Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Teacher Watch: Susan Ohanian's When Childhood Collides with NCLB

In his introduction to Susan Ohanian's latest, powerful book, Sid. S. Glassner writes, "The No Child Left Behind Act created an environment in our schools so counter to democracy's constructive spirit" that "[s]uch a condition cannot be permitted to persist nor should it ever be repeated."

A tale told in two voices, When Childhood Collides with NCLB (published by the Vermont Society for the Study of Education) dramatizes a sharp rift between media punditry and real life in public school. Each page literally splits down the middle as Ohanian provides two narratives, juxtaposing her own poems and meditations about classroom life with excerpts from newspaper headlines, press releases, reports, and commentaries. The result is a moving and provocative reading experience.

Her poem, "Processes and Terrors," for example, begins: "How to cross/A Piranha-infested River:/Stay out of the water/when piranhas are feeding./Swim or walk across/Quickly and quietly." This piece is printed directly across from a relevant snippet of a 2004 speech delivered by NCLB author and lobbyist for test publisher NCS Pearson, Sandy Kress: "[F]or those of you who are intimidated or threatened by NCLB, the world is actually going to become worse as we go along. I mean to say, more demanding. And it will look back at NCLB as a kind of just an initial foot in the water, if you will, to the world we're about to enter."

What multiple choice test or prep-packet asks students to consider a connection between poetry, Piranhas, and Scantron forms? Any teacher might happily use sections of Ohanian's book as a model for similar responsive creative writing exercises in their own classrooms.

A single copy of When Childhood Collides with NCLB is available for $8.95. Order copies from the author and publisher by sending a check directly to VSSE, Box 26, Charlotte VT 05445.

For $27, you can get two copies plus a year's subscription to the hard-hitting monthly Chicago teachers' newspaper, Substance.

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