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Chicago Public Schools Tue Feb 05 2013
By David Stieber
Last week my high school students decided, on their own, to have a protest. They were upset about how cold our building has been this relatively mild winter. So after first period many of the students put hoodies and sweaters over their short sleeve uniform polo (which is a violation of the dress code) and marched loudly into the hall. They had signs, some had chants, and one even had an American flag. These 16- and 17-year-old Englewood students were organized. Their downfall was they didn't fully think through how to explain this plan to the 9th grade students, who just thought the protest was fun and were running around getting into trouble instead of helping the cause.
Security, teachers and administration intervened, the kids stopped the protest and went back to class. A few kids got in trouble. Being a history teacher, I was impressed by the students planning, but I realized they needed help understanding the purpose of a protest and steps involved in order to get what they wanted, without having to protest. So I did a mini-lesson the rest of the day that included discussing the following steps.
1. Do your research. (Is it cold in every room or just some?)
2. Get leaders. (Who can help organize and be a spokesperson?)
3. What are your demands? (We want it warmer, etc.)
4. Make other students aware of the issue.
5. Make sure you are organized and everyone understands the demands.
6. Ask for a meeting with the principal. Talk about what can be done.
7. Wait to see if your demands are met. If your demands are met, you win!!
8. If the demands are not met, discuss options and consequences.
9. If a protest is selected, make it organized and focused.
While I was teaching this lesson my students said things like, "Mr. Stieber you are going to get in trouble for teaching us this." or "You made this lesson just for us?!" or "Mr. Stieber are you allowed to teach us this?" My goal was to help them to understand that while protests can seem fun, the point is to use mass protest only when working within the system fails to bring about the change they seek. In this case, the students wanted the building to be warmer or to wear long sleeve shirts over (not under, like the uniform policy dictates) their uniform polos.
Later that day, our principal met with some of the protest leaders and the student council to work out a compromise that made all the kids happy.
Discussion and protest are the foundations of democracy and they keep it vibrant and strong. Thankfully my Englewood students are proud, educated and confident enough to stand up for change, if necessary, through protest. These students are setting a precedent for what types of people our children will become. These teenagers who respect and understand democracy also understand the power that rests in that system. As do the Seattle teachers who took the first stand against and are leading the way in the MAP test protests. These "standardized tests" are forced on schools by their districts and/or state governments, as a means "to evaluate student progress and teacher effectiveness". The tests have nothing to do with college. In Chicago, no one outside the school district even sees the data. In Chicago these MAP tests are commonly referred to as "optional" quarterly and interim assessments, but in reality CPS forces schools to administer these tests.
Teachers are all for testing and evaluation. We assess our students every day with meaningful activities that are current, effective, connected, diverse and relevant. We fully realize that progress is important for educational achievement but we also realize that students are not mass-produced widgets that can be measured by "standardized" metrics. As teachers we are morally bound to always ask, "Is this helping my students?", and if not, what should be done differently?
Educators all across the country have been saying for years that these tests are a waste of educational time. The tests are often flawed, they are expensive for the district, and they decrease the students' desire to attend school. Teachers are well aware of their students' performance and they continually assess and use their own data when planning lessons and units. These MAP tests replace more than seven days of actual teaching for the students per year. That's seven days and significant financial resources lost to mind-numbing and educationally irrelevant tests.
As Chicago teachers likely start to boycott the MAP tests and school parents start to have their children opt out of this unnecessary testing, teachers will once again need your help as community members. I hope the mini-lesson that I taught my students about effective protesting will inspire you to take action with us (should it come to that).
Dave Stieber is a father, husband, CPS teacher of History. Dave is passionately committed to promoting and improving urban public education, while simultaneously improving the lives of his students. He recently earned his masters in Urban Education Policy Studies from the University of Illinois at Chicago.