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New Album Features Anti-NCLB Songs

Susan Notes: Do you have your CD yet? We want you to sing along!

Bob Dylan they ain't, but the musicians featured on "No Child Left Behind? Bring Back The Joy" bring just as much passion and protest to what they view as an abomination of the 21st century: federal education policy.

The recently released folk album features 15 songs by professional folk singers, educators and children's choirs. What makes them unique is the subject matter. Lyrics urge support for schools, less emphasis on standardized tests, and freedom for teachers to teach and students to learn.

"I believe in what I call reform, but this [federal policies] isn't reform," says Cap Lee, a retired Milwaukee educator and the inspiration behind the album. "This is damage.

"The [album's] message is to put the focus on the children - not on politics - [and] on the needs of the whole child." Educators should "not depend on one standardized test to say 'you're smart' or 'you're stupid.' "

Teachers in Utah and nationwide have lamented the No Child Left Behind law's reliance on tests as the key indicator of school quality.

"I don't mind being held accountable and I don't mind testing, but students have to be the priority," agrees Patricia Stirling, a math teacher at Crescent Middle School in Sandy. "My biggest frustration has been as a parent . . . because No Child Left Behind allows no room for students' [individual] needs."

That's the gist of the album's first track, "Save Our Schools," sung to the tune of "Skip to My Lou":

High-stakes testing, they push through/Herding students, teachers, too.

Let our natural gifts show through/That's what they'll do for children.

Save, save, save our schools/Save, save, save our schools.

Save, save, save our schools/Save them for our children.

Inspiration for the album struck when Lee was visiting an alternative school in Birmingham, Ala., with other educators, parents, musicians and authors.

The group was brainstorming ways to raise money for the school when they launched into an impromptu jam session and discovered a theme: frustration with fallout from the federal No Child Left Behind law, which requires public schools to post annual standardized test-score gains in reading and math.

They recounted stories of schools eliminating music, art and recess to allow more time for the core academics covered on tests.

"Cutting out recess? It's insanity," Lee says. "It doesn't make any sense. It's like telling a teacher they can't have a break or a superintendent that they can't go to a conference.

"So what did they do in the '50s and '60s down in Birmingham? They sang. We thought, 'Why don't we do the same thing to protest [judgments of school quality] on a single standardized test?' Music is a great form of communication."

Lee roped in David H.B. Drake, a professional folk singer and friend from Milwaukee. They solicited lyrics from educators nationwide. They got nearly 40 submissions, some biting attacks on prominent politicians, others wistful recollections of a less-rigid time for public education.

In the end, they selected songs that challenged policy - not people.

"Look, passing laws and not funding them, and testing kids is not helping things," Drake says, speaking from a pay phone in Mercer, Wis. - the Loon Capital of the World! he points out - as he passes time before his next gig. "That's not how people learn. The way we look at it, we're giving voice to something that needs a voice."

Take track No. 3, "For Whom The Bell Curves":
What if Albert Einstein had never gone to school/'Cause he couldn't speak till he was 4 years old?

We'd have never known that "e" was "m-c squared."/Who's the fool who dares to say how genius will unfold?

And from Track No. 6, "Test the Kids" (to the tune of "If You're Happy and You Know It"):
No Child Left Behind says test the kids/While teachers are maligned, test the kids.

If the CEOs are liars, put the kids' feet to the fire/Shouting "Vouchers, we desire!" test the kids.

If your schools they are crumbling, test the kids/And Congress it is bumbling test the kids.

Business wants more competition and public school demolition/It's a hunting expedition, test the kids.

For more information

Visit http://wholechildreform.com/pages/890692/index.html or http://susanohanian.org/woo.html.

Proceeds go to the World of Opportunity, an alternative school in Birmingham, Ala., that specializes in social justice and civil rights.

— Ronnie Lynn
Salt Lake Tribune


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