The Student Who Said No

We have all heard that students should learn to think critically and to take charge of their learning. Here is a story of a student who did.

Reader Linda Jones left this comment on the blog:

Many years ago, when standardized testing was just entering the mainstream of education, I had the privilege of talking to a junior in high school who refused to take the test.

Now this was in the 70s, so I really mean a long – time – ago — long before accountability became fashionable. The principal was having a meltdown because this 1 student just said, “no” to taking the annual achievement test! Frantic, in the face of such defiance, he ordered me to find out what was going on and “make that student take the test!” I was not sure how one would extract reliable results for any assessment if the participant was not willing to divulge information. It seemed to me that even physical, emotional or social coercion could only produce questionable validity. I complied with the request to find out what was going on. I asked the student why they dared challenge the status quo by not submitting the contents of their mind as required.

The student answered, “I will not take the test because they will use the information from those tests to make decisions about my education and life that they do not have the right to make. (Civil rights?) They do not know me as a person, I am more than numbers on a scale. You can make me sit in a room and place a test in front of me but you can not force me to take a test”.

I have never forgotten the weight of the profound truth spoken that day. Why should anyone submit to such an invasion of their person. Decisions about the educational experience of a any child should be based on the deepest possible understanding of the whole child as the result of a trusting relationship. Not a score on a scale ment to sort and label children for recycling.

Accountability, judgement, sorting, labels – are we talking about human children or sheet metal specs? So much of the brain research points to the power of relationship and joy for optimal learning. If you truly understand relationship, you know that accountability results in destroyed relationship. What if your best friend made you accountable for all of your activity? Once you are asked to account, all assumption of trust evaporates.

You can hear the word “accountability” echo across the land as trust and relationship drain away. Hold the child accountable! No, hold the parent accountable! No, hold the teacher, the principal, the BOE, the state, the congress, the president, the world accountable! Holding another accountable, removes their need to be accountable. It removes the responsibility for their behavior one step away from where it should be. I am accountable, I am responsible, I am empowered to address that with which I have been intrusted.

Thinking and decision making are human behaviors. Human behaviors are learned. The very humanity of teaching and learning is based on trust and the willing exchange between learner and teacher. Stop pointing fingers, stop placing blame! We need to stop acting like we are programed to act involuntarily, helpless, and imprisoned. If you want accountability, look in the mirror because that is where it starts. The child is the least powerful – empower him/her with wisdom. Fear is not a substitute for love. Tests are not gods to whom we must kneel in blind obedience.

I am proud to have known that 70s opt-outer. No test was taken that day or any other day. Teaching and learning ruled the day!

Don’t say, oh, but you don’t understand. I do understand, I got into education because I knew at a very personal level that the system was in great need of improvement. 1966-present. I have never been satisfied with the system, never! I have worked at many different levels, I am still working. I still see passionate, bright, child centered professionals working against the flood of cynical, so called, “accountability” measures. You do not have to have a microscope to see these bright creatures of the profession. However in your effort to eradicate the few “pests”, you may destroy all life and love of learning.

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