A CRISIS OF COMPASSION
For over a year now, teachers in the State of New York have been working feverishly to implement the new academic standards promulgated by Commissioner of Education Mills with the support of the Regents of the state. Like lemmings to the sea, administrators and teachers scurry unquestioningly to train students to pass the new assessments that supposedly will show whether, in fact, students have arrived at new standards of excellence. Few, if any, standards that I as an educator am interested in are being raised. On the contrary, more and more class time is being spent teaching to the new tests out of the very realistic fear that poor results will be interpreted as a failure of the schools.
Let me be more specific. For the last 15 years or so, I have chosen as an English teacher to devote my energies to working with our less able students, students with learning disabilities, students with personal problems, students who often find school a place where little if anything positive happens to them. For some, it is unfortunately seen as a place where their inadequacies are constantly exposed, their strengths overlooked. These students have always posed the challenge of finding ways to overcome the barriers to academic accomplishment. The imposition of so-called higher academic standards makes this job more difficult and almost assures that these students will have a qualitatively lesser school experience. The time that once went to confidence building, building attainable skills and making school a more joyful place is increasingly devoted to hammering test-taking skills into their heads with no purpose other than to sell the lie that we are meaningfully raising academic standards so that our children can compete effectively in the global economy. If you think our students don't know what is going on, ask them. They know quite well that they are being taught to beat a system designed by people who know nothing about them and who don't care a jot about them as human beings. They know that something truly important is being lost, a compassionate concern for the individual student, an approach to education that seeks to stretch the individual to the fullest extent rather than imposing artificial and, in many way meaningless, standards of excellence.
Most teachers, administrators and parents who are engaged in school affairs know that what is happening in the name of higher standards is at best a sham, at worst a fundamentally destructive blow to anything appropriately called education. Yet the lemmings march on to the sea, drawn by a seemingly irresistible force. Why isn't there more organized opposition? Why no calls for the removal of the commissioner who has inflicted this crisis of compassion on us. Why is there little or now questioning of the need at the dawn of a new century for the anachronistic Board of Regents, the education decision makers of our state who are essentially answerable to no one?