Saturday, April 28, 2007

Teacher Leads Protest Claiming Kids Over-Tested

From WAFB TV in Baton Rouge:

Samori Camara says this protest is the best lesson plan he's ever come up with. The only problem is he can't teach a chant inside the school because he may be on the verge of being fired. Camara says last week, he told his students to boycott an experimental version of the high-stakes test. That's part of the reason school officials put him on administrative leave. Camara says, "You come in, you make a point, you don't take the test at all, you have to show the people that you will not be used as a guinea pig, as a lab rat." And they listened. There are feelings he encouraged students to start their own protest.

Samara Thomas, a former student of Camara, says, "How to be an individual, taught me to stand up for what I believe in which no other teacher would ever teach you." Thomas says students have carried on their protest inside the school for the past three days. She says, "Stand up and fight for what you believe in, bring back brother Camara. Other students suspended for wearing logos on their shirts with peace symbols and brother Camara we miss you." She even snuck out of the school to join his protest outside.

Click here for the rest, as well as some video.

Okay, so Camara is absolutely doing the right thing here. He's totally correct in his assertion that kids are over-tested, and such a statement only scratches the surface of the multi-faceted problem of how standardized tests are used in public education--for one, most of these high-stakes tests exist only for political, rather than educational, reasons; for another, standardized tests, which have educational value, but only as one small part of the overall assessment process, are given waaay too much importance in terms of measuring educational success. Furthermore, Camara is absolutely right to teach his students the value of collective political action, and absolutely right to make his first lesson on the subject a challenge to the anti-democratic and anti-American authoritarian public education system.

But being right doesn't matter: Camara will definitely lose his job, which he only started last January, and will probably have an extraordinarily hard time getting another one. He's an educational pariah now.

That's the thing about education. It's impossible to change it from the inside. Even slight, vague, or perceived challenges from teachers are dealt with harshly. If you want to keep on working, and enjoying a decent salary with benefits and retirement, you do what you're told. Lord knows, I tried to balance my own ideological issues about education with workplace survival for six years when I was teaching in Baytown, but in the end, I just couldn't do it. I had to quit, for my own sanity. Indeed, a majority of people entering the field quit after four years, probably thinking that it's simply too much stress, without ever realizing that their souls are actually hurting because they were part of an authoritarian indoctrination system. Indeed, the teachers who manage to find a way to make a life's career out of it are probably themselves some of the most indoctrinated individuals in the whole country. They have to be in order to not hate themselves.

Anyway, while I thoroughly applaud Camara's actions, he's a flash in the pan. A momentary blip on the radar screen. He will probably have inspired a handful of students in the long run when it's all over and done, but the system will easily survive this low-budget attack. He'll be just a memory next year, and nothing the year after that.

The only way to change our heinous educational system is from the outside. After all, it wasn't the Germans who overthrew Hitler; they were much too deluded and/or afraid to ever seriously attempt it.