MORE/Change the Stakes Teacher Lauren Cohen: NYSUT Clamps Down on Free Speech
by Norm Scott
Lauren Cohen sparked a bit of controversy with her post at @The Chalk Face regarding NYSUT president Richard Iannuzzi's email warning to union leaders about the dangers their members might face in giving advice to parents about opting out.
One could take this warning 2 ways. As a "be careful out there" or as a "threat." Either way you look at it, there is a perception that the lack of a sense of support for teachers who might have moral and political reasons for opposing the high stakes testing craze leaves these teachers "out there."
Julie Cavanagh had similar feelings as I posted on Sunday where she raised the frightening thought that even her speech at the Forum at the Earth School later that day could fall into the realm of Iannuzzi's warning. That didn't stop her from making a fabulous speech however.
The Moral Imperative: Julie Cavanagh Opts in on Opt Out Issue
Just a bit about Lauren Cohen before getting to her Chalkface post. We met her a year ago when she attended the GEM teacher evaluation forum and since then she has been very active with Change the Stakes and as a member of MORE. As the "recruiter" for the MORE elementary Executive Board slate I was excited when Lauren accepted our invitation to run, joining a list of great teachers and activists. Lauren has spent years working for an ogre lunatic of a principal and was heading out of country to teach. When she sent out a round of resumes she bravely included the fact that she was an opponent of high stakes testing and an activist. She said she would rather leave the country to teach if she didn't get a job with a principal who appreciated not only her great teaching ability but also her activism, which went hand in hand. And she got a job at one of the more progressive schools in the city. Lauren exemplifies so many of the MORE people. Great teachers. Great activists.
So here is Lauren's somewhat remarkable letter home to parents followed with her reaction to the Iannuzzi letter which was forwarded to her. There are some interesting comments at TCF below her article taking Iannuzzi's side on this.
NYSUT Clamps Down on Free Speech
April 16, 2013 By Lauren Cohen
by Lauren Cohen
In the days that followed, my inbox fattened with notes of thanks. A couple of parents commented on my "obvious" dedication to teaching and the courage that I have demonstrated in speaking out. One thanked me for keeping her child sane over the past few weeks. One parentĂ˘€™s email simply read, "You're the best!" Days later, I began receiving emails from parents whose children are not even in my class, because some of my class parents forwarded it to like-minded friends. In one of the greatest compliments I have ever received, a parent of joked that if her children are not in my class when they reach 5th grade, she might pull them out of the school.
Then another email arrived in my inbox, forwarded from New York State Union of Teachers president Richard Iannuzzi:
A teacher who, in conversations with students or parents, takes a position on testing contrary to the school districtĂ˘€™s educational program may potentially be charged with misconduct or insubordination and could be subject to disciplinary action
Um. . . what can I say? "Whoops"? Do I send a follow-up email: "I take it all back, the state tests are a vital tool for assessing whether students are on the path to college and career readiness"?
I've heard plenty of negative talk about teachers' unions, but this is the first time I find myself ashamed. Ashamed that a group that is supposed to protect us would cave so easily. Ashamed that a group of educators would so readily cede our right to speak as authorities on a subject that affects us all.
I am an employee of the state, but I do not serve the state foremost -- my first duty is to the children I teach. When the state's policies harm those children, it is not just my choice, it is my obligation to speak out. How can I look into the eyes of people who trust me with their children and lie to them? Moreover, how can I lie to those children? When I "came out" to them and told them I was against testing, they were delighted. Finally, a teacher who is on their side! I've never allowed my stance on testing to become an excuse not to try our best -- I told them flat out, "This is a system that is wrong, and I am trying to change it; but it won't change overnight, and part of my job is to make sure that you're prepared. Your job is to do the best you can do, not because your score matters, but because in this classroom we put our best efforts into all of our work." When I have to teach ridiculous lessons about the distinction between a "picture" and a "visual model," we commiserate and laugh about the absurdity of it all. So, [warning: blatant own-horn-tooting ahead], I'm not only a role model for standing up for what I believe in, I'm teaching kids that sometimes, while we wait for change to happen, we have to make the best of bad situations.
So, President Iannuzzi, in response to your "alert," your thinly-veiled threats to my freedom to speak out as an authority on teaching and learning, my resolve is strengthened. I will not be silenced. And you, sir, are a sellout. [emphasis added by Ohanian]
by Norm Scott
Two links from the great Mark Naison, whose wife happens to be the principal who hired Lauren Cohen.
To The Children and Families in New York State Opting Out of State Tests
Today, in New York State, democratic renewal takes the form of thousands of children refusing to take tests they and their families deem oppressive. We are all in your debt. You are setting an example for an entire nation where testing has gotten completely out of control due to political opportunism, cynicism and greed. Many teachers, principals, school superintendents- and even a few state education administrators- agree with you but few have been willing to risk their careers to fight a Political Juggernaut that they regard as unstoppable because so much Big Money has been behind it. So it has come to you, ordinary citizens and their children, to stop this Runaway Testing Train.
In NY Today, Largest Act of 'Test Refusal' In American History
I am so proud of the thousands of parents and children who sometimes alone and under duress, sometimes with the support of teachers and administrators, decided to Opt Out of testing in New York State today. This has resulted in the largest collective act of "Test Refusal" in the history of this nation, and it is only the beginning of what will become a huge national movement. New Yorkers are proud, they are smart, and they are tough. Anyone who thinks that the parents of this state are going to stand idly by while state officials wearing ideological blinders or driven by expectations of profit fill schools with tests which bore their children, stifle their creativity, and in the worse instance, reduce them to tears, better wake up and smell the cappuchino. "Something's happening here," to quote Buffalo Springfield, but this time it's perfectly clear. Parents in this state are going to take back our public schools and make them places where children are respected, nurtured, allowed to play and allowed to dream!
Norm Scott and Lauren Cohen
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