Tune In, Turn On, Opt the F*ck Out

Ok…I changed the names, but otherwise, this is the letter that my 8th grader will be handing to the principal today. Several of her revolutionary pals will be doing the same, and they plan to march into the office together. Peaceful protest in action!

Dear Middle School Principal,

As indicated on the attached form, titled “State Assessment Refusal Documentation Form,” I am opting my child out of the Smarter Balanced Assessment and the MSP. My daughter, Little Bit, has expressed serious and well thought out objections to the overwhelmingly time consuming and pointless battery of tests to which she is subjected, year after year. I find her reasons sound and am supporting her decision to refuse.

I asked LB to give me a list of her objections. She provided fourteen, which are as follows, exactly as she wrote them:

  • Standardized testing is not an accurate measure of achievement because the state can simply set low standards in order to obtain high test scores.
  • It is a huge waste of money that could be used on valuable things such as art and music programs, gifted programs, special ed programs, textbooks, computers, athletic equipment, and many more.
  • The standardized testing encourages teachers to “teach to the test” instead of helping students gain a deep understanding of the curriculum.
  • The testing is not fair to schools that are already behind other schools in their states, because even if the students are improving they still might not meet the state standards, which could result in punishment for their school.
  • It is a huge waste of my time that could be spent actually learning something.
  • My high test scores are of no use to me; they only benefit the school. The school should not be able to take full credit for those scores, because I learned most of what’s on the tests before middle school, and taking the tests only once during the year is not proof that my skills have progressed over the course of that year.
  • The content of the standardized tests is usually completely unrelated to what I am doing in my classes, so the tests are not an accurate measure of how much I’ve learned over the school year.
  • The standardized testing causes gifted children to be neglected by soaking up time and money that could be used to help gifted children reach their full potential. Furthermore, No Child Left Behind provides no incentive or funds to teach beyond minimum standards.
  • Even if students are in advanced classes, they still have to take the standardized tests at their grade level. Last year, even though I was in Algebra (the 9th grade class), I had to take the 7th grade math MSP. I took 7th grade math in elementary school, so the test did not say anything about what I learned in middle school.
  • Since the testing only addresses a small number of “core subjects,” students are given the mistaken impression from a young age that other subjects such as art, music and foreign language are not important. Students who pursue these subjects receive little or no recognition for their efforts, and teaching a narrow set of skills instead of providing a well-rounded education is detrimental to students for their entire lives.
  • Testing is very stressful to many students, and some receive low test scores even if they are very intelligent and achieve good grades. This year, the testing is spread out over a period of a month and a half, which means that it will be a distraction for a ridiculously long stretch of time, and many students will be subjected to a prolonged state of stress, which can negatively affect regular schoolwork as well as test scores.
  • Not only are an obscene number of class periods used to take the assessments, but hours of class time are wasted prior to the tests in order to practice using the unnecessarily complicated computer program.
  • Not all states have the same standards or tests, so it is pointless to compare test scores nationwide.
  • It is a violation of the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution to require states to give standardized tests. The federal government oversteps this barrier by not technically requiring the states to administer the tests, but refusing to provide funding for schools if they don’t. This tactic is despicable, and given the fact that schools need federal funding to operate, the states are still being forced to give these tests. 

I understand that LB may be required to engage in an alternative academic activity during the many class periods devoted to testing. Before the assessment begins, please let me know what the alternative activity will be so that I can feel sure it will be constructive in nature.

I recognize that standardized testing is a contentious topic and that having students refuse is problematic for the school. However, my child is taking a principled stand and I support and applaud her. Thank you for your understanding.

Sincerely,

Little Bit’s Mom

 

 

 

 

Radicalized

Bound to happen, I suppose. Child the younger has gone all radical political on me. The issue stoking her outrage: standardized testing.

It started last week. She came home all excited because her social studies class, facing some state-mandated exam, decided as a group that they would all write their essays on the topic of why state-mandated social studies tests are a waste of time. In addition to submitting the exams to the state, the teacher agreed to collect copies of their essays for future purposes. I talked to Little Bit about the process for submitting op-ed pieces to major publications.

She spent days researching the topic of standardized tests, coming up with a whole list of objections to them and tracking down facts and studies to support her viewpoint. She knowledgably talked about No Child Left Behind, the damage it has done, the immense profits being raked in by the testing industry, the better uses for those funds, the narrowing of the curriculum, and the illogic of punishing low-scoring schools by reducing their budgets. Not to mention the idiocy of evaluating teachers on the basis of their students’ standardized test scores.

Then shit got real.

In further discussions, the class moved onto the topic of the Big Comprehensive State Testing regimen, which will occupy hours and hours of their lives in the near future. They discussed the fact that parents can opt their kids out of the test, and a little resistance movement formed.

Little Bit came home and asked me to opt her out of the Big Comprehensive State Test as a matter of principle. She’s a conscientious objector.

Oh my. The school will not be happy if my kid and the other kids in the honors social studies class opt out. They depend on the scores from their high-achieving students to pull their averages up. Oh well…not my kid’s problem. Standardized testing does nothing but harm for those kids.

The problem, of course, is that opting out means spending those hours and hours of testing time in the library or the principal’s office or somewhere, doing…what? I don’t know. Maybe they will make her scrub the hallways with a toothbrush.

I told her if I write an opt-out letter, it will be in the form of “I am supporting my child in objecting to this test,” and that she would need to give me a bulleted list of objections. She wrote me a whole page.

So I think I have no choice, as this is my child taking a public, moral stance and refusing to collude with the corrupt authorities.

So freaking proud.

Progress

Stuck. I’ve been so stuck, my friends. Treading water, unable to move forward. The clearest manifestation of stuckness is my chaotic house and degenerating yard. I have not yet replaced the furniture removed in the divorce. I have not cleaned up the messy areas that need to be decluttered and rearranged. Stuck.

The yard went to hell a few years ago. The raised beds rotted away. Grass and weeds took over the mounds of dirt that remained. Stuff is broken, inside and outside the house. Stuck.

BUT, lately, progress. I now have garden beds again. They look like this:

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Except that now there are five of them. There may be a sixth. Haven’t decided whether to bother with the one in the back corner, which historically hasn’t done well. Full credit and props to Mr. Wayne for labor and tools and know-how.

I will plants peas and beans and kale and beets and lettuce and squash and tomatoes. Other things too. I will find inspiration at the nursery.

On the deck there are pots, which until recently contained the remnants of dead herbs and lots of weeds. Now there’s this:

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Strawberries, rosemary, dill, sage, and two kinds of mint. More to come. I have lots of pots.

Making progress feels like there have been sacks of sand piled on
my shoulders and I am shedding them, one by one, and becoming lighter. And happier.

About a Boy

I admit it’s strange, even wrong, to apply the word “boy” to a guy well north of 50, even if he does have a boyish grin. But here’s the thing about getting older, my friends: it only happens on the outside. Inside, you are the same person you always were, though it is possible—probable, even—that the life you’ve led with all of its deceptions and compromises has caused you to lose track of yourself.

And anyway, the long-forgotten but still familiar feeling of boy-meets-girl is the same, exactly the same, whether you are 20 or 80.

He said if I blogged about him I had to give him a manly sounding name. We agreed on “Brock Wayne.” But he’s still a boy.

No youngster beginning his life, but mid-aged and starting life anew, like me. Still a boy.

And I’ll tell you, as a divorced person living with teenagers, it is nice to have someone in my life who is consistently happy to see me.

Like a boy I meet behind the gym after school. We walk home the long way.

Dating, Part 2

I seem to have fallen out of the blogging habit again. Apologies to those of you waiting on the edges of your seats to hear my midlife dating stories (all names changed, innocent or not).

I’ll tell you, friends, it strikes me as funny to be casting my eye over the male population with the intention of forming relationships with some of them, given that I hate men and everything.

At least I thought I did. I mean, people have told me I do. Some of them have told me that repeatedly, though I never thought that accurately represented my feelings. But who am I to argue? If you go around noticing and objecting to certain things that happen in the world, it’s not because those things are objectionable. You just hate men.

However, at this time I must tell you, friends, the evidence suggests I don’t actually hate men! Not at all! In fact, some of them are quite charming. Some men are smart and kind, insightful and funny, relaxed and easy. Even more unexpectedly, some of them seem to like *me*, even though I am a known man-hater.

So I’ve kept company with some men I don’t hate, and nothing bad has happened. Indeed, it has been quite enjoyable. I think I will do it some more.

Dating, Part 1

When you separate after a very long-term relationship, like 20 or so years, there’s a big partner-shaped hole in your life. For better or worse, someone has been by your side for all that time and you don’t quite know how to go about it (it = anything) alone. You feel disoriented and lonely and cold in the big world without an automatic, unquestioned ally.

So you might feel quite anxious to fill that gaping hole because its presence is so uncomfortable. It’s easy enough to do—you just take up with someone else.

That initial sense of relief quickly becomes a sense of confusion, because all of the expectations you have of that person are all about your experience with marriage and/or your experience with dating before marriage. They have nothing to do with that person to whom you’ve assigned the partner role.

So it all falls apart in short order and then you’ve completed your required Disastrous Rebound Relationship.

Luckily for all of you, I did that last year and will spare you any account of it. Further discussions of midlife dating will be forthcoming.

Please Don’t Read This

Recently, several people sent me to read this: Oh Scott, honestly.

It’s an essay by a shy “nerdy” guy written in response to another shy nerdy guy’s explanation of his Issue with Feminism.

Shy nerdy guy 1, Scott Aaronson, who is a professor at MIT, had a difficult youth as a socially inept but well-meaning teenager. He complains that all the cultural attention paid to problems facing women, like rape, assault, sexual harassment, etc., made him feel bad about his sexual urges and made him afraid to talk to women.

In an effort to understand the issues and women and feminism better, he read books written by famous feminist thinkers, like Andrea Dworkin.

Oy.

Without going into all the reasons why feminism actually had nothing to do with Dr. Aaronson’s social problems (see the ever-straightforward Amanda Marcotte here for that), I want to address his reading choices.

Whenever the Defensive Dude Corps wants to prove that feminists are crazy, they drag Andrea Dworkin right out of the grave and point fingers at her. They take incendiary, context-free quotes out of her extensive analyses and say, “See! Crazy man-haters!”

Here’s my advice to well-meaning men: don’t read Dworkin, or at least don’t start there. Dworkin is not Feminism 101. Dworkin is easy to read but hard to understand if you have not grappled with some of the most uncomfortable parts of cultural realities that mostly go unremarked.

Andrea Dworkin was not crazy. She was not even extreme. She was just tenacious. She never backed off, no matter how uncomfortable people were with her remarking on what we all, as a culture, agreed would go unnoticed.

Dworkin is so consistently misunderstood that I cringe whenever I see her name online because some didn’t-get-it malarkey is sure to follow.

In fact, I think invoking Dworkin to (fail to) prove a point ought to automatically end the argument. Ditto Valerie Solanus, who really was crazy, and who died long, long ago. If you’re going to argue against women’s rights to equal pay, reproductive rights, or being safe from harassment/abuse/domestic violence/stalking/rape/etc by not understanding some little bit of Dworkin you skimmed on an MRA website, you have failed. Game over.

Oh wait, I was talking about well-meaning men. Just Google “feminism 101” and have at.