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NCLB Outrages

When Childhood Collides with NCLB: A Review

by David Cyprian

Author Susan Ohanian, a Charlotte resident and former teacher, has published a passionate, literary retort to the obsession with standardized testing that has engulfed public education in America. When Childhood Collides with NCLB is a book of tightlyl related poems exploring the relationship between tests, learning, students, and teachers. Ohanian unabashedly ridicules the notion that standardized tests are improving public education. Her verse is flush with pithy attacks on both the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which mandates extensive testing, and NCLB's proponents, including the Bush administration, certain business interests, and others.

On each page of When Childhood Collides, the right column displays real, brief news clippings concerning education, and on the left column, Ohanian reacts to these stories in breathless verse. For example, one headline reads, "Alabama Schoolsl Drop Naptime for Test Prep," placed alongside this stanza:

Test prep busy-ness
Freezes brains
Drains spirits
Like dry leaves.


The effect infuses Ohanian's fervent verse with provocative, dry snippets from the real world of public education. Although it can be challenging to simultaneously follow the logic of the news clippings while experiencing the pacing and lyricism of the poetry, the combination precisely contextualizes Ohanian's message with the world of bureaucracy and politics that produced NCLB.

Ohanian enthusiastically adapts a vocabularly borrowed from revolutionaries, taking "standardistos" and corporate politicos" to taks for their affinity for measuring and quantifying children. "

Test prep piled on test prep
Students get no more freedom to roam
Than Tyson fryers
E. coli in the Chicken McNugget,
Mental Torture in the classroom.



Merciless in her attacks, Ohanian offers no apologies for her message. Why did the Standardisto cross the road? To kill the chicken and sell the data, she writes.

When Childhood Collides also contains a call to action, particularly to Ohanian's fellow educators, that grows stronger later in the book. It's not just ideas outside the classroom that Ohanian finds discouraging; she is angry that too many teachers are compliant and obedient in testing their students. She reminds us that a teacher should be a creative professional who ought to shield her students from scripted, test-oriented teaching.

Teaching-to-script
Stimulates a persistent
Vegetative state. . .
When will we speak up for
Forty-three million children
Telling them to cast off those
#2 pencils and fly?


Ohanian's work provides the reader a unique, vivid journey through the world of contemporary schooling. Her reverence for genuine student learning and individual student-teacher relationships shines through as freely as does her disdain for standardization. Her "take no prisoners" approach makes for an enjoyable read that should resonate soundly with parents and teachers who have experienced the stress and anxiety their children feel because of testing.

When Childhood Collides with NCLB is pbulished by the Vermont Society for the Study of Education. It is available in paperback for $8.95. (msclass@gmavt.net)
P. O. Box 26
Charlotte, VT 05445

From the Board Room is a publication of the Vermont School Boards Association. David Cyprian Legislative Analyst for VSBA.

— David Cyprian
From the Board Room
2008-06-01


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