Saturday, April 16, 2016

What Opting Out Means for a 15 Year Old

Kathy Perez has been an activist and a friend of MORE for some time. I have a great deal of respect for Kathy and glad that I can call her a friend.

Kathy took the lead herself several years ago in opting her children of testing. In fact, Kathy's daughter Elizabeth, who is now 15, has refused to test since 5th grade and in fact was the first student to opt out ever in the Baldwin, LI school district.

With that in mind, Elizabeth now 15 and a freshman at Calhoun HS in the Bellmore-Merrick school district, is still a leader in the opt out movement. She can see clearly through all the BS.

Elizabeth took the time to share her thoughts with The Crack Team on what opting out has meant, and still means, for her. We need to hear from more student leaders like Elizabeth and take comfort that we know that we who advocate for opting out are passing our beliefs and core principles down to a younger generation.

We here at SBSB wish to thank Elizabeth for sharing her words and are proud to share them here on these pages.

For the first few years that I opted out of the New York State tests, people looked at me funny, asked me why I wasn’t taking them, and I was pretty much the only one to be reading a book rather than filling in a scantron, being sure to not make any stray marks. But as the years went on, the number of kids not taking the tests increased, and we eventually were taken into the cafeteria while the tests were being taken. I almost looked forward to testing week, even though everyone else was stressed. I got to spend a few hours taking naps, reading, or doing homework rather than sitting in class. All throughout elementary school and middle school I opted out of the tests, turning in my refusal letters on the first day like it was routine, and never did my parents or I think it affected my grades or my chances of getting into college, as some people claim it does. 

Now, I’m an honor roll high school student, with a plan to go to college, become a psychiatrist and an advocate for human rights, and I’ve refused the New York State exams. So, I’m pretty sure that my opting out of the tests hasn’t taken a toll on my education. I never really understood why these tests were even administered in the first place, considering the fact that they hold no benefit to anyone who takes them, and all they do is somehow display a teacher’s effectiveness through a student’s test grade. I know that I’m more than an ID number or test score. I don’t need a rigged exam to tell me what I’m capable of, or how effective my teachers are and hopefully, when I’m older, I won’t have to write refusal letters for my children at all.

Great words from a future leader.

Thursday, April 7, 2016

This is What MORE Does

Over the course of the course of the last week or so there has been a tiny, whiny background noise asking "what does MORE do?"

In reality it's an insignificant noise more akin to the buzz of a gnat flying around your head. You want nothing other than to swat at but you know that will give the gnat the attention it wants. Soon, the gnat will lose it's energy and drop to the ground where it will soon be back to serving it's purpose. Just being walked over, no one knowing it's there.

But we know MORE is there. We know what MORE does. Yes, MORE doesn't send a bunch of people to protest a principal on a side street somewhere in Brooklyn or Queens where there is no foot traffic or cars driving by. MORE doesn't send threatening or intimidating emails to principals. MORE doesn't habitually send text messages or emails obsessively to other UFT members. Or go to PEP meetings to kvetch, alone, about some injustice (I did this twice. It was a waste of my time. I might have just as well read The Great Gatsby).

I mean I guess this stuff can be considered being "active" but it doesn't accomplish anything. If you think about it nothing changes. Nothing has been accomplished. This stuff is all on the micro level. What about macro?

Last night on WNBC-4 news we saw what MORE does, how MORE operates, what MORE believes in. Three teachers, all MORE members, all teachers with true core beliefs appeared on the 6 PM news and shared what they did, what they are doing to affect change when it comes to testing.

Jia Lee, Lauren Cohen, and Kristen Taylor drew a line in the sand and dared Chancellor Fariña to cross it. Basically they told parents to opt their children out of the state tests.

According to the WNBC website;
“Parents should definitely opt out,” said Jia Lee, a fourth- and fifth-grade teacher at The Earth School in Manhattan. “Refuse. Boycott these tests because change will not happen with compliance.”

“I want to tell parents that I’m not going to get anything out of the test. Their kids aren’t getting anything out of the test,” said Lauren Cohen.
Kristen Taylor added that the tests are “fundamentally harming the education system”.

Think about this. Is this not what, and whom, we want as teachers and leaders? The energy that Jia has put into the Opt-Out movement shows how much of a leader she is. What she can bring to the teachers and communities of New York City.

There are no gimmicks or illusions such as some app that sends a form letter (and probably exists just to gather email addresses. I mean, seriously, how is that helping the cause? It's nothing other than just a bogart of the Opt Out movement. Micro.

Another gimmick is sending out an email to the Chancellor that one will not participate in proctoring or anything when it comes to the tests. Yeah, big whoops. It's all micro.

Just this past Sunday, Jia was featured in the New York Post as a teacher that has...
"...been sending emails to parents the past week encouraging them to boycott the state English and math Common Core exams being administered citywide starting Tuesday."
Oh, and while we are at it, a contingent of MORE members were out in Chicago on April 1 to support our CTU brethren in their one day strike. This is bridge building, not bridge burning.

Thin about it. From Chicago, to Long Island, to Upstate and Western New York Jia Lee and MORE are not only recognized as leaders, but game changers as well.

Watch the last few seconds of the report. Chris Glorioso says;

"They are members of the UFT and vying for leadership positions"

MORE builds. MORE looks long term. MORE leads. 

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Bagels and Coffee With Jonathan Halabi

I have been meaning to write this since last week, but I had been swamped and with this piece by Norm, felt it was time for people to see what an effective leader, union member, MORE candidate is capable of.

I spent Good Friday like a Good Jew, sleeping in and taking advantage of the day off by scheduling a doctor's visit.

While waiting for the doctor, Jonathan Halabi texted me through Facebook and we were texting until I had to see the doctor. When I came out it continued and I suggested since we text too much to meet up for coffee. Jonathan told me his car was in the shop (next time come to me for the parts!) and told him I would pick him up and since I was in Chappaqua it would take me about 45 minutes to get down to the Bronx.

It was a good time with Jonathan. We hit a bagel store in Mount Vernon and the symmetry came alive. We both ordered scooped out bagels with lox spread. But that is not why I am writing this piece. The reason I am writing this piece is I got to see Jonathan in action as not only a chapter leader, but more importantly, as a human being that day.

When I pulled up to Jonathan's place he was outside on the phone. At first I thought perhaps a family member was ill or in crisis but I heard more and was able it was a educator, a non-tenured teacher Jonathan was involved with.

Now, I can't divulge any part of the conversation other than to say that this educator was in crisis and somehow found Jonathan (being that she was from Queens and not from his school) but I saw how Jonathan was trying to not only deescalate the situation and the anxiety with the educator but to empower her as well.

Jonathan took her step by step through what she needed to do and in fact was able to share with her he reactions to what she would do by telling her how she should react. How to word an email, how to react to any negative reactions to the email, steps she can take. And most importantly, do what she had to do to leave the school.

Jonathan's tone was very soothing and very caring. He took what was happening to this educator personally. At no point did Jonathan try to impart his agenda or someone's else's agenda. Like a doctor, he did not want to do any harm.

In fact a few days ago I called Jonathan myself for some advice. I had a "good problem," and wanted to hear what he had to say.  He gave it to me straight and again, as he was with the educator from Queens, the most important thing he reiterated to me was about the well being of my career.

Jonathan very well could have said to me or to the educator in Queens to get angry, to threaten, to huff and puff to we threaten to blow the schools down, expose the someone, write a blog post, FOIL, or do some other dumb ass thing. Wait, he could've, but he never would.

With myself and the educator from Queens I heard in Jonathan's voice a true knowledge of not only the UFT contract, but how to be firm, how to protect yourself, and the proper way to deal with bullies.

The way Jonathan is, the way members of MORE are, not running away from a crisis but dealing with it head on with empowerment, knowledge, and humility are not signs of weakness, but signs of strength.

To give advice that is contrary to the beliefs of Jonathan or MORE are the easy and coward's way out. Strength comes from within and with the confidence you exude in yourself. If you have confidence in your own abilities, your own beliefs there is no need to feed people fear.

Strength is in building a community that doesn't fizzle out but that will grow and be sustainable and not rely on any one person. Strength is being able to pass the torch along.

Jonathan Halabi is running for the HS Executive Board. Don't forget to check off the MORE/New Action slate when you get your UFT ballot.