Tuesday, June 04, 2002

If I periodically say things that remind b!X from whence he came, rest assured that he returns the favor. He emailed the link to this article about, well, in his own words, Nice fuck up with the Regents exam censoring/sanitizing passages from other people's writings in order to not "offend" any test-takers.

Ah yes, the New York State Board of Regents and their infamous statewide assessments. One of the major pieces that I left out of "the story of my life as told to Frank Paynter in five emails" was my 20-year career with the NY State Education Department, three of which were spent deeply immersed in promoting the "school improvement" agenda of the New York State Board of Regents. I did everything from write brochure copy, manuals and "town meeting" type video scripts (read "propaganda") to actually going into schools to help the teachers and administrators figure out how to improve their teaching strategies so that more kids could pass the statewide exams (read "propaganda"). Yes, I sold out. For the salary and the benefits, the promise of being able to retire at 62 and live relatively comfortably -- oh yeah, I spun their straw into gold. Or rather, gold plate. Gold plate that peels off very quickly and reveals some very flimsy, old, stale straw.

Interestingly enough, the woman quoted in article, Rosanne DeFabio, was my Team Leader's boss back then. She was the standard-bearer for the work that we did. Carefully coiffed and spoken, traditionally classy and well-mannered, Rosanne has never taught in a public school; her teaching background is in Catholic schools. So I was not surprised to read the following in the newspaper account:

Roseanne DeFabio, the Education Department's assistant commissioner for curriculum, instruction and assessment, said Friday, "We do shorten the passages and alter the passages to make them suitable for testing situations." The changes are made to satisfy the sensitivity guidelines the department uses, so no one will be "uncomfortable in a testing situation," she said. "Even the most wonderful writers don't write literature for children to take on a test." DeFabio said that, as a result of an objection recently received from an author, the department had decided to use ellipses in future exams. She also said that she thought it worthwhile that the department consider marking passages that are altered, but she did not feel it was necessary to ask the permission of authors to change their work.

One of the objections came from one of my favorite authors, Annie Dillard, who, according to the news report, wrote the following in a letter to the Commissioner of Education: "What could be the purpose of an exercise testing students on such a lacerated passage - one which, finally, is neither mine nor true to my lived experience." As explained in the news article, When they read a passage from Annie Dillard's memoir "An American Childhood," gone were any racial references from a description of her childhood trips to a library in a black section where she was one of the only white visitors.

Keep in mind, now, that the New York State Educational system is considered a leader in setting standards for learning and providing statewide tests to assess whether or not kids are learning up to those standards. (I even worked on some of the standards-setting documents.) On the surface this sounds great. Legislators who have to vote on how much money to give schools love it. Parents who want to see high marks on report cards love it. But guess what. It doesn't work. It doesn't work because of just the kind of manipulation of learning and testing that the news article reports. It doesn't work because it's not based on what makes kids want to learn, love to learn. It doesn't work because teachers teach to the test. It doesn't work because kids don't wind up with a love of learning; rather they wind up with just the opposite -- and with headaches and stomach aches from pressures imposed on them by both schools and parents to make sure that they pass the tests.

Well, I couldn't say all of this then, but I sure can say it now. My retirement checks come from the State and not from the Department. They can't fire me now.

P.S. I didn't hang in there all of those years just for the money and security, really. I considered myself an infiltrator, a wolf in sheep's clothing. I was trying to change the system from within. When I went into schools I tried to begin showing them the truth, I began conversations, I listened. In many ways I was beginning to apply the Cluetrain philosophies and Chris Locke's Gonzo Marketing approach to the education market. But that was long before the Cluetrain guys came on the scene. I had no models. I was winging it. And that's what made it fun. I remember I began one speech that I gave to the New York State Reading Association with the lyrics from Concrete Blonde's song (originally by Leonard Cohen) from the movie Pump Up the Volume. "Everybody knows the dice are loaded..." I told them to "Talk Hard." To tell the truth. To listen to what the kids are saying. To watch MTV. I expected that I would never be asked to speak to them again. Not true. They loved it. They loved that someone from that big bureaucracy came and used an authentic voice. But one voice is not enough, no matter how hard or true.
If we don't laugh, we're going to cry
Got this from Tish. And this on the same site. Grab a cup of coffee and spend an hour letting Mark Fiore's repertoire make you smile.
The Intoxicating Fragrance of Pesto
Well, I think this mindmeld with Halley has gone a little too far. Now RageBoy is personally promoting -- by wearing -- Isabella Rosselini's new basil-based scent, Manifesto. Listen, RB, I've got this great patch of basil growing full tilt out here in my grave-sized garden. I'll blender you up a batch and save you a lot of money.