Susan DuFresne: Humanity Stripped from a Whole-Child System

Last summer, I reviewed Learning Together, a book that links Vygotsky’s theory of social constructivism with the vision of the Framers’ vision for American democracy.  Here’s the thesis:

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By developing habits of mind and heart that enable children to construct knowledge through meaningful relationships, [social constructivist early childhood education programs] help to..realize the Framers’ vision of a regime that depends for its survival on the capacity of individuals to advance and disseminate knowledge through their association…and build skills such as inter-subjectivity, cognitive integration, attachment, executive function, self-regulation, discipline, synthesis, creativity, respect, and ethics.

Susan DuFresne, a kindergarten teacher in Washington State, puts the untimely shredding of constructivism and early childhood development at the feet of Bill and Melinda Gates.  Here’s her lament:

 

It was July, 2009, when I graduated university to begin teaching. Little did I know that the first year I taught kindergarten, Melinda and Bill Gates – and their cabal of corporate colonizers – would ratchet up reforms, causing the untimely shredding of constructivism, early childhood development, and my philosophy of education.

Children with a history of poverty and trauma increasingly filled my classroom, while Gates pushed for more rigor, convincing the Department of Early Learning to test all preschoolers and kindergartners through an “assessment tool” called Teaching Strategies Gold. The first two months of school is now 1:1 testing versus building relationships and establishing routines. This fall, these tests took up six-and-a-half days of school. Two additional days were devoted to data entry.

My four-inch data binder at the end of October is full, whereas I typically filled a three-inch binder by the end of the year. Kindergartners are anything but independent at the beginning of the year. Drastically increased testing led to behavior problems that became well established in the first two months of school.

The Gates-funded Common Core immediately raised rigor, pushing first- and second-grade standards down onto kindergarteners. Rigor and grit for kindergarteners does not change the varying rates of normal childhood development. Where play-based programs help children develop necessary self-regulation and social skills, rigor and grit decrease these skills. Increasing poverty and grit is a toxic combination for young children.

School districts scrambled to bring teachers up to speed with Common Core. “No excuses” became the mantra at meetings as children, teachers, and schools were color-coded green, yellow, or red in a public display of shame.

Schools are required to develop School Improvement Plans that layer data meetings which serve to stack-rank children like Gates’s Microsoft employees, pitting teachers against one another, and threatening our livelihoods with school closures if our children of poverty and trauma do not perform to meet these rising standards.

Our school is now a “Focus School” because—shockingly—our children with special needs did not meet standard on the high-stakes state tests promoted by Gates. As a result, we have even more data meetings and an increased workload. Special education teachers feel like failures, while kids with special needs and their families feel this way, too.

We were set up by Gates to fail.

Gates positioned Ross Hunter [former Microsoft executive, now director of the Department of Early Learning] to be elected to the Washington State legislature. In turn, Hunter helped Gates by passing a tax loophole for Microsoft that has resulted in the defunding of public schools to a point where we can’t afford full-time counselors or nurses, and teachers have gone for years without a cost-of-living increase.

Gates pushed teacher evaluation systems through MET [Measures of Effective Teaching Project], Race to the Top, and Road Map grants requiring strings of data attached to the money. Along with all of his other reforms, these have increased workloads for teachers such that it takes two highly qualified teachers to meet the expectations of my profession. I now work 12- to 18-hour days on a regular basis and can never catch up.

Gates brought Teach for America to Washington State, deprofessionalizing our work and placing  temporary workers with five weeks’ training in special education positions as if they were highly qualified. Gates brought charter schools to Washington, supporting Initiative 1240, with Alice Walton and Eli Broad, all collectively spending more than $9 million, and buying  voters with millions through  astroturf organizations.

When informally polled last spring, 16 out of 18 K-2 teachers in my building, alone, said they have considered quitting. My own marriage nearly crumbled from the toll Gates’s reforms have taken on my ability to live a balanced life under the workload required. My relationship with my own children has suffered – time spent working that can never be regained now lost on Gates’s failed experiments. My own health has suffered greatly, and the stress of putting these reforms onto young children has likely taken years off my own life. Teachers know these reforms are harmful, yet we fear losing our jobs if we do not comply.

Due to tax loopholes for Gates, the physical and social-emotional needs of my students cannot be financially met by my district. Yet we must pay for the testing and evaluation systems Melinda and Bill insist upon for OUR children, but deem unworthy and unnecessary for their own at Lakeside School just miles away.

These reforms have stripped humanity from what was once a whole-child system. Schools are now more segregated, more punitive, often joyless test-prep factories designed to sort, rank, and cull human beings for Gates’s profit. Melinda and Bill Gates’s failed experiments harm children, teachers, communities, and democracy.

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