Opting Out

I am tired of being a pawn, a piece in the teaching game that is sacrificed for the greater good. I am your pusherman, peddling mandates of curriculum and assessment to turn profits for the wizards behind the curtain where the stakes are high and no one ever wins but the dealer. Best practices are packaged in shiny, new sleeves and rolled out as the latest goods for sale. States are still buying, but the products are just another method to stratify rich from poor, good from bad, losses felt by those who can’t afford to be a part of the solution. It’s a metaphor, but I don’t have the time to teach that properly because I waste valuable instructional time in rooms of silence, listening to the click, click, click of a mouse that will drag and drop kids into boxes that will never explain who they are just what they are not. I forgot what I was doing; teaching lost its shine the moment I became a pusher, an expendable chess piece of little consequence no matter what side of the board I am standing on.

We’re asking the wrong questions. Our assumptions about what students are learning each day do not take into account the diversity of our students, their immeasurable day-to-day challenges, their lack of access to food, funds, supplies, stable families, and healthy lives. Millions more dollars invested in testing will not tell us more than what we already know. And if you don’t know, ask a teacher. They will tell you that students are suffering. They will tell you that students need more practice, more time to hone the skills they have, and more time to build up the skills they don’t. That doesn’t mean jamming more instructional hours into a day so that districts can check it off as “time well spent.” It means offering students the time to value education and understand its impact in their lives. Students need more practical experience building cohesive, critical thinking skills, allowed to be imaginative and creative in their work, and not reduced to mere automatons who know nothing about how to engage in the world around them. Students need environments that treat them with care and respect, that value their presence without bias, and allow their voices to be heard, not suppressed by policies that undermine their worth in education. Teachers need that, too. Teachers also need more time to collaborate, to develop their strengths in accessing the wealth of viable learning tools that are useful to their content area, and enable them to generate critical conversations about what will work best for their students not all students.

In our continual efforts to level the playing field, we’ve reduced students to an understanding that will never endure: all students are created equal. Didn’t we learn from that fallacy ages ago? Or are we still trying to rewrite history, modifying AP tests that try to repress truth? The truth hurts. There is no adequate euphemism for the continual punishment we put students and teachers through under the guise of closing achievement gaps, strengthening core learning, or to make it sound better than what it really is: The corporatization of education. The diminishment of educational democracy. The standardization of humanity. That is not a metaphor; that is the reality. It’s the “Pit and the Pendulum” reenacted: wide arcs of danger sweeping down in the name of reform. Walls that continue to squeeze us in without adequate means of escape. Hope for something better lost under the despair of biased inquisition. Who is our ally now?

The only choice left seems to be opting out, stepping away from the loss of autonomy that comes in the form of point and click, especially in a round of tests that many students will finish in just thirty minutes. They’re not buying whatever you’re selling. They know it’s just a game, and they’re the ones that will lose. That’s the answer isn’t it? Opting out? Students from testing and teachers from teaching? But then, what will my students do when there are no more teachers to push the agenda? How will they climb out of the pit? It is a no-win situation. But what do I know? I’m just another pawn, sacrificing itself for the oligarchy

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Joie N. Lê

Joie Norby Lê is an educator, writer, and mother of three. She has a Ph.D. in Curriculum & Instruction with an emphasis in Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. She is a guest speaker on qualitative research methods, diversity in the classroom, and topics related to Viet Nam's orphans of war. She geeks out on poststructural philosophy and historical fiction.

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