A teacher at Garfield recently received a fantastic letter from a student at the University of Florida. Here is the text of that letter:
To the teachers of Garfield High School,
Hello. My name is Jesse L. I am a senior at the University of Florida in Gainesville, FL. I do not know any alumni or current students of Garfield High, nor do I know any of its employees past or present. I have no personal connection with the school. I recently saw a report on the Garfield teachers’ unanimous refusal to administer the regional standardized test, the MAP, even in the face of a 10-day suspension without pay. I am writing this letter in solidarity with the teachers and students of Garfield High School. Do not flinch. You are on the right side of history. Stand firm in this fight, and you will prove that real progressive change is possible on the grassroots level through organization and collective action. You are already an inspiration to all those who believe the American education system is betraying its students. Please continue to fight on behalf of not only your own students and your own interests as teachers, but on behalf of students and teachers everywhere who must endure the sham and idiocy of standardized tests every year.
I speak as an expert on education. I say I am an expert because I spent thirteen years in the public school system. There are many such experts in the nation. We students know what is right for us and for all those who follow in our footsteps. You teachers know as well, because you are there on the front lines every day. Don’t respect the opinions of detached administrators and the morally bankrupt profiteers of standardized testing – those corporations who force the tests on us. Let us not forget their all too willing accomplices: the legislators and the bureaucrats whose pockets they line. They will accuse you of not caring about your students. They will accuse you of wishing to skirt accountability as teachers. Why do they do this? It is an old and pathetic trick. It is simply projection. It is they who do not care for students. It is they who desperately fear accountability. They accuse their enemies of their own sins, and so they confuse the whole thing. Maintain your clarity of purpose and your moral resolve. Every student and teacher in the country knows the futility and stupidity of testing. Who are these so-called experts who disagree? Who could possibly know better than the students and teachers? They do not trust teachers to do their own jobs. They do not trust students to learn. They must be watched, measured, analyzed, assessed, like so many moving parts in a grand and hideous machine. Well, I have no respect for this position. Clearly, neither do you, and so I commend you. Students are human beings with individual talents and needs. Thank you for recognizing this. Your opponents may have money and power, but you have truth and justice on your side. How long can they compete?
By almost all accounts, the best education system in the world is in Finland. Standardized tests are a barbaric relic in that country. They administer few tests at all in fact. They do not give students grades until they graduate from primary school. They do not assess teachers. They trust their teachers and students. Accountability is a bad word there. Responsibility and trust are the secrets. The naysayers claim such a system could never work here. “Their society is homogenous. They do not have the poverty we have.” True, and yet Finland’s neighbor Norway is also homogenous and their populace suffers little poverty, yet Norway’s students consistently rank alongside ours, while those in Finland far outperform them. Why is this? What is the key difference? For one, the educational model of Norway is remarkably similar to ours. I wonder if that could be the real issue here. Whether their motivations are noble or corrupt, those who claim we cannot trust our teachers and students to teach and learn are misguided. They can blame race, poverty, culture, video games, uninvolved parents, or the devil himself. I do not care. I find all of these suggestions equally distracting from the real issue. We are not allowing our teachers to teach. We are not allowing our students to learn.
Thank you for your efforts. You are in the right. Do not bend. I have little more to offer than words of encouragement, but please accept the small token of support that I have enclosed. Here on the other side of the nation, I am inspired by your actions. I believe that all of you can succeed where our leaders have failed us. Best of luck.