Every word, which is used to express a moral or intellectual fact, if traced to its root, is found as borrowed from some material appearance.
Right means straight; wrong means twisted. Spirit primarily means wind; transgression, the crossing of a line; supercilious, the raising of the eyebrow. We say the heart to express emotion, the head to denote thought; and thought and emotion are words borrowed from sensible things, and now appropriated to spiritual nature. Most of the process by which this transformation is made, is hidden from us in the remote time when language was framed; but the same tendency may be daily observed in our children. Children and “savages” use only nouns or names of things, which they convert into verbs, and apply to analogous mental acts.
But this origin of all words that convey a spiritual import, — so conspicuous a fact in the history of language, — is our least debt to nature. It is not words only that are emblematic; it is things, which are emblematic. Every natural fact is a symbol of some spiritual fact. Every appearance in nature corresponds to some state of the mind, and that state of the mind can only be described by presenting that natural appearance as its picture.
For example, an enraged man is a lion, a cunning man is a fox, a firm man is a rock, a learned man is a torch. A lamb is innocence; a snake is subtle spite; flowers express to us the delicate affections. Light and darkness are our familiar expression for knowledge and ignorance; and heat for love. Visible distance behind and before us, is respectively our image of memory and hope.
Who looks upon a river in a meditative hour, and is not reminded of the flux of all things?
Throw a stone into the stream, and the circles that propagate themselves are the beautiful type of all influence.
Man is conscious of a universal soul within or behind his individual life, wherein, as in a firmament, the natures of Justice, Truth, Love, Freedom, arise and shine. This universal soul, which we call Reason: is not mine, or yours, or his or hers, but we are its; we are its property and men and women.
And the blue sky in which the private earth is buried, the sky with its eternal calm, and full of everlasting orbs, is the type of Reason. That which, intellectually considered, we call Reason, considered in relation to nature, we call Spirit. Spirit is the Creator. Spirit has life in itself. And man in all ages and countries, embodies it in his language, as the FATHER.
It is easily seen that there is nothing lucky or capricious in these analogies, but that they are constant, and pervade nature. These are not the dreams of a few poets, here and there, but we are analogists, and study relations in all objects. We are placed in the center of beings, and a ray of relation passes from every other being to us. And neither can we be understood without these objects, nor these objects without us.
All the facts in natural history taken by themselves, have no value, but are barren, like a single sex. But marry it to human history, and it is full of life. Because of this radical correspondence between visible things and human thoughts, savages, who have only what is necessary, conversed in figures.
As we go back in history, language becomes more picturesque, until its infancy, when it is all poetry; or all spiritual facts are represented by natural symbols. The same symbols are found to make the original elements of all languages. It has moreover been observed, that the idioms of all languages approach each other in passages of the greatest eloquence and power.
And as this is the first language, so is it the last.
This immediate dependence of language upon nature, this conversion of an outward phenomenon into a type of somewhat in human life, never loses its power to affect us. A man’s power to connect his thought with its proper symbol, and so to utter it, depends on the simplicity of his character, that is, upon his love of truth, and his desire to communicate it without loss.
The corruption of man is followed by the corruption of language. When simplicity of character and the sovereignty of ideas is broken up by the prevalence of secondary desires, the desire of riches, of pleasure, of power, and of praise, — and duplicity and falsehood take place of simplicity and truth, the power over nature as an interpreter of the will, is in a degree lost; new imagery ceases to be created, and old words are perverted to stand for things which they are not. In due time, the fraud is manifest, and words lose all power to stimulate understanding or affection.
We know more from nature than we can at will communicate. Its light flows into the mind continuously, and yet, we forget its presence.
Have mountains, and waves, and skies, no significance but what we consciously give them, when we employ them as emblems of our thoughts? The world is emblematic.
Parts of speech are metaphors, because the whole of nature is a metaphor of the human mind. The laws of moral nature answer to those of matter as face to face in a glass.
“The visible world and the relation of its parts, is the dial plate of the invisible.”
The axioms of physics translate the laws of ethics. Thus, “the whole is greater than its part;” “reaction is equal to action;” “the smallest weight may be made to lift the greatest, the difference of weight being compensated by time;” and many similar propositions have an ethical as well as physical sense. These propositions have a much more extensive and universal sense when applied to human life, than when only confined to technical use.
In the same way, the memorable words of history, and the proverbs of nations, consist usually of a natural fact, selected as a picture or parable of a moral truth.
Thus; A rolling stone gathers no moss; A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush; A cripple in the right way, will beat a racer in the wrong; Make hay while the sun shines; ‘T is hard to carry a full cup even; Vinegar is the son of wine; The last ounce broke the camel’s back; Long-lived trees make roots first; — and the like.
In their primary sense these are trivial facts, but we repeat them for the value of their analogical import. What is true of proverbs, is true of all fables, parables, and allegories.
This relation between the mind and matter is not fancied by some poet, but stands in the will of God, and so is free to be known by all of us. It is the standing problem which has exercised the wonder and the study of every fine genius since the world began; from the era of the Egyptians and the Brahmins, to that of Pythagoras, of Plato, of Bacon, of Leibnitz, of Swedenborg.
A fact is the end or last issue of spirit. The visible creation is the terminus or the circumference of the invisible world. “Material objects,” said a French philosopher, “are necessarily kinds of scoriae of the substantial thoughts of the Creator, which must always preserve an exact relation to their first origin; in other words, visible nature must have a spiritual and moral side.”
Nobody in his senses wants airplanes dropping bombs and poison gases upon his head; nobody in his senses wants slums, Tobacco Roads, and undernourished, ragged schoolchildren in a land of potential economic plenty. But bombs are killing babies in China and Spain today, and more than one-third of the people in America are underfed, badly housed, shoddily clothed.
Nobody wants men and women to be unemployed, but in Western civilization from twenty to thirty million are, or have recently been, without work, and many of those who have recovered their jobs are making munitions of war. In brief, with a dreadful irony, we are acting to produce precisely the kinds of things and situations which we do not want.
It is as though a hungry farmer, with rich soil, and good wheat seed in his barn, could raise nothing but thistles. The tendency of organisms is strongly toward survival, not against it. Something has perverted human-survival behavior. I assume that it is a temporary perversion. I assume that it is bound up to some extent with an unconscious misuse of man’s most human attributes – thinking and its tool, language.
Failure of mental communication is painfully in evidence nearly everywhere we choose to look. Pick up any magazine or newspaper and you will find many of the articles devoted to sound and fury from politicians, editors, leaders of industry, and diplomats. You will find the text of the advertising sections devoted almost solidly to a skillful attempt to make words mean something different to the reader from what the facts warrant.
Most of us are aware of the chronic inability of schoolchildren to understand what is taught them; their examination papers are familiar exhibits in communication failure. Let me put a question to my fellow authors in the fields of economics, politics, and sociology: How many book-reviewers show by their reviews that they know what you are talking about? One in ten? That is about my ratio. Yet most of them assert that I am relatively lucid, if ignorant. How many arguments arrive anywhere? “A controversy,” says Richards, “is normally an exploitation of a set of misunderstandings for warlike purposes.” Have you ever listened to a debate in the Senate? A case being argued before the Supreme Court? . . .
This is not frail humanity strapped upon an eternal rack. This is a reparable defect in the mechanism. When the physicists began to clear up their language, especially after Einstein, one mighty citadel after another was taken in the quest for knowledge. Is slum clearance a more difficult study than counting electrons? Strictly speaking, this may be a meaningless question, but I think you get my point.
It is too late to eliminate the factor of sheer verbalism in the already blazing war between “fascism” and “communism.” That war may end Europe as a viable continent for decades. To say that it is a battle of words alone is contrary to the facts, for there are important differences between the so-called fascist and communist states. But the words themselves, and the dialectic which accompanies them, have kindled emotional fires which far transcend the differences in fact.
Abstract terms are personified to become burning, fighting realities. Yet if the knowledge of semantics were general, and men were on guard for communication failure, the conflagration could hardly start. There would be “honest differences of opinion, there might be a sharp political struggle, but not this windy clash of rival metaphysical notions.
If one is attacked and cornered, one fights; the reaction is shared with other animals and is a sound survival mechanism. In modern times, however, this natural action comes after the conflict has been set in motion by propaganda. Bad language is now the mightiest weapon in the arsenal of despots and demagogues.
Endless political and economic difficulties in America have arisen and thriven on bad language. The Supreme Court crisis of 1937 was due chiefly to the creation by judges and lawyers of verbal monsters in the interpretation of the Constitution. They gave objective, rigid values to vague phrases like “due process” and “interstate commerce.” Once these monsters get into the zoo, no one knows how to get them out again, and they proceed to eat us out of house and home.
Judges and lawyers furthermore have granted to a legal abstraction the rights, privileges, and protection vouchsafed to a living, breathing human being. It is thus that corporations, as well as you or I, are entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. It would surely be a rollicking sight to see the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey in pursuit of happiness at a dance hall. It would be a sight to see United States Smelting and Refining being brought back to consciousness by a squad of coast guard men armed with a respirator, to see the Atlas Corporation enjoying its constitutional freedom at a nudist camp.
This gross animism has permitted a relatively small number of individuals to throw the economic mechanism seriously out of gear. By economic mechanism, I mean the operation of factories, stores, machines, whereby men, women, and children are fed, sheltered, and clothed. If people were armed with semantic understanding, such fabulous concepts could not arise. Corporations would not be interpreted as tender persons.
A community of semantic illiterates, of persons unable to perceive the meaning of what they read and hear, is one of perilous equilibrium. Advertisers, as well as demagogues, thrive on this illiteracy. The case against the advertising of commercial products has hitherto rested on mendacity. In modern times outright mendacity—such as a cure for cancer—is tempered with spurious identification. The advertiser often creates verbal goods, turning the reader’s attention away from the actual product. He sells the package, and especially the doctrinal matter around the package. The plain woman, by using a given cosmetic, is invited to become Cleopatra, vested with all the allure of the East. In brief, consumers often pay their money for the word rather than for the thing.
Without ability to translate words into verifiable meanings, most people are the inevitable victims of both commercial and literary fraud. Their mental life is increasingly corrupted.
We must realize that young people today are torn between the traditions of the past and the uncertainties of the future. A way of life that guided the conduct of older generations has broken down and it is very unlikely that it will be restored.
Disillusionment is a phase through which we all pass in one way or another. Children today must live in a world their parents have never known.
Today millions of young people face a future that offers no encouragement for effort and no reward for merit. Education insures no preferment, ability creates no security; the foundations of honesty and integrity have been undermined by the pressures of a perverted profit system.
The present youth crisis is more than a temporary emergency. This condition cannot solve itself. The answer must be found in an intelligent and farseeing program of industrial and social planning.
Today the nation’s most important asset, our youth, continues to remain unrepresented. Unorganized and unemployed, it is rapidly approaching dangerous crises, and stands in desperate need of wise and sympathetic direction.
America’s youth is the helpless victim of industrial feudalism. The energy, courage and vision of youth can support the progress of the world, yet it is denied a place in the sun. No provision has been made to insure a square deal to the young people of America; no hero has come forth to champion their cause before a self-centered generation.
For the most part their problems are unconsidered, their needs unanalyzed, and their future unassured. The miseries, uncertainties and disillusionments of past decades are overshadowing and oppressing the new generations.
Can America afford to ignore the psychological force and constructive energy of its young people?
In a few years the older generation, with its plots and spoils, must pass away. Instead of battling the feudal lords of industry and finance, secure in their high places, leave them to the inevitable ravages of time. If these hard-set men who think only in terms of success, and whose only emotion is love of power, cannot be reformed, we need not despair. What men cannot change, nature will remove in due time.
Why not educate the younger generation to a different standard of life and action? Let’s invest every resource of the nation, if necessary, in equipping youth to rule the world of tomorrow more wisely than age is ruling it today.
The vast sums now being expended for relief are only taking care of an imminent problem. The fundamental psychology of the country must be changed. If we can change our attitude from that of rapacious greed to one of national pride and solidarity, then the root of the problem has been touched
If we can prevent the younger generation from being corrupted by the old selfish codes which perverted our father’s time the death rate will bring a natural end to the Age of greed.
The man who is fed today is hungry tomorrow.
Is it not more extravagant for a nation to assume economic responsibility for millions of indigent persons that to finance a program, which will eventually render charity unnecessary?
One of the greatest fallacies in our viewpoint is that we try to reform adult delinquents, striving to cure people of innate selfishness when they are too old and set to change.
Let us then try to straighten the bent twig than the inclined tree.
Under our present industrial system the employment of the millions of unemployed is practically impossible. The country must be prepared to make drastic changes in its economic system or else be satisfied to support for years to come the millions of people who are permanently crowded out of industry. The better alternative is to build for the future, to look forward 10 or 20 years instead of at our noses.
As no plan has yet been attempted which solves the basic cause of unemployment, it would seem the vital issue of the hour is the discovery of some method to preserve the integrity and self-respect for our coming generations.
We must make our young people a part of the nation is a new and thrilling way, from the first day of school until they finally emerge into their own life. They must be led to realize that they are important and necessary. The psychology of helping themselves and at the same time others will give them enthusiasm and dignity.
Youth is probably the most vulnerable element in the psychology of the American people. No one can attack youth’s right to life, liberty, and happiness without exposing their own intolerance and inhumanity.
The sentiments, higher emotions and ideals of people are never drawn out and played upon and that is why they are so seldom expressed in national life.
At the present time, nearly every country of the world is in serious difficulties. We hear continuing reports of conferences and summit meeting to arbitrate the feuds and dilemmas of nations, communities and – for that matter – private lives. The old traditional ways of solving disagreements between countries are over worked and have virtually no effect.
There are forebodings of further probable disasters, and the citizens of the various political structures are on the verge of revolution. Up until now there seems to be no comprehensive approach for successfully dealing with even one of the impending catastrophes.
Why not face the facts and study the historical and psychological conditions, which are responsible for practically all of the tragedies that have befallen the world over the last, several thousand years?
I think there is constructive hope in the idea of a complete educational overhaul, no only encompassing the classroom but also including the standard reference books on the critical events that have distinguished and disfigured the planet for a long time.
The concept now seems to center on the importance of reconstruction of the public school system so that young people are better informed about the great social problems we have inherited from the past.
Democratic commonwealth can never be legislated into existence. Nor can it result from treaties or conferences. This is clearly indicated in the failure of the United Nations. They have failed to prevent war because the nations, which make up the union, lack courage of high conviction; they failed the very institution, which they themselves established.
Permanent progress results from education, and not from legislation. The true purpose of education is to inform the mind in basic truths concerning conduct and the consequences of conduct. Education is not merely fitting the individual for the problems of economic survival.
No human being who is moved to actions through wrong motivation, or misuses the privileges of his times, can be regarded as educated, regardless of the amount of formal schooling he received.
Civilization after civilization has been built up by human courage and destroyed by human ignorance. We stand again on the threshold of great decision.
The Hermetica is a collection of writing attributed to Thoth- a mythical ancient Egyptian sage whose wisdom is said to have transformed him into a god. Although largely unknown today, the writings attributed to Hermes/Thoth have been immensely important in the history of Western thought. They profoundly influenced the Greeks, and through their rediscovery in fifteenth-century florence, helped to inspire the ‘Renaissance’ which gave birth to our modern age.
The list of people who acknowledge a debt to the Hermetica reads like a ‘Who’s Who’ of the greatest philosophers, scientists and artists that the West has produced- Leonardo da Vinci, Duer, Botticelli, Roger Bacon, Paracelsus, Thomas More, William Blake, Kepler, Copernicus, Isaac Newton, Sir Walter Raleigh, Milton, Ben Johnson, Daniel Dafoe, Shelley and his wife Mary, Victor Hugo and Carl jung. It heavily influenced Shakespeare, John Donne, John Dee and all the poet-philosophers who surrounded the court of Queen Elizabeth I, as well as the founding scientists of the Royal Society in London, and even threaders who inspired the Protestant Reformation in Europe. The list is endless, with Hermetica’s influence reaching well beyond the frontiers of Europe.
The Hermetica is a cornerstone of Western culture. In substance and importance it is equal to well-known Eastern scriptures like Upanishads, the Dhammapada and the Tao Te Ching. Yet, unlike these texts which are now readily available and widely read, the works of Hermes have been lost under the dead weight of academic translations, Christian prejudice and occult obscurities.
History shows that wherever the works of Hermes have been studied and venerated, civilisation flourished. Pagans and sages fled to the newly emerging Arab culture, taking their knowledge and the Hermetic writings with them. Two hundred years later, the Muslims created an empire who learning and scientific achievements were unsurpassed.
By the beginning of the ninth century, the first university was established in Baghdad, called the ‘House of Wisdom’. Here many pagan works were translated, the sciences that had reached such heights in Alexandria were significantly developed, and the ancient Pagan spiritual wisdom was covertly studied and practised. From its exalted position amongst the sacred scriptures of Egyptian spirituality, the Hermetica became the secret inspiration for an important undercurrent in Islamic philosophy.
With the Arab empire becoming increasingly intolerant, the owners of the Hermetic books travelled in search of a safe refuge. In the fifteenth century many fled to the tolerant city state of Florence in Northern Italy, where this wisdom again inspired a great cultural flowering.
The emergence of a glorious new culture in Florence signalled the end of the Dark Ages. We call this period the ‘Renaissance’, meaning ‘rebirth’, which is a fitting name, for at the heart of the Hermetic philosophy is the idea of being spiritually reborn.
As in Alexandria a thousand years earlier, the Renaissance viewed science, art, literature and religions parts of a united whole to be studied together. All aspects of human life were now opened up as legitimate areas of investigation. It was a situation that challenged the authorities of the Roman Catholic Church in 1492, with the aid of the Kind of France, they crushed the Republic of Florence.
In the modern world we know from the actions of the tabloid press how one well-timed ‘hatchet job’ can unjustifiably undermine someone’s reputation for good. This is exactly what happened to the Hermetic teachings.
As old as the Christian gospels and older than the Qu’ran, it is one of the great sacred texts of the world. It is worthy of respect and study for these reasons alone.
Although human culture has changed beyond recognition from the times of ancient Egyptians, the essential mysteries of life have remained what they have always been and always will be. For those alive to these mysteries, the writings of Hermes are as relevant today as they were in the distant past.
There’s a crisis of mental health in our children’s schools and it’s getting worse!
7 reasons contributing to this epidemic are as follows:
1) An unsound, impractical and inadequate educational theory. It perpetuates much that is obsolete and ignores most of that which is vital in knowledge.
2) A vicious popular psychology of success. The young are constantly urged to force their way into lines of endeavour for which they are unsuited, merely for reasons of monetary gain. Progress cannot continue with money as a sole motive for effort.
3) Inadequate, prejudiced, ignorant and intolerant religious training. Narrow religious concepts so distort the ethical values that religion’s true work of character building is ignored.
4) Lack of understanding between young people and the older generation. Children receive detrimental training based on the example of unfairness set by their elders.
5) Non-representation in social and political life. Young people must grow up and live in other men’s worlds, with no right and no voice in the correction of flagrant evils of which they themselves are conscious.
6) Loss of resourcefulness. The educational theory destroys initiative, the social order discourages originality, and neither offers any security in the place of the qualities they kill out.
7) Loss of confidence in life, self and authority. This condition is greatly aggravated by unemployment and the impossibility of finding useful outlets for skill and knowledge acquired through schooling.
It has taken years to being about the present evil and it will take years to perfect a cure. The education of youth in the essential values of life and the release of their young minds from the abnormal complexes which grip this generation is the only way to prevent these social crises.
Young people are the most vulnerable element in the psychology of the American people. It will be easier to coordinate the mind of the people on this issue than on any other od the programs under consideration. No one can attack a young person’s right to life, liberty and happiness, without exposing his own intolerance and inhumanity.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202
Governor John Kasich
Riffe Center, 30th Floor
77 South High Street
Columbus, OH 43215-6117
Superintendent of Public Instruction Paolo DeMaria
Ohio Department of Education
25 South Front Street
Columbus, OH 43215-4183
Dear Secretary DeVos, Governor Kasich, and Superintendent DeMaria:
I write to each of you, in my position as a teacher in the Cincinnati Public Schools, to ask for your assistance. I include both federal and state politicians here, as in the past when I had the opportunity to address concerns to a member of the Federal Department of Education, I was told that these issues were under state control, but when, while working as part of a committee examining the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), I addressed the same concerns to members of the State Department of Education, I was told that these issues were under federal control.
As a result, I invite all of you to engage in the conversation together in hope that rather than finger pointing, we can begin to seek solutions.
As we implement new education legislation, I ask that teachers be treated as the experts we are. That we are not just included in the conversation, but that we are leading it. The data demands it, and our children deserve it.
An Artificial Crisis
Politicians and the media have had a field day “exposing,” and attempting to address, what has been described as an educational crisis in America. I, too, believe that we are facing a crisis; however, unlike many in the school reform movement, I do not think that teachers and schools are at the root of this crisis. Rather I think it is the very reform efforts themselves – known generally as the “school accountability movement” — that has caused this concern.
I do not blame the Common Core State Standards. Many people conflate the Common Core State Standards with school accountability measures, but, to be clear, while there are some overlaps between these issues, the CCSS are not to blame in isolation for the challenges we are facing in education today. As a teacher, my personal opinion is that the jury is still out on CCSD, and will remain so until we have experienced several cohorts of students whose education has occurred entirely under CCSD. There are some who believe that this set of standards is not developmentally appropriate for students. This may be, but to be clear, the Standards themselves are merely goals to aim for. I am happy to have a high bar set for both my students and myself, as long as I am given time, support, and resources to attempt to meet that bar, and with the understanding that since students all start at different places, success lies in moving them toward the goal.
The standards are not the problem. The problem is the methodology being used to monitor them.
A Look at the Data
There is a body of information indicating that the supposed “crisis” in American Education has been misreported, and that this myth has been supported and sustained by a repeated skewing of the reported data.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a national database that has tracked student progress in reading and math since the early 1970s. It is given to students at ages 9, 13, and 17, and the tests have been carefully monitored for consistency over the course of nearly 40 years. The results of this data indicate that reading and math scores have remained fairly static from year to year, with both increasing somewhat over time. For example, the 2012 data indicated that for thirteen year olds, the average reading scores increased by 8 raw points and average math scores increased by 21 raw points, since the first data reported in 1978.
This does not look like a crisis at all. The “educational crisis” hysteria has seemed to predominantly come from information comparing United States’ educational data with that from other countries.
Whenever we compare educational outcomes, we must be careful to monitor for external factors – for example, when comparing data internationally, we must take into account that the United States educates and assesses all students until the age of 18; whereas some other countries place students in various forms of tracked models and do not include all of these groups in their testing.
Additionally, the United States has a very high child poverty rate. The 2012 UNICEF report listed The United States’ child poverty rate as 34thout of 35 “economically advanced” countries, with only Romania scoring lower.
We know that poverty impacts academic achievement, and this must be taken into account when comparing U.S. scores internationally. For example, when the oft-cited data from the Program for International Assessment (PISA) is disaggregated based on economic status, we can see a trend that clearly indicates that the problem is poverty, rather than instruction.
United States’ schools with fewer than 10% of students living in poverty score higher than any country in the world. Schools with student poverty rates that are less than 24.9% rank 3rdin the world, and schools with poverty rates ranging from 25% to 49.9% rank 10th in the world. However, schools with 50% to 74.9% poverty rates rank much lower – fifth from the bottom. Tragically, schools with 75% or higher poverty rates rank lower in reading scores than any country except Mexico.
Couple this with the 2013 data that indicates that a majority (51%) of public school students live in poverty in this country, and we see the true depth of the actual crisis of poverty, and its impact on education.
A Crisis of Poverty
Schools with the lowest rates of student achievement are typically those with the highest number of disadvantaged students and the fewest available resources. The problem runs deeper than just funding, however. Children living in poverty often have a specialized set of social-emotional and academic needs. Schools with high percentages of economically disadvantaged students cannot be treated in the same manner as more affluent schools.
Education is neither a business nor is it a factory. We do not start with identical raw materials, and act upon them in a systematic way to produce an identical product. In the same vein, we cannot judge instructional efficacy in a single manner, with a single measure, and expect to get a consistent result. Teaching is a service industry, and we work with human capital. There are myriad factors at play that influence what appropriate expectations are for any given student, but poverty is likely the most impactful of these factors.
Children living in poverty are more likely to be coping with what has been labeled “toxic stress”– caused by a high number of identified adverse childhood events. Factors such as death or incarceration of a parent, addiction, mental illness, and abuse, among other things, have been labeled as adverse childhood events. Poverty, itself, is considered to be a type of sustained adverse childhood experience, and it also is a correlate factor, since living in poverty increases the likelihood of experiencing other adverse childhood events.
We know that these types of severe and chronic stress lead to long-term changes in children’s mental and physical development, and that this directly impacts their performance in school. “On an emotional level, toxic stress can make it difficult for children to moderate their responses to disappointments and provocations. A highly sensitive stress-response system constantly on the lookout for threats can produce patterns of behavior that are self-defeating in school: fighting, talking back, acting up, and, more subtly, going through each day perpetually wary of connection with peers or teachers. On a cognitive level, chronically elevated stress can disrupt the development of what are known as executive functions …, which include working memory, attentional control, and cognitive flexibility.”
We know that children living in poverty face greater academic challenges than their middle and upper class counterparts, and yet, instead of helping this situation, the school accountability movement has chosen to vilify the wrong thing (teachers and schools), and has used standardized test scores as the weapon of choice to add insult to injury.
A Moving Target
In Ohio, there have been so many moving pieces at play that it is impossible to get a statistically valid measure. Over the course of the past three years, schools, teachers, and students have had their performance assessed using a different measurement tool each year. The 2013-2014 school year was the final year for assessment using the old Ohio State Standards and the Ohio Achievement Assessments. In the 2014-2015 school year, we switched to a combination of Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC) and American Institute of Research (AIR) assessments based on the Common Core State Standards. Due to the legislation passed which illegalized PARCC administration in the state of Ohio, in the 2015-2016 school year, we administered AIR tests for the full battery of testing. During those same years, Ohio increased the number of grades and subjects areas tested.
In addition to these changes, the identified percentage of correct responses for proficiency on each test has changed each year, and the percentage of students scoring proficient in order to schools to be considered successful in achieving Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) has also increased each year.
So, the standards have changed, the tests have changed, the acceptable percent of correct responses has changed, the required percentage of students achieving proficiency has changed.
Tell me again why we think this is an accurate and reliable system for measuring student achievement?
It is, therefore, not surprising that scores have remained anything but static. For the 2012-2013 school year, Cincinnati Public Schools was rated as being in “Continuous Improvement,” while the school where I teach was deemed “Excellent.” For the 2015-2016 school year, the Cincinnati Public Schools received four ratings of “F” and 2 ratings of “D,” while the school where I teach received 3 “F” ratings and 2 D ratings. (As a high school program, we are not rated in the area of K-3 Literacy.)
There are only two ways to interpret this. Either, over the course of three years, the quality of instruction has declined precipitously (across a district of nearly 3,000 teachers), or the data is invalid. The former assumption is nonsensical; the latter is terrifying based on the weight this data carries when making educational decisions.
Teacher performance evaluations are linked to test scores, School and district report cards are based almost exclusively on test scores, and, student graduation is based on test scores. But if the tools keep changing and the target keeps moving, how is it even remotely possible to measure improvement?
This concern is compounded by the subjectivity of the scores determined for proficiency – the cut scores are neither norm-referenced nor consistent from year to year.
For the 2015-2016 testing, in reading and math, across all grade levels, the percentage of students projectedto score proficient or above ranged from 52-66%. This means that even on tests where students were “most likely to pass,” it was anticipated that only 66% of students would do so, and for other tests this was as low as 52%. For many tests, the reality was significantly worse. Only 21% of students taking Integrated Mathematics (Math 2) across the state were deemed proficient or above, and only 24% of students taking the Geometry test scored proficient or above. This is an awfully broad-scale problem to make the assumption that the issue of concern lies with students and teachers, rather than with the testing itself and with the structure of the system of accountability.
And once again, we see that poverty plays a role in these outcomes. For the 2015-2016 school year, 94% of urban schools in Ohio received ratings of D or F. Because of school accountability, and the high-stakes nature of the tests, scores like these cause the testing pressure to ratchet up. Low scores necessarily result in greater time and resources being spent solely to improve these scores. Some call this “test preparation;” others call it “teaching to the test.” Testing and school accountability result in too much time spent on testing, and on teaching curriculum that loses much of the flexible, creative, engaging, and in-depth instruction that keeps students engaged in learning and educators engaged in teaching. As one former urban school principal, concerned about the state report card, said during a faculty meeting when a teacher dared question how testing was detracting from her carefully crafted curriculum, “The test IS the curriculum! What are you, STUPID?!?!”
An Unavoidable Outcome
In 2013, the American Federation of Teachers reported that in heavily tested grades, up to fifty hours a year was spent on testing and up to 110 hours a year devoted to test preparation. Schools with high percentages of disadvantaged students bear the greatest weight for this, as they tend to have the greatest required gains in testing outcomes. The Center for American Progress notes that students in urban high schools spend up to 266% more time taking standardized tests than students in suburban schools.
And this is the fundamental problem with school accountability measures. They have caused the American public school system to become overly focused on a single measurement of success, and that measure is most punitive to populations that are already struggling.
Standardized test data is one measure of academic achievement, and as such it is valuable, but it is nothing more than a single data point. However, this data point has become so important that it is driving every other aspect of the educational train.
I want that data point – I want it for each of my students individually, and I want it for my class collectively – because it tells me something. But it doesn’t tell me everything, and we are treating it as if it does. How can the snapshot of a test score – given on a certain day, in a certain amount of time, with a specific type of questioning – tell me more than what I know as a result of working with my students hour after hour, day after day, for 40 weeks? It can’t, of course.
A Teacher’s Plea
Teachers are professionals, and we should be treated as such.
We are required to hold, at minimum, a Bachelor’s degree in teaching one or more subject areas; we also must complete significant amounts of additional training every year, and, at least in Ohio, to submit this to the state for re-licensure every five years. Most importantly, teachers are highly practiced in assessment and interpretation of results through our daily work with students and our careful observation of, and reflection on, student learning .
Education is complicated. Student growth is broad and deep, and sometimes happens in fits and starts and other times grows slowly and consistently. This complex process could never be adequately measured by a series of tests.
I know my students. I know when I am moving too quickly or too slowly, and I know when they are succeeding and when they are struggling. To assume that the state can determine this, and can make judgments on the effectiveness of my instruction based solely on a single measure is folly – especially when we know that students in poverty, the teachers who educate them, and the schools that serve them, will be judged most harshly by these measures. In fact, standardized test scores may tell us very little about a teachers’ impact or a students’ future success.
As Paul Tough writes, “A few years ago, a young economist at Northwestern University named C. Kirabo Jackson began investigating how to measure educators’ effectiveness. In many school systems these days, teachers are assessed based primarily on one data point: the standardized-test scores of their students. Jackson suspected that the true impact teachers had on their students was more complicated than a single test score could reveal… He created a proxy measure for students’ noncognitive ability. Jackson’s new index measured how engaged students were in school – Whether they showed up, whether they misbehaved, and how hard they worked in their classes. Jackson found that this was, remarkably, a better predictor than student’s test scores of whether the students would go on to attend college, a better predictor of adult wages, and a better predictor of future arrests.”
School Accountability measures with their fundamental focus on testing reduces teachers’ ability to focus on nurturing students’ “noncognitive ability,” and this is damaging to students and teachers alike — perhaps irrevocably damaging.
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is moving us in the right direction by removing the requirement that teacher evaluations be linked to standardized test outcomes, but it doesn’t go far enough, and it leaves the window open for states to continue this practice.
As a nation, we must move away from our obsession with testing outcomes. The only group that is profiting from this is the testing industry. And with 1.7 billion dollars being spent by states annually on testing, they are, quite literally, profiting, and at the tax payers’ expense.
The most critical solution to this is to untie student, teacher, and school accountability measures from testing outcomes, or to combine these scores with a variety of other measures of success. In addition, we need to dramatically reduce the time spent on testing by requiring tests in fewer grades, or not administering tests every year. No high-performing nation in the world tests all students annually.
An Expert Opinion
We are not in an education crisis. We are in a crisis of poverty that is being exacerbated by the school accountability movement and the testing industry. At best, this movement has been misguided. At worst, it is an intentional set up to bring about the demise of the public education system – mandatory testing designed to produce poor results which leads to greater investment made in test preparation programs provided by the same companies who produce the tests, coupled with a related push for privatization of the educational system. All touted as a means to save us from this false crisis.
Politics, not education, got us into this mess, and it is politics that must get us out of it.
We must not go further down this rabbit hole. The future of our educational system, and the future of our children, is at stake. No one who has not worked in the sector of public education should be making decisions about our school system without careful consideration of the insights of those who will be directly impacted by those decisions.
As we move forward with a new federal administration, and as the state of Ohio makes decisions relative to implementation of ESSA, I beg you to not just include teachers and parents in the discussion, but to ensure that we are the loudest voices in the conversation.
I hope that you will consider the issues raised here, and most importantly, that you will listen to the voices of the teachers and parents who are trying so desperately to be heard.
Thank you for your time. I am happy to engage in the conversation further; feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Kristina L. Taylor
Intervention Specialist; Team Leader
James N. Gamble Montessori High School
2015 Educator of the Year
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 Adamson, Peter. Measuring Child Poverty: New League Tables of Child Poverty in the World’s Rich Countries. Florence, Italy: UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, 2012. Web.
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