January 2014

ISTEPs and Jesus

by Priscilla on January 21, 2014

The other morning in our 3/4th grade Sunday school class, I was discussing the parable of the Good Samaritan with the kids and asked them what’s something that they are supposed to do that is good that is sometimes hard to do.

I was expecting answers like, Listening to my parents or  Not hitting my bratty sister.

I was not expecting, ISTEP testing.

But ISTEP  testing (Indiana Statewide Testing for Educational Progress) , was the first thing out of one girl’s mouth…and then all seven or so other kids jumped in with Yes’s and Our teacher talked to us about ISTEPs,  and  We have to pass IREAD or else we have to stay in 3rd grade. (These kids all attend different elementary schools from each other and from my own daughters, proving it’s not just my own kids dealing with this pressure.)

Yep, trying to teach them the answer to the age old question, Who is my neighbor? quickly disintegrated into kids talking about standardized tests.  We can’t proselytize Christianity or any other religion  in public schools, but yet the national and state leaders in education have made sure we’re talking the public school doctrine of Teach to the Test in church.

Nice.

I’m not going to spend a lot of time here educating you about standardized tests.  If you have questions just google words or themes such as, Common Core, Opting Out of Standardized Tests, Bill Gates and Common Core, The Bush Family and No Child Left Behind, Testing is Big Business.  This former educator is telling you to do your homework and see what kind of worker bees schools are producing.

And then ask yourself, Well, what can I do?

Well, you can do what I did and speak up at a school board meeting.  But you’ll be told to talk to your state leaders. You can talk to your state leaders and be told it’s the federal government’s fault.  You can write your state school board representative and hear nothing back. You can ask the office of the state superintendent about opting out of the ISTEP like my friend did, and be told there’s a possibility CPS could be called because you are keeping your child from their educational experience.  You can tell a teacher union rep that it’s wrong to use kids  as pawns for school funding only to be told, Yes, and our job security is at risk too.  

Are you seeing a pattern here? I speak up about kids and testing, and the adult leaders either blame each other or worry about their own self interests.  I love my kids’ teachers.  They are fabulous, hardworking and innovative even in the face of these asinine tests -tests that don’t show things like, loyalty, leadership, integrity, creativity and innovation. I have had teachers approach me in the school hallway thanking me for speaking up because they’ve developed  great curriculum over years only to be told they can’t use it because it doesn’t match up to what the kids are being tested on. Unlike their union rep, they don’t talk to me about job security; they talk to me about children. Unlike their state representatives, they don’t blame someone else for their problem;  they combat it head on in the classroom, trying to figure out how to teach both the test and human beings.

I did what the school board members asked.  I wrote and talked to the state leaders.  I have no idea if any of them have by the way.  That would be interesting to find out.  I’ve educated other parents.  I have them writing and calling, and all we get is fingerpointing and blame shifting, and in the meantime, when I am at CHURCH trying to teach THE GOLDEN RULE, I am observing that when I ask kids about doing good they automatically read that question as doing good on a test.

I’m not against end of the year testing to see how kids have progressed.  That’s been around forever, but the results were  seen and used by parents and teachers to gage where their kids were educationally. They weren’t tied to funding dollars, forcing our kids into being pawns in the Big Adult Educational Nonsense Drama.  Our recesses weren’t limited to 20 minutes once a day so our teachers had enough time to get over all the testing material day after day. (Wonder why we have so many kids on drugs so they can sit still and listen?  Maybe we need less drugs and more recess. Maybe some common sense could rule the day every once in a while. Now, I’m just talking crazy talk.)  We didn’t have school assemblies mimicking pep rallies whipping us into a frenzy over ISTEPs.  And yet, this is what my daughters’ school days now look like. This is what kids all over the country are forced into.  And don’t tell me you homeschool or your kids are in private school so none of this matters. Where do you think your tax dollars are going? Where do you think the majority of kids are educated today?

To quote  the character Howard Beale in Network, I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.

To our sanctimonious school board members who told me their hands are tied and to contact my state reps, I’m mad as hell, and my kids aren’t going to take it anymore. 

To the handpicked Indiana state school board reps, I’m mad as hell, and my kids aren’t going to take it anymore.

To the governor who handpicked these folks, I’m mad as hell and my kids aren’t going to take it anymore.

To our state superintendent and teacher union reps, I’m mad as hell, and my kids aren’t going to take it anymore.

To Arne Duncan and all his rich educational testing business friends, I’m mad as hell, and my kids aren’t going to take it anymore. 

When I have to talk about testing instead of Jesus in a Sunday school classroom, it’s a sign that you folks are f-ing with our kids.  That’s right. I used Jesus, Sunday School and f-ing in the same sentence…and I did it using correct punctuation and grammar…and I was able to do that even though as a child I wasn’t given acuity tests every other week from now until the end of school like some of our kids.

 

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The Post I Wish I Didn’t Have to Write

by Priscilla on January 17, 2014

It’s 4:24 a.m. I can’t sleep.  Instead of lying in my warm, four poster bed next to my snoring husband, he with half the covers because he can’t stand all the covers, and me with all the covers and then some because I can’t burrow down deep enough, I’m sitting here in front of a white computer screen, tapping in grey words. The color of the words I’m typing share the color of my heart right now. Grey is a fitting font color for the words I’m going to share with you.

Two night ago, I was sitting in that same warm bed working on my online course for my Red Cross Lifeguard certification, when I perked up hearing the sounds of sirens.  Huh, I thought to myself.  I haven’t heard those for a while. When we first moved here to Elkhart, Indiana, one thing I had to get used to was the night sounds of a town – ambulances, trains, fire engines, police sirens.  I’m a country girl, and it took a while for me to get used to the city sounds. It’s not a big city, but it coughs up big city noises every once in awhile  as opposed to the country music of crickets and coyotes that filled the nights of my youth.

I got used to the city sounds, but for some reason these particular sirens alerted me to the fact that activity was taking place somewhere close by that needed the services of our local policemen and women.

After that, though, I didn’t give it another thought.

Until I woke up the next morning, looked at Facebook and saw a news post that a murderer entered a local grocery story and shot and killed two women in cold blood before being shot and killed by the police.

The sirens.

This was the story behind the sirens.

My God, was all I could think.  My God.

This isn’t just any grocery store. This is my grocery store.  It’s the store where I shop for my weekly groceries.  Where I run right after I drop the kids off for school to pick up some items for dinner. It’s where I sometimes make late evening and early morning runs when I realize I have nothing for school lunches or milk for breakfast.  It’s the store where my girls come home with bags of chips and sugary cereals when they go shopping with Dad instead of the asparagus and Greek yogurt when they go shopping with mom. It’s the same store for all my friends for all the same reasons. It’s the kind of store I’m sure you frequent for all the same reasons.

It’s a local chain store run by local folks with local employees some of whom have kids at my kids’ school. It’s the store where they notice what you are buying and ask what you are making, where they still bag your groceries, ask if you found everything you are looking for and send someone off to find it if you didn’t and then when you are all bagged and paid for,  they always ask, Will you be needing drive up today?

Young people work at this store – a lot of them. It’s a good store for kids wanting to get a start. They train them well too – they are well groomed, polite, knowledgable and hospitable.  Middle aged folks work there as well as do old timers. I often see the same shoppers at the same times.  My friend with four children jokes about the amount of money she spends at that store.  How much? Let’s just say she gets a Christmas card from them every year. That’s right. They send out Christmas cards to customers.

And it’s the store the murderer walked into on Wednesday night, and these are the kinds of people he went after.

When I first found out, I was shocked, and I needed to blame, and so on Facebook I blamed violence in games and movies.

I shouldn’t have done that.  I needed a reason. We all did, but paring this horrific event down to a simple, pat answer was wrong, and I’m sorry. There are no pat answers, and this post isn’t about trying to figure out the senseless violence in today’s society. Maybe another post – but not this one.

This one is about three families whose children aren’t coming home. Whose mother will never walk through the door carrying Martin’s grocery bags. Whose daughter will never birth a grandchild. Whose son will never drive up and park the car in the garage.

Gone.

They are all gone.

My refrigerator reminds me of this.  Odd isn’t it? Something mundane as a stainless steel, side by side refrigerator with a crappy water dispenser reminding me of a horrific event and weighing down my heart, but last night at 8 p.m. when I was making dinner after swim practice, the beef I diced, the broccoli I chopped, the marinade of Saki, soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil  I mixed- all of it reminded me of the murders. I poured the rice into the rice steamer wondering about the employee’s mother whose door was knocked upon at 1.a.m. – total strangers there to tell her, her daughter was not coming home from last night’s shift. I poured the wine for my husband and me,  and I thought about the grown son, a college basketball player, who won’t look up into the stands and recognize his mother’s face. I realized we were out of napkins, and I should have gotten some from the store last time I was there…on Monday…, and I thought of the parents of a young man who chose to take other peoples’ lives, and in the process lost his. I can’t imagine what it is to be in their shoes right now.

I’ve typed enough grey letters. There are so many thoughts swirling around my head, but my thoughts aren’t important. The people grieving are important, and if I can’t open my pantry doors without thinking of the victims, what in the world are the new realities for these families? What are the coworkers experiencing? How are the first responders and their families coping?

I wonder if there are enough grey letters out there for them.

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