Last Wednesday more than 160 students in six different classes at Intermediate School 318 in the South Bronx refused to take another standardized test. The students boycotted the test not out of laziness or fears of failing, but because they are sick of being dragged out of their classrooms to be treated as lab rats in the No Child Left Behind rotten matrix.
These tests don’t affect their grades, nor are they always actual tests. You see, sometimes the students are issued "practice tests" that have no real meaning. The companies are merely experimenting on the children with their shiny, new tests and if they fill in the right bubbles, the test companies ship off their crates to white schools in the suburbs.
The Bronx kids are sharp, determined pupils so they didn’t just sit around, bitching and moaning. Instead, they created a petition complete with specific grievances. The students declared themselves to be aggravated with the "constant, excessive and stressful testing" that causes them to "lose valuable instructional time with our teachers."
Some might say criticizing the broken No Child Left Behind act is a tired, cheap shot. I disagree for the simple fact that teachers are still guilty of teaching to test instead of teaching to engage. They teach with narrow, shallow focus because the No Child Left Behind act demands that sort of curriculum. The act completely robs teachers of their ambitions, desires, and instincts. Teachers are left with no other option than teaching students to regurgitate the appropriate answers for the appropriately numbered questions, which is the opposite of critical thinking and complex problem-solving.
No Child Left Behind is still rotting our schools from the inside because we’ve left it to politicians to fix the educational system. Big mistake. It is going to take the will of the students to get real, permanent policy changes.
The Bronx strike is a significant victory because it represents students rejecting a corrupt institutional policy from inside the institution. Victims of corrupt policies are the strongest voices of dissent because without their participation, the entire parade of corruption and deception comes to a halt.
For the same reason, veterans are the most prolific voices of peace. It’s difficult for even the most staunch conservative politician to look a veteran in the eyes and say, "Look, buddy, I know more about this whole war thing than you."
Though it is smaller by comparison, the Bronx strike brings to mind the historical 1968 strikes in France that led to the collapse of the De Gaulle government and forever changed the country. The French students wanted certain grievances addressed, namely issues involving class struggle and school funding. Above all else, the students wanted to be treated like adults. They wanted a place at the negotiation table and they wanted dignity in the negotiation process. Quite rightly, they believed they should have a say in the outcome of the institution that would play a part in shaping their minds.
At the time, the French students were dismissed as petulant children out of their league in the world of politics. As Gandhi famously said: "First they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. They you win." The French students won and the 1968 strikes are now seen as a critical time in France’s history when the old order of nationalism and conservatism gave way to a more liberal, enlightened period.
These Bronx students will be ridiculed, too. They’ll be called lazy and petulant among other things. Already, the school’s Principal, Maria Lopez, has wowed the public with her spectacularly wrong decision to fire Douglas Avella. Avella is the students’ Social Studies teacher, and he was fired even though the students insist they are entirely responsible for the petition and the strike, and Mr. Avella had nothing to do with their walk-out.
Despite the unfortunate consequence of Avella getting scapegoated, the strike is an encouraging rebellion within a corrupt, failed institution. Hopefully, other students will reject the No Child Left Behind doctrine, just as a steady trickle of war veterans will continue to join the anti-war movement. Until then, our country will be unable to right the wrongs of the past without these essential players, those victims of the very institutions we wish to heal.
ALLISON KILKENNY can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org