Saturday, May 14, 2011


Have you ever felt so hungry you are ready to gnaw off your fingers? Your stomach is turning in on itself and making tortured bubbly growls. You feel light-headed, perhaps you have a nagging headache. You can't focus but press on through the day regardless, knowing that you will eventually be able to eat a full meal, just not right now. Maybe, that day, you were too queasy for breakfast and too busy to eat lunch. After running around all day, you come home absolutely ravenous. So, you fix yourself some dinner, and fill your belly with some nutritious food. Lasagna, perhaps, Or chicken and rice, or some salmon with veggies. Something nourishing. On some nights you may even treat yourself to a brownie, or a little cup of butterscotch pudding.

Immediately you feel better but think, "Wow. I should have made the time for myself to eat today. I couldn't concentrate. It would have been so much more productive if I had just taken care of this basic human need.” The difference between you and millions of children in America today, is you have the resources to do so.

Now, imagine this. Feeling this hungry all the time. Every day. Knowing that the only meal you will have is a mass-produced lunch slapped onto a Styrofoam tray, canned veggies, oily meat, greasy pizza, or squished PB&J. You eat it because it's there, because it is all that's available to you. Sometimes, if you can wake up on time, you get on an earlier bus or leave the apartment a few minutes in advance to walk the several blocks to school by yourself. You eat the breakfast the school offers, which is usually a tiny carton of milk or juice, and small, dried-up muffin or bagel.

Now, imagine this. You have been starving for most of your life. You are eleven years old and your body needs nutrients to grow properly and fuel your brain. Malnutrition has detrimental and cumulative effects on the brain, nervous system, and digestive system. Light-headedness, confusion, queasiness, and headaches are a part of your normal routine, especially in the morning when your last meal was maybe 20 hours ago, and if it’s a Monday, more than a day or two ago. You are too thin and your skin has a pale yellow pallor, and you are fully aware of your teacher's awareness of your constant hunger by the way she slips you a cereal bar from her lunch or looks at you with helpless sympathy in her eyes. You feel shame.

You do not have the ability to go out and get a job. You do not have the courage to complain about your hunger to your parents, because they are hungry, too. Maybe there is a baby to feed in the house and all available funds go to feeding her and keeping the apartment. Maybe all there is in the cabinets is rice. Maybe your parents are too proud to ask for help or go to a food pantry. Maybe your mommy works two jobs and it’s your responsibility to scrape whatever is in the cupboards together into a meal for your little siblings. And you feed them first, because they’re, well, little.

Now, imagine this. In school, you are expected to sit in your seat for several hours and concentrate on test preparation work that confuses and bores the life out of you, but images of that lunch on the Styrofoam tray are dancing in front of your eyes. Your teacher tries to help you as much as she can, but there are 29 other kids in the class, and some of them are rude bullies who are cursing and yelling, and that makes it even more futile to even try and focus. Dreams of a successful future are forsaken by the fact that you try as hard as you can in school, put in your very best effort, but can't focus on your work because you are always always hungry.

One day, your teacher takes you down the street to a food pantry after school. She gathers information and tells you to give the phone number and address of the organization to your mom. When you take the information home, she refuses to go. She is too proud, too humble to take charity. Where Mommy comes from, there are many people much hungrier than you are. It would not be right to take food from the mouths of others. The next day, you go to school and your teacher asks, “Did Mom call the food pantry?” You bow your head down on your desk, knowing she was trying to help. Your mother’s pride is making you feel shameful. Your teacher starts giving you a cereal bar every day.

(This is a true account of a student in my class. She is ONE example of MANY hungry children I have taught.)

So, faithful reader, what do you think happens?

For healthy, well-fed people of all classes, races, cultures, and creeds:

Put yourself in the position of this hungry inner-city child. At what grade level would YOU have completely checked out and stopped caring? At what age would you have joined a gang out of desperation of support and belonging, or sold drugs or your prepubescent body in hopes of acquiring some cash to feed yourself or your hungry baby sister? At what point would you have relinquished your childhood dreams of being a veterinarian or an artist or a teacher? When would YOU give up on yourself?

I write this post because it is a REALITY for some of my students. Every day I look that hungry child in the eyes, I pray with every inch of my being to God that she does not relinquish her dreams because of her constant hunger. I hope beyond all hope that it does not suck the hope and life and joy out of that amazing, poetic, imaginative mind. And then, I come home, eat a good, home cooked, healthy meal with my family, and thank my lucky stars.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

This Week: Bubble-Torture for the Kiddies

As we all know, last week was the dreaded State ELA exam. My observations were as follows:

*Students were completely whacked out right before the test. It was a challenge to calm them down. Pancakes seems to be the popular test-breakfast this year.

*As I was attempting to reassure and quiet these poor souls, getting them to take a nice deeeeep breath, an unfamiliar woman wearing a visitor's tag and a puss on her face peered unabashedly into my classroom. I said,  "Can I help you?" and she said, "I'm just here checking on things." (Oh, she must have been one of those teacher-checkers. Right.) This sent the kiddies into hysterics. Becuase, that's how they are. Things I find infuriating, they find funny. "Man, Miss! You told her!" Screech, screech.

*Kiddies are finally calm. I hand out the answer sheets. Ali's is missing. What do I do? The test is timed. We all have to begin together, otherwise, Bubble Test Law #417-1330 will be violated and I may be incarcerated for Altering of Official Torture Documents. I call the testing office to let them know of Ali's missing Torture Sheet, and the kiddies see I am distracted by the phone so they start babbling again. In my head, I become convinced that my class is the only one in the school that has not yet begun.

*In a few minutes, someone comes in with a blank answer sheet and directs me to direct the unfortunate Ali into bubbling her name, birthday, astrological sign, shoe size, head circumfrence, and Student ID# onto the sheet. I have to provide this number and look it up, so this takes a few minutes. The rest of the class is anxiously waiting to get started. Buzz, buzz. Tick, tock.

*Finally, finally, I am able to hand out the booklets and allow the students to begin. They have 70 long minutes and 7 passages and 42 multiple-choice questions, and 42 little round bubbles.

*Five minutes into it, someone comes in and hands me Ali's answer sheet that has her name actually printed on it. She sighs loudly and rolls her eyes. Twenty-eight pairs of eyes tear themselves away from the first passage and watch, distracted, as she recieves the correct answer sheet. The sheet she so carefully filled in herself is promptly discarded.

*There are exactly enough test booklets for the amount of students in my class. Fortunately for me, one of the kiddies is absent, so I have access to the booklet with the passages and questions, out of pure default. If I did not have an absent student that day, I would not have been able to actually see the test I was forced to teach to all year. The second day, for the writing portion, I did not have a booklet to look at. I peered over my kids' shoulders. What a slap in the face.

On to the passages and questions:

-The questions were clearly written to trick and misguide the kiddies.  There were at least one or two questions per passage that were very difficult or almost impossible to answer.
Now, I am obviously a good reader, otherwise I wouldn't be an English teacher. I blow through at least 3-4 books a week every summer. But, so help me Jesus, I could not answer some of these questions myself. There is something really wrong with that. I know tested, mind-numbing reading "strategies" inside and out. I've been shoving it in between their ears all year long, and have had plenty of professional development to guide me in doing so.

-Some of the questions were negative: "Which one is not the answer?" I saw more of these types of torture devices than I had ever seen before. There were none in the test prep book.

-The passages were extremely male-centered. It was actually my principal that pointed that out. All of the fiction and nonfiction passages had protagonists who were males. The nonfiction passages were about basketball and lawn mowers. The illustrations were all of males. Even the personification in the poetry was male-centered. It must have been extremely difficult for my girls to relate to the texts and activate any prior knowledge on those subjects. Sheesh. Or should I say, Balls.

-The last "passage" was a blank volunteer application. Although the directions stated for the students not to fill it out, many had never seen an application before and were completely thrown off, and wasted their time trying to fill it out before realizing they only had to answer four questions about it. Mind you, nowhere in the school's curriculum, test prep books, or on any previous state tests was there any sort of application. How is an 11-year old supposed to  successfully answer questions about something they've never seen before?

-Finally, the timing. They had only seventy minutes to finish the test. That's ten minutes per passage. This does not encourage the students to read slowly and carefully. One of my boys is a very slow reader, however is reading on grade level, and when given the appropriate amount of time, can be very successful. When I passed his desk about 45 minutes into it, he had barely finished half of the questions. He had also completely stopped working. I quietly encouraged him to move on. He looked at me and said, "No. I don't want to take this stupid test, and I'm not finishing it." I was powerless to help him because, well, we're not supposed to be talking during the test. Ooooh-kay.

Ladies and gentlemen, this is proof, again, that the Education "Reformers" are setting up students and the teachers who devote their lives to education, to fail miserably. It is nauseating, infuriating, frustrating, demoralizing, and a completely backwards way of educating America's Future. I feel powerless to stop it and the only way I am maintaining any semblance of sanity regarding this matter is by continuing to write this blog. I am so relieved there are others who share my views who are willing to expose the truth as well. We need to continue this fight for the sake of our children's rights as American Citizens. Not a single day goes by that I don't fret about the disgracefully poor quality of education my son and my students are exposed to as a result of these ignorant, clueless, racist, sexist, filthy-rich policy makers.