Editor's note: This column is written by San Leandro High School English teacher Jerry Heverly. Its tag line is inspired by education blogger Joe Bower who says that when his students do an experiment, learning is the priority. Getting the correct answer is entirely secondary.)
By Jerry Heverly
When I started writing these "essays" I told myself I should avoid anything topical. Today’s news is good for rousing the blood but the outrage of the moment is generally forgotten tomorrow.
I wanted to talk about the big issues, the ones that confuse me, rather than the hot button topics in the news where I might say something I’d later regret.
As anyone who has ever been the subject of a news article knows, journalists generally give it their best shot but often miss some of the little details that stand nearer to the "truth."
But this one time I want to violate my own rule. I want to scream. I want to condemn. I want to rail against a fellow I call “The Education Villain of the Year” (and it’s only April).
And, deliciously, my villain’s name is Capone.
Back East on Long Island, where I grew up, they are taking the state tests just as we are here in California. In New York the tests are called the New York State English Language Arts and Mathematics Assessments. Ours are called the California Standards Test.
If you do a web search for any of these names you can see sample questions.
In some states (I’m not certain but I think California is one) parent’s can "opt out" their children from these tests.
But one website I visited said teachers like me can be prosecuted if I "solicit non-cooperation with the tests," so please don’t interpret anything I write here as any kind of advocacy.
Anyway, in New York they apparently don’t have an opt-out law.
That didn’t stop Christine Dougherty of Oceanside, New York from writing an email to her child’s school advising principal, Thomas Capone of Oceanside High, that her son Joseph was not taking what she called "unnecessary testing."
You can understand why this would upset Mr. Capone. Here was a lawbreaker openly admitting her culpability.
And I’m pretty certain that if Joseph boycotted the tests it would be a major political problem for Mr. Capone. My guess is that Oceanside stands to be sanctioned by the state for failing to get everyone into the testing program.
I don’t want to unfairly malign Mr. Capone. Maybe there are "facts not in evidence."
Maybe Ms. Dougherty has been a thorn in Mr. Capone’s side for months.
Maybe she complains daily about the canned string beans used in the cafeteria or the cheap floor wax in the hallways.
I don’t know. And, as I said, he’s undoubtedly under pressure from the district and the state to get every kid tested.
And, yes, I know Ms. Dougherty could have just kept her child home with "the flu’"for a couple of weeks and possibly avoided a confrontation.
But what Mr. Capone did was, to me, beyond the pale.
“If you keep Joseph home from school during the Assessment period without medical verification,” Mr. Capone wrote to Joseph’s mom, ”it is within the District’s discretion to deem these absences as indicia of educational neglect, which would leave the District little choice but to contact Child Protective Services.”
If your kid doesn’t show up for the tests lady we might take your kid away from you!
From what I’ve read Child Protective Services doesn’t mess around. Once you are in the legal system all bets are off. This is Mr. Capone going nuclear. This is the ultimate threat.
This is my Villain of the Year.