Education's Gandhi--sort of

Jeff Kuhner

Linda Shaw wrote an interesting piece in last week's Seattle Times. Apparently, civil disobedience against the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) is alive and well--at least, as embodied in Carl Chew, a 60-year-old science teacher who refuses to give the test to his sixth-graders at Eckstein Middle School.

Mr. Chew, a former artist who has been teaching for eight years, is opposed to high-stakes standardized testing. He claims he is taking a stand against WASL and No Child Left Behind in general.

"I did it because I think it's bad for kids," he said.

For his actions (or non-actions), Mr. Chew has been placed on leave for two weeks without pay. The WASL is given each year to students in grades 3-8 and grade 10. It covers math, reading, writing, and science. It is used to measure whether the schools in Washington state are meeting the goals established in NCLB.

Whatever one thinks of NCLB or the WASL--and I am the first to admit there are problems with both of them--Mr. Chew's supposed "civil disobedience" is not the way to fix them. In fact, it is a recipe for educational chaos and anarchy. WASL is a state-mandated exam. By refusing to give the test, Mr. Chew failed to fulfill his duties as a teacher. If he doesn't like the WASL, he can complain to his union, write an Op-Ed piece, call his local political representative, or advocate for its overhaul or termination at a public forum--in other words, he can utilize all of the tools available to a citizen in a democratic polity without violating his professional obligations.

Eckstein is not Selma or Dandi; students are not being beaten with police clubs or thrown into British jails. Hopefully, Mr. Chew will come to his senses and realize that his teaching responsibilities--including having students pass the WASL on their way to getting a high school diploma--trump his political feelings. If not, then perhaps he should return to being an artist, where real world considerations don't matter as much.

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