Oscar’s Spectacular Soup


My son’s first blog post. He’s 7 years old. He decided a few months ago to make a soup, so I guided as little as possible and let him make all the decisions. He wrote down his recipe in his journal, and the soup tasted pretty good! Then we talked about how to improve the recipe for a final version and about the idea of making a big recipe poster as a homeschooling project. He liked the idea. He remade his soup, again with very little interference from me. The result was a delicious, simple soup, within the capabilities of a 7-year-old, and some good writing practice at the same time!

Originally posted on Oscar's World Blog:

This is my recipe for a really good soup. I hope you try it. There are a lot of vegetables included. I made this soup all by myself. I even cut the vegetables myself. We grew all the vegetables in our garden. I help take care of the garden. My soup is healthy and delicious.

Here is the recipe for my soup. Here is the recipe for my soup.

This picture shows me cutting vegetables. This picture shows me cutting vegetables.

IMG_2412 Here is my rough draft for the recipe.

View original

Keeping the Doorways Open

Mac Barnett, children’s book author and self-proclaimed liar to children, opens his TED talk with a quote by Pablo Picasso.

We all know that Art is not truth. Art is a lie that makes us realize truth or at least the truth that is given us to understand. The artist must know the manner whereby to convince others of the truthfulness of his lies.

I listened to a podcast of Barnett’s TED talk in the car recently. It was one of the most endearing TED talks I’ve heard in a long time, full of humor and sincerity and passion for his subject. When I wasn’t laughing out loud, I was smiling ear to ear. That he poked fun at Venn diagrams had me hooked on his sense of humor, but I also connected deeply with what he was saying. Art, books, stories, myths–they get us to a place somewhere between truth and lies, a place he calls wonder, a place where some semblance of the truth causes us to suspend our beliefs and embrace the story and the characters. We know they aren’t real; but we know that they are real. Stories are a doorway for us to enter into worlds where our understanding of truth can be beautifully and artfully molded. But as Barnett explains during his lively presentation, these doorways should not just be to allow us to enter; they should allow the fiction to escape and come out into the real world. He says that kids are the perfect audience for literary fiction.

Coincidentally, Barnett discusses his first job at a pirate supply store, a front for a publishing company and writing center located in a San Francisco district zoned for retail, because pirates happen to be the center of my own lies! The importance of art and authors and the work being done on Valencia Street in San Francisco merits discussion, especially in this time of academic rigor, a monoculture of standards, and the reduction of free play and creativity. But that is for another post. My story begins with a normal childhood obsession with all things pirates.

I think my son was around 4 when I began the myth I had been a pirate. His fascination with pirates, with treasure, and with the concept of exploration and discovery, led to treasure walks around our village. In his four-year-old mind, X naturally marked the spot so I would wrap pennies in white paper and mark the outside with a bold, red X. These I would carry in my pocket while we walked. It was easy to distract him while I tossed a wrapped penny into our path, or set one on a nearby wall or tree stump. It was also easy to direct his attention to these treasures should he miss one. He was four; the myth was simple!

His infatuation with the small treasures that seemed to appear all over our village piqued his curiosity and he began adding his own elements to the story, deciding that our house was inhabited by ghost pirates that he claimed must be the ones leaving the treasures because they knew how much he loved treasure. He questioned me constantly, and my mundane adult answers simply did not interest him. He ignored them and kept asking. So I told him a lie. I told him I used to be a pirate, and while I couldn’t be 100% sure, it was most likely that there were pirate spirits visiting us from members of my old crew. It was at that point that pirate messages began appearing under his pillow or taped to his bedroom door, always written in scrawling pirate script on torn pieces of paper, which I dutifully translated for him.

All of this culminated in a pirate treasure hunt for my son and a few of his friends. My son received a note in advance notifying him that he would soon receive a map by mail for him and his friends so they could locate treasure of their own. Years earlier, in my artist life before children, I had cast handmade flax paper, which was still stored in my studio. On this, I drew a map of our village in India ink, designating spots of interest that would be part of the treasure hunt. I antiqued the paper and mailed this to my son along with instructions for him and his friend to meet at a certain time, in a certain place.  This, of course, was our house, and the parents of the children were informed of the ploy in advance.

That morning, I left my son home while I went out and hid clues and small treasures at different locations around town. The children were given an initial clue, which upon solving would take them to a location in the village, where they would find a small treasure and yet another clue. There were gold coins in front of the bank, Jolly Roger flags by the flagpole at the school, a key at a local business, small shovels at the ice cream shop called Get the Scoop, and the final clue was from the village major who lived across the street from our house. He directed them across the road to follow the dotted line to the treasure.

My husband had secretly built a wooden treasure chest, which we filled with trinkets, fake coins and gems, as well as inexpensive compasses and telescopes. While we were out following clues, he buried the chest in a predesignated location and marked the spot with an X. The children were thrilled to see a dotted line painted across our lawn. They ran to follow it to the X, and immediately began excavating the earth underneathThe key they had obtained while clue following fit into a large cast iron padlock that I had found on Amazon, and that now securely locked the chest.

My son talked about this adventure for months, asking more questions, and being easily satisfied with quick answers, such as What was your ship called?”

“It was the Magnificent.”

His interest in pirates slowly dwindled. His fifth birthday party was pirate themed, but his intense interest in the notion of his mom as a pirate died away. He still has the chest and the lock, where he keeps his own treasures, but the cheap items from the treasure hunt gradually lost their appeal. It was obvious they were fakes and I didn’t expect the truth of the myth to last for long. There even came a time when he asked me if his dad had built the chest, a fact which I wholly denied! For a while, there was little talk about pirates, and very few questions.


My son will be eight in January, and it makes sense that he doesn’t believe. But for some reason, he has rekindled his interest in my life as a pirate. He doesn’t believe (he can’t believe, right?); but he does believe. He wants to believe. I answered his question about my pirate name. I told him my pirates never use their real names. I was Mavis Dae. He asked why I don’t have any treasure. I told him pirates forfeit their treasure if they choose to go back to civilian life. He inquired about an old brass key we have in our house. I have no idea where it came from or what it’s for, but when I told him this he would not accept it. So I told another lie. I told him that when pirates hide their treasure they deliver the key to a retired pirate who has no knowledge of the location of the treasure is hidden or what it contains. I also told him that the map is delivered to yet another retiree, and that only the captain knows the identities of the two and that one day pirates might come looking for the key on behalf of their captain.

My son wants to hear stories about those pirate days of my life. He laughed when I told him how I had once tied the leather bootlaces of a pirate captain while he slept so I could raid his cabin, and how he fell flat on his face when he awoke to find my thieving and tried to stand up. My son keeps my pirate secret, but is thrilled to tell the story when I give him permission to tell it to a trusted friend. He still laughs when he tells the bootlaces story. I’m not sure if he really believes, but I know that choosing to believe and being part of this reality is more fun than not believing. And I will keep going with the myth, with keeping the doorway open for as long as he wants it that way. Because why shouldn’t children have the opportunity to believe in fiction, to embrace the magic that stories create?

In the words of Barnett, “It’s a little bit of fiction that has colonized the real world.” I hope that even when my son is grown, that the treasure chest his father built will still contain a little bit of the magic that helped shape his childhood.

Prepares Your Child for Standardized Tests!

I did a casual Amazon search for math curriculum that might help guide me in teaching my son at home. I wasn’t looking for anything particular, but one of the top results caught my eye. It was a DK book series called Math Made Easy. The previous link takes you to the second grade book, but all the books tout the same “benefits” of  buying this book including:

  1. Prepares your child for standardized tests
  2. Supports National Council of Teachers of Mathematics Standards
  3. Builds math confidence
  4. Includes parental notes and answers

So the number one reason to buy this book is to prepare your child for standardized tests.  It isn’t until number three that the book purports to help your child in any way! And this is a book intended to be used at home to practice skills learned in school, according to the description. That makes sense. The major skill taught in school is to do well on standardized tests. Forget curiosity. Forget the deep desire to engage in real learning. Nope, learn how to answer test questions. That’s all that matters, so why focus on anything else?

When one starts looking at curriculum products, it becomes apparent that the main selling point is that the products promise to prepare children to do better on Common Core assessments. Take the Ready New York CCLS products from Curriculum Associates. Of course their product provides “rigorous” instruction. But they go on to say “It Works!”:

In states like New York that are already using the program, Ready is already making a huge, positive impact. A recent study in New York found that schools using Ready had a significantly higher percentage of students achieving proficiency on the new 2013 Common Core state assessment than schools that did not use Ready.

There you have it folks. If your goal to to produce students with higher test scores, then Ready might be your product… at a price, of course.

Let me switch gears here for a moment and talk about one type of assessment that students are being prepared for in school. These are state-approved, third-party computer-based assessments that schools in NYS are required to use. They are often used for pre-testing, post-testing, and various benchmarking along the way. We already know that our schools have spent more to implement Race to the Top mandates than they received through the grant program. Part of the spending goes toward the purchase of a chosen assessment system. My school chose STAR, a product by Renaissance Learning. But this expenditure isn’t a one-time deal. These assessments require more computers and bandwidth, with constant maintenance and upgrades. The software itself is already becoming obsolete and Renaissance Learning is kind enough to offer current STAR customers an “affordable upgrade” to the latest STAR 360 products. Where does it stop? And when is enough simply enough? As far as corporate profiteering is concerned—never. And until the testing obsession stops, we cannot expect to stop spending for the latest technology and software to support the testing.

Read more about why I opted out of STAR assessments here.

Read more about these types of tests and the considerations about refusing them here.

And, more about these tests here.

The desire to produce successful test takers has led to various forms of celebratory dances, psyche-you-up songs (here’s another) (and another) (and yet another), the promise of special parties, and threats to take away privileges if students opt out. At my school, children in one grade were rewarded with over-sized, fake $10 bills for every ten points they raised their STAR score. The sad part was that the children were quite aware of where they stood in comparison to their peers.

New York State made history this year when approximately 200,000 students refused to take the state tests in grades 3-8. This boycott isn’t likely to subside anytime soon, but in addition to this type of opt out, we need more parents to ask serious questions about all types of testing being done in school and evaluate the so-called merits of these tests. Furthermore, we need more parents to say no to these unnecessary standardized tests and pound the nail into the coffin of corporate influence in our schools. If no one takes the tests, the assessment products are no longer needed as well as the supplemental test prep products and everything else tied to the culture where test scores currently reign supreme.


For I Am The Chosen One


This morning I woke up with the clarity, I imagine, can only be achieved after years of deep meditative practice. Call it enlightenment. Call it an epiphany. Or a higher level of consciousness. Whatever term might be applicable, I woke up this morning with an important piece of convincing knowledge.

I. Am. The. Best.

I have to be the best and my reasoning is simple. I’ve come to understand that there are many things, for reasons not yet understood, that nobody else can do. Apparently, I am the only person who can do these things, and therefore, by logic alone, I have deduced that I am magnificent. Extraordinary. Fabulous. In light of the fact that I am able to accomplish tasks, which are apparently impossible for those around me, I have concluded that I am just really damn good.

So, what is it you ask that sets me apart? I’m glad you asked! Here’s my list of things that only I seem to be able to complete in my house:

  • Put socks in a hamper
  • Pick up clothing from floor
  • Put shoes on the shoe rack
  • In addition to previous entry, take off shoes and keep matching sets together in the same vicinity of the house.
  • Remember not to drape pants over dining room chairs
  • Hang up coat
  • Fill ice cube tray
  • To elaborate on previous entry, take empty ice cube tray out of freezer
  • Realize it’s pointless to leave only 5 ml. of juice/ milk/ beverage in its container in the refrigerator
  • Turn shirts right side out
  • Lift magazines the 10″ it would take to put them in their rack rather than on the floor below the rack
  • Put a couch cushion back on the couch in its correct orientation
  • Make a bed
  • Fold towels
  • Fold clothes
  • in addition to previous two entries, put said items away
  • Realize when the toilet is on the verge of having someone call CPS should they see it, and as a result clean it
  • Open and close curtains/ blinds/ windows at appropriate times of day

I don’t want to brag, but for brevity’s sake, I shall limit the list as it currently stands. I never used to think of myself as anything special. But I now see my unique abilities in a new light, for I am the chosen one.

It WAS Alive

Almost a year ago, I posted to this blog my account of the old abandoned Draper School building in Rotterdam, NY.  If you missed it, this current post might be more relevant if you read the original story here. It was called When it was still alive, a quote taken from my son at the time of our visit. In that post, I described the eery scene of a broken building and imagined the grandeur that must have once been the heart of its community. I was not wrong.

To my surprise, the post received thousands of views, and many thoughtful comments from previous students and teachers of the Draper School. The outpouring of personal stories were heartfelt. They confirmed what I said in my previous post, that neighborhood schools do indeed create lasting memories and relationships that extend far beyond the academic lessons on the chalkboard (or whiteboard or Smart Board). Schools are oftentimes the hearts of their community, and when they stop beating, the neighborhood feels a profound loss. Many comments were from distraught readers, learning of their school’s demise for the first time. Others were from nearby residents, disgusted with what now stands in their community. All comments contained precious memories of days gone by in the old Draper School.

Fran Pugliese, Class of 71 attended Draper from 1958 until he graduated in 1971, his wife also graduating from Draper in 1974. He later taught at the school from 1975-1982, and coached girls basketball until Draper closed as a high school in 1986. He describes his memories and a bit of the history of Draper School’s end:
Lots of Fond memories. We were a Family. You knew everyone. My wife grew up across the street. We all hoped that Draper would live forever. Unfortunately it couldn’t . My two youngest daughters were attending Draper & I knew, as all parents knew, Draper couldn’t keep up. So we fought for a merger in town & settled for being annexed by Mohonasen. They kept Draper open for a year as a K-5 building. Then renamed their middle school Draper MS. It was a smooth transition but… We all hoped that something good would come out of the building but knew it would take lots of money. Here we are 27 years later & your blog lets us know what we all feared. It’s been vandalized so badly that it will take even more money to make it useable. So very Sad. But we pray that someone will find a way. But we will all have memories of Walking to & from school…How you started on Stanton st. & moved around to Vischer as you got older…..The gyn rocking on Friday nights…the playground…….The little gym & climbing the ropes with Mr Fink………Football & baseball games at Memorial Park& all the teachers like Mr Goodwin…….Just Many Many Good memories…My blog would be longer then yours if I kept remembering…….Til then..Lets Shout for Dear Old Draper High to Prove that we are STILL True!!!!!

Jennifer Carusone attended Draper from kindergarten until third grade, when Draper merged with another district. Though she was young, she felt the loss of her school’s closing as she was forced to attend another.

Former Draper student, Jenn Carusone, on the first day of school.  Used with permission by Ms Carusone.

Former Draper student, Jenn Carusone, on the first day of school. Used with permission by Ms Carusone.

And in her thoughtful comment, she addressed my son’s statement about “when the school was still alive…” It brought tears to my eyes.

… I want to tell him that when the school was still alive, I learned to ride my bike in the parking lot you stood in. It was a pink Huffy bike and I fell so many times. But with my Father’s help, I was eventually riding circles around that parking lot.

The gym with the hole, where you rode the floor scooters, I once played in that gym and rode those scooters, they were my favorite gym activity. The man who taught us in that gym was known simply as “Coach” to me. He was the man who put me on his shoulders when I broke my ankle on the playground. He was an older man by then and I always wondered if he was really Santa Claus who was undercover as my gym teacher.

I bought my first Christmas gift with my own money in that gym. The gift was for my parents. I don’t remember what it was but I remember how proud I felt.

Used with permission of Jenn Carusone.

Used with permission of Jenn Carusone.

Halloween was a very big deal when I was young and at Draper. The parents would come to the school dressed up and we would have a parade around the neighborhood block, the people who lived in those homes would come out and watch us. I felt a little bit like a super star in those parades.

Oddly, the biggest lesson I learned was when Draper was on the verge of merging. It was around this time that my mother and her dearest friend made picket signs and walked around the block in protest. One night I went with them. I held a sign and walked by her side. It was one of the first times I remember admiring her. She was fighting for her cause and she didn’t care what others thought. It was and remained my biggest lesson in civic rights.

Like Jenn’s parents protesting for a cause back then, today parents like me are fighting for similar causes. Public schools are under attack due to lack of funding, the potential of school closings, state take-overs, replacement by a Charter school, controversial curriculum standards, and excessive testing–a compilation of factors that are turning fond memories of school and learning into nightmares of “rigor” and test prep that are severing the personal connection between school and community as education becomes sterilized and standardized. Readers of this blog are familiar with my foray into activism and the birth of my advocacy efforts against education reform, which started after witnessing my son’s experience in prekindergarten. It is through this blog that I began to understand the issues affecting public education and what they really mean for stakeholders like children, parents, and teachers. Watching my son attempt to navigate a standardized academic world was like watching a square peg forcefully beaten into a round hole with a heavy sledgehammer; or like forcing a flower to bloom in the middle of winter, only to watch it die in its unnatural environment and state of being. It is because education is inherently personal, and always should be, that I am interested in the longterm positive effects that one’s school experience has on them. It is why, during my experience in the Draper building, my mind drifted beyond the decaying exterior of Draper’s architecture to the stories, memories, and relationships I imagined to have occurred within its once lively walls–my school experience was that way. Although I am unfamiliar with Draper’s community, so far from my own, it was easy to understand what was lost because it felt so familiar to my own alma mater, a small one-building K-12 school, which was also doomed to close its doors.


Mostly, I write this blog for my own understanding, and my own need to articulate complex issues or jumbled thoughts. I don’t expect a huge readership, but every once in a while, my posts find their mark, connecting me with people whom I would otherwise never know. The physical experience of the Draper building has had a lasting impact. My children still talk about our trip there and their feelings and memories of that day. My daughter, now three, still mentions cutting her finger and bleeding. My son, now seven, still talks about the details of the abandoned building. But it is the confirmation of the personal stories I knew once existed that has had the greatest impact. I feel now, in some ways, like I am a part of the Draper community, like I was given a unique glimpse into its personal history.

After our visit last year, I wrote to the Schenectady County Historical Society to try to learn more about the school and the building. The first Draper School was built in the early 1900’s on Guilderland Ave. extension. It burned down on May 14, 1914. A new Draper School was built on Mill Lane (now Draper Avenue) and opened in 1921. During the 1986-87 school year, the Draper School was absorbed by the Mohonasen School District. Most recently, the Draper building was used as the location of a charter school, which closed in 2008. I was astonished to learn that the destruction we had witnessed was recent, a result of just a few years of vacancy, not the result of decades of abandonment as I had previously assumed!

Kathy Alden Dalrymple, Class of 87 recounts the merger, and how the new school could not take the place of Draper:
I was part of the first graduating class of the new merged school – I don’t even acknowledge that I ever attended the new merged school … I just have zero connection to it whatsoever. Draper was, and always will be my alma mater! I attended from 2nd grade till it closed in 86. Like the rest of the commenters remarked, Draper was the best. It was small, but one great big family … And in the summer of 2013 we had an “Across The Years Draper Reunion”… – that means – EVERYONE STILL ALIVE – from the year the school was built, until it closed its doors in 86 – EVERYONE was invited! How AMAZING was that! How’s THAT kind of example for FAMILY, huh!?? It was actually my 25th reunion year in 2013, and I CHOSE to attend the Across The Years party instead of the regular one for the merged school that they “tell” me I graduated from. I had more fun seeing our old Draper family that night!! And like they said earlier – I loved to see the classes 2 or 3 or 4 or 5 years older – or younger – because even the seniors still went back to connect with the 7th graders – or the elementary kids. Everybody knew everybody! THIS is the kind of beautiful family that lived at Draper.
Anyone interested in the Draper School or other New York history can search historical online newspapers at www.fultonhistory.com, which offers free, searchable digital access to a number of New York State newspapers, including the Schenectady Gazette from 1911 through 1974.
I love history–and because schools and education are so foundational for many, leaving such a profound impact on the lives of people, the cultural history of schools is never bland. I want to thank my readers for providing me the insight needed to truly appreciate the history of the Draper school. It has been my pleasure to read your stories and memories of your time at Draper.

PreK… Again?

I am amazed at how the arrival of a simple form letter from my school district has my mind racing and my heart flooded with a variety of emotions. Since deciding to homeschool our (almost) seven-year-old first grade son, our correspondence with our local public school has been at a minimum. The district envelope’s arrival in my post office box made me immediately think my attention was needed for some sort of homeschooling technicality. Maybe my quarterly report was inadequate? No, this letter is coming too late to have anything to do with that. A reminder maybe for the next quarterly report? No, too early. I had no idea of the content… so I opened it.

It has come to my attention that you have a daughter who is eligible for our pre-kindergarten program for the 2015-2016 school year.  If you are interested in enrolling your daughter in our program, please call me by January 30, 2015 to let me know. If I do not hear from you by then, I will assume that you are not interested.

It seems like only yesterday that my son was four years old and excited with the prospect of trying school. We rushed to fill in the necessary paperwork and take care of the health and dental requirements to reserve his spot in the classroom. My earliest posts on this blog chronicled his growing hatred for school as I learned about Common Core State Standards and how developmentally inappropriate they are for young children. I remember an independent, creative, and articulate child who had no issues with being separated from his parents, and who was eager to be in school with his friends. Having a late January birthday, he was one of the oldest children in his PreK class. He learned his letters and his numbers quickly, and was outgoing and made friends easily. Despite this, his hatred for school grew steadily until we were forced to cut his days down to half days, ultimately withdrawing him completely. Our next decision to boycott a brick and mortar kindergarten the following year finally led to our decision to formally homeschool starting in first grade.

Now, my daughter, who turned three in October 2014 will be old enough to start formal school this coming fall! As a parent, I am acutely aware how different my children are from one another. By virtue of birthday, my son was one of the oldest; my daughter will be one of the youngest, starting PreK at three years old! I know that a lot can happen in her development over the next six months, but I’m grasping within my own mind to justify whether or not she will be ready for full day schooling, five days a week. Her diminutive size for her age is a huge psychological barrier for me. This tiny slip of a girl in PreK? Doesn’t seem possible.

My mind continues to list the many other differences between my children. My son was a veteran four-year-old, always articulate, with excellent language skills, and an impressive vocabulary for his age. He was a thoughtful little boy who liked to figure things out, build anything from nothing, and who enjoyed asking “why” and receiving an honest answer. However, I felt like none of this mattered to the expectations associated with his Common Core curriculum. Pencil grip and Pearson worksheets were the way of the PreK world, accompanied by following directions (All. The. Time.) and complying with a classroom culture that became increasingly “sit still and behave” rather than “play and explore.” As is commonly reported in regard to the Common Core, it WAS expected in my son’s PreK classroom that the children learned everything in the same way and at the same time. There was little room for student-led discoveries, and English language arts and math ruled supreme. My son lost interest, starting “acting out,” and in the end just shut down. I was reassured by one teacher the day we left the school for good that “sometimes kids just aren’t ready to be away from home.” But this wasn’t the case for us. My son didn’t fail at school. School failed my son.

And so I come back to thinking about my daughter, almost a year younger than my son in relation to the entry cut-off dates for school, and at a completely different developmental stage than he was (and yet he still did not “succeed”). While there is nothing abnormal about her stage in development, it is clear to me as her mother that she is a very different child when it comes to language, writing, shapes, colors, etc. My son was far beyond her level at the exact same age, but still had the benefit of starting PreK much older. I’m not at all worried about my daughter; as an informed and logical adult I realize that children develop differently, that eventually these basic skills all arrive (with or without the Common Core). But I’m forced to wonder: will she be ready for gripping that pencil and forming those letter and writing those words and sitting still for story time? More importantly, will she be ready for the dull repetition and unimaginative nature of a Pearson worksheet? She’s a girl, so that’s a benefit right there. Studies have shown that boys are at a disadvantage in a formal classroom learning environment. But at the same time, she’s certainly got much more of an attitude than her brother had at this age. Parents everywhere agree that it isn’t “the terrible twos.” As many parents can attest, it’s much more likely that the difficult behavior (all normal by the way) will arise around age three, (and will make two-year-olds look like the cutest, calmest beings!). Will she take that to school with her and be labeled as difficult or bad?

She does, however, have one difference that might benefit her academic career. She loves to color in pre-made pictures. My son hated those exercises, which seemed to be the bulk of the “art” the kids produced, and that were handed out with the real goal of developing hand strength for all of that PreK Common Core standards shit. Everything, in fact, was done with a Common Core standard in mind. It was inconceivable to do anything for pure enjoyment or… I don’t know… because it might be a developmentally appropriate activity for three-, four-, and five-year-olds.

Thing about it: three, four, and five! That’s how old the age range is for kids in PreK. You don’t have to be an expert in early childhood development to realize that the abilities of these children are going to vary greatly. I wonder if all the pre tests, benchmarks, and post tests take that into account. They certainly don’t measure how well-balanced a child’s integration is into a new school environment. They certainly don’t measure if that child is neglected at home and hasn’t eaten a nutritious meal in the past several weeks. And I’m quite sure they don’t take into account if a particular student loves art or music, or if their older brother is bullied in his fourth grade classroom, or if their father was just laid off from work, or if they are fascinated by insects, or if they are distracted by the embarrassment of recently wetting themselves during nap time (which will sadly be gone by the time they reach kindergarten!). Standardized tests, the fulcrum of the reform agenda, don’t tell much about the abilities of most children, especially young children at varying stages in their development from who come from extremely different life situations. If my daughter were to go to PreK, we would opt her out of any and all testing at that level… just like we did with her brother! There’s no reason to test a child this young. No. Reason. At. All.

We don’t have much time to make a decision about whether to send our daughter to PreK in the fall. The deadline is January 30, and right now, I just can’t picture her as ready for the realities of today’s PreK classrooms. But I asked her, just like I did my son when he was four, “do you want to try school”? She just gave me a crooked smile like she was contemplating whether to choose chocolate or vanilla ice cream. She doesn’t know what it’s all about. She will decide in largely the same way as my son did. He wanted to go to school because all the other kids his age in our village were also going. Sadly, that wasn’t enough. My daughter will face the fact that the other girls (and boys) her age will be moving off to school next year. And I will be faced with the same internal struggle I had with my son: will she miss out without these same experiences as her peers? I will let her decide. If she wants to try school because her best friend is doing the same, then so be it… the saga of school inappropriate reform will continue for my family. But if she chooses to stay home, I know she will be ok with her family and the homeschooling friends and experiences we have built up over the past two years. The myth of anti-social children no longer concerns me. My son is excelling in his learning, his social skills top notch and completely within the norm. He’s not behind in ELA or math. In fact, he is well beyond his first grade peers in many ways. I surprised myself with how much fun homeschooling is and how efficient. Truth be told, I hope she chooses to stay home. But unlike the strict guidelines of the school reform agenda, I will give my child some say in how and when she is educated.

Give the Gift of Opt Out

It’s Christmas Eve, and like many children across the globe who celebrate the holiday, my kids are excited that their long wait is coming to an end. My son and daughter are still young, almost seven and three respectively, and it’s easy to allow the perception of magic that fills their hearts to enter my soul this time of year. While it’s hard not to get caught up in the contemporary culture of all things materials, I’d like to pause for a moment of reflection at this day’s winding down to give thanks for all the non-material fortunes in my life, namely that my children are happy and healthy, and that we as a family are bound by love, and thriving from love’s energy.

While I give thanks for all that I have, I also acknowledge the incredible disparity in the world between those who have everything and those who have virtually nothing. Luckily I fall in the middle and am humbled. If you are like my family and your children wake up tomorrow filled with Christmas excitement, think of those who are less fortunate. We must, as a society, be willing and able to do something about poverty, and the generational disadvantages that affect many demographics.

But this isn’t a post about Christmas. Christmas is merely a perfect opportunity to reiterate the damage being stricken on our schools and the children who walk down their halls by the corporate elite who wish to profit from a privatization scheme that has been pushing Common Core standards, scripted curriculum, worksheet curriculum, test preparation materials, and of course, the litany of standardized tests themselves. School reform entities have weaseled their way into prominence because somehow they convinced us of the myth that our schools were failing and our teachers were incompetent. This is not true.

Our schools have become the target of reform because of poor performance on standardized tests, and we’ve been told that we are falling behind our international counterparts. This is also false. The reformers would have you believe their lies by leaving out important information. Poverty. Child poverty in the United States is staggering, according to a Washington Post article, with one in three children living in poverty in this country. Compare that to countries like Finland who traditionally score higher on international tests and one can see that their child poverty rate is much lower. When looking at test scores within the United States, it is clear that schools within economically advantaged communities score much higher than those within communities with high levels of poverty.


The fact is that our schools and our children are being shortchanged based on a myth. In most cases, our schools are thriving. Those that are not are generally located in communities without the financial resources to compete with affluent districts. Ironically, it is these “failing” districts who are punished the most, given less funding, restructuring, teacher firings, and even school closure. The real problem is not school failure. It is not teacher incompetence. And it is not a lack of “rigor” or high standards. The issue is poverty and disparity, and until policy makers are willing to face this societal dilemma head-on, our schools and children will still suffer the cyclical illusion of failure because of something entirely out of their control.

What can one do about this as an individual? You can speak out. Speak truth to power. Every voice that dispels the myths is a voice of reason tipping the tides to policies and social programs that tackle the real problems and not the illusions. If you are able to speak out, you must. When it comes to education, you can give the greatest gift of all: Opt Out. Fight back against the myth based on test scores. Remove the data that corroborates the lies. Opt your child out of standardized testing and say no to the corporate takeover of our PUBLIC education system.

This Christmas season, as you contemplate all that you are thankful for, put test refusal on that list. You are your child’s best advocate, and opting out is a gift that every parent can give. It doesn’t cost anything and the rewards are infinite. Merry Christmas! And let’s wish for a New Year where the culture of testing is denied and our children and teachers can go back to real learning.