Testing…testing…does this thing work?

No, I’m not talking about this neglected website. I’m talking about the grueling season that is right now bearing down on many of California’s kids. It’s testing season, folks, the time of year when No. 2 pencils and prison-like lock downs on school campuses reign. It’s the season that helps make Pearson one of the wealthiest companies in the world (read that thing with tissues in hand because you will weep); the season that causes Michelle Rhee, Ben Austin, Rahm Emmanuel, and other like-minded education “reformers” to gleefully piddle in their pants at the idea of closing more “failing” schools. Score one for privatization.

Of course, I’m opting my child out of the tests because I don’t subscribe to child abuse. Tomorrow, while the kids in my daughter’s second grade class spend day one of six bent over Scantron sheets while chomping on prohibited-during-all-other-school hours mint gum, my child will be eating crepes she made while learning about the Greek diva, Maria Callas.


Like Maria Callas, my poor kid has an overbearing mother, one who simply could not take her girl by the hand and lead her quietly away from bubble answers and into the light of Verdi’s La Traviatta. No, her mother had to create a Shit Storm first by posting her opinion on Facebook. And yes, I’m really missing my CityBeat platform these days, thank you very much.

Anyway. Ruby’s school sent out an email with suggestions on how best to prep our little Social Experiments for the next two weeks of testing. This inspirational missive came after a very lucrative solicitation last week for the aforementioned mint gum. Because some random un-cited research claims it helps kids stay focused and calm…which might be an argument to offer it everyday, no? Ponder that for a moment.

Some of the things the email encouraged parents to do at home were:

  • Ensure your child is at school everyday, and on time!
  • Ensure your child eats a nutritious breakfast, daily.
  • Ask your child to read a bit more than usual this month, or read with your child for longer periods to build stamina.
  • Talk with your child about the tests & the importance of doing his/her best.
  • Encourage your child to think positive thoughts like “I can do this!”
  • Talk with your child about their anxieties & express your confidence in his/her ability.
  • Be sure your child wears comfortable clothing
  • Encourage your child to pay careful attention to test directions and matching the right answers to the right question  

The email included some “other cute ideas” as well:

“SMART WATER”:  give kids a water bottle each with original smart water, or one with an added label……gives kids the motivation that they can do it!

A special snack each day:

baggie of cheerios with “We’re cheer-ing you on”
baggie of Lucky Charms w/ “Show What you Know, Good Luck”
baggie of pretzels w/ “Don’t let the test “twist” your head”
baggie of popcorn w/ “Poppin’ in to say you’re doing great”
box of raisins w/ “You’re Raisin’ your score”

A special treat to start the morning:
die cut star  with label/ “I’m a Test Takin’ Star” and a starburst candy
a bookmark that says “I’m a Smart Cookie” and a cookie
a bookmark that says “Do your Bear-y Best” and gummybears
a eraser w/ “Erase those fears right outa your head”
business sized card with “Believe, Achieve, Succeed” and a penny

Uh, huh. Yes. Fo’ realz! Our school just did some serious product placement. I’m starting to think that Pearson owns Smart Water, Starburst Chews, gummy bears, mint gum, cookies, all ingredients needed to make cookies (including oatmeal, just to cover the bases), cookie sheets and Teflon®. Bwahahahahahaha!

Some important context here: Our school has an extremely strict stance on food. Students are not allowed to bring treats to school on their birthdays; junk food, candy, sweets of any kind—including gum—are all prohibited in packed lunches; even Valentine’s Day is a no-go. Teachers are allowed to have 3 parties each year, the only time that food is permitted, but all food items must be cleared with the nurse first. Ah, the drudgery of childhood.


There is value in this policy, sure. I get the allergy angle, and can appreciate the collective effort to protect children from danger. But c’mon. This is excessive. So what if the kids ask each other to Be Mine! with a lollipop or a SweeTart? Who cares if a teacher gives out a piece of licorice at the end of a long day? Whose business is it if I want to put a small sweet in my kid’s lunch box because…well…just because.

But these are the rules, and I go along quietly because these are the rules. Until they aren’t any more. Because what better time than test time to start your PearsonBot’s morning with a special treat of “starburst candy”? What’s better than sending Tommy Test Taker to class with school-sanctioned Ziploc bag of Lucky Charms? LIVE LARGE, KIDDOS! SNAP THAT GUM LIKE NOBODY’S WATCHIN’!

That is, until June 11th and then don’t you show up with that poison on campus or else.

And so—you know me—I went ahead and mentioned this hypocrisy on the school’s Facebook page with the purpose of highlighting how our culture of standardized testing is so big, so important, that we will do ridiculous things in the endless hunt for high test scores. Since January, my kid’s homework packets have included lengthy practice test questions in English despite the fact that, according to the school website, “[i]n grades K-2, students receive academic instruction in French only.“  With such explicit teaching to the test—in direct opposition to their stated curriculum—it can’t be a stretch to think there would be free Jell-O shots at the school entrance if “studies showed” a correlation between reading comprehension and vodka.

My post elicited an angry reaction from parents (rightly so) aaaaand also the admonishment that I shouldn’t have made my thoughts public, that Facebook wasn’t the right place to have this particular conversation. But I disagree. I think it’s as fine a place as any to be having this conversation.

Teaching to the test has officially begun at my daughter’s school.


Behold the notice included with the first homework packet that came home following the Christmas break (and again in a more specific letter from the school that followed a few days later):

Dear families: Welcome back! Starting this week we will begin adding a book report (to be completed in French) and English homework. The English homework is to prepare your child for the standardized state tests in June.

To re-cap: Ruby’s school—a magnet school—is an immersion school where kids are enrolled in either Spanish or French. The French program is laid out on the school’s website like this:

% French
No. of minutes
% English
No. of minutes
360 min.
360 min.
360 min.
215 min.
145 min.
180 min.
180 min.

French Language Arts-4 hrs a week

History-4 hrs a week

English Language Arts, Math, Science and P.E.





French Subjects



English Subjects




All subject areas






All subject areas






All subject areas






French Literacy



Social Studies




French Literacy



Social Studies
English Literacy



French Literacy



English Literacy

Notice that there is no English instruction until 3rd grade. None. Instruction is taught 100% in the target language. As is common with immersion programs, children learning a second language often lag behind in their English reading until 4th or 5th grade, at which time they catch up. My child falls into this category, and hoo-boy! is she ever frustrated by it. English reading is in this house is an endeavor that is more nerve-wracking than this:

Like, who here can read with that kind of music in the background? Am I right???

So it is bothersome that homework—which we are already opposed to in this household (thank you, Alfie Kohn)—now includes material that doesn’t coalesce with the stated goal of the school, but rather appeases test zealots. Which is to say, who gives a shit about the kids? Not only is this material above the reading level of many children in 2nd grade at this school, but it is explicitly not designed to cultivate curiosity or to spark a love of reading for any child in any school. Of course, it also comes with those fun and useful multiple-guess questions at the end. This is about data and data manipulation and lying to ourselves and cheating our children. Standardized testing, and the prep for it, is child abuse.

Here, for your thank-God-I’m-not-in-school-any-more reading pleasure, is the first homework assignment to help my seven year old proficient-French-reader prepare for the California Standardized Test in May, which she is not taking. (She is not doing the English test-prep assignments, with the support of our wonderful teacher, but more on that later). If you have the stamina to make it through these zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz passages and the questions that follow, weigh in in the comments on problems you have with any of it. Hint: There were zero drawings included with the homework. Okay, pick up your pencils and GO!

English Homework: Read the selection.  Then answer numbers 1 through 10.

How an Orange Grows

An orange is a sweet and juicy fruit.  A drink of orange juice is like drinking sunshine.  Oranges grow best where there is plenty of sun.  California has many orange trees.

Orange Groves

 Most oranges are grown on farms where there are many orange trees.  The trees are in long rows.  Many orange trees together are called an orange grove. Orange trees have green leaves.  The leaves stay green all year.  In the spring, flowers bloom on the trees.  The trees are white with blossoms.  The blossoms fill the air with a sweet smell.

Blossoms and bees

Orange blossoms are beautiful.  Blossoms make pollen.  Pollen looks like yellow dust.  Bees fly from flower to flower.  They pick up pollen at one flower.  They leave some pollen at another flower.  An orange may start to grow.  Bees are important in an orange grove.

Green oranges!

The blossoms fall to the ground.  A tiny orange begins to form.  It is green and small.  It slowly grows bigger.  It fills with juice.  Seeds grow inside the orange.  Finally, the fruit grows to its full size.  It turns orange.  Then it is ripe.  Ripe oranges are picked carefully.

From the Grove to Your Table

Most oranges are made into orange juice.  Some oranges are sent to stores.  You can but an orange.  Cut it or peel it.  You can squeeze an orange yourself to make juice.  Oranges taste great!

1.  The author uses the FIRST paragraph mostly to

A  tell the reader where oranges grow.
B  let the reader know what the article is about.
C  make the reader want to drink more orange juice.
D  tell the reader a funny story about oranges.

2.  Leaves on an orange tree are

A  white.
B  orange.
C  green.
D  blossoms.

3.  Oranges grow best

A  in sunshine.
B  in the dark.
C  in a lake.
D  on the roof.

4.  Why do the trees look white in the spring?

A  There are no leaves on the trees.
B  Snow is on the trees.
C  Pollen covers the trees.
D  The trees have white flowers.

5.  What color are oranges when they start to grow?

A  green
B  pink
C  orange
D  blue

6.  You need to answer a question about pollen.  Which section should
you read again?

A  Orange Groves
B  Blossoms and Bees
C  Green Oranges!
D  From the Grove to Your Table

7.  Why are bees important in an orange grove?

A  Bees look nice in a grove.
B  Bees can make honey.
C  Bees leave pollen in the blossoms.
D  Bees eat flowers.

8.  When you look at the drawing on page 1, you can learn

A  how a tree grows.
B  where the pollen is in a blossom.
C  what a tree looks like a winter.
D  which bugs like flowers.

9.  What is likely to happen if no bees go to an orange grove?

A  Many new oranges will grow.
B  Oranges will get ripe faster.
C  No oranges will grow.
D  The orange blossoms will not fall off.

10.  The author probably wrote this section

A  just for fun.
B  to get people to buy fruit.
C  to tell readers about oranges.
D  to teach readers how to grow an orange.

What does first grade science look like?

Peg With Pen has a post up today called, “What Does Enrichment Look Like?” It inspired me to put up a post I’d planned to sit on until a later date, which is to say, until I read Peg’s post, I was still worried about pissing off the wrong people. But I’m over that now. So!

Last Friday like every Friday, I helped out in the classroom. One of my jobs that day included prepping the science kits for my daughter’s class, a task that consisted of putting together 24 one-gallon bags, each with a group of objects:

Oh, hell yes, I whipped out my phone and took photos.

The one-gallon bags were purchased by parents, along with sandwich bags and a multitude of other supplies the teacher asked for early in the year. (I used all but four of the one-gallon bags and my husband is, at this minute, at Costco purchasing more to replenish the classroom). The objects—a square piece of fabric, a small piece of electrical wire, a snippet of plastic tubing, a plastic triangle, a screw, a wood cylinder and a popsicle stick—were sent by the district with instructions.

Not only were there instructions about borrowing and returning the materials (excluding, presumably, the one-gallon bags), but there were instructions—very specific instructions—about how to teach this very interesting unit.

“NOTE: This strategy does not require you to write a note for each student.” I don’t know why, but I really love that part.

Thank GOD these instructions exist because teachers couldn’t possibly come up with a lesson plan as compelling, as intriguing or as as curiosity-building as this one. Nor could they be trusted to do so. After all, they’re only teachers. And, too, I bet the children can’t wait to begin “exploring” the very exciting borrowed materials I placed in the one-gallon bags, materials that need to be returned in the “cleanest most complete condition possible.” Have at it kids! Explore allllll you want….just don’t get so much as a greasy little six-year-old fingerprint on any of those items loaned to you.

This unit is destined to inspire a whole slew of future scientists and instill a life-long love of solids.

Fighting back against mandatory school testing, Part 2

“The bottom line is that standardized testing can continue only with the consent and cooperation of the educators who allow those tests to be distributed in their schools—and the parents who permit their children to take them. If we withhold that consent, if we refuse to cooperate, then the testing process grinds to a halt.”

Alfie Kohn, parent, author and education expert

(photo from Peg With Pen)

Jan. 7 has been declared National Opt Out Day by the grassroots organization United Opt Out National, whose goal is to eliminate high-stakes testing (HST) in public education. With the unreachable goal of 100-percent student proficiency in math and reading by 2014, the bipartisan No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act and its component standardized testing will result—in fact is designed to result—in an unprecedented, manufactured event of 100-percent school failure. Education privatizers are salivating like hyenas.

Continue reading here…



Fighting back against mandatory school testing: It’s my way or the highway, says No Child Left Behind—but is it really?

The red pillow takes the least space. The yellow pillow takes more space than the blue pillow. Which of the following is not true:

  • The red pillow takes more space than the blue pillow.
  • The yellow pillow takes more space than the red pillow.
  • The blue pillow takes more space than the red pillow.
  • The red pillow takes less space than the yellow pillow.
  • The blue pillow is the one I will bury my face in while I cry myself to sleep because my frustrated child told me today, “I’m a loser.”

That there is a real homework question (mostly) from my child’s third week in first grade. She’s in a language immersion program and isn’t reading fluently in any language just yet, so problems like these need to be dictated to her. This is typical of the state-mandated curriculum taught every day at her public school and of the battery of tests she’ll take during the next 11 years beginning this past October. Never let it be said I didn’t offer you readers birth control.

Folks, if you think the people leading us today are fucked up, wait until you see what our schools are going to churn out in the next decade and beyond.

Exactly one year ago, San Diego Unified School District Superintendent Bill Kowba spoke on an episode of KPBS’s These Days radio show about a “lost generation” of children.

“If you were a kindergartner enrolled about 2007,” Kowba said, “and you moved forward, you’re in about the third grade now or so. All we have done is reduce the opportunities for you as a student.”

With the end of 2011 comes a much-needed four-week break for my generational refugee. For one month, she’ll be free from the barrage of multiple-choice, fill-in-the bubble worksheets and the drone of standardized-testing-based curriculum that now comprise the meat of our public-education system. Designed to prep the little ones for the revolving door of tests, the classwork being pushed is also perfect for squashing the curiosity right out of them.

According to Diane Ravitch, an education historian, former supporter of No Child Left Behind and outspoken critic of high-stakes testing, “No high-performing nation tests its students every year or uses student test scores to evaluate teacher quality.” That tells us a lot about our nation’s direction. Behold, our testing:

California students are to take federally mandated tests (the NAEP in grades 4, 8 and 12); state-mandated tests (STAR, which includes the CST, CAPA and CAMA tests for grades 2 through 11, and the CAHSEE in grades 10 through 12); and district-mandated tests (math-, science- and literacy-benchmark exams administered three times each year to grades 1 through 8 and end-of-course exams in grades 6 through 12—there are no cool acronyms for these). More tests are coming, too, thanks to Obama’s Blueprint. Are your eyes going all psychedelic kaleidoscope on you right now? Just wait. I’m about to add some neon.

Counted among the “voluntary” tests are the AP, EAP and IB exams. There are the college entrance exams—ACT, PSAT, SATI and SATII (how voluntary are these?)—that can be taken more than once! There’s the CELDT for new English-language learners and the infamous-amongst-parents GATE test because it supposedly identifies the cream of the crop. Of course, none of this includes the old-fashioned test—like the math and spelling tests my daughter takes at the end of each week.

With tests like these—and an ever-shortening school year—who has room for meaningful, inspiring instruction in any subject, let alone math and literacy? Certainly not teachers, who are at once hamstrung by the standards and made out to be the scapegoats of all that’s wrong with public education. Why anyone would want to be a teacher right now is beyond me.

I’ve said before that being a parent means going through school all over again. Nobody tells you this, and had I known way back when, I might have made a different decision about my future, settling on a reliable dog-sitter and lots of world travel instead.

More likely, I would have pressed ahead with my naiveté, thinking—like I did in 2005—How bad can it be? Schools have got to be better by the time my child is 5. Isn’t that quaint? The thought is so adorable that I want to pat it on the head and send it to bed with a warm cup of milk. And even if I’d been able to imagine a worst-case educational scenario, it still would’ve been a termite’s dust tower compared with the Mt. Kilimanjaro shit-pile that it is.

So, here I am at base camp of the shit-pile, faced with the daunting task of navigating my route to the top. Testing looms, and it pisses me off.

I’m angry that my kid is being held hostage to tests by a system that threatens to take away her school’s funding if she and her schoolmates don’t perform well. I’m angry that my child’s class spent an hour, during the math benchmark test in October, transcribing their answers from the test sheet to the Scantron sheet. I’m angry that whatever changes are coming to this system will not be soon enough—or even the right ones—to change the experience the “lost generation” will have.

I’m not willing to be complicit in it. So, we are opting out of the mandated testing. What? You didn’t know you know you can do that?

To be continued…

(Published Dec. 20, 2011 in San Diego CityBeat.)

The Scarlett Letter on my shirt will be an “O”

I am neck deep in a very serious decision-making process about whether I am going to opt my child out of the many, many standardized tests that are headed in her direction. And I don’t mean just for this year; I mean opt out for the foreseeable future.

She is set to take her first test next week—a district mandated benchmark exam complete with multiple choice bubbles!—and as of now, since I’m still in information gathering mode, she will be sitting for it. But lo, this rabbit hole is fraught with switchbacks and multi-forked roads, and what I’ve discovered so far leads me—I should say, leads us—toward the very scary, very unpopular, very not-supported, very dangerous option of opting out. I’m scared to do it, for many reasons. But I’m more scared of what will happen if I make my kid take all of these ridiculous, meaningless (yes, meaningless) tests that I do not believe in.

It would be really great if I were able to get a group of parents at my daughter’s school to boycott a certain test as an act of civil disobedience (there’s power in numbers). Well, look. If I’m going to dream, I might as well dream big: I want many groups of parents, teachers and administrators all across my city to boycott all of the tests for one year. I want us as a group to push back against NCLB and Obama’s Blueprint and our state’s “mandates” and our district’s requirements and say a collective no, we do not believe such testing (and accompanying curriculum) to be in the best interest of the children.

No, you will not teach our children math and reading, math and reading, math and reading, at the expense of art and science and social studies and music and physical education. No, you will not teach them how best to memorize or perfect the process of elimination, forsaking creative problem solving and critical thinking and curiosity. No, you will not mine our children for data to which you can then point and twist so it fits your argument for dismantling the public school system for which I pay. No, you will not suffocate, strangle, bludgeon and clobber the love of learning out of them with your teaching to a battery of largely meaningless standardized tests.  No, they will not be your collateral damage. No, we will not be held hostage by threats to withhold funding for each child who skips the tests to go to a museum, instead. Just: NO.

Anyway. That is my dream and nobody can take it away from me.

In the meantime, my research led me to the following compelling excerpt from a longer and equally !!! must-read piece written by Alfie Kohn, a leading progressive thinker who opposes the rabid movement to privatize (yes, charters, I’m talking about you) our public school system. He is outspoken on the topics of homework for young kids and the incessant testing forced on our children. Time magazine described Kohn as “perhaps the country’s most outspoken critic of education’s fixation on grades [and] test scores.”

Before drinking the Kool-Aid being pushed by the ever-more-powerful and rabid “reformers,” spend some time reading Alfie Kohn.

I try to imagine myself as a privatizer. How would I proceed? If my objective were to dismantle public schools, I would begin by trying to discredit them. I would probably refer to them as “government” schools, hoping to tap into a vein of libertarian resentment. I would never miss an opportunity to sneer at researchers and teacher educators as out-of-touch “educationists.” Recognizing that it’s politically unwise to attack teachers, I would do so obliquely, bashing the unions to which most of them belong. Most important, if I had the power, I would ratchet up the number and difficulty of standardized tests that students had to take, in order that I could then point to the predictably pitiful results. I would then defy my opponents to defend the schools that had produced students who did so poorly.

How closely does my thought experiment match reality? One way to ascertain the actual motivation behind the widespread use of testing is to watch what happens in the real world when a lot of students manage to do well on a given test. Are schools credited and teachers congratulated? Hardly. The response, from New Jersey to New Mexico, is instead to make the test harder, with the result that many more students subsequently fail. [Addendum 2009: “Math scores are up on Long Island and statewide – enough so that state educational leaders could soon start raising the bar….Meryl Tisch of Manhattan, the new Chancellor of the state’s Board of Regents, said…’What today’s scores tell me is not that we should be celebrating but that New York State needs to raise its standards” (Newsday, June 1, 2009.]

Consider this item from the Boston Globe:

As the first senior class required to pass the MCAS exam prepares for graduation, state education officials are considering raising the passing grade for the exam. State Education Commissioner David Driscoll and Board of Education chairman James Peyser said the passing grade needs to be raised to keep the test challenging, given that a high proportion of students are passing it on the first try. . . . Peyser said as students continue to meet the standard, the state is challenged to make the exam meaningful.(9)

You have to admire the sheer Orwellian chutzpah represented by that last word. By definition, a test is “meaningful” only if large numbers of students (and, by implication, schools) fare poorly on it. What at first seems purely perverse – a mindless acceptance of the premise that harder is always better – reveals itself instead as a strategic move in the service of a very specific objective. Peyser, you see, served for eight years as executive director of the conservative Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank devoted to “the application of free market principles to state and local policy” (in the words of its website).  The man charged with overseeing public education in Massachusetts is critical of the very idea of public education. And how does he choose to pursue his privatizing agenda? By raising the bar until alarming failure(10) is assured.



Reconsider the story of Columbus

I sent Ruby off to school this morning having completely forgotten that it is Columbus Day. Now that I’ve been reminded,  I’m wondering what standardized fable she is being spoon fed at this very moment. Something tells me it is the Eurocentric-person truth, and not the truth-truth. But you can bet over dinner tonight, there will be some re-education that I will refer to as Part Three of How We Do It Without Figurines (part one is here, part two hasn’t been posted yet, but that lesson plan has already taken place and will be forthcoming).

There is a comprehensive, enlightening and inherently scathing bit about Columbus at the DailyKos. It’s long, but it’s worth a gander.

It’s breathtaking to me, that gap between the comfortable fantasies we’re all taught—in so many subjects—and the unpleasant realities from which we look away.

The bad apples

Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a staunch defender of teachers. I think it’s absurd to blame them for the economic woes of our country; I loathe how they are vilified by the media and politicians. I believe that most of them want to do a good job, that most of them love what they do, and—paramount to all of this—that most of them love children and have their best interests at heart.  If these things aren’t true, then why would anyone become a teacher? It certainly isn’t for the incredible salary, or the easy six-hour days, or the summer months off. Falacies, one and all. Teachers put in long hours and are frustrated daily by the demands of mandates, curriculum, children, parents, administrators, and so on.

I pretty much view teachers as saints.

But this Polyanna view was challenged this summer at Pact Camp. Willie Adams, the Dean of Middle School Life at the Head-Royce School in Oakland, and co-founder of the Excelsus Foundation, was the keynote speaker on the third morning. Adams’ work is focused on the education and support of black boys, who consistently remain on one side of the achievement gap. And part of his discussion included the bias—sometimes overt, sometimes subconscious—that teachers bring with them into the classroom, resulting in lower expectations for black students than for their white counterparts.

This isn’t new. But sometimes it takes hearing the spoken words to make it real. I began to percolate on this.

And then: Yesterday.

Yesterday, I found myself engaged with two self-proclaimed teachers in the comment section of a post (since removed) on Derfwad Manor. The post was innocuous enough: Mrs. G. offered a short intro to the audio of the Smiley/West Poverty Tour, and spoke of how she was deeply moved and inspired by it. I listened to all 48-minutes of it but not so, some of the commentors. And as it tends to go with all things funky, as Dr. West might say, the negative response was quick.

The first hint of ugliness came from a former internet “colleague” of mine named Stacy, who posted using a pseudonym. The other was from a person calling herself Shawna. Both women expressed opinions about poverty that included derisive remarks about black women, castigating them for getting weaves or french manicures or a pack of cigarettes, while not providing adequately (in their opinions) for their children. They each made blanket, racist, white-privileged based statements, and I took them to task in one general remark.

Comments have since been shut down because Shawna’s retort to my retort included the n-word, which doesn’t fly at Derfwad Manor. The management drew the line in the sand there. And I get that should-I-or-should-I-not-let-that-stand inner dialogue. But at the same time, oh hell-the-fuck-no! Over here, I like to shine a bright light on exactly what kind of person this “teacher” is. Her exact words were:

Yep, just leave teachers to sweep up all the shit left behind from shitty n****r parents. (Asterisks mine.)

This from a teacher. Who is teaching.

We should all know which classroom is hers so we can request out of it immediately should our kids be so unfortunate to land there.

What a teacher is saying online should matter to every single person who has a child in school. Teachers spend seven hours or more each day, five days a week with our kids. There aren’t any other adults who are granted such an abundance of time with our babies. We are trusting them. Yet, they cannot be effectively teaching children, brown and/or impoverished included, while tamping down racial prejudices and closeting bigoted views both of which lack any sense of historical knowledge.

To call yourself a good teacher in one breath, and then vent to the internet about what imbeciles your students are—because if you didn’t, you’d have to “blow [your] brains out,” as Stacy wrote on her own site—isn’t funny or satirical. It’s sad, and indicates that perhaps she’s in the wrong profession, or in need of a good therapist, or both. And definitely, the teacher who uses the n-word in her cyber-time shouldn’t be anywhere near my kid at any time, ever.

Certainly, the frustrations of teachers are myriad. But to commiserate face-to-face with parents in one manner, and then mock them later online, is a complete and appalling violation of trust. The thought of this possibility had never occurred to me before now. But this experience has given me a lot to consider as I figure out how best to speak to my daughter’s new teacher about the things that occupy my mind these days. Because that is a conversation we will be having.

For sure, a teacher cannot be one thing in the classroom and another outside of it. James Baldwin said it best:

A child cannot be taught by anyone who despises him, and a child cannot afford to be fooled.

Neither can parents.



Pioneer Woman doesn’t know jack* about diversity or how to teach it

Back in December of 2009, Ree Drummond of The Pioneer Woman posted a pictorial tutorial (I just made that up!) illustrating how she teaches her children about diversity. Despite the fact that I’m not a fan of the neatly packaged Drummond—she only plays at being a by-her-boot-straps kinda girl on the Internet—I’m linking to her post HERE because, really: This lesson plan is a sight to behold.

Yes, it will give her traffic when all three of my readers scramble over there to see what she’s got cookin’. But the wrongness of Ree D’s approach deserves highlighting. If you have the stomach for it, delve into the comments, because more disturbing than PW’s educational tack, is the blind agreement of her many followers. Indeed, the comment section of that post is overflowing with a disturbing number of atta-girls and excited I’m-gonna-try-thats. The enthusiasm of her fans is so powerful, you can practically see the light bulbs going on. “By George! It’s brilliant!” they might be saying to themselves as they hunker down in their dark basements, jotting down a list of supplies needed to enact the lesson plan.

“But, Aaryn?”  you may ask. “Why are you writing about this now?” And that is a good question.

The truth is, I’d intended to write about this long ago, but never made the time because this is a Very Big Topic. It is not a one-off. It is not modern-day-attention-span friendly.  It is a multi-head monster.

But this space is a-changin’. After spending four days at Pact Camp in July, I am inspired to speak out regularly, with conviction, with my trademark outrage, without apology.  I pick on Ree Drummond now, because I don’t want my daughter’s choices, opportunities, identity, sense of belonging, and self-worth—and those of her black brothers and sisters in this country—to be dictated by the pale-faced Baby Drummond’s of the world, those white folks with unearned and unacknowledged privilege who learned about diversity when their bloggy mommies decided it was sufficient to dump a bunch of “sturdy, rugged, and awesome” rainbow colored Block Play people into a fancy Le Creuset pot and stir ‘em all up.

“Because when it comes to discussing diversity with my children…” says Drummond, “I choose not to discuss diversity with my children…I figure it’s a more powerful message for the Block Play human race to coexist without a lot of fanfare and hype than if I separated them, sat my kids down and explained, ‘This is a black family. This is an Asian family…etc.‘ If they have questions, I’ll answer them as I’m doing the dishes or painting my toenails.” For fuck sake. This woman publicly refers to herself as a pioneer. I can only wonder how she would have fared on the Donner Pass.

Look. Teaching children about diversity with plastic figurines is like teaching a woman to have an orgasm by showing her a photograph of a dildo. The fact is—and there’s plenty of peer-reviewed research to prove it—children don’t not see diversity simply because mommies choose not to mention it, an act that in itself is proof of white privilege. Progressives, especially, are guilty of using this method. Despite the good intentions, it turns out that if you don’t talk to your kids about a topic, they will learn about it elsewhere. And all they have to do is turn on the television, open a cataloge or magazine, go out into the real world to learn about non-white people, and how they are viewed as “less than” or “other” by our society. The authors of Nurture Shock have written about it. Anderson Cooper re-proved it in his “race doll test.” And—hey, ho! just look at that!—dolls being used to teach about race! The mind reels.

You can bet that black families all across America are discussing race, all the time. And white families need to be engaging in real conversations about that elephant in the room. Or the people in the pot, as it were. White children cannot learn about diversity because they have three Native American dolls and two black ones. Moreover, they cannot learn about their abundance of privilege, something that must be acknowledged as part of a larger discussion about race. Ree Drummond’s children and the children of people who decide that oh, we’re all the same, cannot know that black people are regularly denied bank loans, car loans, promotions, jobs, and housing because they are black; that they are ignored in restaurants and department stores; that they are assumed to be guilty or incompetent or uneducated at first assessment. And it is imperative that white people know and try to understand what it is to be brown in America. Because the reality is that white grown-ups in power (and even those not in power) do, in fact, see color and then act—maybe overtly, maybe not—as if theirs is superior.

A real pioneer would ditch those Block Play people, grab her children by the hands and introduce them to people of color. Mingle with them. Share meals with them. Have friendships with them. Love them. And then she would start talking about race in an open, honest and straightforward manner. While doing the dishes or painting her toenails. Or—my preferred method—while sitting face to face, and looking into their beautiful curious eyes, and telling them the hardest truths of all.

*A kinder, gentler title for my friend Joe.


Together we are stronger

A teacher at Ruby’s school organized a rally last Wednesday morning to show support for the six teachers who have in their possession, at this very minute, layoff notices (Ruby’s kindergarten teacher is one of Golden Ticket holders). Yay for creating a healthy work environment! Pfffft. The rally was also aimed at expressing frustration with the district’s handling of…oh…pretty much everything. Parents, teachers and students were instructed to wear red and meet an hour before school. Signs were to be provided.

I woke Ruby early, packed her lunch and over a breakfast of eggs, mixed berry applesauce and vitamins—don’t forget the vitamins!—I explained why we’d be stepping between the raindrops that morning. The discussion went swimmingly. I told her about silly people firing teachers, and she responded with, “Mama, Ella is the best dog in the whole world!” I told her about buses becoming extinct like the dinosaurs, and she sang out “I got no chicken in my chicken pot paahhhh!” When she stood to shake her booty to the sound of her new chant, I knew the conversation was over. I grabbed our umbrellas and hoped something had sunk in.

When we got to the rally, we found that we were the rally. Just the two of us, sign-less in our rain boots, standing on a damp sidewalk as cars whooshed by. Because I don’t usually check my email at 7:40 AM, I missed the rally-canceled-due-to-rain notice to disarm. To think: Thousands upon thousands of folks stood in snow and sleet and freezing temperatures for more than a month in Madison, Wisconsin, this past winter. They slept in their capitol building, too. But here in San Diego, a little marine layer rolls in off the ocean and we need chains on our tires. That is if we don’t call off the job. I’m convinced this type of halfheartedness is why Chargers fans are the only thing lamer than the Chargers.

I was miffed and voiced my opinion to the appropriate source. Poor guy. But I got over it and focused on the so-called teachable moment. On the way to the drop-off area, I talked to Ruby about apathy. Then she placed one kiss on each of my cheeks before wiggling off to class singing, “I got no chicken in my chicken pot paahhhh. I got no chicken in my chicken pot paahhhh.”

The rally was rescheduled for yesterday, and because I support our teachers and our school, and because I want my daughter to learn to stand for what she believes in, I woke her early, packed her lunch and reminded her over breakfast why we were going to stand with teachers in the glorious morning sunlight.

Tonight, when she told her dad about the rally, she said to him, “TEACHERS! YES! TEACHERS! YES! LAYOFFS! NO! LAYOFFS! NO! COUNSELORS! YES! COUNSELORS! YES! CUTBACKS! NO! CUTBACKS! NO!”

I’ll tell you what: That girl most definitely has some chicken in her chicken pot pie.