Let me start by telling you that my children are guilty. Guilty of being born to middle class–not wealthy–parents, guilty of having special needs, guilty of being the kind of poor test takers who falsely convict their teachers of being bad at their jobs. Most of all they are guilty of being children living in New Mexico.
Perhaps the most guilty among them is my daughter, Jennifer*. She has committed the most outrageous crime of having dyslexia. Despite interventions from teachers, and thousands of dollars spent on outside diagnostics and remediation, Jennifer, age 12, continues to test “not proficient”. She is guilty, and for this both she and her teachers must pay.
Nina, Jennifer’s next youngest sister, age 10, while bright and articulate, must pay. She is guilty. Guilty of wanting so badly to get a perfect score that she will do and redo her answers. Days will go by when Nina, in the fourth grade, will sit and write and erase her answers until she explodes. Nina’s explosions are harbingers for her classmates, who know her to be a steady and capable student. They become guilty of perceiving Nina’s anxiety and inflicting it upon themselves. “It must be really hard for me if it’s hard for Nina,” they think. Then, classmates of Nina’s explode too. They cry, they yell, they come home feeling frustrated and defeated. They are punished.
The youngest of our children are not exempt; they too must be punished. I know this because Ashley, my first grader, had to endure the punishment of standardized testing as well. For her criminal act of being a child in this state, Ashley was required to sit in her chair and interpret and respond to test questions that were abstract and completely inappropriate for her developmental age. Other students in Ashley’s class must be even more guilty because when I opted Ashley out of testing and sat with her in the school office, I could hear the wailing of her classmates begging their teacher to help them understand the questions. These students were being punished for wanting to do well on their tests. To warrant that kind of experience, they must have been deemed guilty.
I am certain that Ashley’s first grade teacher is guilty, too. She was the most punished of all of them. Tears were in her eyes, frustration in her voice. Her hands were tied and her voice silenced as she unwillingly inflicted this test on her students knowing it would forever alter the emotional safety they experienced in her classroom. Ashley’s teacher is guilty of loving her students, and for this crime she was punished.
As parents, my husband and I are guilty. We decided to raise our children here, and for that we must endure the horrific consequence of watching our children be punished. Together, we must watch while the happy childhoods of our children are replaced with anxiety. We are made to stand by while their curiosity is extinguished, while they learn to fear authority, while they learn that they are “not proficient”. We are punished. As we watch the promise of three bright futures fade, we are beaten.
The good news is that, while my children are guilty, they area not as guilty as the 29% of New Mexico children who commit the criminal act of being poor. For their criminal acts, poor children are the most punished. I know this because teachers, for many [these kids'] only reliable adults, are leaving at a rapid rate. Approximately 500 teachers will leave APS alone this year, many of them from schools with children who have committed the criminal act of being poor. [Seeing] the way they are being punished–these children and their teacher–they must be criminals.
Please free our children, offer them amnesty and, in so doing, liberate us all. This is a punitive system where schools, once safe havens, have become jails. Principals serve as unwilling wardens, and the [state education department] is the head of our prison system. Please shed light on this reality by paying attention, spreading the word and serving as advocates for children in our community. We are all called to be up to the task, our children are crying for the childhoods they deserve. The clock is ticking, and time is running out. Teachers are not speaking out because they are terrified that it will harm the job and schools they love. Ask them to speak, and listen. Use your voices and protect our schools, protect our teachers, protect our children.
*All names have been changed