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Philosophical Meanderings

“No” does not mean “NO”, and I am snarky…

I was recently advised that “no” does not mean “NO”, and that I am “snarky”.

I re-learned the meaning of “no” through The Bartleby Project . I support the effort to “Just Say No” to the test and so I added my head to that project’s count. I even added my two cents-worth of thought… Oops!

Saying “No” is very well and good so long as one does not refuse to do the thing that first gave rise to the urge to say “No”. Apparently, one can only say “No” while “doing” “Yes”. Lesson learned – “No” means “NO” except when it means “maybe”, “sort of”, or “YES”.

On a social networking service, I found a page about “opting out” of high-stakes testing and thought that describing my positive experiences with standardized tests would illuminate several reasons for opting out. As one who does well on such tests, I thought my shout to “Run away! Those tests are completely toxic!” would be well received… Oops!

Apparently, one can have an opinion only if one’s child performs poorly on “the test” or if the opinion comes from someone else… like an “authority”. I had been “snarky” for having mentioned my own experiences.

I looked up the words “No” and “snarky”. “No” still means “NO”, and the word “snarky” did not apply in the context it was used (although I admit that I do sometimes come across as “snarky” or worse).

Similar occurrences are commonplace, whether on the internet or in the context of face-to-face interactions. It seems one must sing the same song as others, nonsensical lyrics at atonality notwithstanding. I must have been daydreaming when this lesson was taught in school. Perhaps my teachers failed to program me correctly …it does not matter.

The few “professional teachers” are up against the significant force of the real-world’s “teachers”. You pros have a weighty responsibility. I wonder if your students are of the same mind as Princess Leia who, in a scene from the first Star Wars film released, records a message using R2-D2: “Help me, Obi-Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

(By the way, I still support the goals of both The Bartleby Project and the networking page I referenced.)

About Brent Snavely

A construct of upbringing and society, holder of a BS. JD and an MA, I have practiced law more than 25 years. "The Truth shall set you free", but only if it is a Personal Truth that is based upon facts. Parrhesia may be humankind's only hope (see,


11 thoughts on ““No” does not mean “NO”, and I am snarky…

  1. I’ve run into similar criticism when pointing out my own experience with tests. I’ve told people that I aced the tests, that they were far too easy for me and that they over-inflated the perception of what I really knew. They were toxic and I was wounded by the experience (being forced to take math classes that were far too fast for what I was capable of). My point was that some people are screwed because the tests are too hard, but the typical multiple choice exam is too easy for many as well. I also pointed out that they needed to define standardize and if it was truly standardization they were against, they needed to fight against Zero Tolerance, students in rows, common standards and all of the industrial, standardized components. It was the only time I was asked to leave a group. There was an assumption that I was an un-schooler even though I am a public school teacher. And though I thought I had argued with nuance and brought up multiple perspectives, I had caused trouble.

    I wasn’t labeled as snarky, but I was called radical and arrogant.

    Posted by John T. Spencer | October 2, 2011, 9:32 am
    • When it comes to “standardization” for the purpose of ‘measuring’ human beings, I am all for radicalism, even if some might think arrogance is involved.

      Posted by Brent Snavely | October 2, 2011, 3:57 pm
  2. This is the dangerous world we have created online where we can filter out what we don’t agree with. Your last, sentence, John, makes me wonder if those who labeled you a ‘radical’ would consider themselves ‘innovators.’ Semantics play such a huge role these days, as your post, Brent, describes well.

    My $.02 on opting out of the test–I think it is hurtful to schools in low-performing, under-funded districts such as Philadelphia. We once didn’t make AYP because we didn’t test enough of our Special Ed kids! In addition, low-performing schools are being shut down and sold off to large charter school managers (not a jab at charters, but at for-profit public education)

    Also, our parents want for their children what, from their perspective, every middle class, suburban kid has–high test scores. Unless a large majority of parents opt out of the test, it only hurts the school. These parents won’t opt out as long as they believe that evaluating their child through standardized tests is hurtful, and it’s a steep uphill climb to convince them of that. You can imagine how popular that opinion is!

    Thanks for a thought-provoking post!

    Posted by Mary Beth Hertz | October 2, 2011, 3:14 pm
    • Mary Beth,

      I value your “$0.02” more than what that label might suggest. From the false religion of the Bell curve to the commodification of human beings, I have several reasons, each moral in nature, as to why I dislike standardized and high stakes tests.

      The question that strikes me hard is: Why do individuals think such tests “must” be used?

      The only reason I can come up with involves the doling of state and federal “public funds” with “strings attached” in which the Return on Investment for the education dollar is determined by using “Test X”. If that test shows a poor ROI, there is no “value” to what is taking place in the education system and the system must be changed to generate more “value” lest continued “investment” be stopped.

      I could rant for quite a while about the “economics” involved. I must be getting old (my wife loves it when I say this). The word “value” and its forms seem to carry far different meaning for me than a great many others.


      Posted by Brent Snavely | October 3, 2011, 8:51 am
  3. I too found that page on Opting Out ( Unfortunately, I actually helped recruit many people to that page before the group had identified their true goals. They censored and banned anyone who mentioned views they did not agree with in the area of religion, politics, and if you supported home education. You can read more about that here (

    I guess the lesson learned there is that even if there is a group that seems to stand for the same thing you do, it is wise to investigate further as many of us don’t want to be associated with a group known for censorship and discrimination.

    Posted by Lisa Velmer Nielsen | October 2, 2011, 5:26 pm
    • Lisa,

      I was unaware of any censorship or banning on the “Opt Out” page.

      The teachable moment for me was the recognition that catchphrases and simple “sound bites”, while perhaps sounding good, do not carry the same meaning as a concrete definition.

      “Opting Out” sounds like a personal choice – what the page revealed was an effort to engage in carrying out a Political Process Theory.

      Simply saying “No” suggests one can actually choose not to engage in something, but that was apparently not what others had in mind.

      No matter what else might be going on, I still hope that standardized and high stakes tests are eliminated.

      Posted by Brent Snavely | October 2, 2011, 8:40 pm
  4. Did they get anywhere with their efforts? Last I saw, they had learned that each state’s law about opting out is different and they were putting up whatever info they had about each state. Not complete or necessarily accurate info but what had been contributed. And then it got very strange with multiple websites/pages/whatever claiming they were the real thing and others were taking their information. Not an effort that would be too inspiring if I were a parent new to all of this. So has it faded away as these things do each fall or is the group actually doing anything?


    Posted by Nance Confer | October 4, 2011, 6:04 pm
    • Nance,

      I have no idea what direction matters took. I bowed out because I did not see myself adding anything of value to what appeared to be a growing “movement” involving petitions, addressing school boards and similar “busy work” activities — actually “Opting Out” was apparently too direct for some.


      Posted by Brent Snavely | October 4, 2011, 7:24 pm
  5. Well, I had the impression that simply opting out was the initial impulse. But then someone checked on the consequences.


    Posted by Nance Confer | October 4, 2011, 9:00 pm
    • Nance,

      Perhaps. I saw it as saying “no” to the “NO” since there are always consequences. The most pernicious consequences of standardized testing are tied to exclusion of “undesireables” and locking in class status across generations. The consequences of saying “NO” are tied to the loss of funds which, when considered in light of NCLB standards, are going to be “lost” anyway.


      Posted by Brent Snavely | October 4, 2011, 10:05 pm
      • That’s always been the case. And each fall, we go through a wave of parents who have to weigh the greater good against their own child’s immediate situation and their own level of comfort in doing anything about the system. The thing that struck me was the broadcasting of that initial impulse — hurray for social networking? — and the sad reminder of reality that quickly followed. I would have thought someone would have done some research into the consequences of saying no and then decided to start an opt out action but it seemed to happen in the opposite order.

        Posted by Nance Confer | October 5, 2011, 7:23 am

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