Left Behind

I grew up in a small blue-collar town in the Bay Area. My father worked as a machinist in a local factory, as did the fathers of most of my friends. In those days—I started grammar school in the early ’70s—we were told that California had one of the most progressive public school systems in the nation. I had no reason to doubt that claim, as it was though school programs that I learned to play music, was exposed to the arts, and developed a love of literature that has lasted my entire life.

A precocious kid, I was involved with the MGM program until budget cuts after Proposition 13 put an end to many of the extra-curricular activities I had enjoyed. I can still remember what it felt like to have been shown what the wider world can offer and then asked to settle for less.

It seems to me that the over-emphasis on standardized testing that permeates the culture right now will ensure that students will never glimpse the opportunities that my classmates and I had. Any kind of depth or breath of knowledge seems to be sacrificed to meet an overarching and overbearing set of unfair, unequal goals.

Although I may be a newcomer to the world of educational theory, I have long been a follower of politics and have actively tried to keep abreast of current trends and their effects on our society. One of the more troubling developments has been the leaching of resources from the public sphere to the private sector.

No one mandate points up this disturbing trend more than the No Child Left Behind Act. This policy’s method of using standardized tests to grade our nation’s youth in a graceless, some say “culturally-biased,” way completely ignores the myriad ways that children learn.

By forcing teachers to “teach to the test,” we are bulldozing nuance while taking resources away from deeper, more meaningful development and missing out on engaging the needs of the individual.

Those students that may benefit from having their potential recognized at an early age may completely lose out as well as they get caught in a race to the bottom.

This mandate would be disastrous enough if it were merely misguided, but I fear the truth of the program may prove to be much more cynical. The first clue is the lack of adequate funding provided for applying such a venture. I understand that No Child Left Behind does, however, provide for “for profit” tutors or “supplemental educational services” when schools fall behind on their scores.

My wife and I heard journalist Greg Palast give a talk in Oakland last year and he spoke about how struggling “Title I” schools must use funds to pay for tutoring, rather than use that money to pay teachers and provide decent materials. You don’t have to be paranoid to come to the conclusion that this direction is doomed to fail. The worse a school tests, the less control the people who really should understand the needs of the students and the community it serves have in turning things around.

I am not entirely sold on the charter school idea and I believe time will prove this trend to have been yet another attempt to privatize what used to be our birthright as Californians—a decent public education.

Rep. George Miller recently gave a speech in which he said “people have a very strong sense that the No Child Left Behind Act is not fair, that it is not flexible, and that it is not funded. And they are not wrong.”

Miller then asked a question that we all should consider carefully. “What are we going to do next?”


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