Wednesday, May 21, 2008

When students organize to protest

I gotta admit, I am proud of the kids in the Bronx who refused to that the practice in social studies the other day. For those of you who don't know, a group of 8th graders in the Bronx refused to take an social studies practice exam. Along with the blank test forms they returned to the proctors, they included petitions signed by students. Among the statements on the petitions were critiques about too much testing, practice tests that had nothing to do with their grades, and testing instead of teaching. You can read about it here.

This is so exciting. Talk about students learning what it means to organize and protest. They are living and engaging in democracy. The downside is that students are going to be punished (banning them from graduation is being mentioned as a penalty) and the social studies teacher who, from all accounts, told the kids the protest might backfire (even though he supported their budding critical thinking skills), has been yanked from the classroom. Apparently engaging kids in reading history, engaging in critical thinking, and asking questions is not welcome in this school.

The sad thing is that this is going to be a teachable moment that will inevitably be lost. Instead of opening up the discussion with students to come to a compromise, the students are going to be punished for finding and using their collective voice (they defined those in power), and the teacher who nurtured them will most likely lose his job because he, too, failed to know and stay in his place.