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NCLB Outrages

A Note from Sarah: Putting Down the Script

Sometimes in the current models I wonder if we teachers have written enough and explained enough of our job so that it can be understood why NCLB is hurting these poor kids living in my teaching zone.

NOTE: Sarah spent a good part of her weekend persuading the manager of a big box store to give her a good price on backpacks, so she can send ten kids home on Fridays with what she calls The Weekender, food for the weekend. Definitely off the NCLB script. Here's how Sarah describes it: "I coerced a nice manager into a really great deal on ten packs--kind of like backpacks- from the camping section into which I'll load sanwiches, juices, waters, fruit, different things and I know my cook at schoo will give me a few side things and I'll start the Weekender Pack. If they need it. All I'll say to the kids is, If you need it, we will have it."

Usually, where Backpack Clubs exist, they are somewhat institutionalized. But read on and you'll see why this teacher can't wait for institutions to step in.

by Sarah Puglisi, first grade teacher

I sat up all night in a crisis of conscience: Teaching is getting harder for me. I'm contemplating at least 30 jobs that need to be done to do this job at a better level--all off script. Oops.

It�s Saturday and I'm making red , yellow, and blue play dough for my 1st grade class for next week. I don't understand how it happened, but they came to me unaware of color mixing. No idea one could mix things to make new colors. I can't for the life of me tell you what an impoverishment I find this to be.

So now we can read White Rabbit's Color Book and other literature (except that puts us off script for NCLB, and I'm risking some things in a very real way). I did a nice magic show this week with colored water mixing yellow and blue�oh, there is green, so on. The kids thought I was a miracle worker. I know I gained a lot of respect and power on that one alone. Absolute spontaneous applause.

The tempo in this class is frenzy. . . it's alarming. So when the chldren had the chance to do the same "experiment," which was "experience," it was hard to slow them enough to get three cups filled with water and three empty onto each desk with a partner. Six full cups and water everywhere. I had to laugh out loud a few times. . . .even after four modeling sessions. Then I gave the food dye as red, yellow, blue drops in their full cups and they mixed into the empty and I can't tell you how often I laughed then.

We repeated as long as they wanted, though it was so frenetic I had to hold back my need for control to allow the experience. And so cleaning up (after an hour and a half) we sat back down and I asked. �Blue and yellow make . . .?" And the entire group yelled "PURPLE!"

And so you see why the play dough has to be cooked today and made, bagged, and prepared for Experiment in Color Number Two. Repeating and reading support story text and using color over the next month (combined with reading the color words on word rings for color, light, mixing). . . we will repeat in every vein, sign language will begin to place this for my class into a working context too.

I think, I do, I know. Can we see it, watch it, recall it????????

It is clear that these children know the sound of the letters from testing, but they can't speak English well enough to have a lot to say and sound out, write, and certainly their experiential base, and this must be an indicator, is very low. So despite it all, I'm "doing" and "reading," which is at heart really about formulating a child into the construct I understand.

They, the Other, talk about scientific reading. but this is the heart of scientific methodology: I see my world, I ask questions, I explore, and I try things, I notice, I reflect and then I comment. I construct meaning based on what doing leads me to. My choice.

But NCLB scripts insist that I not be allowed to do this self-devised, hands-on curriculum. And recall, my students are "Sheltered Immersion," kids who are in frankly a Sink or Swim situation.

Anyway, what took me into a kind of waking sleep last night is really something I observed Friday. I teach children that I see living in very real, often cruelly ugly, urban poverty. With love and care I see things can be bearable for these kids, just like my Dad, raised in Tennessee in poverty, was able to access education and to go out into the world, getting a Ph.D. later on.

Educational opportunity builds a lot of bridges, and so, too, does love. These two factors are the keys. But sometimes as we struggle in the current models I wonder if we teachers have written enough and explained enough of our job so that people can understood why NCLB is hurting these poor kids living in my teaching zone.

Just on the surface, the first thing I'm seeing is how much public money is now going to speakers, consultants, and data driven, research based (the new buzz word) groups and praxis that generate the "failing dialogue." They can use this dialogue in political contexts, generating canned programs of one-size-fits-no-one, and then blame teachers (to get on with the destruction of the last union, obviously). Then this program scripts the teacher, and collects enormous amounts of money in the "redesign" of public education.

That's funding directly removed from the classroom, so now, more than ever, I either buy the crayons and books and dye and experiences out-of-pocket, or the kids do a canned workbook. And they come to me thinking purple is green and blue. Who knew? Or they don't even think that. You may think this color thing is no big deal. But I see the universe here.

I listened to a Federal NCLB man state on Tuesday that this reform is "getting the teachers to no longer think they could do what they want." Hell, all I wanted was for the children to experience scissors, reading, books, literature, paint, fish, birds, pets, grass, songs, and some meaning-making. And as a teacher I know how to arrange the room to bring it into literacy for every child. I didn't leave the children behind. Until tests were rigged to prove I did. The notion that this �reform� passes for responsible adult behavior is a real heart render.

I started to tell you about Friday and got waylaid into my waking nightmare. I'm sharing out of a bone deep desire to articulate this as well I can to the world. I read this terrific Internet blog site called Borderland and Doug says his "Message is in a bottle, giving his shout out to the world." I can sing this tune.

Friday Heidi and I took the kids to the fire station. It's in our social studies Standards--somewhere. We had been thinking about the outrageous smoke in our air from the fires and we knew we needed to reinforce fire safety for the children. So off we went carrying our box of school free lunches which is 100% for our school. It was a great tour, the Oxnard Station Engine 62 guys were remarkably good with the kids and one shared how "reading" was the most important tool he needed to be a fireman. He also shared how he came from Mexico at ten having lived there on the streets working for a living from 5 and how in taking tests to be a fire person his comprehension and his reading abilities hampered him--though he had the tenacity to see it through because, "He had a dream."

And so he gets to risk his life for all of us every day. Fireman Guillermo and team had to leave us to lock up their station as they went out on a call, but found us in the park where we were eating our sandwiches. They let the kids spray the park with their hoses. It was awesome. The kids played too. Imagine that: Play included in a first grader�s scientific school day.

On coming back tired, my little Jessie, I've shared my concern for my mom-less, tiny, often a bit hungry, with a thing on her face that gets infected , strabismic child. Jessie came back in my room after school�with her Grampa. I really thought it might be to read our Fireman stories as we will now and in the next week will continuously write about this experience, develop vocabulary, create group and individual books and, off-script or not, pursue meaning. Yes, there will be heat for this, but I am a teacher: I can bear it.

But no, Jessie was there on a very different mission. Jessie returned to the room not for a literacy experience; she came back in to ask for the left over 8 sack lunches kids had declined. She wanted to take them home for their weekend food. And I watched as her old Grampa carried them for her as she told him the bags had apples and he told her waste was a bad thing and they'd use the apples to make a frittata--all gently said in a sing song family way quietly to each other in Spanish.

So actually I have been rather teary over this. . . .for the first time in a while slowing my frenzied, scripted self down enough to feel what I'm seeing and doing.

Had I stayed on script, the day would have included this story: Go, Sam Go. "Sam cat sat. Go, Sam go. Sam cat sat. Go, Sam go. Sam cat sat.�

One of my teaching peers honestly stated to me how much she and her kids enjoyed it. . .???

No matter how we do what we do, it needs to give Jessie a life, an education, an opportunity. She must not, like Mom, OD at 25, leaving three little girls alone to face the world. I can't tolerate that. I can't put her further behind those who have SO MUCH. The canned, scripted, Anita Archer driven, money-driven curricula that fall into place with NCLB are not only looting the public money and trust, they are defining this as Jessie�s future.

Begging a left-over lunch. I'm sorry, I don't have time for these things. I have kids' lives to consider. So, yeah, I'm a bit impassioned, a bit too much, a bit overdone. And my sleep is going. I am aware of this. I just hope this country has many of us speaking out to people who will listen. Listening is a really big deal right now.

A Poem For Jessie

I gathered this child by an alley in a lonely urban dead end
She beamed with the love of life and asked me for a book
She laughed and came into my world secretly storing my cookies into her cubby
She came by way of a dead end alley

I looked at this child found in an alley and searched out my humanity
She showed me her vulnerability and asked for food
She gave me a hug and said sometimes her Auntie said I talked aloud to "No one in particular"
And I walked her down the alleyway

I hold this child by a tiny hand as we go down her alley
She is small and telling me of a momma she lost at two.
She asks if I, her teacher, can call up Heaven and send her momma back down to her
As we stop to pause in her alley.

I consider this wonderful flower born in America's alleys
She is full of discovering and wonder
And asking for sandwiches to give to family at home
And I think of the dead end that might lie for her here in this alley.

Bound by our hands, our hearts and holding the hope of a little one
I'm asking for the strength to help make this alley just her beginning, and not her end.
Because I am her teacher.

"The reigning ideologues in Washington--not only in the White House but also in the Republican congressional leadership, in the faction that dominates the Supreme Court, and in the conservative press and think tanks--believe in free markets, individual initiative, and private schools and private charity as substitutes for public provision. . . .They do not, at bottom, believe that society, through the mechanisms of democratic government, has a moral obligation to provide care for the sick, food for the hungry, shelter for the homeless, and education for all; and to the extent that they tolerate such activities they do so grudgingly, out of political necessity. They believe that the private sector is sovereign, and that taxes are a species of theft. To praraphrase Proudhon, les impots, c'est le vol. "

�Henrik Hertzberg, The New Yorker, June 9, 2002

— Sarah Puglisi


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