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Arne Duncan, Let My People Go!

Judy Rabin

Occupy the Department of Education, sponsored by United Opt Out, took place in DC March 30 - April 2, 2012. The quantitative numbers were somewhat low for an Occupy protest but from a qualitative standpoint, the event was a huge success. Teachers, parents, concerned citizens and academics gathered for four straight days outside the DoED. They came from California, Colorado, Florida, Tennessee, Virginia, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Maryland, and elsewhere to stand up against the destructive education policies being perpetuated by the greedy corporate education reformers pushing more high stakes standardized testing, teacher evaluations based on test scores, charter schools, vouchers and the further privatization of public education.

The one thing protesters had in common was a desire to do what is right for their children, their students, and the freedom to do what they love, teach.

Jesse Turner, also known as "the walking man", railed at the building on Maryland Avenue where Arne Duncan sits. He asked those gathered outside, "What kind of country attacks its teachers?" Last summer, Turner made headlines when he walked from Connecticut to DC for the first Save Our Schools March and National Call to Action.

Despite the thousands of people who attended the march last summer and the hundreds who attended Occupy the DoED last week, the demand to end to punitive high stakes testing and the continuous drumbeat of attacks on public schools, teachers and education in general continues unabated and appears to be accelerating. The policies of this administration and Congress reflect the tight grip of corporations, foundations and business leaders whose hearts are hardened and minds are closed to the cries of the people suffering under the oppressive and unjust abuse of high stakes testing.

Like Pharoah, Duncan's heart is hardened and although members of United Opt Out met with him last week and he has heard the cries of the people, he refuses to let them go.

Passover continues until the end of this week. Perhaps President Obama will find time to sit down with Arne Duncan and discuss how their education policy can reflect the best traditions of the seder. Integral to the seder are themes such as freedom, equality, social justice and hope. The rituals of the seder includes asking four questions.

This year, I have four questions I would like to ask President Obama and Arne Duncan:

1. How did civilization progress without high stakes standardized testing?
2. Why are students of the wealthy, like your own children, who attend the best private schools, exempt from the dehumanizing onslaught of fill in the bubble multiple choice tests if it is such a great way to assess learning?
3. In a country where 20 percent or more children are living in poverty, with little or no access to health care, dental care, good housing, and safe streets, wouldn't all the billions of dollars being spent on multiple choice tests and data collection be better spent on providing them with these basic needs so they could go to school ready to learn?
4. When is this madness going to end?

I'd love to have answers to those simple questions.

Judy Rabin

Judy Rabin is an education blogger and unemployed social studies teacher in Ocean, NJ.

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