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Thompson: NYC Can Happen Here

ConformHow did we get here from there? How can an American democracy produce such a disgusting educational culture? How did schools in New York City sink so low?

OK,  it is sick enough that Eva Moskowitz's Success Academies fire students up to “SLAM the Exam” by rewarding them with basketballs and Converse sneakers for test-prep instruction. But, some people have always conformed to anything to get ahead.

As Chalkbeat New York's Patrick Walls reports, in With State Exams Underway Schools Turn from Test Prep to Test Pep, Chancellor Carmen Farina urged principals not to go overboard on test preparation. She said:

The best preparation for the test is a rich, thoughtful, engaging curriculum that awakens curiosity in students, inspires them to ask questions, helps them explore complex problems, and encourages them to imagine possibilities. We understand that the best classrooms are lively places where students are immersed in conversation, debating ideas, and developing perspectives and viewpoints.

Walls reports that some principals have heeded Farina's call and use humor or, even, yoga to reduce anxiety. But, "other schools prefer to psych students up rather than cool them down," and "some schools have spent weeks administering practice exams and reviewing test-taking strategies."

Though ostensibly liberated from a culture test prep, why do these principals continue with the most disgraceful legacies of “teaching to the test?” Why do they continue to indoctrinate children as if they are pets into a system of rewards and punishment?

That being said, I almost understand why many educators, and the families we serve, act on their fears in such ways. I've gone through our constant conflict about how much do we go along with educational malpractice, and test prep our students so they are not held back? Chalkbeat's Geoffrey Decker, in Promotion Fears Persist as de Blasio Misses Chance to Tamp Down Promotion Fears, describes the worries of a 3rd grader who has seen two older siblings punished by NYC tests. Educators, like parents, are torn between what our consciences tells us and our commitment to individual at-risk students.

That  brings the issue full circle. School reformers sought to overcome the educational legacies of the stresses of poverty with the stresses of fear and punishment. They created a culture of intimidatation and conformity. Some educators resisted, while others complied. New York City merely represents the logical conclusion of imposing a culture of competition, of reward and punishment, and going along to get along.  

NYC has created a classic example of "escape from freedom." It insults children, training them to be "other-directed persons," adults who just do what they are told. Perhaps it did so to prepare kids for a dog-eat-dog global marketplace which benefits the 1%. But, it does not prepare children for life in a democracy that has valued individuality and creativity.-JT(@drjohnthompson)Image via.


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