The Approaching Storm

Spring is here and with it comes rain.  Today, as I write, it has been raining all day long.  The sky is dark and gray.  I am a stay-at-home mom and an outdoor person.  I do a lot of things for my family.  Besides taking care of my children’s physical and emotional needs, I provide simple luxuries that we as a family agree enhance our lives.  I bake bread, I make yogurt, and I grow a huge garden that provides us with fresh vegetables all summer long and jarred food throughout the winter.

It is the weather that dictates my days and what I will be doing.  There is usually plenty to keep me busy inside or out, so I normally don’t complain.  On this rainy day, I got to thinking about rain and weather, and about the life waiting to emerge just under the surface of my garden.  A steady rain can provide the water necessary to germinate seeds and make things grow.  Together with the proper balance of sunshine, it kickstarts spring into a flourish of green grass, budding leaves, and blooming flowers.  A steady rain is natural, the earth absorbs it and things grow!

But not all weather is so nurturing.  A massive storm can bring bursts of torrential rain that comes too quickly and too harshly.  The earth cannot absorb it and utilize it.  It floods the land, eroding soil and washing away seeds before they germinate and can establish themselves.  This is especially true of soil that has not been well stewarded.  The harsh weather of a storm can cause damage to surrounding trees and man-made structures.  People are also at risk if not properly prepared.  Storms can be dangerous.

I began thinking that weather is a lot like education.  It has the potential to nourish and grow the minds of our children.  But the wrong kind of education has the potential to destroy.  In this way, excessive testing—especially the upcoming high-stakes state tests—is a lot like the destructive forces of a storm.  We all know it’s coming.  We can seen the sky darken in the distance and we are all worried.  We do what we can to prepare for it and to minimize its potential damage.  How much enriching, authentic learning will be eroded?  And how many students will fall victim to anxiety and to the potential of failure.  Like misused soil, children already disenfranchised with learning will suffer most.  When a storm comes, it hampers activities that we’d rather be doing.  Excessive testing replaces real learning, and we become narrowly focused on simply being as prepared as we can to weather the approaching event.

And we all know what happens when bad weather stays around for a while.  We become depressed and impatient.  We feel unmotivated and bored.  We wish we were doing something else.  This is how our children feel in school.  They are weathering an extended season of testing and hoping the climate will change so they can do something else.  We need to provide the right educational environment so kids can reconnect to learning, so they can learn to love learning once again.  We need to provide them with a nourishing and well-balanced education so that they can truly grow and flourish.  It’s time for the storm to end.  It’s time to repair the damage and move forward into a sunnier, more hopeful educational future.

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13 thoughts on “The Approaching Storm

  1. Great metaphor. I feel the same. Now that all the choir is singing and bleating, maybe it’s time we ditch the petty moves of finger pointing and expose and do something. I like the way you think. What would you propose should take place next? The taking of public schools is merely the canary in the coal mine. It is a piece of the takeover, the leveraging and privatization by the rentier class (economic practices of parasitic monopolization of access to any (physical, financial, intellectual, etc. kind of property and gaining significant amount of profit without contribution to society), and the creation of the neo-feudalism.

    You are right. There is a huge storm coming. It doesn’t matter one damn bit if Rhee goes to prison. Dimon didn’t, Greenspan, Hank Paulson, didn’t, ad nauseum. All the blogging and talking of the anti-privatization of public schools does little. The real challenge, the real revolt, is one aimed at the crippling, corporate leveraging of all assets, public schools being merely one market. People are slowly waking up and getting a glimpse of where oligarchy has taken us and what is needed to move us to a social democracy. We know the answer. Now, who’ll be the first in line?

    • Hi Kuhio,
      You ask some tough and much-needed questions, so I wanted to take some time to think about them before I replied! I agree, there is far more that needs to be addressed than simply taking back public schools. Right now the immediate storm in NY is the state tests, which start tomorrow, so that’s where everyone is focused. I think a good first step is to refuse these tests and send a message. Not only will our numbers (hopefully) indicate our frustrations and infuriation with what we see happening and say we are not going to take it anymore, but I think it can do something that has farther reaching implications. It can reaffirm our self-confidence that we CAN make a difference if we truly want to fight for what we believe. A strong statement against the tests is just a small piece of the puzzle. And if this works, and if we can put this down as an accomplishment, we can start to empower ourselves to demand other changes as well. Imagine if we don’t back down and instead become stronger… stronger in numbers and determination… that we INSIST on real change and do not back down until we get it. That we say no and refuse to take part in a system that sells out public education to the highest bidder and as a result sells out our children.

      It’s hard to answer the question about what to do next. Here in my area of rural upstate NY, there are still a lot of people waiting to be informed. Across the state groups are at so many different stages of operation. As for the state-wide opt-out movement, there is talk about developing a three-year plan. For me personally, my son is only in PreK, so I sometimes feel ill-equipped to advice anyone… although I read and research and write letters and do what I can to understand it all EVERY SINGLE DAY. You’re right, the blogging and rhetoric does little to make the change, but maybe it helps to connect us all so we can become the force for change. I don’t know. I feel like there is so much in school that shouldn’t be there, that isn’t there for the benefit of education–real education. I feel like there isn’t much there that I agree with. I feel like that if my children are in school, I am in a constant state of complaining about most aspects of their education.

      Maybe the next step is a wide-spread sit-in. Refuse to participate in anything that isn’t about teachers teaching and children learning, and the natural interaction between those two parties because of that. I already opt my son out from his STAR assessments– a state mandated 3rd party assessment PRODUCT. If I could refuse the common core as it now exists I would, but it is now fully implemented and there’s no hiding from it. I already see my child’s spirit being crushed in some ways, and I’ll be honest when I say this… I will never stop caring or fighting for public education, but I might have to homeschool. My first concerns is naturally my own child’s emotional well-being.

      I do believe that this is going to get ugly no matter what the next move is. I love your questions and being put on the spot like that! I know I probably did not do a good job answering them or addressing your comment, but I am thinking about it. I think about it every day. Maybe a guest post by you!?!? I’d love to hear more about your thoughts on this.

      It is interesting (disturbing rather) to think about the many levels that we live enslaved to corporate profits–and that we live under legislation that funnels our beliefs into thinking we have a ‘choice’ when we really only give ourselves (and our money) continually to an existence that is so corporate-driven. Besides education, we need to think about what we can do to take back certain aspects of our lives from companies that try to sell it back to us. Was it Baudrillard that said “we live our lives as representations of ourselves”?

      Ok, so I know I just added more questions to the pot. Should probably stop now….

      • My reply did not come through. Please allow me some time to respond. I thank you for your extensive and thoughtful response. What Baudrillard said regarding simulation and simulacra and the stages to ultimate loss of equivalency has always held sway with much of my writing on sociological phenomena.

    • Thanks Sandy, I just read the article. She talks a lot about the unreasonable expectations set for kindergartners and this particular area strikes a chord in me b/c my son will enter K next year. The pressures we place on these poor little children is so unreasonable it is beyond belief. Let’s wait a few years and see how many children are ruined and what we have to do then to bring them back to their natural state of curiosity and love of learning (sarcasm– I don’t want to wait!).

  2. Sandy, thank you so much for sharing that article! I wish we had someone sensible like that down here in Georgia. My second grader just finished the CRCTs this week and he has been stressed all week! It is heartbreaking to see what should be a happy, healthy (he’s getting sick now due – I think – to all the stress), carefree child under such stress! He has also told me that other kids in his class are sniffling, sneezing and coughing this week. Is it really worth it to stress our children out so badly over a standardized test that controls the fate of our school’s funding, teachers, programs, etc.? How ridiculous! Not to mention that they spent 45 days (one entire 9 week session) studying for these tests! Now there is less than one month of school left and it’s filled with things like “Read and Feed” days, Field Day, Field Trip, etc. Are they learning anything new? Nope.
    We have decided to homeschool our children next year and our second grader asked, as I was cuddling him to sleep in bed last night because he was so stressed and sick, “Would you please take me out of school and start homeschooling now?”.
    I don’t know if we can do that right at the end of the school year, but the bigger issue is…what is going on in our educational system that makes my child feel that it’s better to leave school than stay in it? He’s been telling us all year long that he’s not going to college and that he’s done with school when he finishes what he “has to do”. He’s already decided this in SECOND grade!!!
    Danielle, you make a great point – something needs to change to get back to that love of learning and natural curiosity before we ruin another generation of kids!

    • Hi Paige, I’m so sorry to hear that your children are so stressed out. It is truly heartbreaking and I hear it more and more often from parents across the board. It became clear to us too that our son was not happy in school as well. You can read about that in my post “For the Record.” We had to pull him out b/c he hated it so much and I don’t want him to hate learning. He’s so natural at it!

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