My Brother’s Keeper (First Post)

Jump right in with me, won’t you?

I am grateful daily for the brilliant and brave people out there who are routinely calling out the No Child Left Behind Education Act. Here’s what some of them are saying.

NCLB’s testing validity is completely unproven and/or compromised: David Hursh

It doesn’t measure real literacy: National Council of Teachers of English

Its provisions for English Language Learners are damaging and discriminatory: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development

Its hidden provisions are insulting and morally problematic: William Cala

It is radically unfunded: National Education Association

And me? I think about something closer to home.

My older brother was diagnosed in the early 70’s with a “speech-language disorder,” although the repercussions were much wider: affecting emotional intelligence, psychological development, and physical coordination. An evaluation today would probably reveal some degree of autism. He can drive, cook, crack a joke; and when it comes to music, he is a true Rain Man. He can accurately recite the publication history of his 500+ albums. He can identify a piece of classical music by name and composer within three notes. He is amazing. He also has a local high school diploma.

Joel does not have the cognitive ability to pass even the simplified versions of five Regents exams, as New York State would require him to do under NCLB. Luckily, in 1988, he didn’t have to. He has since been working happily as a hotel houseman. I wonder if he would be employed now, had he come of age after 2001.

In fact, within the entirety of his schooling Joel never experienced what Jonathan Kozol calls “being under siege.” I see what this high-stakes testing mentality does to my students. I can only imagine what it would have been like for Joel, one of whose greatest academic achievements was learning how to divide. (He glowed like he had won the Nobel.)

Who would he be now, having run the gauntlet of NCLB? The man who loves Mozart and takes satisfaction in a perfectly ironed shirt– or someone else? Someone more helpless– more hollow?

The future is unclear for Joel. He is easily manipulated. He has little sense of physical safety. He does, and will, require hands-on care. All of it will fall to me eventually, as his only sibling. I’m humbled and honored by this– and scared. And I find it very telling indeed that in light of this, I too once sought easement of my fear through testing.

I asked my parents if it wouldn’t be worth having Joel tested one more time, as an adult. My thought was that it might help us take care of him better in the future.

My mother refused—and refused so flatly that I will never forget it.

“Joel is who he is,” she said. “We know him. We’ll work with him, not his test results. That’s all.”

My mother is lot smarter than me. And NCLB.