Suzanne Ohanian: Finding Children to Change the World

This comment is by Suzanne Ohanian of Charlotte, a longtime educator and author of dozens of books on education policy and practice.

In October, the Vermont Education Agency informed us that Cogonia would be the new vendor for state evaluation in Vermont.

Cognia offers confusion in self-identification, saying it has “standards and processes that comply with requirements for charter school permitters, corporations, digital learning, early education, education service agencies, post-secondary schools, special purpose, and systems.”

My question is, “How many seventh graders have you spoken to?”

My second question: “Why do so many names change?”

Cognia was formerly AdvancED, which has merged with Measured Progress. AdvancED was formed by the merger of the Commission on Accreditation and School Improvement of the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools and the Council on Accreditation and School Improvement of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.

Enough Already: How Many Seventh Graders Have You Talked To?

Anyone who is more allergic to pumpkin worries about the plight of our children. And we have the least concern that the current attempt to create hysteria over standardized test results is, at best, misguided, and at worst just another piece of corporate political leftovers. Or, to quote the wisdom of Henry David Thoreau, we have here the product of people whose appreciation for children is “no more than a piece of putty.”

For a better look at school output today, I recommend a recent letter to the editor, “Entering the Best Part-Time Job Ever,” by a Vermont Bus Driver. This fellow is most excited about the 100 public school students who ride on their bus, noting that they are “endlessly inspiring, full of hope, positive energy, and zest for life,” adding, “They have strong opinions and when given the opportunity, are happy to share their thoughts.” .

Claire Nader wrote the book just for these children: “You are your own best teacher! Stirring the curiosity, imagination and intellect of teenagers.”

Nader presents a positive direction to the children’s energy and their concerns as well. She invites teens to follow Greta Thunberg’s advice, “You’re never too young”—specifically, you’re never too young to be an active citizen and change the world. With inspiring accounts of student activism ranging from Benjamin Franklin to Frederick Douglass to Ruby Bridges and current fifth graders in Salt Lake City and Chicago, Nadir offers uplifting anthologies for world-changing kids.

The book offers warnings to teens (and their parents) about the dangerous dominance of mega-corporations that send “hundreds of thousands of ads to your TV, computer, and mobile phone,” all with the urgent message Buy! He buys! He buys!

She warns that overconsumption is not the only evil. Social media exacerbates peer pressure, isolation, confusion, and addiction. As Andy Borowitz puts it in Profiles in Ignorance, “Liberals and conservatives alike get some of their weirdest ideas from social media.” He advises adult readers to stop checking their phones and get to work.

Nader speaks directly to the teenage girls, asking them to think about who is manipulating them and for what purpose. As an old teacher, I recommend that parents read this book as well. Read it and remember Nader’s warnings about the commodification of childhood.

Claire Nader preaches what her family does. Nader’s four siblings – and their mother – have led remarkable lives of public service. In writing an article for the local newspaper, “How to Get Around Your Home Town,” the Nader family moms provided a great starting point for today’s teens, their community. Afterwards, Claire Nadir encourages the teens to make a list of things in their city that they would like to find more about.

I can attest that my seventh graders agreed that the best field trip ever was right outside our school door. The children studied what the school surrounding the downtown school had to offer.

This is a good place for all teens to start: when they get outside and take a hard look at what’s out there, they’ve taken the first step in changing the world.

This can be very dangerous for Cognia fans, but we should keep in mind what stellar teacher Deborah Meyer writes in the foreword to my book on teaching seventh and eighth graders, “Stuck in the Middle: Non-normative Kids and a Killer Curriculum”: “The purpose of education is not to obtain higher test scores, but rather the production of more thoughtful youth….”

Helping children become more thoughtful is at the heart of Claire Nader’s book.

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Tags: Claire Nader, Konya, seventh graders, statewide assessment, Susan Ohanian

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