"Other People's Children": The Corollary of Bad Policy
By Mark Naison
For some time, I have argued that School Reform is the most destructive bi-partisan initiative we have suffered in the United States since the Vietnam War, a policy which has, and will continue to inspire mass movements to limit the damage it inflicts through universal testing of the nation's children, and the humiliation and micro-management of the nation's teachers.
Some have argued, correctly, that people have not lost their lives as a result of School Reform even when schools are closed, teachers are fired, communities destabilized, instruction has been reduced to test prep, and young people's minds have been reduced to mush by relentless testing. That is certainly true. But one thing does seem similar. Both produced PTSD.
Photo credit: Erica SzlosekAll over the nation, teachers are under a doctor's care for stress, anxiety and depression due to public demonization by School Reformers and their acolytes, along with policies that have undermined their professionalism, erased their job security and subjected them to relentless supervision. There are also more and more signs of such clinical symptoms spreading to children, as pre-K to 12 testing becomes the rule in every state in the nation, and subjects like art, music, and physical education become sites of high stakes testing used for teacher evaluation as well as student placement.
Children all over the nation are starting to dread going to school, some breaking down from the pressure of the tests, other just sinking into apathy from the boredom of a school day dominated by test prep. And this is only the tip of the iceberg. As the Common CORE standards are implemented, and tests multiply, depression and test fatigue will multiply.
Moreover, the power of the analogy rests on a few chilling similarities. Both policies are thoroughly bi-partisan - the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution and No Child Left Behind were passed by huge majorities that crossed party lines. Both relied on euphemisms to mask ugly consequences; policy makers claimed we sent troops to Vietnam to protect "the freedom and independence of South Vietnam" when in fact we were suppressing a nationalist revolution; and officials of both parties now say "school reform is the civil rights movement of the 21st century" when their policies destabilize poor communities and inflict a regimen of test prep on the nation's children which destroys their joy of learning.
But the most powerful analogy is that both policies were meant for "Other People's Children". Vietnam was a war fought by draftees from a cross section of young people from the nation's working class neighborhoods - the children of congressmen and cabinet officers all got deferments. Similarly, the children of the presidents, governors, mayors, and billionaire business leaders pushing for school reform, never take the tests their policies require because they all go to private school.
A democratic society is fatally corrupted by policies whose architects are immune from the consequences they produce. It is even more corrupt when children, or innocent youth (the average age of the ground soldier in Vietnam was 19) are the major victims.
Mark Naison is a Professor of African-American Studies and History at Fordham University and Director of Fordham's Urban Studies Program and an outspoken critic of destructive school reform policy. This article originally appeared at L.A. Progressive.