Seeds of Freedom in Fertile Soil

Take heart in knowing that the arc of history is long, as [Martin Luther] King noted, but it bends toward justice.  Take courage in knowing that where a community of hands comes together to work toward justice, a freedom seed will grow.  And take pride in knowing, when the work is challenging and setbacks come—as they must when anything important is happening—that you are building a better future for every child and family and community you touch (emphasis added).

Linda Darling-Hammond (pictured above) spoke these words at a ceremony where she was awarded the Columbia University Teachers College medal for distinguished service.  The Nation introduction to a transcription of her acceptance speech described her as “a nationally renowned leader in education reform.”  She was considered for the post of Secretary of Education in the Obama administration, but lost out to a member of the high-stakes-testing coalition of a different kind of reformers.

Critics of the latter, President Obama-supported reformers, agree that public schools, particularly those in low-income urban areas, need deep-rooted improvement.  They strongly disagree, however with the standardized testing strategy, which uses results to judge students, teachers and schools, and inflicts punishing sanctions for “failure.”  The critics agree with Darling-Hammond that such testing regimes are “mind-numbing and ultimately futile.”  They agree with her, as well, that countries which score highest on international standards, “test students rarely—and never with multiple-choice tests.”

Marion Brady, in a Washington Post op ed, skewered today’s reformers’ testing strategy: “Kids can’t be taught to think better using tests that can’t measure how they will think.  The logic should be obvious.  What gets tested gets taught.  Complex thinking skills—skills essential to survival—can’t be tested, so they don’t get taught.  That failure doesn’t simply rise to the level of a problem.  It’s unethical.”

Jesus highlighted the seeds metaphor in his parable of the sower in Matthew 13.  He said, in effect, that seeds sown on bad, rocky soil might create a bit of excitement for a time, but don’t take root and soon wither.  On the other hand, seeds sown on good, fertile soil yield a rich return.  Jesus’ seeds metaphor works as well for the challenging task of teaching.

When teachers are required to prepare students for standardized tests, much gets pushed to the side, as Brady stated so powerfully.  Such rocky, hard soil withers the seeds with fear and stress.  In sharp contrast, when reading and math skills are taught in a supportive process of stimulating creativity and a critical understanding of the social dynamics of the world, the joy of learning is sown.  Seeds of insight take root in the nurturing soil of curious, open minds.  Darling-Hammond called each one a seed of freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

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