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Peter Handel writes at Truthout that President-Elect Biden must change education policy if he wants to heal the nation. By his choice for Secretary of Education, Biden must acknowledge the damage done to America’s children by the high-stakes testing regime of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top. Bush’s law and Obama’s program were kissing cousins; both were disasters that hurt the most vulnerable children.
Handel quotes Lee-Ann Gray, a clinical psychologist, who says that the American school system is nothing short of traumatic for many Black students and other students of color. In her book, Educational Trauma: Examples From Testing to the School-to-Prison Pipeline, she exposes how schooling in the U.S. routinely undermines students’ mental health, limits their potential, and, in the worst cases, causes lifelong harm.
As a new administration is poised to take the reins of government, Gray says it is time to demand both widespread changes to the U.S. education system and public measures to address the mental health crisis facing many marginalized students. She urges Joe Biden to start by re-examining Race to the Top, an Obama-era education program that ties funding to performance, and instead begin cultivating compassionate alternatives that promote learning and well-being.
Gray told Handel:
As a clinical psychologist, certified in treating trauma, I observed blatant and overt traumas in the youth presenting for care in California. It was especially evident to me when the prevalence rate of ADD/ADHD rose to the point that teachers were identifying it and referring students to psychiatrists for prescriptions. I saw that schools in America perpetrated little t traumas every day, everywhere. Francine Shapiro, the creator of EMDR, a trauma treatment, indicated that shame, slights, humiliation, embarrassments and failures are smaller traumas that can accumulate to critical symptoms. The rate of bullying and the negative effects of testing are riddled with little t traumas. Standard education protocol in the U.S., with its emphasis on testing, intense competition and conformity, is a breeding ground for little t trauma. This is particularly problematic in low-income schools where students are dehumanized and often face multiple oppressions before entering the classroom.
Finally, I knew I was seeing trauma when I stumbled across psychologist Alice Miller’s concept of “poisonous pedagogy,” which describes how harmful practices are perpetuated in the name of education. From high-stakes testing to harsh discipline to inadequate mental health support, poisonous pedagogy is rife in U.S. schools.
No Child Left Behind (NCLB) and Race to the Top (RTTT) are two federal reward programs offering schools extra funds for higher test scores. They essentially use a market demand model to demonstrate that students are learning, when, in fact, learning cannot be measured in this way. Testing is a very flawed measure of student success. Moreover, the model used to evaluate school scores is even more flawed in that teachers’ careers depend on the scores of students they’ve never taught. Ultimately, these two federal incentive funding programs bind teachers’ hands so that they aren’t able to employ their professional expertise.
There is more to this thoughtful interview. Open the link and read it.