Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Opt Out of State Tests Facebook Group Tells “Certain” Parents/Students/Teachers - You’re Not Welcome Round Here

This was supposed to be a post about encouraging you to join the “Opt Out of the State Tests” group on Facebook. Some of you may remember last week when I excitedly shared with thousands of my followers on Twitter, Google Plus and Facebook that there was a new group in town that was created for the purpose of supporting parents, educators, and students interested in opting out of standardized testing. What I didn’t know is that they didn’t have interest in supporting “ALL” parents. You see, the group leaders made it very clear that folks like me weren’t wanted around those parts.

I wish I had known of their bias before I invited thousands of people to the group. I would never knowingly invite members of my personal learning network to a group that discriminates against those who do not share the group leader's approved religious beliefs, political affiliation, or learning methods. Because of their bias, I deeply apologize to those who I unintentionally mislead. Before I was aware that this was a group bound by intolerance, I was thrilled as more and more esteemed peers from my personal learning network joined the group. Parents, students, and educators had a platform to talk, discuss and share ideas. There were rich conversations from people of varied backgrounds. 

In the group, there were stories of parents who shared their frustration about the test results being misused for all sorts of things. In many cases, the tests were being used as a primary determinant in holding their children back a year. In some cases, like that of parent Gretchen Herrera, the test was literally making her son ill and her school handed down the threat that any child who opted out would be kicked out if they choose not to take the test. For parents who felt they had nowhere else to turn because they did not want to subject their children to this abuse, some members shared non-public education options, such as home schooling. It wasn’t long after that group moderators and some of their buddies (the worst coward doing so anonymously) went on the attack. 

Parents and teachers were chastised for their political and religious beliefs. They were called things like religious nutters, and there were many untruths published about those whose views were different than some of those who moderated the group. Next, group members were informed that this group would be censored for anyone sharing non-public options for parents as now this group had a new mission - it was no longer all about the children. Now, first and foremost, it was about saving the public school system. Those whose interests also included exploring learning alternatives were told to "go away" and leave the group.

When I had invited thousands of others to join, I had no idea this group was only for members who had a certain belief system. I first discovered this when one of the group moderators criticized the views of Linda Dobson’s popular blog, which focuses on home education and natural learning. The group moderator, stated that as a “professional educator,” he does not condone homeschooling. 

To really drive the point home, he explained why he believed parents were not qualified to take student learning into their own hands.

“Parents, by the virtue of being parents, are NOT by default "experts" on education, curriculum, pedagogy, and so forth. I happen to respect the fact that I've spent many years honing my craft and reading numerous pages of text that I should know a bit more than someone who has children.”

Then another moderator frustrated with parents who were entertaining the idea of learning alternatives had this to say. 

“We don't want to homeschool or bow out of the public system. I don't care if you're a parent, teacher, teacher educator or school crossing guard, if your end game does not include a thriving public school system situated in neighborhoods that stimulate democratic communities go start your movement somewhere else--no hard feelings. We are just on different missions. It's pretty simple.”

A particular kind of home educator was also singled out by a moderator who said this:

I really do think these unschool folks need to leave.

As a point of clarity, I am not a home educator. I am an educator who supports ALL parents, educators, and children: public, non-public, all religions, races, and political backgrounds. Honoring and respecting ALL parents, educators, and children does not mean we want to bring the public school system down. I advise parents on how to work within the system. However, when parents are at a point where their children are bullied, beaten down, sick, and suicidal, and the parents feel helpless (as many members of that board expressed) some of us share that there are other educational options. The board moderators wanted these alternatives censored and silenced. 

While it would be convenient to take opting out as an issue onto itself, no matter how much these moderators want to stick their fingers into the ears of its members, it is more complex as Teresa McCloskey in Standardized Tests: Merely A Symptom of the Disease points out. It is a shame that the Opt Out of State Testing group wants to sequester the thoughts and ideas shared. It is a shame that parents and educators passionate about helping children were made to feel like outcasts by intolerant group moderators who told them to leave. Many of us were not willing to do that. We believe in tolerance and acceptance and that we can work together. 

This was not an option. The moderators spread lies and untruths about home education and learning alternatives. Then they made sure there was no more talk or input from non-public parents and educators by banning those who had publicly expressed they were open to such options. Without conversation or notification many group members who were supportive of all parents were removed. In an instant this opt out group badly burned a bridge and sent a loud and clear message to non-public parents and educators, “You are not wanted here.“

The word spread like wild fire around the civilized education communities, disappointed that a public education group was formed that decided authority and control should dominate over freedom and expression of ideas. They demanded compliance, and made it crystal clear to remaining members that this was not a place for the questioning and sharing of ideas outside their own.
As a result, several parents and educators wrote privately to those who openly shared independent education options. They asked how they could find out more. Christeil Figueroa Gota, who was one of the concerned parents that was forced to discuss alternatives behind the scenes, created this group to help these parents: OPT OUT! Parent/Student Support Group: You've Decided to Opt Out. NOW WHAT?. This is a safe, non-discriminatory place for ALL parents and students interested in exploring alternative options for their children. There are also two other non-discriminatory opt out Facebook pages. One is Kids are More than Test Scores and another Parents and Kids Against Standardized Testing which also has a newly created corresponding Facebook group named Parents and Kids Against Standardized Testing. If you don’t believe in discrimination and want to be able to share new ideas, we invite you to join us on these pages and groups.

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