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Leadership and Activism, Philosophical Meanderings

What Would Gandhi Do?

In its infinite wisdom, the New York State Education Department has increased the length of the state ELA

Mohandas K. Gandhi (1869-1948), political and spiritual leader of India. Location unknown. (Photo credit: Wikipedia via

and math tests by 50% this year. Now three days each instead of two.

They say that the increase is due to a need to field test questions for future exams based on the Common Core standards.

In other words, they are using our students, our children, as guinea pigs.

Any other field of science requires informed consent before experimenting on human subjects. I’ve never been asked if I consent to the state experimenting on my son. The state is either arrogantly flouting standard scientific procedure or they’re saying my son, and all the other students attending public schools in the state are not human.

Either way, they’re wrong.

I suspect that if asked, they’ll say that sending our children to public schools implies consent.

That’s nonsense.

It is the same as saying that by taking our children to doctors we’re implying consent for them to be used in chemotherapy studies.

I’ve spent part of the past week, and part of a week in February, working in the library of the Ethical Culture School in Manhattan as part of the state-required internship for the MLS degree I am almost done with.

The students at the Ethical Culture School don’t take state tests. Their parents spend $38,000 a year to buy out of them. Yes, somehow, their children get educated and everyone connected with their education knows precisely what each child is learning.

Not many of us can afford to spend $38,000 a year per child for an education that exempts them from state testing that has nothing to do with improving student learning and that also conducts experiments on those students. We have to find a different way to get our sons and daughters out of the grip of the edu-business of standardized exams.

I propose education civil disobedience. We should just keep our children home on testing days. Or if we must send them to school so we can work, teach them to refuse to take the exams.

Yes, it can have a disastrous effect on a school’s AYP if not enough students take the exam. If it happens in one school no one will notice.

If it happens in all the schools in a district people will begin to notice.

And if it happens in a lot of districts our educational leaders will have a decision to make.

They can try to enforce the laws and punish parents, students and schools for the boycott.

Or they can take their ball of data and go away.

At least for a while.


Originally posted on Education on the Plate

About Deven Black

I'm a highly curious middle school teacher-librarian for the NYC Department of Education. My other major pleasure is being a husband and the father of a teenager. I've done lots of other things (news reporter, restaurant manager, food writer, etc.) that will show up in my writing from time-to-time. I have strong opinions but I try to keep an open mind. I'm always ready to learn something new.


7 thoughts on “What Would Gandhi Do?

  1. I am with you Deven! Thank you for this strong rally cry!

    Posted by dloitz | April 18, 2012, 12:00 am
  2. Here is what I learned at Occupy the DOE in DC:
    The Supreme Court has ruled that parents have the final say in educational matters.
    If 6% of a tested sub-group (let’s just say 5th graders) do not take the test, then the scores are INVALID and cannot be used to measure the progress of the STUDENTS, the TEACHER, the PRINCIPAL, or the SCHOOL!

    As a teacher of first graders, I don’t have a state test to give, but I will be giving some sort of standardized test for the use of the Title 1 Coordinator in making ‘placement decisions’. I have heard that we may be giving these precious 6 and 7 year olds the Stanford 9 ONLINE. The entire test takes over 4 hours!!

    There are MANY teachers and principals who are equally opposed to the testing. What it will take in NY is the courage of the Texas Superintendents to say to State Education – “NO!! WE WILL NOT GIVE THIS TEST!” At this moment, there has not been one (to my knowledge) courageous Supt in NY. Those of us inside the school walls who hate the tests NEED parents to opt out. We have been demonized in the media, and we NEED to work WITH PARENTS to stop the insanity and to stop lining the pockets of Pearson, McGraw Hill, and the Governor!!!

    Posted by ruralteacher | April 18, 2012, 6:24 am
  3. I support those who say “No” to the test.


    Right now.

    At some time in the not-so-distant future I think a tipping point will be reached; a time at which saying “no” will be viewed as akin to yelling “Fire” in a crowded theatre.


    Posted by Brent Snavely | April 18, 2012, 6:42 am
  4. As most important decisions are, this is a tough one, right? I am a supporter of what I refer to as a LOCAL Edication Community: a cross-section of local citizens motivated to engage in efforts to improve public schools. The idea is that every person has her / his own ideas of what needs to be done; in the EC, the parties agree to work together to understand AND work on the BETTER ALTERNATIVE: an alternative that EACH party agrees is better than the one they each championed at the initiation of the efforts. Sounds tough, right? Fortunately, Stephen Covey has expanded upon his concept, providing a roadmap in his latest book,”The 3rd Alternative: Solving Life’s Most Difficult Problems.”

    As I learn that teaching to the standardized test is NOT mandated, I honestly believe students that educators work with to facilitate effective learning will indeed do well on those standardized tests while learning for ongterm retention and ease of application (effective learning). While I wouldn’t presume to propose such a better alternative since that must emerge locally, I do see lots of merit. I also believe the support and trust developed within the local EC would be difficult for state / federal authorities to ignor.

    As we all know, there are many of us educators and education supporters who are totally frustrated by the mandated policies AND lack of improved learning reforms. The local EC is a mechanism to understanding and addressing things locally. Regardless of the eventual,outcome, following the example of Gandhi or whatever, it has to be better than the arbitrary and often mindless mandates!

    Blogs such as this one truly offer the opportunity to share our successes AND of course our frustrations. May I suggest that we members of the choir reach out to our colleagues and to our communities. To do less is, for me at least, akin to shirking our responsibilities to the students.

    Posted by John Bennett | April 18, 2012, 8:14 am
  5. Super post. Thanks for sharing it here–I hope bloggers continue to explore the idea of just saying no to unnecessary, high-stakes standardized tests and using student data (that belongs to students and their families) to determine merit pay for teachers and to close neighborhood schools.

    There’s an interesting letter–speaking of legal pushback against state testing–from New Yorker Christine Green Dougherty on the “Opt Out of State Tests” Facebook page. Doughterty specifically requested that her son (who has an IEP) opt out of the test. She was refused, with increasingly strong and threatening language. Then, the school forced him to take the test, and did not comply with the terms of his IEP. She could use more feedback:

    Twenty-first century learning expert and parent Will Richardson also wrote an excellent blog on this, yesterday, launching a lively conversation:

    Finally–I love the title of this blog.

    Posted by nflanagan | April 18, 2012, 8:16 am
  6. Sounds great. Good luck! As a homeschooler in Bahrain it doesn’t effect us directly, but the principle is an important, universal one. Loved the photo of Ghandi!

    Posted by homeschoolingpenny | April 18, 2012, 8:38 am
  7. The pressures to test make it statistically “better” to build large schools and teach to the tests. The best thing about public education right now, seen a certain way, is how interconnected the corrupt bits are. I doubt all the structures could survive the demise of even a few. Time to get the dominoes falling.


    Posted by Chad Sansing | April 22, 2012, 10:10 am

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