Testing season always feels like a surreal time-out from normal proceedings. Covered bulletin boards and gridded desk alignments make every classroom feel still, like an overextended ceremony of allegiance to standardized tests. Before they begin, a student asks me questions like “Why do you have to cover up your charts and boards?” to which I reply “Because they’re in English, and this is an English test.”
Logic also takes a vacation, too. For hours on end, both the test-takers and the reluctant proctor stunt their imaginations for the explicit purpose of state assessment.
While the students’ pencils gentle scratch against their exams, however, I dream of a world where their evaluators will see their value as human beings. Their test scores wouldn’t matter as much as their intellect, their wit, and their youthful joy. The state would grant them opportunities to show these qualities off. The students would feel less like their school holds them captive, but that their ambition and passions move the institution to love them for them. Yes, their school would make them feel safe, and we would find to adjust our ways and means to get every student to learn.
And, what’s more, higher-ups in our district would see my children as equally capable of success as full-fledged citizens in this country, worthy of the fullest gifts our Earth bears. In defense of our dreams, we must keep dreaming.
Yet, I’m also reminded that the dream so many of us celebrate every third Monday of every January and every April 4th does not happen without dream makers. We cannot wait for a benevolent person in power to create equity for our students. We must fight. We cannot wait for people who’ve been tucked under the safety blanket of our institutions’ benefits to suddenly wake up. The more I bang my head against the brick wall of intentional ignorance to the plight of our children, the more I realize we need to deconstruct the wall, brick by brick.
Any movement that suggests we build more walls is a movement I can’t be a part of.
Part of my fortune is that, when I’m not teaching students math, I get to speak to dozens of people across the country, either digitally or in person. In each instance, I go in to ask “why not?” when the rest of the world demands a why. My secondary role is to speak ever-present truths, conjuring and pointing out the shapes and sizes of the ghosts in the room. The third, and perhaps most vital, is to spark or validate the communities gathered in front of me. I am usually not the reason the community exists, but I have the pleasure of telling a gathering of two or more that their community with others is essential to the work going forward.
And, when that community doesn’t include more voices, I get to prompt folks in front of me to dream harder.
When I leave those spaces, I get back to my work. Back to my own communities, rife with issues, problems, and blessings. I can’t lie: even as I stand upright, I’m still bruising from wounds accrued from this arduous school year. For many of us still tender from the beating, the fact that we still do this work means we can keep dreaming. How can we as adults quit when so many of our students, so young yet so resilient, fight back against oppression through their very existence?
As my students continue to take standardized tests that take hours to complete at a time, I’m reminded of the struggles and hurdles we continue to climb to get rid of those struggles and hurdles. Ironically, those hurdles are what put us in the position to be strong enough to decimate them. They dream too. In fact, some come to class exhausted from not getting to dream long enough. Never mind the debates over the “wokest;” my students continue to fight for the chance to match their dreams with their oft fraught realities.
Our imagination does not have to be limited to the here and now. We still got time.