Saturday, April 15, 2017

Think of What It Would Lead To If Teachers Spoke Up

I'm sorely disappointed to read this exchange with Mayor Bill de Blasio at a Staten Island event:

An IS 61 teacher asked de Blasio why teachers are under a "gag order" not to speak ill about state tests, when teachers elsewhere encourage their students to opt out of tests.
"Think of what it would lead to" if teachers openly criticized every education policy they disagreed with, de Blasio said.
I'm thinking about it right now, and I think it would lead to better education for each and every one of the students I serve. Opt-out is relatively inactive in NY City, and that's a shame. The discredited Common Core exams drag down the whole state in the nonsense that passes for data here. For my money, the only reason Andrew Cuomo has slowed down his vendetta against pubic education is the principled and outspoken parents, teachers, students, and residents who fought it.

Standardized tests are largely crap produced by overpaid corporations who take money we could use to build libraries, school seats, and joy into the work we do. What they excel at is letting us know what zip codes our kids live in. Rather than make all schools good ones, rather than empower teachers to do what we know works, we hand out these tests and sort out the winners and losers. Great Neck wins, the Bronx loses, and we all pretend to be surprised.

I can't tell whether the mayor is misinformed or whether he knows better, but the effect is the same. His statement is upsetting to those of us who support opt-out, and to those of us who are going to be rated on nonsense, but it goes beyond that. It's one thing to oppose opt-out, and perhaps you could make arguments against it (though I myself can't think of any). This reminds me of nothing more than John Kasich saying he would abolish all teacher lounges.

De Blasio is attacking more than opt out here. What he's attacking is our free speech. In fact I do not believe I ought to make overt political arguments in front of my students. It's my job to encourage them to think things through, not to bully them into believing what I do. I do not believe it's my job to tell students whether or not to take tests. I believe that's a discussion for a parent to have. So I would not address the students.

But hell, I would address the PTA, and I would speak up in whatever forum afforded me, and I would write here and elsewhere. While I don't believe that my classroom is the best forum for political speech, there is a First Amendment, this is still America, and I will criticize each and every crappy educational policy with which I disagree.

Not only that, Mr. Mayor, but I will actively encourage my colleagues to do the same. Four years ago, I refused repeated and insistent requests from UFT to make calls for Bill Thompson. I donated to Bill de Blasio. I went to his inauguration in the freezing cold. More recently, I voted with the UFT Executive Board to endorse him.

Maybe this is a slip of the tongue on the mayor's part. I certainly hope so. What would happen if every teacher stood up and criticized all the crap that infects our education system, Mr. Mayor? Every kid in your city would get a better education. We wouldn't spend our time worrying about tests that measured zip codes and we wouldn't have parasites like Eva Moskowitz vilifying us for teaching every kid, no matter which zip code, which disability, or which level of English.

Teachers are great advocates for children. It's nothing less than a disgrace that a progressive politician would utter word one about shutting us up.
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