Saint Carl, civil disobedience and irresponsible discord

I guess I’d be remiss if I didn’t take a few minutes to write about Carl Chew, the Washington State middle school teacher who refused to give his state’s standardized test and was suspended for his actions, right?

After all, he’s being touted (and touting himself, I might add) as education’s very own Paul Revere.  Over the course of the past 12 hours, I’ve had no less than four different teachers declare that Chew is their hero.  “He’s brave enough to take a stand,” the story line goes, “And it’s a stand that you aren’t willing to take.”

The way teachers talk, you’d think this guy was on the fast track to Sainthood or something.  Move over John Paul.  Chew’s now first in line.  He worked miracles and we’ve got proof.

Can you tell that I’m not a member of the “Chew for President” Brigade?

And while my thinking is still incomplete on this one, here’s where I currently stand:

I think that refusing to give the state test is a pretty arrogant and egocentric thing to do.  It seems to scream, “Testing is bad. My opinion is the only one that matters.  You can’t possibly know as much as I do about what’s right and what’s wrong for kids—-even if you have raised them since the day they were born.  I AM TEACHER, HEAR ME ROAR!”

The problem is that we’re not independent agents who can make decisions divorced from the broader communities that we serve.  Taxpayers invest a heaping load of cash into public schools—which by default ought to give them a bit of say so over what happens in our buildings, don’t you think?

Whether we like it or not, we’re public employees—-and public employees have a responsibility to work with, rather than against, the public’s wishes.  In most places, elected officials determine the curriculum and elected officials determine the methods we use to assess that curriculum.  To willfully ignore the methods selected by elected officials essentially says that we don’t respect the values of the communities that we serve.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m no fan of testing at all.  Need proof?  Check out this post, written just two weeks ago.  In many ways, testing has destroyed what I do in my classroom each year, changed the dynamic of teaching and learning completely, and has done far more damage that it has done good.

But it is a system selected and believed in by the people who pay my check.  And (in theory) it’s based on the values and beliefs of a group of people that go far beyond me.  For those reasons, I choose to honor and respect the system even though I don’t totally believe in it.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t work to see the system changed.  As much as anyone, I work to make my thinking on testing transparent, knowing that I’ve got a credible perspective that can inform the conversation.

The difference between my approach and the less-tempered-radicals like Chew is that I am readily willing to admit that I only have one perspective on this issue, and while it’s especially valid considering my proximity to the classroom and my first hand experience with the impact testing has had on teaching and learning, it’s still only one perspective.

Why can’t teachers understand that the best decisions are those that are made when a variety of perspectives are considered and respected as plans are developed and implemented?  And why can’t we believe that someone beyond us might just have something valuable to add to the conversation about our kids?

Eventually, I believe our community will come to consensus about what effective assessment looks like.  Chances are, that system will be more sophisticated than the test-driven system we’re currently addicted to.  I guess my opinion comes from the belief that everyone—not just teachers—cares about what’s good for our kids.

And I believe that a system developed together breeds consensus—something sorely missing from conversations about education….and something made less likely when teachers like Chew show disregard for the values of the communities that they serve.

Needless to say, I’m waiting to be torched.