wrote the following post.  It not only provides a snapshot of the 2016 Opt-Out Conference but explains why we have and will continue to fight to protect our children, our teachers, our public schools and our nation.

How Radical Must We Be To Get the Schools Our Children Deserve? United Opt Out Musings  (By Steve Singer)

There was a point during Chris Hedges keynote address today when I could barely catch my breath.

My chest was heaving, tears were leaking from my eyes and I wasn’t sure I would be able to stop.

The Pulitzer Prize winning journalist had his audience enraptured at the United Opt Out Conference in Philadelphia Saturday morning.

I’ve read Chris before. We’ve all read Chris before. But I had never seen or heard him speak.

It was kind of like hearing a good sermon by a pastor who felt every word he said. And that really was it – Chris FELT every word.

When I’ve read Hedges’ articles on Truthdig, I’ve found myself getting angry. He stirs me up. He disturbs me, makes me feel uncomfortable. And when I heard him speak today I was surprised that he seemed to be reacting the same way to his own words.

When he talked about teaching teenage prisoners, he was emotionally invested in the story he was telling. When he criticized American neoliberal policies, he was just as angry as his audience.

The only difference was that his sorrow and rage somehow became transformed in his throat into something akin to poetry.

He turned the struggle of the oppressed into something beautiful. He transformed the hurt in my chest into something profound. He mutated my disturbance into a sense of actions-to-be.

I won’t repeat the words he said. I’d never be able to reproduce them with anything resembling his eloquence. But I will remark on one of his closing remarks because it hit me like a splash of cold water.

Rebellion, he said, is not about changing the world. It’s about changing yourself.

When you stand up for what is right, you become a better person – whether you achieve your goal or not. In a sense, it doesn’t matter if we destroy the testocracy. But in trying, we transmute ourselves into something better.

I don’t know if that’s true, but I’d like to think so.

I don’t know if we will ever destroy the system of Test and Punish, but I know I can try. I know I can put myself on the line and damn the consequences.

All weekend at the United Opt Out Conference we’ve been talking about rebellion and revolution. There’s no weak tea here in the City of Brotherly Love. No half measures. We’ve been discussing tearing the system down piece-by-piece.

A timid voice speaks up in the back of mind, “Do we really need to do all that? Do we really need revolution just to keep our public schools and make them into something worthy of our children?”

I think I’ve been trying to answer that question for a while now. Maybe a lot of us have.

In a rational country, our demands wouldn’t be so radical.

We want public schools centered on the good of all, not the profit of some. We want educationally valid curricula for our children. We want some control over the school system – both as parents and teachers.

Is that so much to ask? Is that such a lunatic request?

And as I listened to Hedges and Dr. Antonia Darder, Dave Green, Jonathan Pelto, Dr. Denisha Jones, Ceresta Smith, Yohuru Williams, Aixa Rodriguez and many, many others, I heard another timid voice begin to answer the first.

“Yes.”

The system of standardization and privatization of public education confronts students of color and impoverished students head on. They are in the front lines. Yet few people outside of activists seem willing to admit it.

Perhaps the most impressive thing about this conference has been its ability to put issues of human rights at the center of the argument. That’s the essential concept. We’re not just talking about bad education policies. We’re not just talking about schemes for billionaires to make more money. We’re talking about the systematic oppression of a group of people and the widespread complacency and complicity of the majority of the populace.

How do you combat such a monster without being revolutionary? How do you fight for your child without being a rebel?

More has happened at this conference than I can adequately put into words. I’ve met so many incredible people. Some of them I knew, some I had met before, some had only been names I had seen on my computer screen.

I will leave here Sunday feeling refreshed and energized, ready for the battles ahead.

Am I a radical?

Am I becoming a better person?

I don’t know.

But I will keep fighting.

Because I love my daughter, I love my students and I love all children everywhere.

For more of Steve Singer’s writing go to: https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/

 

Educator and Education Blogger Steven Singer’s MUST READ commentary piece

Pennsylvania educator and public school advocate Steven Singer is one of the most powerful voices in the nation when it comes to speaking out for students, parents, teachers and our public schools.

The tag line for Steven Singer’s blog is – “To sting people and whip them into a fury, all in the service of truth.”  In his latest commentary piece, Don’t Blame My Students For Society’s Ills, Singer provides a stunning assessment of the Corporate Education Reform Industry’s assault on public education.

Re-posted in its entirety below to ensure it is read by a broad audience,  you can also read and comment on the article at Singer’s blog: https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/

Don’t Blame My Students For Society’s Ills

As a public school teacher, I see many things – a multiplicity of the untold and obscure.

On a daily basis, I see the effects of rampant poverty, ignorance and child abuse. I see prejudice, racism and classism. I see sexism, homophobia and religious intolerance.

And hardly any of it comes from my students.

Despite what some people might say in the media, on Facebook or at the local watering hole, the kids are all right. It’s what we, the adults, are doing to them that’s messed up.

It’s always been in fashion for grown-ups to trash the next generation. At least since Hesiod bemoaned the loss of the Golden Age, we’ve been looking at the current crop of youngsters waiting in the wings to replace us and found them lacking. They just don’t have our drive and motivation. In my day, we had to work harder than they do. If only they’d apply themselves more.

It’s all untrue. In fact, today’s children have it harder than children of the ‘70s and ‘80s did when we were their age! Much harder!

For one thing, we didn’t have high stakes standardized tests hanging over our heads like the Sword of Damocles to the degree these youngsters do. Sure we took standardized assessments but not nearly as many nor did any of them mean as much. In Pennsylvania, the legislature is threatening to withhold my students’ diplomas if they don’t pass all of their Keystone Exams. No one blackmailed me with anything like that when I was a middle schooler. All I had to do was pass my classes. I worried about getting a high score on the SAT to get into college, but it didn’t affect whether I got to graduate. Nowadays, kids could ace every course for all 13-years of grade school (counting Kindergarten) and still conceivably only earn a certificate of attendance! Try using that for anything!

Moreover, my teachers back in the day didn’t rely on me so they could  continue being gainfully employed. The principal would evaluate them based on classroom observations from time-to-time to assess their effectiveness based on what he or she saw them doing. But if I was having a bad day during the assessment or if I just couldn’t grasp fractions or if I was feeling too depressed to concentrate – none of that would affect my teacher’s job rating. None of it would contribute to whether my teacher still had an income.

Think of how that changes the student-teacher relationship. Now kids as early as elementary school who love their teachers feel guilty on test day if they don’t understand how to answer some of the questions. Not only might their score and future academic success suffer, but their teacher might be hurt. That’s a lot of pressure for people who’ve just learned how to tie their shoes. They’re just kids! In many cases, the educator might be one of the only people they see all day who gives them a reassuring smile and listens to them. And now being unready to grasp high-level concepts that are being hurled at kids at increasingly younger ages may make them feel responsible for hurting the very people who have been there for them. It’s like putting a gun to a beloved adult’s head and saying, “Score well or your teacher gets it!” THAT’S not a good learning environment.

Finally, child poverty and segregation weren’t nearly as problematic as they are today. Sure when I went to school there were poor kids, but not nearly as many. Today more than half of all public school children live below the poverty line. Likewise, in my day public policy was to do away with segregation. Lawmakers were doing everything they could to make sure all my classes had increasing diversity. I met so many different kinds of people in my community school who I never would have known if I’d only talked with the kids on my street. But today our schools have reverted to the kind of separate but equal mentality that was supposed to be eradicated by Brown vs. Board of Education. Today we have schools for the rich and schools for the poor. We have schools for whites and schools for blacks. And the current obsession with charter schools and privatization has only exacerbated this situation. Efforts to increase school choice have merely resulted in more opportunities for white flight and fractured communities.

These are problems I didn’t face as a teenager. Yet so many adults describe this current generation as “entitled.” Entitled to what!? Less opportunity!? Entitled to paying more for college at higher interest for jobs that don’t exist!?

And don’t get me started on police shootings of young people. How anyone can blame an unarmed black kid for being shot or killed by law enforcement is beyond me.

Children today are different. Every few years their collective character changes.  Today’s kids love digital devices. They love things fast-paced, multi-tasked and self-referential. But they don’t expect anything they haven’t earned. They aren’t violent criminals. As a whole they aren’t spoiled or unfeeling or bratty. They’re just kids.

In fact, if I look around at my classes of 8th graders, I see a great many bright, creative and hard-working young people. I’m not kidding.

I teach the regular academic track Language Arts classes. I don’t teach the advanced students. My courses are filled with kids in the special education program, kids from various racial, cultural and religious backgrounds. Most of them come from impoverished families. Some live in foster homes. Some have probation officers, councilors or psychologists.

They don’t always turn in their homework. Sometimes they’re too sleepy to make it through class. Some don’t attend regularly. But I can honestly say that most of them are trying their best. How can I ask for more?

The same goes for their parents. It can be quite a challenge to get mom, dad, grandma, grandpa, brother, sister or other guardians on the phone. Parent-teacher conferences are very lonely in my room while the advanced teacher is mobbed. But I don’t generally blame the parents. In my experience, most moms and dads are doing the best they can for their kids. Many of my student’s have fathers and mothers working multiple jobs and are out of the home for the majority of the day. Many of my kids watch over their younger brothers and sisters after school, cooking meals, cleaning house and even putting themselves to bed.

I wish it wasn’t like that, but these are the fruits of our economy. When the recession hit, it took most of the well-paying jobs. What we got back was predominantly minimum wage work. Moreover, people of color have always had difficulty getting meaningful employment because of our government sanctioned racial caste system. Getting a home loan, getting an education, getting a job – all of these are harder to achieve if your skin is black or brown – the same hue as most of my students and their families.

So, yes, I wish things were different, but, no, I don’t blame my students. They’re trying their best. It’s not their fault our society doesn’t care about them. It’s not their fault that our nation’s laws – including its education policy – create a system where the odds are stacked against them.

As their teacher, it’s not my job to denigrate them. I’m here to lift them up. I offer a helping hand, not a pejorative finger.

And since many of the factors that most deeply affect education come from outside the school, I think my duty goes beyond the confines of the classroom. If I am to really help my students, I must be more than just an educator – I must be a class warrior.

So I will fight to my last breath. I will speak out at every opportunity. Because my students are not to blame for society’s ills. They are the victims of it.

Read more of Steven Singer’s commentary pieces at: https://gadflyonthewallblog.wordpress.com/