Growing up, one of the phrases in our house was, Don't run around like a chicken with your head cut off. I have to say, I never liked that phrase. A little too visual for me. But it always struck a chord with me due to the picture it created in my head - it definitely caused me to slow down, take a look around, and decide if I was on track - headed towards whatever my end goal might be. I have always been fast to move, fast to eat, fast to talk, fast to think - it's my nature. It can be a strength and it can be a curse.
This last year has been one in which I found myself continually running - head completely attached - but surrounded by folks who would love to knock it off (forgive the imagery - I can't seem to get away from it). Those who seemed to be calling the shots this past school year did everything in their power to be certain that we indeed ran around scattered, exhausted, confused and unlikely to make any solid, sound decisions which could strategically push things forward - forward in the favor of children and all that could be realized within public schools - you know the drill, wrap around services and/or a society that cares about the 25% or more living in poverty. Democratic schools. Schools filled with arts, music, PE, inquiry, and learning based on the needs of the learners rather than the needs of some set of standards created by individuals who truly are looking only at profit and the power they can hold in order to increase their profit and power.
I dabbled in a lot of things this year - legislation, various speaking engagements, additional writing requests, union work, organizing conferences, interviews, opt out gone wild and more. I dabbled because as a "big picture" person, I wanted to see the big picture to determine where my efforts should continue to be placed in the upcoming - crucial - 2014-2015 - school year - the year when SBAC and PARCC arrive and folks continue to run around like chickens with their heads cut off to implement a plan that is destined to fail children and destined to profit billionaires and those who are climbing various political and/or career ladders.
So, while I run fast, I do so with purpose. And I stop from time to time to survey the scene. As I watched myself interact in the bigger picture - with myself planted firmly on the field - what I discovered is this - opt out remains the way to go. Period. It has the greatest impact. It creates the most noise and shakes the current business model charade in our public schools - the charade that continues to be shoved down our throats while folks obediently nod, smile and take notes. Opt out depletes them of their ever beloved data - as a result their power diminishes and their profit disappears, much like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz - keep that image in your mind - it can be satisfying to think of as opt out numbers increase in your neck of the woods.
But back to the field - as I stood on that field - with the legislators, the district administration, the folks from the federal and state department of education and government, the chamber of commerce, the corporations, the community members, the media, the children, the parents and the teachers - while keeping my eye clearly on the ball - I discovered that when the ball was thrown to me - it was mainly from the parents. Night and day they threw balls to me. And they wanted it to be thrown back quickly. Just like me - they wanted to move fast. If I didn't respond quickly, they emailed again. They called again. They FB messaged me, sent texts to my phone and more. There was no time to wait and they had no patience for these games that other people play in which people want to discuss, appease, create moratoriums, delay, or simply sleep on it - while THE CHILDREN CONTINUE TO SUFFER.
Parents wanted the ball back fast so they could throw it at their next target - opting out of the test. I discovered whenever anyone else threw me the ball, they wanted the ball back - but they also wanted to keep it for awhile to meet their own personal needs. Not near the hurry. A lot of times they'd juggle it, give it to their dog for a bit - they had their own motives you see.
But the parents, they threw the ball - I threw back - and they took it and ran fast - now armed with knowledge to save their children from abusive mandates which left their children feeling frightened, alone, stressed, feeling like failures, often bored, angry, hating school, and more. Parents ran fast once they were awake to the harm being inflicted. They refused the tests for their children and demanded that their children receive a whole and equitable education.
This is why I move fast. When children are being harmed - there is no time to sit and chit chat about the pros and cons of common core, the common core tests, or the bill that was whittled down to nothing in the last legislative session and how we might better reach the legislators next year. When it is necessary to protect children, we must take immediate and quick action to stop the harm. Opt out does this. This is also why I ignore the folks who tell me "how" I should talk to legislators, or anyone for that matter who is in charge. I will not be "told" how to talk to anyone.
Did anyone bother to tell those legislators in the past legislative session - you know that day - where I testified on my day off from school - when I shared stories of children who suffered at the hands of high stakes testing - when I spoke as the legislators came and went out the door to make deals - never asking a single question and making sure to cut me off when my time was up - did anyone bother to tell those legislators how to talk to me? No? Oh - that's right - I am just a teacher and a female to boot. That's right. So - I don't waste my time with them anymore.
I have to move fast during this window of opportunity when we are making gains in our ability to protect children and give them every opportunity to question, explore and develop their strengths and their ability to problem solve in this crazy world. I will handle those legislators in the voting booth. I know that the clearest way to get the public to respect educators is to get those legislators OUT of office and get in legislators who care about the common good, more than their political status or ego.
So, I don't play ball with just anybody. And while I move fast - I always keep the end goal in mind. The end goal is not to "win" - but rather, to do what is right, just and good for all children. While winning is a brief victory to celebrate - it means little if the "opt out" win is not followed by a clear path to achieve what all children deserve. I have found that "opt out" is a breath of fresh air for newcomers to activism - it is liberating, empowering and can help define who we are and what we believe. Be clear in what you believe if and when the "opt out" victory occurs. It's a brief victory followed by hard work - and not everyone who opts out has the same end goal in mind. Make sure the children get what they deserve.
It is my belief that "opt out" presents an opportunity to make what has always been possible for our public schools a reality. It is more than just ending high stakes testing. It involves rethinking the role of teachers, students and the public school system as a whole. We, at United Opt Out National, demand the following: We demand an equitably funded, democratically based, anti-racist, desegregated public school system for all Americans that prepares students to exercise compassionate and critical decision making with civic virtue. I believe in this statement - my eye is on this ball. And I know that opting out of high stakes testing is the key to getting there.
Because I have been so busy catching balls this year, I have had little time to blog - and writing is one of my greatest passions. As you catch that ball, remember to hand it over to fellow activists from time to time and walk away to attend to your own needs. Do the things you love and remember - things you use to do frequently in those days before you were awake and realized what was surrounding and destroying our world. Those things you love still exist and are necessary to your well-being if you are to continue to stay alert, well rested, and with a game plan as we move forward.
I am keeping it very simple for the 2014-2015 school year. I have seen the chaos. I have been knocked down many times. And as a result, I have been given the opportunity to see what works and what doesn't work. I get that we all have a role to play, so I am not knocking anyone who chooses a different route. But I'll just say this, refuse the mandates that have been imposed on our children in the form of opt out and watch those legislators wake up. Refuse all the tests - not just one - all of them. Watch the politicians listen with intent this time - watch them ask questions to find out how they might meet YOUR needs. Refuse the mandates that those union leaders agreed to as they took corporate money - and watch them sway where the power lies - and the power lies with the masses when they opt out of these tests. The power lies in the new leadership we will bring to the forefront as we expose those who negotiate with children's lives. The power lies in our own ability to recognize what is just and good and as we refuse the pitfalls that come with ego driven - power hungry - profit mongering individuals who think of themselves first and children last - if at all. Work towards opt out through your union, your parent group, your neighborhood - however you can get there, educate and encourage folks to take action.
Be aware that withdrawing from common core and/or common core tests does not mean that your state is withdrawing from lockstep standards and/or high stakes testing. Common core and high stakes testing can take many new names, shapes and forms. Be ready to refuse the clones that arrive.
We don't have a lot of time. We have limited time - but the window is ours right now. They need the data NOW to get the profit ball rolling at a steady pace. They will do anything necessary to save the common core in order to get the data which will create the profit and allow more data to be crunched, in order to further manage and control children, teachers, and ultimately an entire nation (I won't go into their global goals but believe me - their plan is all encompassing).They've got a taste of what could be theirs - and they are hungry - and they'll pretend to care by agreeing to all sorts of strategies to appease us - as long as the end goal remains the same for them.
My focus this coming school year - with any individuals I work with - will be clearly geared towards the opt out home run. But, when we win this victory, make no mistake - and I mean this clearly directed to those who troll my site - we know exactly where we are headed and you will not stand in our way. Opt out is just the beginning - so get ready, sit in the stands and watch - because in this game, you are a spectator - and you are in the nosebleed section.
Power to all of you who will do what is just, right and kind for children in 2014-2015.
Opt out and deny them their money, their power.
Run fast to protect the children who are suffering - and be ready to advocate for what they deserve when the power structure comes toppling down.
This is about the children. Those of us who do not need power or ego have truth and heart on our side. And we are fierce in our strategy and our ability to protect children.
Eye on the ball. Catch. Throw. And watch what happens.