Lesson Four: The legalization of prostitution is a necessary human rights issue that will not win anyone a Nobel Peace Prize

Sold

by Patricia McCormick

Lesson: The legalization of prostitution is a necessary human rights issue that will not win anyone a Nobel Peace Prize.

Our English department had an administrator (she has since moved on) who wanted to keep the book Sold on the curriculum but thought that teachers should teach it without the sex and rape parts. Her view was that the content was too mature for tenth graders, but that the book had literary value, and that it did a good job of exposing students to Nepali culture and so on. For those of you who haven’t read the book (I recommend that you do), it’s titled Sold because the young girl gets literally sold by her step-father to a brothel in India (it’s unclear whether he knows he’s selling her to a brothel, or into some other form of indentured servitude. It’s pretty clear that he doesn’t care, one way or the other.) So our orders were to teach a book titled Sold, about a girl who gets sold and forced into prostitution, but to leave out the rape parts.

The book Night was also on the tenth-grade curriculum, and nobody was being asked to teach it without mentioning the brutalization-and-genocide parts. I think sex is seen as more of a taboo than violence – in other words, literary scenes of brutal torture are more likely to be given a pass than scenes of brutal rape, especially of a protagonist who was about the same age as the tenth graders reading the book.

That said, Sold isn’t particularly graphic. The book doesn’t shy away from the fact that Lakshmi, and many other girls, were raped, but it was in no way a book written purely for “shock value.” Patricia McCormick wrote the book to help shed light on a very real problem, especially in Asia, the Middle East, and Eastern Europe, but also in the United States, Canada, and just about anywhere where prostitution is illegal.

When I first read this book, probably back in 2010 or so, I became obsessed with researching modern human smuggling. Turns out, it’s much less risky than smuggling drugs or guns (traffickers can claim that the girl is their niece and pay off border agents); the girls are desperately poor and uneducated; they are lied to and believe they are taking jobs as house-keepers or sometimes strippers; they are drugged and raped; if ever they were to escape, they don’t even know where their village geographically is, they would likely be arrested by local authorities on the spot, and, should they make it back to their village, they will likely be treated as a pariah for the rest of their lives. This is a very common story, but because it has to do with sex, we treat it the same way we treat people with profound physical disabilities – we just don’t look.

By legalizing prostitution, you take away the incentive for traffickers to risk kidnapping and raping girls. There will always be women willing to sell sex, just as there will always be men willing to buy it. I don’t expect the person who takes up legalizing prostitution as a passion-project to win the Nobel Peace Prize, but they should. Young, poor, village girls are having their lives destroyed in the most brutal and uncaring ways imaginable. It would take fairly simple legislative action to eliminate much of it.

How do recent graduates perceive high school – commentary

Here are three conclusions that I have come to based on a survey I gave which aimed to answer the question “How do recent high school graduates perceive high school?” (some caveats, along with the raw data, here):

 

Respondents’ feelings towards high school are inconsistent.

When asked what the first three words are that come to mind when thinking about high school, 41% of the words were positively connotated (e.g. fun, friends, exciting, informative), 24% were negatively connotated (e.g. boring, isolating, cruel, torture), and 35% had a neutral connotation (e.g. homework, class, rugby, ESL). In terms of this question, as well as viewing the survey as a whole, about a third of respondents gave contradicting answers in their responses. Examples include:

 

Fun; isolating

Hard; Easy; Fulfilling; Unnecessary

Fun; fear

[What I loved most was] teachers; [the worst thing about school was my] teacher was rude to me

 

Again, referring to the question that asked what the first three words are that come to mind when thinking about high school, one respondent answered boring, boring, boring; that same person claimed that gym class was the only thing they loved about school. Another respondent, who loved being able to take AP/IB classes and participate in after-school clubs, cited gym class as the thing they most hated about high school. Several people mentioned how unnecessarily long and tedious school is, both in terms of the school day and the full four years, and (I believe related) most valued human relationships and control over the curriculum – even as the second most common thread, it still was only true that 72% of respondents cited friends or teachers as the most valued aspect of their high school experience, and for some of them, those were also their most hated aspect of high school. For example, one respondent cited friends and being social as the aspects of high school that they loved the most, but also resented having to be forced into contact with people: many times you had to be in a group whether or not you fit in as the aspect they hated the most.

 

Most respondents see more value in human relationships than in curriculum.

Of all the respondents, 72% reported relationships with people (usually friends, sometimes teachers or teachers and friends) as a valuable aspect of high school. One respondent, who described high school as intense, amazing, growth, wrote that she loved:

The opportunity to travel, the chance to make friends from around the world, the people (especially the staff)

although she also admitted:

[What I hated the most about high school was] the ‘culture’ surrounding the things I participated in. When I think about the things I did, it was very inaccessible to many of the students in my high school. A lot of the extracurriculars were expensive, the classes were advertised as elite and for ‘smart kids’. Therefore the representation within these classes was limited. (Mind you, my school was very ‘diverse’)

and two out of three changes she would make are curricular:

First, I would have more practical class options (how to file your taxes, current affairs, math for entrepreneurship etc); Second, I would give more money to the debate program (I think all students should have access to activities that allow them to critically thinking about given subjects and topics from two different perspectives…and clearly articulate this)

Many of the 72% simply wrote friends or teachers as things they loved the most about school. It was fairly typical for respondents to be more critical of the actual school programming, more so than of peer socialization or relationships with teachers:

I didn’t learn practical skills that I could use today. I still don’t really know how to do my taxes.

and

[I loved] the friendships and relationships I made; [I hated] how unnecessary a lot of [high school is]

and

A lot of classes that I took were useless to me.

and

lots of busy work and not much respect for ambition

and

High school hardly exposed me to any career options, or to what the real world was going to be like. Also, every class lacked substance. I felt like I was taught to memorize and spit back a lot of information, but I was never asked to think about life or values or any other serious conversation. [I hated being] stressed out by things that were really inconsequential.

Respondents generally prefer freedom to choose what to learn and which classes to take, and are happier when they exercise the limited power that they do have over their curriculum.

When asked the question, “Should students have the freedom to decide how to spend their time while in school?”, 78% (n=25) answered yes and 22% (n=7) answered no. Also, respondents who stated or implied that they were in ESL, AP, IB, or explorations programs, which are all classes that have (at least the perception) of student choice, were also more likely to have a favorable view of school, overall (ESL isn’t always “voluntary”, but if you’re responding to this survey in English, my assumption is at some point you wanted to learn English, and would have elected to take ESL classes. I admit this is an inference, not hard data). Many respondents mentioned a lack of curricular choice as a negative aspect of school throughout the survey, not just in the final few questions that directly addressed this topic. 

Below is a fairly representative sample of reasons respondents gave for answering no:

A respondent, who revealed that she is going to school to be a teacher, had concerns about social media addiction:

Knowing students at this point in time, even including myself, we are all attached to our phones, laptops or any other device. By giving students the freedom to decide what they do with their time, I won’t deny that some of them would study, but some other, they would be all day in their phones.

Another respondent was more direct:

You go to school to study not to have a good time.

One respondent admitted (which I found incredibly interesting, in light of the over 5,000 hours one spends in high school):

It really doesn’t matter either way.

 

A fairly representative sample of respondents who answered yes:

teachers should be there to help students navigate school – not to personally drive them through it. Students are fully capable of driving themselves to answers and revelations; they may just need a little push in the right direction.

One respondent, who wrote that being stuck in class was the aspect of high school that she hated the most, that school didn’t prepare her for a good life, and that every year was the same as the last, also said:

Explorations [an off-campus apprenticeship program] senior year in an architecture firm. I worked on one project the whole year with 3 other students. And two of the employees there were our mentors. We then presented our project to a bunch of professionals at the company who critiqued us. It taught me teamwork, presentations skills, and a bit about what I do and don’t enjoy professionally, and also made for good recommendation letters.

[High school] needs to cater more to individual students and their different abilities and ways of learning. For example, I always had good grades in all my classes. I was always in AP and honors and did well. But I skipped classes a lot because being tied down for four years to the same thing was so boring. If I had more of a choice I think I wouldn’t have done that. Skipping class made me feel like I had more control – and I didn’t care that I skipped because I was still able to get the grades I wanted. Some people learn great by reading a book and listening to a teacher and taking an exam, but some students get bored of sitting still and doing the same thing for four years. There should be an option. I could have learned and passed with flying colors everything I did in high school in two years instead of four. The other two years should have been spent with something hands on, more active, and more interesting. It would definitely have done a lot more to help with the real world and college.

High school does not teach enough critical thinking skills – if it did it would have more of an impact on people.

Another student, who had previously described high school as trash and limiting, reported:

I think if we let students explore more via electives at the high school level, it will save them time and money in college

I hated reading in school, but now I LOVE it, books are the only windows into finding a better future. I would have kids read more personal development books and less “literature”. Authors like Malcolm Gladwell and Cal Newport will have more of an impact at a developmental stage than Shakespeare.

 

Conclusion

It’s ironic to me that so many respondents found personal relationships with friends the most rewarding part of high school, considering it has been my observation that teachers spend a considerable amount of time and energy keeping students from socializing and instead, focused on the very important task of learning those things that respondents largely found irrelevant.

Perhaps the best way to transform high school into something more universally and consistently valuable would be to allow students to define the terms of their own graduation. The median age of the respondents was 22 years old – enough time had gone by for them to think about the impact of high school, but not so long that they forgot many details. Many of them reflected that control over what goes into their brain and freedom of association with friends and adults would add considerable value to their high school experience, and that the majority of actual instruction is mostly a waste.

A second, more practical option, is described in great detail in the second half of my book. In a nutshell – even in the state of New York, with its draconian public school requirements, it is possible to offer much more freedom and choice to students and staff, while still meeting state and union requirements. It would take considerable trust between administrators, teachers, the school board, and the community, as well as a deeply held belief that the student is the most important aspect of the learning process…but it can be done.

 

Voluntary Socialism

Here is something I’ve been thinking about for a while, and I’m not sure I have a handle on it, so I welcome your thoughts.

On one hand, for virtually everybody, the world is the safest and most comfortable its ever been. It is less violent than it was a thousand or a hundred or fifty years ago. There’s more food, technically enough to feed the world, despite there being 7.6 billion of us. Virtually everyone has electricity and electronics. Houses with heating and cooling technology. Cars and planes. Flush toilets and running water. Despite all the doom-and-gloom rhetoric (which one might scribe on their ipad, connected to Starbuck’s wifi, whilst sipping a soy latte), this is objectively, in a real measurable way, the easiest time for a person to be alive on this planet.

On the other hand, so many of us are miserable, lonely, and living without purpose. The rates of suicide and depression are up. A third of us are obese. We think nothing of giving our children up to agents of the state from ages five to eighteen, and if they resist too much, we tell them that they have School Refusal Disorder. Then we think nothing of sequestering our elderly away in geriatric daycare centers, effectively sweeping under the rug our past and our future.

Take the phenomenon of mass shootings, and especially school shootings (this is related, so bear with me). I’m not interested in arguing about guns or gun laws or SSRIs/mental health at this moment – try, if you can, to clear your mind of such things, and just think about why mass shootings have such a profound effect on our collective psyche. Many other shootings besides mass shootings happen all over the country. Today is January twelfth – so far, in the month of January, seventy-seven people have been shot and eighteen killed in Chicago alone (there were 675 homicides in Chicago in 2017). Or, even more mundane, the US dropped a 500 pound bomb meant to kill two ISIS snipers, and (whoopsie) killed over a hundred civilians.

Mass shootings of the type that have most grip our imagination – I’m talking of the Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Columbine variety – do not compute. That’s why we talk about everything else – access to firearms, mental illness, pharmaceuticals, bullying, etc., because what else do we say? What do you say about the level of nihilism it takes for a person to coldly kill as many unarmed people as possible, sometimes children, before killing themselves? We understand gang wars and ISIS snipers. We don’t like it, but we understand it.

And how do we reconcile that nihilism with the unbelievable, unprecedented comfort and prosperity that nearly everyone on earth enjoys? And especially the ones doing the mass shootings? Look at the top twenty deadliest mass shootings in the United States – nearly all of them were committed by middle class or wealthy people, a bit more than half of them white, all of them men, and most of them born in America. It doesn’t get much more comfortable than that.

This planet is more safe and comfortable compared to any other point in history because technology has rendered tribalism obsolete. We don’t need our children or our elderly around us for survival, and they don’t need us. We literally could live to a hundred and go our entire life without a meaningful relationship with anyone. Not only is it possible, it’s probable, since we don’t need anyone to get the things we need for comfortable survival, there is no incentive to build these relationships. A return to tribalism isn’t the answer, either. Where great violence and genocide still exist, it is made possible by unyielding allegiance to some religious, or political, or social, or some other ideology.

A policy of individualism makes the world a safer, more just place. The choice of living only for yourself absolves you of responsibility and gives life little purpose. It leads to anxiety and depression, in many cases leads people to medicate (or self-medicate), and in extreme cases ends in suicide. Which is why I’m playing with the idea of “voluntary socialism”, with the understanding that I’m not using the word “socialism” in a precise way (“collectivism” sounds worse, and “tribalism” might connote violence). Pick a different word, if you’d like.

I think this could only work with a relatively small group – forty-ish people, maximum. An extreme manifestation of “voluntary socialism” might be some kind of communal living with extended family, or several extended families, all on the same farm or in the same apartment complex. A few simpler, more practical suggestions might be:

  • A community lawnmower/snowblower. Have one set of these common items in a centralized shed that everyone on the block uses and is responsible for maintaining.
  • Monthly gatherings of people in the neighborhood: parties, barbecues, work groups, semi-social self-betterment clubs, book clubs, etc.
  • Homeschool cooperatives.
  • Community gardens.
  • Neighborhood sports clubs.
  • Maybe monthly dues, or an emergency fund, that goes towards a community member in the event of a fire, car-emergency, caved in roof, etc. Not exactly sure the most equitable way of running something like that, but the idea of the group taking on responsibility for a member in trouble, particularly with their home or transportation, is appealing.

I’ll conclude with an emphasis on voluntary. If someone doesn’t want to join, it is not ethical to force them. If someone wants to leave the group, you have to let them. This is why “socialism” isn’t a precise word – coercion is built into socialist systems. However, choosing a community to take responsibility for, who reciprocates by taking responsibility for you, is making the choice to build strong relationships with a relatively small group of people, and to live for something bigger than yourself. It gives life joy and meaning. The great thing about a free society that focuses on the importance of the individual is that it gives us the opportunity to make choices that are good for ourselves and our family. Choosing to live for something bigger than yourself is a smart choice.

The five things that I will explicitly teach my boys

My wife Ramita and I don’t “unschool” our five- and seven-year-old boys in the strictest sense, but I’d say our family has the spirit of self-direction. With the exception of violin, we don’t go out of our way to give them structured lessons in anything that they don’t ask for. We read to them almost every day, we try to get outside as much as we can, and we put them in sports and swimming lessons, all of which they look forward to and love. They do math worksheets, puzzles, writing, science, and lately a ton of sewing and embroidering, all on their own.

That said, there are five things I’m going to explicitly teach my boys, with or without their consent – and not just a single lesson, but many sneaky little lessons. I’ll slip into their psyche like a ninja and calibrate their sense of normalcy, without their permission, even if I have to give up my Self-Directed-Educator’s-Card to do it.

For ease of understanding, I’ve put the lessons’ content objective in red.

War Memorials & War Movies

The first time I ever really noticed how many statues commemorating war there are in our area was two summers ago. My oldest was in an art class, so I took my youngest on a walk around the city. There were at least six in a half mile radius. Now that I’m paying attention, there are war memorials everywhere.

I’m not hating on veterans (I am one). I’m just saying – is there any other possible thing in our community we could commemorate? A philanthropist? An explorer? An inventor? A self-made millionaire? A poet? Anything?

I know boys crave adventure, excitement, and risk. I know I did, and I know my boys do. They are already asking me about war, and telling me that they can’t wait to go themselves, and I’ve literally told them nothing about my experience. I’m firmly against this country’s never-ending aggression and occupation of countries that have no means of attacking us; however, the military often is a valuable experience for young people. It was for me. On the other hand, it doesn’t have to be the only option on the table. There are dozens of ways that a boy can become a man besides military service, but that’s hard to see when you’re raised in the shadow of thirty foot tall war memorials.

Social Media & Dopamine

It is very possible that I am wrong on this one. I say that because there are many people in the SDE world, who I consider to be extremely intelligent and well-read, who believe that the dangers of screen time for kids is overblown, and that most kids will learn to self-regulate after a few days or weeks of over-indulging. Maybe that’s more true of video games than it is of social media (Peter Gray argues for the cognitive benefits of playing video games). I don’t play video games anymore, but I played plenty as a kid, and I doubt as though they are tearing away the fabric of society. However, if the argument is that social media is completely innocuous, then I disagree – that is, it may be true that some kids can do that, but I don’t think most can (many adults struggle, too). I can boil it down to two points:

  1. There are people who are being paid millions of dollars whose expressed job is to get you to stay on social media for as long as possible. They are exploiting dopamine loops and literally rewiring your brain. These are brilliant people whose job it is to alter your chemistry to make it more difficult to put down your device. I don’t think kids have a realistic chance at resisting this
  2. Many of the top paid tech people do not allow their kids to have devices, do not use social media themselves, and send their kids to Waldorf schools. Don’t trust a skinny chef.

 

“We compound the problem. We curate our lives around this perceived sense of perfection because we get rewarded in these short-term signals – hearts, likes, thumbs-up – and we conflate that with value and we conflate it with truth. And instead what it really is is fake, brittle popularity, that’s short-term, and that leaves you – admit it – more vacant and empty than before you did it. Because then it forces you into this vicious cycle of ‘what’s the next thing I have to do now?’…You don’t realize it, but you are being programmed.” ~Chamath Palihapitiya

College Loans & Credit Cards

You sign on for a hundred grand or more in student loans and you are agreeing to serfdom. Credit cards are poisonous. I don’t feel like I need to explain these points further.

Fast Food & Other Garbage

Similar to the screen time/dopamine argument – a young kid or a teenager has no defense against sugar. We are programmed genetically to like sweet and salty, but that was never a problem because in our evolutionary past we could never get our hands on too much of it. Now they dump forty grams of sugar or so in a soda, which is basically just water and carbonation, and charge a couple bucks for it. How are you supposed to fight that as a seven year old? You can’t, and that’s not an accident. They want you hooked. According to the .gov, a third of Americans are obese. BMI is unreliable, so call it a quarter of us, if you’d like. Fast food and other manufacturers of garbage food care about how much of their product you buy, not about your health.

Automotive Safety

OK, so not as sexy as war memorials, but a huge concern. When I let my kids outside by themselves, which I think is important, I’m not worried about sexual predators or kidnappers even a hundredth of how much I worry about them getting hit by a car. When they get older, odds are that they or a friend will have the urge to drive recklessly. When I was fifteen, I told my parents I was going one place and I wound up going another. I got into a car with a sixteen-year-old who, long story short, flipped the car over twice. My hand got caught between the roof of the car and the road, although somehow all I lost was a fingernail. We were both extremely fortunate, however, nothing can change your life quicker, and more permanently, than a bad car accident.

What secondary school could learn from Joe Rogan

 

“Here’s the craziest thing about life. This is the thing that nobody really considers: You know as much about what life is all about as anybody who’s ever lived, ever. That’s the craziest thing about us. We’re all just kinda wandering through this, going, “You know what you’re doing?” “Yes” “Oh, I do, too. I know what I’m doing.” “Okay. Good, then.” But really no one has a fucking clue.” ~Joe Rogan

 

The Joe Rogan Experience podcast is a long form conversation hosted by comedian, UFC color commentator, and actor Joe Rogan with friends and guests that have included comedians, actors, musicians, MMA instructors and commentators, authors, artists, and porn stars. By “long form” they mean up to three hours of conversation. It’s a wildly popular podcast – Rogan has said he gets thirty million downloads a month. Besides the content itself, there are a number of things that schools could learn from the Joe Rogan Experience:

It’s three hours of conversation

Joe Rogan’s audience are obviously not a bunch of dummies, but there’s nothing to suggest they are all serious academics. About 10% of us have been diagnosed with ADHD, so out of thirty million downloads a month there may be three million who have been told they can’t sit still without medication, listening to up to three hours of Joe chatting with hunters, fighters, musicians, professors, scientists, authors, medical doctors, conspiracy theorists, actors, and all manner of folks who have been fired from their jobs. At thirty million downloads a month, statistically speaking, most listeners are probably just regular, everyday, curious people.

What schools could learn from this is that it’s not necessary to structure secondary classes at 45 minutes each, with five minutes of an “anticipatory set/do-now”, ten minutes “direct instruction”, fifteen minutes “release the lesson”, ten minutes of assessment, and five minutes for an “exit ticket.” In school, it’s common practice to not stay on one thing for any amount of time, because the assumption is that teenagers are incapable of focus. Teenagers are definitely more impulsive and (especially young men) more prone to risk-taking than grown adults, but I’d argue that they are more adult than child. I’ve run an after school program that was basically a “Socratic Seminar” that lasted for three hours at a time, and the fifteen-years-olds reported that time flew by.

In other words, they aren’t antsy because they are incapable – they are antsy because (mostly) they are being forced to engage with irrelevant and uninteresting factoids that are completely devoid of context.

Rogan is not married to a particular line of questioning

The word “knowledge” actually means “to take some action with the things we know” and had a spiritual or religious connotation (from https://www.etymonline.com/word/knowledge):

“early 12c., cnawlece ‘acknowledgment of a superior, honor, worship;’ for first element see know (v.). The second element is obscure, perhaps from Scandinavian and cognate with the -lock ‘action, process,'”

Rogan has boundless, genuine curiosity – I believe that’s how he’s attracted such an eclectic mix of guests on his show. I also believe that’s part of the reason why so many people tune in – we are all curious creatures, by nature. However, he has also embraced this definition of “knowledge.” He does not abstain from facts – he has an assistant who fact-checks online in real time. But his show isn’t simply a lecture on the things that we all already could find on a google search. It is an action or a process, such as a journey, with his guests and with facts as we know them. He positions himself as a seeker as opposed to a knower, which I believe is both a more enlightened, and a more pragmatic, way to approach education.

What schools need to recognize is that we’re doing the opposite. We are positioning ourselves as knowers (“content experts”) who have an agenda for students (“content and skill objectives”) and we already know the answers to the test that’s coming at the end of the unit. It’s all a dead end.

I don’t want to give the wrong idea – we don’t want to Socratic-seminar our way through brain surgery or piloting a jet. But we only have one brain, one body, and five senses, with which to experience this universe. These are ultimately our tools for doing things such as surgery on brains. We aren’t computers to be programmed – we’re humans, and as the word “knowledge” once connoted, it is a form of honor and worship to take the things we know and to have sport with them.

It’s consensual

Nobody has ever tried to bribe or threaten me with grades, detention, suspension, or “honor roll juice and bagels” to coerce me into listening to an episode of the Joe Rogan Experience. Somehow, despite the conspicuous lack of a report card, JRE gets thirty million downloads a month.

The Ideal Public Education System Would Allow Students to Define Their Own Graduation

The Ideal Public Education System Would Allow Students to Define Their Own Graduation

In New York, where I teach, High School students are required to accumulate these 22 credits (one credit equals one year) in order to graduate:

  • English (4)
  • Social Studies (US History (1) Participation in Government (1/2) Economics (1/2) Other (2)= 4 total)
  • Science (Life Science (1 or 2) Physical Science (1 or 2) = 3 total)
  • Mathematics (3)
  • Languages other than English (1)
  • Visual Art, Music, Dance, Theater (1)
  • Physical Education (2)
  • Health (1/2)
  • Electives (3 ½)
    • = 22 Credits

In addition to these 22 credits, students must take and pass five regents examinations with a 65% or higher: English, Math, Global History, US History, and Science. There are some exceptions to these rules, and I admit that graduation criteria in New York are less flexible than many other states. However, there is no state (that I’m aware of) that allows students (in conjunction with their families, mentors, and the school) to define their own graduation.

The ideal public education system would allow students to define their own graduation:

  1. Note the specific and arbitrary nature of these graduation requirements, as in the number of credits, the subjects, even the number of years in school. This creates an environment that naturally favors some students over others in terms of interests and aptitudes, and leaves no room for flexibility (how absurd is it that, all else being equal, 3 English credits and 4 Math credits means you don’t graduate). Students are held up from internships and CTE due to, e.g., a single science credit. Also, as it stands now, academic subjects are heavily favored over the arts and physical education (see Ken Robinson if you haven’t already). That being said, I wouldn’t be happy if the script flipped and 15 of the credits were in the arts and 3 credits were required in traditional academics, because that’s just doing the same thing differently. It makes no sense that a single governing agency gets to decide specifically and arbitrarily what every student in New York has to sit through, and for how long and to what standards.
  2. There is nothing wrong with any of the things listed in the requirements, or their accompanying standards. There is nothing wrong with tests, per se, although these Regents exams have many structural flaws. That they exist isn’t the problem; that they are required, by someone else, for you, is. Consent is necessary for a respectful educational experience, and I don’t see any way around it: if we are to maintain a system of public schooling, but introduce the concepts of consent and mutual respect, then we must allow students, in conjunction with families etc., to define their own graduation requirements.
  3. Public school funding calculations derive, in large part (usually), from the number of students enrolled. The onus would then be on the school to create interesting, useful, and otherwise worthwhile programming that students would choose and thus remain in school; or else, if nothing important was happening on their schedule, they’d graduate themselves. Conversely, schools would have the power to offer those kinds of interesting things, because they wouldn’t be tethered to specific and arbitrary requirements.
  4. What about college? Colleges still have admissions officers, and students are still willing and eager to further their education. Those students will continue to skew towards an academic track – no need to panic, algebra and Shakespeare will likely remain somewhere in the book of course offerings. I work a lot with refugees and ENL students – many of them seem to find comfort in the familiarity of a traditional, classical education, as found in many places in Asia. “High performers” in the existing system will continue to be high performers in my proposed system, with the added benefit that students who don’t fit the classic school mold will also be high performers, in their own right.
  5. What about poor kids? School people (teachers, administrators, etc.) typically want what’s best for kids. The institution of school wants four year graduation rates to be at a certain percentage, and pressures the humans that it pays to achieve it, often by any means necessary. In my proposed system, where students may define their own graduation, graduation rates would effectively be at 100%. School systems could then stop doing data yoga for the sake of metrics, and school people could get back to the business of helping kids.

I welcome your thoughts 🙂

 

 

To whom it may concern at NYSED and the Board of Regents

TO: New York State Education Department

CC: Board of Regents

 

To whom it may concern,

There is no need to stand on ceremony – below you will find a short list of grievances:

  1. Two days ago (June 13th, 2017) I proctored an exam for English as a New Language (ENL) students until 8:30 at night. They had been taking exams since 8:30 in the morning. I didn’t take common core math, but I still know that’s 12 hours of coloring in bubbles and completing other people’s idea of an authentic assessment. I say again: ENL students were taking paper-and-pen standardized tests for 12 hours straight, in a language other than their own, with graduation on the line (I’ve had, in the past, proctored from 8:30am until past midnight). If the students fail, they will be sentenced to another year of school. For perspective: if a parent were to homeschool their adult son or daughter, and forced them to sit and do an activity of the parent’s choosing for 12 to 16 hours, then made a decision whether or not that child could leave the house and go to college based on the outcome of this arbitrary assessment, then you would take the CPS call seriously. Consider this grievance my CPS call on you.
  2. Requiring students to take these tests fits the definition of bullying, that is, the use of superior power or influence to force someone to do something they don’t want to do. In the case of the latest Common Core English Regents, specifically Part 2 (the argument essay), students were prompted to agree or disagree with this statement: Should school recess be structured play? Students then had four texts to read and were instructed to use three out of four of these texts to support their position for or against structured play during recess. Three out of four of these texts were biased towards structured recess, and the text that supported unstructured recess was the shortest of the four. Students were bullied into taking this test, and pushed towards putting into writing that they’d prefer their only free time in the day to be commandeered by adults. Students are told what to do with their minds and their bodies all day long, with the exception of recess. Students have no opportunity to make decisions for themselves, not even to use the bathroom, without the leave of a teacher, and now they are being threatened with not graduating if they don’t write down, and cite with evidence, that they want even less control over their own destiny. This is the equivalent of an oversized bully pushing a smaller kid’s face in the dirt and threatening not to stop until they write, in blue or black ink and with proper citations, why this is for their own good.

I have a suggestion for the argument essay on next year’s English Regents: Is it ever ethical to break the rules? The infringement on individual sovereignty can only go so far and last for so long before the people eventually fight back, and I have the sense that this time is soon.

I also feel that it would take very little for students to win against you – one or two sets of five students or more will withdraw from school, form groups, put themselves through their own courses of study, and be accepted to any college a traditional high school graduate would be accepted, probably in less time and definitely with a better set of experiences. Once the community starts to see that this is possible, more students will withdraw, and your system will become unsustainable.       

Please know that I write this with love in my heart.

 

Sincerely,

Brian Huskie

National Board Certified Teacher, AYA/English Language Arts

 

Please wait...

Huskies Heroes Biweekly Newsletter!

Anything else would be uncivilized!