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

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Time to Heal the Children?

PAUL A. MOORE, PUBLIC SCHOOL TEACHER IN FLORIDA, FOR BUZZFLASH.COM

The children will in some cases become sick and throw up. Others will panic and wet themselves. Still others will complain of nightmares and plead for reassurance from parents and teachers. But no excuses are countenanced in the Sunshine State. The state once again went ahead with its annual ritualistic destruction of 8 and 9-year-old children this past week through the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).

All the children psychologically injured came from families without the means to take refuge in private schools where the FCAT is banished as junk pedagogy. Thankfully, affluent parents can protect their children from the test. Poor and working class mothers and fathers are trapped though. They watch anxiously from the sidelines on test day and hope for the best.

Unfortunately, the best does not always happen. When a child "fails" the FCAT reading in the 3rd grade, and thousands do, it is the official policy in the State of Florida to punish the child. The State has rejected the idea of extra care and remediation and embraced the incentives provided by fear and public humiliation. The "failed child" sits in the same 3rd grade class again throughout the following school year. Former friends and classmates go happily on to their 4th grade adventures in learning. They will watch each other come and go every day in nearby classrooms with the full understanding of why they are now and forever separated.

Again, the State of Florida punishes the child. No adult--not a parent, not a teacher, not a principal, not a District Superintendent, not a school board member, not a Florida Commissioner of Education, not a member of the Florida Department of Education, not a legislator, not a governor--no grown person need fear any sanction for poor FCAT performance. The State of Florida has decided to punish the 9-year-old alone.

There is a sleeping giant in Florida's public schools. The teachers are the most powerful and potent force in the system. Those teachers made a huge mistake when they let the FCAT into the schools and into their students lives. But teachers were ambushed. They grew up in world without FCAT. They all went to school before punishment and psychological battering became official government education policy. As children today's teachers were taught that presidents and governors and legislators cared for all kids. It was before they learned a governor could be devious.

When teachers let the wolf, the FCAT, into their classrooms it emboldened the leaders of the pack. So they're back now to destroy those very teachers. State Senator John Thrasher and other allies of former Governor Jeb Bush have proposed Senate Bill 6. It will tie the paychecks of teachers to test scores. At first the legislation will put the jobs and livelihoods of every inner city teacher and special education teacher in jeopardy but they intend in time to get to all public school teachers.

They are out to achieve the vision of a man by the name of Milton Friedman. Sixty years ago Friedman wrote, "I believe that the only way to make a major improvement in our educational system is through privatization to the point at which a substantial fraction of all educational service is rendered to individuals by private enterprises. Nothing else will destroy or even greatly weaken the power of the educational establishment--a necessary pre-condition for radical improvement in our educational system.. . .The privatization of schooling would produce a new, highly active and profitable industry. . . ."

Senate Bill 6 is intended to work the same way FCAT did with children--batter teachers into lower pay and lesser benefits and more overcrowded classrooms through fear and intimidation. Then they will snuff out what is left of public education and install their "new, highly active and profitable industry...." And they are counting on Florida's teachers to commit suicide.

That remains to be seen. The only reason an FCAT booklet has ever been distributed in a Florida classroom is because a teacher has agreed to do it. They can pass Senate Bill 6 or Senate Bill 666 and it's null and void unless teachers administer their tests. They're prepared to deal with teachers lobbying and other forms of pleading for mercy. They won't even be bothered by thousands of sign carrying teachers marching through the streets of Tallahassee.

But imagine the teachers refusing to administer the tests. Pray tell, what would they do about it? Can they fired everybody and turn the children of Florida loose in the streets? Yes, the sleeping giant may yet awake in time to save public schools and heal the children.

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