Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Dear President Obama....

My name is Clyde Gaw. 

I have been a teacher for 30 years now.While there are many reasons to vote for you, the education platform you have embraced, predicated upon high stakes standardized testing is not one of them.

Let's be clear. There are two kinds of education in this World. The first is to provide children with experiences that will educate them for greatness by optimizing the development of their talents, gifts and innate capacities endowed to them through the forces of the Universe. The second form of education can be seen in oppressed societies where totalitarian states imprint onto the minds of children a narrow, select curriculum valued by the state.

The keystone of current U.S. education policy, Race to the Top and the proposed Common Core State Standards that will be accompanied with high stakes standardized tests, promotes such a narrowed curriculum. Children will be forced to comply with non-consensual learning experiences and an intensification of high stakes standardized testing. Teachers whose jobs are dependent upon their students test scores will be forced to teach to the test and will have little opportunity to engage children in creative or multi-sensory learning experience because the they will need to prepare children for the tests and cover material children will be tested on. RttT and CCSS ensures children are left outside the decision making processes central to the learning activities they engage in. This is problematic and thousands of teachers have been telling you it is problematic but you keep ignoring them.

I understand in order to promote the healthy mental and physical well being of children, learning should be a joyful adventure and the acquisition of knowledge should be vivid and engaging. Due to biological and environmental conditions, every child has a unique cognitive structure. I have yet to meet a class of children who are homogeneously constructed. One size does not fit all and the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts. Learning, fragmented outside the strengths and interests of the child is doomed to be forgotten.

This business about educational rigor and grit is a joke. Rigor is a buzz word for radical behaviorism where children have no voice in curriculum decision making. As if the folks mandating radical behaviorism are going to "stick it" to spoiled children who come from "white suburban moms." Rigor for those folks who have not had experience practicing child centered education, is a boot strapping capacity developed "with" children, and anytime the experience is non-consensual, one risks disengaging children. Rigor is cultivated from the inside out and developed by engaging children in educational experiences through their interests and passions. What RttT proposes is an approach to rigor force fed from the top down by an authoritarian state. Since when have we become enamored with top down authoritarianism? Are we emulating the Chinese when it comes to educating our children?

Teachers must be allowed flexibility and support in how they deliver educational experiences. Children’s intellectual, imaginative and psycho-emotional predispositions should be considered before the state’s prescription for standardized learning experience is enacted upon them. Children's minds are organic entities yet your mandates for high stakes testing insure they will not have a voice in the learning activities they will be compelled to participate in.

I was shocked to learn that Common Core architect David Coleman, a literary scholar and corporate edu-entreprenuer with no background in child development or classroom teaching experience, disdains emotional connectivity to children’s learning. In a 2011 presentation to N.Y. Dept. of Education officials, he made the statement, “People don’t give a ‘sheet’ what you (students) feel or what you think (http://usny.nysed.gov/rttt/resources/bringing-the-common-core-to-life.html),” describing his rationale for the de-emphasis of personal expression in the development of language skills in the new Common Core. This statement provides insight into Coleman’s view of children, teaching and learning. He infers that a steady stream of non-consensual, depersonalized text oriented seat work is the remedy to solve America ’s education crisis. 

We know from Eric Kandel’s research that human beings are biologically hard wired for multi-sensory learning experience. The idea that children’s passion’s for learning S.T.E.M. subjects is going to be stimulated, while structuring learning experience around text laden standardized test prep is not conducive to developing creativity or innovative thinkers. Coleman’s anesthetic, layman's view of learning is simplistic at best where a static cacophony of text based content can be plugged into children’s brains without the learners consent with the expectation that long term memory formation will occur.

Research is clear; learning that is transformative, that lasts for the learner's life time is developed through emotional connectivity which requires teachers to use humanistic, holistic approaches to learning. From my perspective we are witnessing further, the marginalization of teacher, student and community voices in the determination of educational processes central to the activities that take place in our schools. Where is democracy at work in our educational system? Whose voices determine what goes on in our schools?

It is disingenuous to suggest to the general public that the Common Core will improve educational quality. How will it facilitate children's receptivity and motivation to learn? It does nothing of the sort! What it will improve is the ability of high stakes test publishers and their corporate counterparts throughout the country to see how well children are able to take timed, stress inducing tests. Parents and children are duped by a steady flow of misinformation and propaganda from a U.S. corporate mass media industry intent on duping the general public that high stakes testing and the narrowed non consensual educational experience which accompanies it is a good thing. Under your presidency, we have seen American Public Education undergo a crisis of funding and a crisis of leadership and a crisis of morale. U.S. public education is best left to the parents and citizens who inhabit the myriad of public school districts across the country and to the expert professional teachers who know, work and teach daily with their students. 

Assessment should be done in the service of the learner, not test publishing companies who do not know the children. How much money have we spent on high stakes testing and CCSS? Billions....and for what? Data points? Our country and planet are in economic, environmental and biological crisis and your administration's strategy to prepare the next generation to solve this wicked problem is multiple choice questions on high stakes tests?

Preparing the next generation of STEM professionals must include creativity development, trans-disciplinary and multi-sensory learning experiences, yet art and music programs have been cut throughout the country. This will lead to further failures of imagination.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the United States has the highest rates of mental illness in the industrialized world. What are the common experiences of the American People that would cause such conditions? Might toxic stress induced in the formative brains of children have anything to do with this statistic? What are the affects of toxic stress induced on children due to non consensual learning experiences? I submit to you that learning is not just about what we are putting into the minds of children. Learning is what is happening to the brain during the learning process. Each child will learn what he/she lives. He/she will learn educational content to the degree that he/she lives educational content. Mandate test taking and you will have developed a nation of test takers. Radical behaviorism, the national pedagogy you have mandated for our Nation's teachers is not the way to develop the full capacities of our youngest citizens.

I submit to you, the current direction of education reform, predicated upon high stakes testing as embraced by Secretary Duncan subverts the teaching and learning process and is detrimental to the natural development of children who attend public schools in the United States.

Clyde Gaw

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