Lately in Tennessee there has been a lot of concern about religious indoctrination of our students. In fact, there is so much fear of Islamic “indoctrination” that the Tennessee State House felt the need to pass HB1905 to protect our students. According to this article in Christian Today, the bill requires that any inclusion of religion in textbooks, instructional materials, curriculum, or academic standards be for educational purposes only and not to be used to proselytize any religion or religious beliefs. I’ve got to say, I think the fear of indoctrination is very real, I just think they have the wrong religion.
I watched the growth of the testing culture and the worship of data from the front row, and it’s clear to me that it has reached a religious state. It’s a religion that, in my eyes, is ten times more dangerous than supposed concerns about the way religion is taught in school. This religious fervor surrounding standardized testing, accountability, and the data that comes from it threatens to shape our children’s priorities and supersede the values parents are attempting to instill. It’s a religion that is demanding a whole lot of time and sacrifice from our kids.
Some of you may be shaking your heads right now and thinking, “Man, he’s gone off the deep end.” But all you have to do is look at reactions to parents who try to avoid the indoctrination by opting out their kids because high stakes testing is not congruent to their beliefs. The Education Commissioner in Florida voiced a belief that “students who do not want to test should not be sitting in public schools, as it is mandatory and required for students seeking a standard high school diploma.” She is not alone in this belief.
Here in Tennessee, it’s been well documented what a fiasco the testing process has been, yet like ideologues, the Tennessee Department of Education continues to cling to the dogma like they were quoting scripture. Dr. McQueen and Governor Haslam recently announced a big reading initiative all the while ignoring that many schools in Tennessee were unable to participate in Read Across America activities because of revised testing schedules due to the state’s own snafus. It’s like they are completely failing to notice anything outside of their gospel. Unfortunately for them, though, parents are noticing and documenting.
Furthermore, the environment being created is one that tends to reinforce the value of the test over the value of learning. One parent I spoke with told me that even though they intentionally downplay the importance of the test while at home, their 4th grader still comes home with the belief that these tests will follow her for life. They had to spend a half hour convincing her that this was false and that test results were not a part of their family values. That’s 30 more minutes of family time taken from them because of a high stakes test and the emphasis placed on it by outside forces. Many parents will testify to the amount of propaganda, in regards to testing, they hear from their children and that they feel powerless to thwart it.
Another parent told me how her 2nd grade child spent part of a day making “good luck” cards for the 3rd and 4th graders who are getting ready for the test. Seems like a harmless creative activity, but what’s the message it’s sending? And is it not, in fact, indoctrinating the younger children into the belief in the power of the test? Reaffirming how lucky they’ll be next year when younger kids will make them cards. Does it even take into account the values that parents are trying to instill at home? It feels like something out of the “Hunger Games”.
I could list story after story that I have heard told to children. “The results from these tests will be used to place you in remedial classes.” Umm… results won’t be back until the fall, so how is that going to happen? Students are told these tests are so important that they can’t read or draw if they finish early. But that’s not true either. They’ve been told that tests won’t count against their teachers but whoops… that doesn’t mean it won’t be counted for the schools. Everything is done to reinforce the value of the test. Why are we lying to children in order to get their buy-in?
If a child by some means is indoctrinated into Islam, about the only thing that is going to happen is that they are going to worship a different deity. As different as Islam is from Christianity, it still believes in the same basic tenets, like compassion, service, gratitude, etc. But the testing religion works a little differently. Once indoctrinated, it sets children, parents, teachers, schools, and by extension, communities, up for failure. It sets the tone that only that which can be measured is important. Testing, therefore, dictates curriculum and, in essence, life choices. Also, in contrast to actual religious indoctrination – which isn’t actually happening in our schools – indoctrination into the cult of testing is practically inescapable because of all of the testing and accountability requirements imposed on all public schools in the state.
As parents, you may try to instill in your children the importance of the arts. You may stress the value of industrial arts like engine repair and woodworking, which by the way, happens to be a dying art. A testing culture wipes that away and indoctrinates your children into the belief that what’s on the tests is more important than what you are teaching at home. God forbid if you are a parent who values creativity because that’s got to go, too.
The testing religion gobbles up resources that schools could be devoting to actual learning. Just take a look at what happened this year in Dickson County. Because of the state’s failure and due to the switch to paper and pencil tests instead of online testing, they suddenly needed calculators for every student. That came at a $12k cost. “An expense of $12,000, that’s a third of a teacher’s salary,” said Josh Mason, director of secondary education at the school district. “That’s a lot of textbooks. That’s a tremendous amount of library books.” Also, what happens to those calculators next month? Another sacrifice made to the testing gods. More resources for learning lost.
Local teacher and blogger Zach Barnes has a different opinion than mine. He cites a recent Boston Globe op-ed and argues that testing leads to better retention of knowledge and that what’s tested is always influenced by “real classroom teachers.” He also argues that testing anxiety is a product of teachers’ and parents’ feelings projected onto children more than children’s actual fears. And like any zealot who refuses to accept any kind of reformation, he completely discounts widespread research and goes as far to say, ”If you think a test that is carefully crafted by teachers and researchers is biased, your own teacher assessments are much more biased.” Fortunately, his arguments run counter to the majority of teachers, parents, and administrators, but he serves as proof that even teachers can be indoctrinated into this cult as well.
I agree with Williamson County School Board members Susan Curlee and Beth Burgos that indoctrination of our children is a very serious issue. I also agree with their proposal that includes parent, taxpayer, and teacher review of the assessments that the state requires before they are administered to ensure that they are congruent with what parents are instilling at home – we need transparency. However they are focusing on the wrong indoctrination. Our children have nothing to fear from Islam or any other religion they might learn about.
I’m still baffled by what people fear could possibly happen if your 7th grader suddenly decided to convert to Islam. or Hindu? Or any other of the world religions that are taught in social studies classes. I can’t convince my child that wrestling is fake, yet a social studies teacher is supposedly going to convert him into worshipping Allah. Do we have that little faith in our children to make decisions?
On the other hand, the cult of testing is very real and very dangerous. It’s time we took steps to protect our children against this indoctrination. We need to untie these test from the accountability measures they have become associated with and rid ourselves of the hold they have on us. We need to return to teacher autonomy. In fact, we should get back to trusting our teachers to teach instead of basically forcing them to teach to the almighty standardized tests. We need to make sure that children understand that there is magic in life and not everything can be measured. There is no standardized test that can measure my love for my children and that is but one example.
Legislators we need your help here as well. There is so much money involved that with out them taking steps, this testing religion will only continue to grow. It’s imperative we make sure we are looking at all the ways that children are being indoctrinated (and I am not talking about Islam). Until then, parents should say, “No. You can not test my child.