I recently attended an event for parents and students at Clifton High School in Clifton, New Jersey. The speaker was representing the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce. In the days of my youth one might have expected such a presentation to include some very inspiring content. I would have expected to encounter an array of exciting career possibilities on display. Members of the Chamber of Commerce would have contributed glittering material to entice students to consider joining their companies to become members of their teams to create and build products and serve people while following their dreams. Young adults would leave the auditorium with their appetites whetted for the challenges ahead and a new appreciation for the value of their academic work.
Alas. Inspiration is unfashionable. Businesses are not looking for people. Businesses are looking for workers. Fear is the new black, and the Test is the new God.
A career is not a source of personal fulfillment. It is now merely a means of survival. This is the message of the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce delivered by Dana Egreczky who in the past has declared that children are in schools to become a product for consumption by businesses. Literally. Listen to her.
Ms. Egreczky's talk was given for one purpose: To quell the burgeoning opt-out (refusal) movement that has risen in opposition to the abusive standardized testing that has been battering public schools. Fear is the weapon of choice and Ms. Egreczky makes no bones about it and brooks no dissent. In Clifton, she stated it clearly: "It's all about the competition."
Yes, the competition. The Chamber members don't want to compete for employees. They want our children to compete against each other, and that's what is so great about the PARCC test. They're lovin' it! It's the Chamber's dream to be able to sort and rank our kids like so many supplicants in a database, and Dana Egreczky is here to tell us that these are the facts of life, so get used to it or go hungry. The Test will rule your life. That's what she meant when she told parents that companies are looking into applicants' middle school grades before considering hiring them, and lest you be tempted to sugarcoat anything for children, consider the example of her response to a puzzled twelve year-old boy who asked her why he should be tested for the workforce: "So you won't be living in your parents' cellar." No joke, kid.
Dana Egreczky wants us to believe that educational nirvana lies behind the Test. The Test drives it all, and we must get the system behind the test. She repeated the preposterous claims about how diagnostic reports given to parents would help children learn, but floundered when challenged to provide an example. This was doubly bewildering in the face of her declaration that the PARCC report was basically indecipherable for a typical teacher.
This is what corporate education reform has wrought. While the public has been relentlessly bombarded with messages about a new generation of tests that make grandiose claims about assessing "critical thinking", the more candid explanation by Dana Egreczky is illuminating: She gave our audience examples of the "old" style of English Language Arts question that asks the student to write about something based upon the student's opinion. She contrasted it with the "new" PARCC-type question that requires the student to respond by searching for facts in a body of text. Students in our audience quickly suggested that the latter style would likely result in a response via copy-and-paste. To our astonishment, Ms. Egreczky replied that this is indeed an excellent way to answer such a question, and she seemed completely convinced that this unquestionably demonstrated superior intellectual capacity. In my day, we called it regurgitation, but now it is labeled critical thinking. Ms. Egreczky insisted that such copy and paste skills are what businesses and colleges seek in applicants. Astute and knowledgeable readers will be reminded of David Coleman's now infamous statement that "as you grow up in this world people really don't give a shit about what you feel or what you think." This is the world we bequeath to our children.
I decided to express my opinion to the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce about how it apparently regards the children of New Jersey. My email to the CEO, Tom Bracken elicited a prompt response.
I recently attended a presentation given by your organization's representative, Dana Egreczky. It was conducted at Clifton High School on March 2 and titled NJ Scores. The purpose of the event was clearly to increase participation in the New Jersey standardized testing system known as PARCC.
I write to express my displeasure regarding the messaging from the New Jersey Chamber of Commerce directed to the public generally and to parents of public school children particularly. I also will suggest an alternative approach toward constructively engaging the public schools.
I won't burden you by enumerating all of the specific tactics that were employed during Ms. Egreczky's presentation that are clearly designed to frighten attendees about their children's economic prospects in order to induce compliance. Instead, I will summarize by explaining that my impression of her message was that the Chamber of Commerce wants children to buckle down and work hard in order to become useful tools to the businesses that wish to exploit them. For their own good, of course. Furthermore, they need to comply with the standardized testing regime or otherwise be consigned to a life of unemployment.
You might think this is a hyperbolic or harsh characterization of Ms. Egreczky's representation for the Chamber of Commerce, but be assured, I am not alone in this perception. You might already be aware that Ms. Egreczky was interviewed by the NJ101.5 radio station and told the public that the business community is "one of the two major consumers of the product of the K-12 education system."
Based on my observation, I believe Ms. Egreczky is certainly succeeding in intimidating some handfuls of parents who attend these presentations and that might result in some decisions not to refuse PARCC testing. You can also be sure that describing children literally as products to be consumed by businesses is not favorably received by many parents and does not cast a good light on your organization. Essentially, your spokesperson is tone-deaf and offensive. I was particularly unimpressed by the way she told the audience that it was getting late and she needed to hurry home because she lived two hours away.
I suggest that if the Chamber of Commerce is concerned about education, that you engage school districts and families by offering more work-study programs, internships, and scholarships for students. Perhaps your members can assist in developing specialized course offerings that are especially useful. Send your representatives to schools to inform families about these opportunities. But if your involvement is limited to sending a speaker to whine about inadequately prepared workers with bad attitudes, then I suggest that some introspection is in order. If the only help on offer is an admonishment to work harder and take more tests in order to climb over one's peers for the privilege of working for someone else, then you won't be welcome in my district. We don't need the Chamber of Commerce to tell us how capitalism works, so don't waste our time.
Furthermore, there is a wealth of information available about the PARCC test and the PARCC consortium available from many sources. A business association has no business opining on pedagogy and assessment in school auditoriums.
The response I received from Mr. Bracken:
I'm not holding my breath.