By Nick McDaniels — Most days I am proud to be a teacher.
I am proud to not give up on kids when so many people have. I am proud to make a living by the success of students rather than by their failure as so many do in this country. I am proud to be a teacher-activist who fights for the rights of teachers and students.
Recently though, and not through any action of my own, not through any action of anyone I know, not through any action of anyone in my time-zone, I became even more proud to be a teacher.
Teachers stood up on behalf of students and boycotted the single most classist act ever perpetrated upon the American people through public schools: standardized testing. Teachers at Seattle’s Garfield High School, alma mater of Jimi Hendrix, Quincy Jones, to name a few, stood together in solidarity to say that they refused to subject students to a corrupt and unfair testing regime perpetrated most impactfully on poor and minority students by the State of Washington serving as the strong arm for the federal government.
You would be hard pressed to find an inner city teacher that would not agree with their rationale and find themselves facing the same unreasonable conditions regarding testing. The tests don’t test what is in the curriculum. There is some huge company taking tax dollars to bring these tests to classrooms. The tests don’t address the state standards in a reasonable way or at all. And, very basically, testing doesn’t help children learn.
Recently I read a passage on a standardized midterm test that my students were to take. Of course, this passage, and the questions related to it, had little at all to do with anything that was in the curriculum I have been teaching all year, thus setting the students up for failure. But, more importantly, the passage, about the beauty of poetry, went on to talk about how poetry is closely linked to thought and passion, and leads us to break down barriers between cultures and languages, and is undervalued because it is boiled down to something that can be put into neat little boxes, easily defined, quizzed upon.
In other words, Americans don’t like poetry because it is taught in such a way that can be tested, and this type of philosophy, when applied to anything, will strip anything of its purest meaning and value. So what are my students to do with this amazing knowledge, this profound theory about pedagogy and literature? Answer multiple choice questions. Why not? Why not subject a bunch of students who are subjected to some of the cruelest living conditions America can offer to such a cruel irony? After reading the passage, I apologized to my students for even being a part of subjecting them to such a test. Perhaps had I seen the test more than a few days before I was supposed to give it, then I could have boycotted too.
On that day I was ashamed to be a teacher.
However, I am proud to know that there are those among us who are willing to put their jobs and livelihoods on the line to stop this unreasonable assault on often the most helpless of our American brothers and sisters. Thanks, teachers at Garfield, and all that have jumped on board since. I am with you. You make me proud to come to work.