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What I Would Have Said If I Had Gotten More Time

poster studentsfirst (2)

This is far overdue but in case you’re wondering, here’s what I would have said if I didn’t get cut off… and if I wasn’t so flustered and upset:

…but my main point is: listen to the students. LISTEN TO THE STUDENTS.

Education belongs to the STUDENTS. It is students who are getting the education and it is the students who should have a say in what that education looks like. My biggest problem with reform is that people like you three, who have all this corporate power and money, get to sit up on these physical and political stages and either implement or support policies that affect classrooms and communities that you’ve never stepped into or even bothered to listen to. You haven’t even bothered to listen to these dedicated teachers in these past two hours! I had to fight for my chance to speak because this so-called “conversation” was just two hours of you all defending your views through a series of straw man arguments.

How dare you speak for people you don’t wish to truly listen to?

How dare you talk about the “students’ interests” when you have not listened to what students all over this country are saying?

How dare you talk about “high expectations” when you obviously don’t expect that students are capable of thinking for and fighting for themselves?

How dare you talk about “choice” when you don’t give students any choices in what and how they learn?

How dare you talk about “every student” when you refuse to acknowledge and honor the complex humanity of our each and every student?

How dare you talk about “accountability” when you can’t even hold yourselves accountable for the disastrous effects your reforms have had on communities everywhere?

Students are not data points on a graph you can talk about but never listen to. They are humans with hearts, minds, and stories of their own. They are resilient and beautiful and insightful. They deserve better than high stakes tests that don’t capture their humanity, better than charters that exclude and criminalize certain youth, better than the poverty that creates an opportunity gap well before they begin school, better than limited curriculum that doesn’t allow them to explore other options, better than policies that instill fear and oppress critical thought, better than budgets that leave their schools and classrooms dilapidated and unbearable, better than decisions that are made without their input. We can do better than current reform. We can do much better because our youth deserve much better.

Educational justice will not be achieved by top-down approaches that deliberately silence the voices of those at the bottom. It will not be achieved by policies that exclude, divide, and oppress. It WILL be achieved by PEOPLE working with and fighting with the students who live this everyday reality. The best way to put “Students First” is by listening to them. So walk your talk and start listening. 

More Thoughts on Ken Robinson’s TED Talk – Questioning

Hi everyone! I’ve been reading up on wonderful things I can’t wait to share with y’all (things like Cooperative Catalyst and IDEA and Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed and “The Common Core” [no link here because there are just too many articles on this topic…]). 

Attention will be given to all of the above and more, but first, I wanted to share some thoughts about my post last night.

I’ve been letting myself experience Ken Robinson’s talk again (I like watching/reading/experiencing things over and over again, I get new perspectives every time), and I’ve discovered there is another… dimension, if you will, that is essential to humans’ flourishing, but that is currently stifled by the structure of our education system.

Questioning

I don’t know about you, but I started asking questions the moment I could talk. I don’t even think my first words were, “Mama” or “Dada”. Legend has it, they were either “What’s that?” or “Where’s my food?”. Probably the latter. 

Anyway, I think Questioning deserves it’s own dimension, even though it’s basically the child of Diversity and Curiosity. Questioning entails being curious about diversity. It’s seeking alternatives to the status quo, looking at different and all perspectives, recognizing that there might be more than one right answer, maybe an even better answer than the one that’s widely accepted. Healthy skepticism, critical thinking, and careful analysis are all hallmarks of the human tendency of questioning.

Although this is a very important and natural part of being human, it appears to be missing from most students in America. What’s happening here?

Well, I can’t speak for those students, but I remember the first time I didn’t want to ask a question. It happened about 5 minutes after someone called my previous question stupid. And maybe it was stupid, but I asked it and now I felt stupid.

Now that isn’t the end of the story. One mean kid couldn’t quash the flame of questioning in me. But society could. If I got a quarter for every time someone told me “That’s just the way it is, Hannah” or “Why question it?” I could probably rename a building at USC after myself.

As I got older, it got harder to question and to speak up about my own opinion, or even come up with an individual opinion. For a long period of my life… I stopped thinking. I seriously just thought what anyone told me to think. So basically, I had a bunch of opinions about things, none of which were my own, most of which conflicted with one another.

Thank goodness real education saved my life, or at least my mind. Since then, I’ve valued questions, original ideas, moving discussions, and critical thinking like no other. I try my best to always question what I read or watch or hear about. I always try to find the source, to employ my sociological imagination to really consider all moving parts and factors of any situation. I know that I’ve only been able to arrive at the philosophies I currently hold about education because of a long, arduous process of considering various perspectives, analyzing them, and synthesizing them with ideas of my own while still holding true to my values as a student and aspiring teacher. 

I was only able to do this with support from my teachers and school. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to engage in discussions, to question ideas, to voice my opinions, to think outside the box. Many students today in America don’t get that because testing and standardization moves questioning to the bottom of the priority list. Instead of being taught how to think for themselves, students are taught what to think and how to repeat that information for a number. Their tendency to question and doubt and critically analyze begins to fade the minute they are subject to a standardized test. Standardized tests don’t just restrict students and teachers in the process of education; they send a very clear message:

“That’s just the way it is. Why question it?”

“Why?” you ask? Well, that’s a very good question. 

Where I Stand – Standardized Testing, Civic Education, and the Bottom-Up Approach to Educational Justice

I think it’s important, before I embark on this journey of educating myself, to elaborate on my 3 biggest philosophies on education and educational activism.

—1—

The high emphasis on standardized testing is destroying real education.

Seriously, high stakes testing needs to leave, like, yesterday. I wrote a 10-paged paper on this my sophomore year of high school, and I can still go on and on about it. Simply put, students are more than test scores. There are numerous dimensions to learning and education, and the standards don’t even begin to capture most of them. Test scores simply cannot objectively capture true learning, because education can’t be standardized or forced into a single definition.

These tests, which claim to measure student performance, are destroying our schools, turning them into factories where anything but reading, math, and writing is pushed to the bottom of the priority list. Now don’t get me wrong, math, reading, and writing are important and valuable skills but would you really consider someone educated if all they knew how to do was answer multiple choice questions about those 3 subjects?

  • What about looking at the past and understanding the present?
  • What about understanding society?
  • What about global perspective?
  • What about diversity?
  • What about civic education?
  • What about appreciation for the arts and music?
  • What about exploration and discovery of exciting ideas and topics?
  • What about intellectual freedom?
  • What about critical analysis?
  • What about applying concepts across disciplines?
  • What about problem solving?
  • What about creativity and innovation?
  • What about lively discussion and collaboration?
  • What about experiential learning?

Are any of these questions ever asked? Not on a standardized test, that’s for sure. The machines that grade these tests don’t care about how students came to their answer, if they used critical thinking, or if they can apply their knowledge in practical settings. All it wants is that one right answer. And how many times in life is there only one right answer?

Because of standardized tests, enthusiastic, creative, and dedicated teachers are placed in an impossible paradox where their job is to educate their students, but they have to make sure that their students’ scores are high so that the school can appear “accountable” and they can continue teaching. This leads to teaching to the test, which deprives students of the well-rounded and real education that they deserve. Testing should be used as a tool to support learning, perhaps for diagnostic purposes from some subjects, but unfortunately it has become the core of educational culture (thanks a lot, NCLB and RTTT). It has gotten to the point where learning has been obstructed in classrooms because of the very high emphasis on test scores.

Students deserve better. They deserve an education that fosters creativity, curiosity, critical thinking, an education that civically engages and empowers, an education that says a great big, “YES!” to all those questions above, and most of all, an education that celebrates rather than excludes all kinds of students and styles of learning, whether or not they align with the so-called “standards.”

—2—

Social justice and youth civic engagement are incredibly important components of education.

Students should not only be taught how to become good students, but also good people. Martin Luther King Jr. said it best when he said, “The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.”

Education should foster open-minded, civically aware, and caring members of society, not create robots that know how to regurgitate facts. Every aspect of a person’s education needs to be paid attention to, and currently civic education is simply not given enough weight. Civic education is not simply just important anymore, it’s absolutely necessary. The issues of inequality and injustice in our world will only continue to remain unresolved if we don’t have socially and politically conscious people who are equipped with the tools to stand up for themselves and the oppressed in their communities. Students need to understand what happened in the past, how that has affected the present, and how they can contribute to a brighter future for all. Civic education not only builds respect, consideration, and character in students, but it also builds their analytical and problem solving skills.

And it’s not hard! The essence of civic education is all about relating to students, engaging students in dialogue, tapping into what makes them sad, angry, happy, human.  It’s a great tool for motivating students to learn because it reawakens what is natural to them: emotion, experience, creativity. It enriches learning by weaving passion, discovery, critical thinking, and compassion in their education, and tells them, “you have the power to make a difference.” Wouldn’t you care more about your education if you could relate to it? If it was engaging? If you believed in yourself and your own potential? If you knew it could help you do things or act on issues you were passionate about?

Once we realize the importance of social justice education for our students, then our students’ education will become more exciting, applicable, and real for them, and they will be able to learn more than they ever did before.

—3—

Stephanie Rivera (a great advocate for student voice) and other students protesting the Chicago school closings.

Any approach that aims to achieve educational justice must take students’ voices into account.

Okay. Pause. For those of you who don’t know Stephanie Rivera, go look at her blog right now. She is an advocate for student voice and educational equity, and one of my newly discovered heroes. She’s absolutely amazing, courageous, full of passion and drive, and definitely a force to be reckoned with. I hope we get to talk soon because that would be a complete honor.
The reason I’m bringing her up as I discuss my 3rd philosophy, is because she wrote this brave and controversial (but hey, what can you expect when you voice a unpopular opinion) post about how she stands against Students for Education Reform (SFER), a group that I was a member of. Was. As in past tense… I left before I found Stephanie’s post, but reading her post now definitely helped me put words to the discomfort I felt with the group. Basically, my experiences with SFER reinforced my passion for elevating student voice and involvement in the education revolution.
During my freshman year of college, I was definitely that starry-eyed aspiring educator, eager to join any movement I could that had to do with education. When I found out that USC had a club called “Students for Education Reform”, I was ecstatic. I was so excited. At the USC EdMonth conference, I went to the workshop led by SFER and got to talk to the president. He was explaining SFER, basically making a case about why I should join. I didn’t think I need to be persuaded, as I was really eager about education reform, but let’s just say… I didn’t expect to be dissuaded.
After explaining that I wanted to be a teacher and that I believed in a bottom-up approach to education “reform” (because “I don’t think you can truly fight for people unless you know them and fight with them”), he basically didn’t treat me seriously. He said that at SFER, they were taking more of a top-down approach, and while the girls at Whittier College focused on “babies” (yes, he referred to students as “babies”), USC SFER was all about “real policy work” and working with adults to make policy changes that will affect the “babies.” He then turned his attention to the political science major at the table, who he probably felt would not be so typical female aspiring teacher obsessed with “babies.”
Still, he wasn’t able to stamp out my eagerness. I came to a meeting, hoping that maybe after some stimulating discussion my faith would be restored, but lo and behold, teachers and teacher unions were bashed and once again I was made to feel uncomfortable, unwelcome, and excluded because I just didn’t agree with the top-down approach. The whole atmosphere of the conversation was all so condescending towards the students, and so counterproductive to the change that needs to happen. So I decided to stand by my opinion and leave the group. I said it once above and I will say it again: Any approach that aims to achieve educational justice must take students’ voices into account.
Stephanie Rivera brings to light a lot of issues about SFER (I will link it here again because I urge you to look at her thoroughly researched and very well-articulated post), but one that I will emphasize here is that there is no room for working with and mobilizing high school and middle school students in the fight for their rights. Their stories are ignored and their voices are silenced. Sure, it will be mentioned that hm, maybe we should talk to the students we are essentially fighting for… but no… they’re too young and busy with a school system that fails them to understand or even care about the complex, “big kid” policies at hand. And this is exactly the attitude that makes students never want to speak up in the first place. 
We cannot simply fight for students from the top down. We cannot ignore their experiences. We cannot claim to fight for education and then simultaneously exclude students in a fight for their rights. We must make the effort to involve students in the process. We must collaborate with them, shed light on their experiences, and help them realize their power in the movement. We need to fight with them.
The students have a story to tell. The injustice in the education system is not something they just read about in news articles; it is their every day reality. These issues affect them directlyAny large social or political change movement in this country started when the oppressed spoke up about what they were upset about. It all starts with a voice, a story, a cry for help. Real change begins when the oppressed realize their power and use it to end their oppression.
Yes, education is a very complicated issue, but then why don’t we simplify it for students? Why don’t we equip them with the knowledge they need to fight for what they believe in? Why don’t we at least change our mindset and start believing in students? Why don’t we give them a chance to care about this issue and to take appropriate action?
Believe in the power of student voice and invest in that power. You may will be surprised.
Thank you for reading! I can’t wait to continue writing about what I care about and sharing my thoughts on such an important issue.
Blessings,
Hannah