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

Monday, January 15, 2007

High-Stakes Testing as New Tool for Old Repression

In the dark days of the Jim Crow Era, racists were inventive in their use of various tactics to make sure that the Negroes continued to live second-class lives in squalor and deprivation, while continuing to provide a cheap, dependable labor force. Besides being taught that they were morally inferior and, thus, unfit to participate in public life, the white Establishment devised various impossible tests that blacks had to surmount if they showed the audacity to try to exercise their Constitutional guarantee and to participate in the normal activities of white citizens:
Blacks were denied the right to vote by grandfather clauses (laws that restricted the right to vote to people whose ancestors had voted before the Civil War), poll taxes (fees charged to poor Blacks), white primaries (only Democrats could vote, only Whites could be Democrats), and literacy tests ("Name all the Vice Presidents and Supreme Court Justices throughout America's history").
By the 1920s, racists and eugenicists like Lewis Terman and Robert Yerkes had devised a "scientific" test to demonstrate intellectual inferiority to go alongside the accepted view of moral inferiority. Segregation, then, became a "scientifically-based" survival strategy that aimed to avoid the contamination of the white race that would surely occur if race mixing were allowed.

Nowadays we have a much more subtle and sophisticated system to assure that the poor, the brown, and the black remain in their repressed states. The new literacy test (the MEAP, the LEAP, or the CHEAP) is much like the old ones in that it guarantees failure for the disenfranchised. It is quite different, however, in that the new literacy tests are given at an early age, rather than to uppity adults trying to exercise the rights reserved for whites.

Children are now labeled as failures as early as kindergarten and taught failure long before they get a notion of what might constitute success. They are taught order and obedience, to work hard, be nice. They are taught that learning is work, work, learning. They are taught that learning is rewarded with candy, toys, or other worthless consummables. They are told the big lie that if they try hard enough and work hard enough that they can do anything, thus guaranteeing the crushing of esteem and an accompanying sense of self-loathing when all the pie-in-the-sky promises don't materialize, despite their efforts that are doomed by the poverty they don't understand.

Now the present-day racists, unacknowledged though they are, are planning a new, even more impossible slew of national tests based on the NAEP, to be accompanied by robust data reporting systems that make sure the guaranteed failure rates in poor communities can be posted as warning signs for those who would avoid the contamination of the failed, dark residents of these communities. Not only will these new test score placards keep wealthier families out, but they will serve just as clearly as the signs above the Blacks Only water fountain to delineate the boundary for those maturing youngsters who are learning at an early age to accept their failure, to abandon hope, and to forget the Dream that today, we, ironically, celebrate.

Civil rights attorney, Thomas Todd, was in Greenwood, Mississippi last week to commemorate Dr. King. Here are some clips:
Although young blacks today have some of the trappings of freedom, it's a college education that will truly uplift them, civil rights attorney Thomas N. Todd said Wednesday.

Todd was the keynote speaker at Mississippi Valley State University's Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation.

King's Birthday, Jan. 15, is a national holiday.

Todd said that January, named after the Greek god Janus, is a time to look backward and forward.

"When we come to celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s birth, we must look backward and forward at the same time," he said. "If you don't know about where you come from, you don't know where you are and you sure don't know where you're going."

Todd criticized the country's military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq and said although blacks have served this country, they were not free.

"In World War I, black soldiers were lynched in uniform right here in Mississippi. In World War II, white prisoners of war, who fought against America, were treated better than black soldiers that fought for America. These wars are everybody's wars, but they are not for everybody's freedom," he said.

"One hundred and fifty years after the Dred Scott decision, 144 years after the Emancipation Proclamation, 142 years after the 13th amendment, 139 years after the 14th amendment, 137 years after the 15th amendment, 53 years after Brown v. the Board of Education, 52 years after Montgomery, and 42 years after the Voting Rights Act, blacks in America are still not free," Todd said.

"We're somewhere between liberation and servitude, we're still not free," he said to loud applause.

Todd, 68, widely known in civil rights circles as "TNT" for his dynamic presentations, is a native of Demopolis, Ala.

Todd said blacks must know the history of signs in the Deep South - that although "White" and "Colored" signs are no longer present, new signs have taken their place.

Take standardized testing for students from kindergarten through 12th grade. "Are they based on sound educational principles or just new signs? Are they just the new literacy test?" Todd asked.

The income gap between blacks and whites and the disparities in health care are other indicators that discrimination is still present in American society, he said.

Education, specifically college education, will help remedy some discrimination, but young blacks must be wary of "knockoff freedoms" - freedoms that sound good but are false and misleading, Todd said.

Civil rights has advanced education for blacks, he said: "If education won't free you, it will give you the tools."
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