The Whole School Did What?!

Not much surprises me anymore. But today something happened that left me speechless.

On the way home from school, I asked the typical, “How was your day?” Well my oldest son, who is in 2nd grade, responded, “A little good and a little bad.” Immediately, my ears perked up and of course zeroed in on the negative. “What do you mean a little bad? What happened?”

He started to explain that when he was outside playing in the snow; he realized that he had two different gloves on. One glove was too big and kept falling off.

Sounds pretty normal, except that today it was snowing (albeit it only accumulated an inch or two) and 25 degrees out here in NJ. We are new to the school district, having just moved here 3 months ago, but I felt pretty sure that it isn’t common practice to have outdoor recess in the freezing cold and especially not in the snow!

“Wait an minute! You had outdoor recess…today?!”

My kindergartener chimed in, “No mom we played in the snow in the morning.”

Ok, then I was really confused. Both of them were outside just playing in the snow?

My oldest, “We went out right after our math minute in the morning, just for a little while to play. The whole school did, but not all at the same time.”

Just in case you missed it.

THE WHOLE SCHOOL GOT A CHANCE TO PLAY IN THE SNOW.

With all of the focus on raising the standards and increased accountability and testing, a principal, our principal,  thought it was important to make a little time for the kids to play in the snow. This in a time where recess minutes are being cut and preschool is becoming universal and “standards-based.” In a time where children from age 3 are asked to start preparing for college and careers. In a time when standardized tests are claiming over 9 hours of instructional time not counting time spent on test preparation. In a time where teachers, schools, and principals are being judged by their students’ test scores.

It took me a sad number of questions, before I even understood what my children were telling me. The idea of  principal letting kids play in the snow was so foreign to me. All of the principals that I have have ever known (at least 7) have been damage control specialists. I could hear their questions in my head.

Wouldn’t parents call to complain that it was too cold? What if a child wasn’t properly dressed in a warm coat, hat, and gloves? What if their shoes got wet and then they developed hypothermia? What if a child slipped and fell on the ice? What if the kids got too wild or threw snowballs? How much instructional time would be lost?

I had a friend and colleague who once got into trouble for taking her math students outside to draw geometric shapes on the concrete walkway. The assistant principal said it was a security threat for her to have propped the door open for the 15 minute lesson, and he also wanted to know if the chalk would wash off. (sigh)

As soon as I got home, I called my mother and my mother-in-law to tell them that the kids played in the snow at school today and both were just as shocked as I was. After I hung up the phone, tears welled in my eyes. I was so happy that my children are able to learn in a school that understands and values the wonder of childhood. But those tears were bittersweet, for I know that so many of America’s children are not so lucky.

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“Facts Are Stubborn.” – John Adams

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“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclination, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”

-John Adams  in Defense of the British Soldiers on trial for the Boston Massacre, December 4, 1770 http://www.foundingfatherquotes.com/father/id/1#section=quotes

John Adams, one of our founding fathers, spoke fiercely, intelligently, and eloquently in defense of American freedoms. But no matter how well he spoke, the one spark that colonists needed to support the American Revolution was facts. Once the people knew the facts, the fire was inevitable.

But aside from rhetoric, back then, the facts were not manipulated as thoroughly as they are today. In today’s society, the facts are so obscured and people seem satisfied to live in a maelstrom of bias. Their televisions, computers, phones, newspapers, and radios exist in a realm dominated by bias and special interest. Not only do people not know the facts, they don’t even understand their own rights anymore.

Since the beginning of the PARCC test, I have been asking why don’t we just say no. The argument I most often heard was that we can’t, because it comes from the state. Oh, so if it comes from the state, then we must do it? Is that how it works? Really? I thought the state was made up of elected officials? If we as educators, parents, administrators, board members, mayors, etc. do not like what the state says (or even worse think the state’s policies are detrimental to our children) then are we not obligated to inform them of such? Anyone could write a letter,place a phone call, organize a meeting expressing their views.

No one had to tell Superintendent Dr. Joseph Rella of Comsewogue School District his right to speak up, because he took it upon himself to speak up. He wrote an open public letter to the State Education Department and even robo-called all of the families in his district to invite them to a rally against high-stakes testing.  http://truthinamericaneducation.com/common-core-state-standards/ny-school-superintendent-on-common-core-stop-it-scrap-it-or-fix-it/

Dr. Rella’s letter went viral and should be revered as an example of what we need more superintendents to be. We need leaders not administrators content to collect a large paycheck for towing the line and complying with every changing mandate that comes down the line.

“Children should be educated and instructed in the principles of freedom.”

John Adams: Defense of the Constitutions, 1787

Well, how can we educate our children on the principles of freedom, if we as adults do not even understand or exercise them? Why don’t we see more teachers voicing their concerns at school board meetings. I was told by an administrator that speaking at a board meeting is just too political for a teacher. Really? Well, if it is then it shouldn’t be. Teacher tenure was designed to protect teachers’ freedom in the classroom.

         Though tenure doesn’t guarantee lifetime employment, it does make firing teachers a difficult and costly process, one          that involves the union, the school board, the principal, the judicial system and thousands of dollars in legal fees. In              most states, a tenured teacher can’t be dismissed until charges are filed and months of evaluations, hearings and              appeals have occurred. Meanwhile, school districts must shell out thousands of dollars for paid leave and substitute              instructors. The system is deliberately slow and cumbersome, in order to dissuade school boards and parents from              ousting a teacher for personal or political motives. http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1859505,00.html

Tenure has been cited for the reason many bad teachers are still in classrooms, which I have certainly seen to be the case at times over the years. But the bigger problem I see is that more teachers do not use the power of tenure to advocate for what they know is right for their students. There is no reason a teacher should be afraid to stand up at a board meeting and speak. Though I realize not every teacher has the guts to refuse to administer a standardized test like this teacher from Florida did.  http://www.foxnews.com/us/2014/09/11/florida-kindergarten-teacher-refuses-to-give-standardized-tests/ The fact is that she kept her job. Her passion and sincerity was acknowledged and respected.

The fate of high stakes tests tied to the Common Core standards is at this point uncertain, but I can tell you that the pressure is on. The evidence against the value of these tests is mounting quickly. See this article for an excellent synopsis of the arguments in favor of opting out of testing.

http://www.parents.com/blogs/parents-perspective/2014/12/19/education/im-saying-no-to-high-stakes-testing-and-you-may-want-to-too/

Facts are stubborn.

We need to be too.