"A child's learning is the funtion more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Rumpelstiltskin

New Jersey is conducting its statewide standaridized testing this week. Some of my students say the tests are "an insult to our intelligence" others, like Michael, are shaking and trembling from the stress and fear of failing, being left back or not being able to graduate -- even worse, facing his parents when the scores arrive. There are probably millions of Michaels out there. He's a good, hard working, sweet kid but Michael has a learning disability. He is in tenth grade, but he reads on a fifth grade level.

What is there left to say about a system that wants teachers to turn straw into gold? What can we say about a system that doesn't value straw but only values gold? As a student teacher, I am beginning to feel more and more like the girl in Grimm's fairy tale, threatened with execution for not turning the straw into gold. I can only begin to imagine what teachers and administrators feel like when they are threatened with punitive sanctions and failing labels because they can and never will achieve the impossible, nor should they strive to.

Tragically, the money and resources devoted to testing could be spent providing meaningful programs and teachers to work with Michael and other students who need real time, real resources and real teachers who can spend the extra time working with them and helping them pursue their dreams and interests -- people who value who they are and what they have to offer. Instead, budget cuts have reduced the number of resource rooms, resource teachers, vocational programs, etc. That's because we live in a society that values gold more than it does children, more than it does people. While the Rumplestiltskins are busy dancing around the fire of accountability and the all-important king boasts about higher test scores, administrators, teachers and parents are selling their souls and sacrificing their children for the promise of what?

Rumpelstiltskin

In order to make himself appear more important, a miller lied to the king that his daughter could spin straw into gold. The king called for the girl, shut her in a tower room with straw and a spinning wheel, and demanded that she spin the straw into gold by morning or be executed. She had given up all hope, when a dwarf (or mannikin) appeared in the room and spun straw into gold for her in return for her necklace; then again the following night for her ring. But on the third night, with nothing left, the strange creature spun straw into gold for a promise that the girl's first-born child would become his.

The greedy king was so impressed that he married the miller's beautiful daughter, but when their first child was born, the dwarf returned to claim his payment: "Now give me what you promised". The queen was frightened and offered him all the wealth she had if she could keep the child. The dwarf refused but finally agreed to give up his claim to the child if the queen could guess his name in three days. At first she failed, but before the second night, her messenger overheard the dwarf hopping about his fire and singing:

"Today I bake, tomorrow brew,
The next I'll have the young Queen's child.
Ha! glad am I that no one knew
That Rumpelstiltskin I am styled."
Another version of the song goes like this:
"Tomorrow I brew, today I bake,
And then the child away I'll take;
For little deems my royal dame
That Rumpelstiltskin is my name!"


When the dwarf came to the queen on the third day and she revealed his name, Rumpelstiltskin lost his bargain. In the Brothers Grimm version, he then tore himself apart in his rage. In the traditional, pre-Grimm ending, he flew out of the window on a cooking
ladle.
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How much longer will people accept the miller's lies and keep teachers chained to the spinning wheel before they send Rumplestiltskin flying out the window?

The End.

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