The Child Abuse Imposed by Testing: Reflections of Bronx Teacher Chris Whitney

I had a student leave my classroom in an ambulance last year during the middle of a practice test. He was having an asthma attack brought on by panic. He kept saying, “I can’t do this.” As his teacher, I knew him. I knew that “school” was hard for him and he was trying his best. We all were trying our best to support him: his mom, brother, teachers old and new, staff at school, and the class… his community. Yet, it was not enough that day. I encouraged him to take the test, to keep going, but to what end? To engage with something I knew that he, and many other students were and are not ready to do? Except, the “expectation” is that all students must take the state exam by third grade – just 8 years old – and the “rigor” and “standards” keep going up every few years. More is expected from an earlier and earlier age. So, it becomes “necessary” to begin practice testing in second grade to “get the kids ready.” 

We do not need to be holding each other accountable, instead, we should be finding a way to support each other. Federal education policy right now is punitive, developmentally inappropriate, and in the case of my student above – downright abusive. 

Carl Jung said, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.” I do not want to be the kind of teacher that “gets kids ready” for “college and careers.” I want kids to feel the joy of being alive, I want kids to sing out in the middle of class “just because,” I want kids to laugh, cry, and hold each other when things get hard, I want kids to know that they are not alone, and I want kids to feel love. Most of all, I just want to teach the joy of living… and state testing does not have any place in that vision.

School is hard for the students, families, and those that work there. Mothers say goodbye to their own flesh and blood, trusting that they will be safe and that they will come home at night. Many mothers then go to work to try to provide for their child. Work, lack of sleep, lack of time… repeat. Mother and child. Work. Rigor. Evaluation. Teachers work 12, 13, 14 hour days with little time to do much else besides plan, grade, teach, observe, collect data, enter data, communicate, set expectations… repeat. Forget it if you are BOTH a parent and teacher. Then, you have no time for yourself. Does it have to be this hard? No. A different world is not only possible, but it is necessary.