Why Aren’t We Talking About This?

When I was twenty-five, I interviewed at a charter school in Brooklyn.

Before I sat down to talk to the dean, I observed a kindergarten class that looked nothing like any kindergarten class I had ever seen: just shy of thirty children sitting in rows on a carpet, each with legs crossed and hands folded, all completely and utterly silent.

In my interview, the dean asked me what I noticed about the class.

“They were very well behaved,” I said.

“Yes, they were. But they sure don’t come in like that,” he answered.  With icy pride in his voice, he said: “It’s only because of the hard work of our staff that they act like that.”

I took the job – foolishly – and soon found out what this “hard work” meant: scholars, as we called them, were expected to be 100% compliant at all times. Every part of the nine-hour school day was structured to prevent any opportunity for deviance; even recess, ten-minutes long and only indoors, consisted of one game chosen for the week on Monday.

We were overseers, really.  Our lessons were scripted according to the needs of the upcoming state test, and so we spent our days “catching” scholars when they misbehaved, marking their misdeeds (talking, laughing, wiggling) on charts, and sending them to the dean when they acted their age too many times in one day.

There weren’t any white children at the school, but there I was – a white teacher, snapping at a room full of black children to get them to respond, in unison, to my demands.

Everyone in the nation is talking about our racist history, but do people know what type of racism is happening today, beneath our noses, under the banner of education reform?

With useless, commercial junk-tests as justification, we have been told, for years now, that we must serve up our low-income schools – those schools filled mostly with children of color – to profiteers, who are then free to experiment on children in whatever ways they see fit.

Have you ever seen this video?  Watch as the parents – parents who love and value their school – are told that they need a charter network to rescue them:


“Why come here and discombobulate our home?” one parent asks.

They are discombobulating homes everywhere, of course, but communities of color are almost always hit first – and hardest.

But who, aside from a few bloggers and academics, are talking about this?

Why aren’t more people demanding that these racist institutions and policies be taken down?

Things are about to get much worse, as profiteers are now turning their attention to the measurement and manipulation of the non-academic parts of schooling – how much “grit” a child has, or how compliant he or she is – with computers taking the place of teachers to conduct remediation.



It’s modern eugenics: the molding of children’s personalities, starting from preschool, to suit the needs of our Wall Street masters.

If you aren’t sure what I mean, it’s because it isn’t happening yet in your community. Maybe, if you’re lucky, it never will.

You can be sure, however, that it is happening to other people’s children.

When will we demand that this stops too?



The Cold Truth About Personalized Learning

In just a couple of weeks, my older son will start preschool.

Here are a couple of things, in no particular order, that I hope he learns while he is there:

  1. What finger paint smells like
  2. How to glue cotton balls onto construction paper
  3. The words to Down by the Bay
  4. That there are other cool things in the world besides trucks and washing machines
  5. That if you push someone’s block tower over, it will hurt their feelings
  6. That occasionally – just every now and then – it is okay to sit still for a little bit

It’s not an exhaustive list, but even if it went on forever, there are a few things you can be sure I wouldn’t include: “kindergarten readiness,” for example, or even his ABC’s or colors. 

 (I’m confident that, as soon as the time is right, he’ll figure out that J can’t be K just because he feels like it and that pink is actually a little bit different from purple.)

I’m sending him to the preschool down the street from us a couple times a week because I’m pretty sure he’ll really like it, and I want him to enjoy being three years old.

When I first started researching competency based education, I learned about a little native village in Alaska called Chugach, where the Gates Foundation and Apple conducted a pilot study on standards based education.

In the district’s application for a Malcolm Baldridge Award, the authors described the way they enlisted community “stakeholders” to help them develop standards:

“The leadership team sets value for all stakeholders by requiring their input and constant evaluation of the organization,” says the application.  “For example, community members helped to create standards.”

And then they listed an example of community input:

“‘We want our kids to enjoy what they are learning while they are learning, and to have a good humor in life,’ said a Tatitlek Elder attending OTE meetings.”

Yes!  Yes, me too – and how succinctly put! I remember thinking.

But then came the next sentence:

“These words are clearly reflected in CSD standards P/S Level 2.5 Demonstrates responsible use of humor.”

“Responsible use of humor”??  What??  No!  That’s not what the elders said at all!

It’s what an employer might say of their employees – you know, lest humor get in the way of their efficiency.

This – this twisting and standardizing of the hopes and dreams we have for our children, and the cruel and cold replacement of efficiency and linearity for the messy and impossible to measure qualities like good humor in life that make school memorable, joyful, and maybe even irresponsible every now and then – is precisely the danger we face right now.

This is the cold truth about the “personalized learning” they are promising us.

While they chastise us for clinging to an outdated, “one size fits all” approach to school – with kids all about the same age learning and playing and growing together – they are quietly slipping in a model that claims all children can and will fit one size, given sufficient time and technology.

It’s a ruse of epic proportions.

I am lucky that I (sort of) have the means to send my little boy to the preschool down the street: when we visited, some kids were playing dress-up, others were doing an art project, and a couple girls were just chatting with the teacher.  There was only one desktop computer, and no one was on it.

My son discovered the big wooden blocks while we were there, and when it was time to leave, I had to convince him that it was okay, we’d be back soon.

Look carefully, however, at the types of early childhood programs investors are working to develop, with their laser-like focus on all that is measurable and profitable, and it becomes clear that my son, if he is not already, will soon be among the lucky few… and who knows for how long. 

Let’s be vigilant, parents.  They will take everything, while pretending to give everything, if we let them. 



(Photo above courtesy of my almost three-year-old, who uses my breast pump tube as a firetruck hose and wine stoppers as traffic cones.  #Standardizethat.)