This Is How You Protect Childhood

This past summer I was invited to give the Thomas Wright Lecture at Sarah Lawrence College as part of the Empower Teachers Program. My talk was titled, When All Else Fails, We Must Protect Childhood. I discussed the need to accept the fact that we failed to stop the spread of the global education reform movement (GERM) and the privatization of public education. And when we accept that failure we must refocus our energy and work to protect childhood. Sounds simple enough, but what does it look like to protect childhood? What do we say and do when childhood is threatened? How do we respond when corporate experiments and global assessments creep into our schools and target our young learners? I suggest we take a pledge to protect childhood where we clearly articulate what we will not allow to happen to our children and demand the experiences we know are important to allow childhood to flourish.

Parents of a five-year-old in Seminole County recently responded to a new policy from their child’s school that asked parents to force children to spend 90 minutes a week at home completing i-Ready work in exchange for in-school rewards (aka bribery). A friend tagged me in the online discussion post asking for my thoughts and I must say I was appalled. Not just at what the school was doing, but by the countless parents who said, “Well my child loves i-Ready so what’s the big deal?” My response was, “I don’t care if your child likes it. Some kids might like licking cement, but we don’t let them do it.” My point was that just because your kids enjoys doing useless work on a tablet does not mean it is good for them. Just like parents have opted out of testing, I suggested that parents should set limits on how much time will be spent on homework each day and opt out of the rest.

The next day Sandy Stenoff published a blog on the Opt Out Florida Network that summed up the entire ordeal. As I read the parents response letter, I realized this is how you protect childhood. First you say no to screen time invading your home life. Then you say why you will not subject your child to a second shift of work after a long day of school (which is more like work and less like learning through play). And lastly, you implore the district to stop the madness. You might not convince the school to rethink the policy, but if more and more parents followed suit they would have to listen.

So now I am asking you to take the Pledge to Protect Childhood. You ready? Here it goes.

Pledge to Protect Childhood
I pledge to protect childhood.
I pledge to say no to developmentally inappropriate assessments.
I pledge to say no to excessive screen time.
I pledge to say no to excessive, rigorous, academic instruction.
I demand free play as the curriculum for all children.
I demand natural authentic assessments conducted by classroom teachers.
I demand opportunities for all children to explore nature and create with their imagination.
I pledge to protect childhood.