Friday, January 11, 2019

An Emerging Behavioral Crisis in Schools: Testing and Gentrification Are a Toxic Mix

Yesterday, during one of our many discussions, Jesse Turner told me that the pendulum may be swinging way from testing toward more creative approaches to learning because of a behavioral crisis in schools. As teachers on all levels confront children who are disruptive, violent, and unstable, policy makers are starting to wake up to the down side of wearing children down with test prep or making them sit in front of computers all day. Unless these children have opportunities to express themselves, have curricula which speak to their experiences, and be given time for exercise and play, they will literally turn over the tables in whatever learning environments they are placed
What Jesse told me reinforces what I have been hearing more and more from teachers who work in the Bronx and other high needs communities, including those in rural areas. Teachers in those places are facing more and more students who are angry, inattentive, violent or heavily medicated on drugs they purchase in the underground economy. The difficult atmosphere contributes to high teacher turnover, which creates destabilizing influences of its own.
I agree with Jesse about the destructive role of test driven pedagogy in this unfortunate situation. But we should not ignore the role that gentrification, homelessness and income instability play in the student behavior crisis. In every city and town where rents are rising faster than incomes, working class families are being forced to double and triple up, take in boarders, move from apartment to apartment, or join the ranks of the homeless. The toll this takes on children in terms of stress, lost sleep, hunger and too often physical and sexual abuse is devastating. Children in such circumstances are coming to schools in extreme pain, bearing stress levels few can handle. Needing comfort, care and opportunities to relieve stress, they are forced to sit still and have knowledge crammed into them by teachers with state mandates hanging over their heads. The pedagogy alone would drive many children crazy- the pedagogy applied to deeply wounded children
Is a prescription for an explosion.
The school policies of the last twenty years, along with neo liberal economics, has pushed schools into crisis. We have to humanize schools to protect students and teachers, but we have an equal responsibility to humanize our economy

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