Rick Bobrick is a veteran teacher in New York. He is sick of the punitive high-stakes testing that he is compelled to administer. This regime is child abuse. He is a conscientious objector. He thinks that teachers should have the same right to opt out that parents and children have. He knows if he refuses to give the tests, he puts at risk his job, his income, and his pension. He asks a simple question: why not a law protecting the rights of teachers to refuse to do what they know is wrong? Why not give teachers the right to be conscientious objectors?
Here is his letter:
I teach 8th grade science in a small city school district located in the Mid-Hudson Valley. I am in my 35th year in the classroom, the last 13 of which I have been required to administer punitive, high-stakes tests in math, ELA, and science. Last spring I hit the wall and I have decided that, in all good conscience, I no longer want to participate in this detrimental practice. However, like most teachers, I am unwilling to risk losing my income, or my pension, or my even my reputation, in order to take a principled stand against this new wave of failed reform. On the other hand, why should I have to risk anything in order to stand against what I know is wrong?
No teacher or administrator should be required to ignore their moral and professional compass out of fear of violating NY state law. No teacher or administrator should have to comply with educational policies more harmful than helpful to children. No teacher or administrator should be forced to remain complicit to policies that are tantamount to educational malpractice at best – and child abuse at their worst. No public school educator should ever submit to inaction out of fear of jeopardizing their professional standing, personal well-being, or their family security. The fear, the veiled threats, and the de-facto intimidation are all very real concerns for many NY public school professionals. There is something deeply wrong with a system in which teachers and principals are afraid to act in the best interest of children.
My proposed solution to this professional dilemma is to try to establish legal protections for any NY educator who no longer wishes to comply with New York’s RTTT commitment. Following the advice of my local NYSUT representative, I have drafted a resolution that would establish a ‘Conscientious Objector’ status for any NY teacher or administrator who wants to abstain from the malpractice of high-stakes testing. I have never been politically connected, nor a particularly strong supporter of our union. All I ever wanted to do was to teach science and provide my students with the best learning opportunities possible.
I will be working with a group of like-minded citizens to convince lawmakers to support this initiative. If this proposal is submitted as a bill and passed into law it would provide legal protection for any teacher or administrator who wants to opt out of the testing debacle. As has been seen over the past two years, parents can ‘refuse the test’ without fear of legal consequences. Nearly 60,000 students across New York State sat out the 2014 round of Pearson testing, supported by parents who wanted nothing to do with tests designed to fail students and intimidate their teachers. It is my strong belief that teachers and administrators should have the same right of refusal, a legally protected right to, ‘refuse to test’. Passage of this resolution into law may be viewed by some as a long shot; if successful it would open a very messy can of worms for Governor Cuomo, the Board of Regents, John King, and the State Education Department.
Regardless of the end result, the message this sends to our political leaders could open some eyes and help bring this federal testing regime to an end, sooner rather than later; one more nail in the coffin of New York’s Regents Reform Agenda. At the very least it would let parents, boards of education, and the media get a better handle on just how much opposition there is from the educators who are being forced by the power of state and federal law to pursue education policies and practices that we know are inflicting harm to our students. Teachers whose voices are being silenced by fear of professional retribution, would be muzzled no longer. To sit back and continue to be a part of this testing madness, in my view, makes us part of the problem – ‘refusing to test’ makes us part of the solution.
If we do nothing, this whole mess will eventually die a slow death by a thousand cuts, collapsing under its own weight – but not after a generation of students has been short-changed by the educational blinders of the Common Core and damaged by the pressures of punitive, test-based reform and all the negative labels that come with it. Parents, college professors, and others will be pointing fingers and asking very serious questions as they try to make sense of what happened to our collective professional voice if the majority of us remain complicit through inaction. The ‘Nuremburg Defense’ doesn’t cut it for me. Burris, Farley, Naison, Lee and a small handful of other strong voices from within the trenches of New York’s schools are not enough. We have a choice to make, nearly half a million strong: defiance or compliance?
If adopted, the Conscientious Objector legislation will make it possible for the majority of NY educators to speak out against the misguided attempts of reformers; changing fearful whispers into strong and meaningful action. By granting the right of refusal, this proposed resolution would also help to restore our status as professional educators whose judgment and trust are valued by the communities we serve. Teachers, coaches, supervisors, principals, and parents, please keep your ears to the legislative track and when the time comes lend your support at the local and state level. Together we can make this happen and bring the joy of learning back to our children’s classrooms.