Note: This is a letter written by a teen living in Atlanta in the year 2053. It is published here for the first time. Although a work of fiction, it is presented here as a reminder of the consequences of making decisions based on faulty reasoning and ignorance.
I learned that in America, in the year 2001, the Federal Government enacted the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law that required each state in the country to develop tests in mathematics and reading, but over time, the policy makers decided that science and history should also be tested. As you know, this annual testing event became known as “The Testing Games,” a kind of spin off of the 2012 movie, “The Hunger Games,” by Suzanne Collins.
It’s now 2053 and we’ve elected our first woman president, Maya Armstrong Fusaro, an independent candidate from Georgia. People are very optimistic because of President Fusaro’s political philosophy, especially with regards to economics, education and equity, and ideas about the environment. Although we had another great recession eight years ago, we are on the road to recovery, much like what happened in your day.
But, right now things are much different than you might realize compared to 2012.
Life in 2053
Let me tell you a bit about my life in the year 2053.
Let me introduce myself. My name is Skyler, and my number that I use for identification purposes is 897502415. I am 14 years old and I live in the United States in a very large southern city. It’s very crowed in the urban areas of the U.S., so much so, that parents have been asked to either home school their children, or enroll them in online schools. There is simply not enough room in our schools.
I do most of my studies online from my room in our apartment, and my father also helps us (I have three brothers) as a home school teacher. There are so many courses to choose from, you simply can’t believe it. But, as my father keeps reminding me, I have to take courses that will prepare me for high-stakes test, because—well, you know—politicians in the first decade of 2000′s decided that all kids needed to be tested to prove that that their teachers were good or bad, and that their schools were doing the job, not to mention to tell me if I passed or failed.
New Reform? Things changed very fast during the second term of President Obama. He tried to implement a new education reform agenda that would have eliminated high-stakes testing, and replaced them with low-stakes tests. He also proposed that curriculum (the stuff we study and have to learn) would be developed by teachers at the local level and that teachers use formative assessments (weekly tests, projects, laboratory reports, portfolios, questions, participation) to determine how well students do in school. End-of-year tests could be given, but they would be only used to see how the system was doing. They were never to be used to evaluate teachers, or principals, or determine if schools were good or bad.
These ideas never were realized.
Instead politicians and business leaders continued to lead our country along the same path developed earlier that we call the authoritarian standards and high-stakes testing reform movement. Not only did they insist that all schools adopt the Common Core State Standards in English/language art and math, but they added science, and history to the common core.
My father has told us that extending this policy was an awful mistake.
The Climate Changed!
But something else happened which had a profound impact on schooling as you knew it.
Climate change ravaged our country in ways you couldn’t image. If you continued to increase the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, scientists at the Hadley Centre in London in an article in Nature in 2000, predicted significant changes in climate would occur. According to one report that I read scientists in your day predicted that sea level would rise because of the melting of glaciers and ice-sheets, and that the general warming that was in effect would lead to more and more really hot days, and many less cold days. Your scientists also predicted that warmer temperatures would upset or accelerate the water cycle which would lead to more extreme droughts, and/or floods in some area, and less severe droughts and/or floods in other areas.
All of these predictions were unfortunately accurate, especially droughts and/or floods, and how they have affected the North American continent. From Texas right up through Oklahoma to North Dakota and into Canada, and spreading east to Indiana, and west to Utah, a huge desert has been formed after years of drought. States in the far west, south, and east coast have received sufficient to extreme rainfall causing unusual flooding. But at least they are not what you called The Dust Bowl.
Our family was forced to move from the New Orleans area to Atlanta and we started a new life here. We live near the city center in a high rise apartment building, from which I can see Stone Mountain to the East, and Kennesaw Mountain to the West. I’ve never been to either, but I’ve seen close up pictures, and stories about people who actually visited these parks, and climbed to the summits. Oh, well.
Learning in 2052
The apartment I live in with my brothers and parents is amazing. You thought that technology in 2012 was cool, you simply can’t image the technology we have today. Our house runs with power that we generate as part of the residential solar power project. We actually generate so much power, that we sell the excess back to Georgia Power. We spend most of our time in our apartment, as Atlanta is so crowded with people, and we don’t use the kinds of cars that you used–you know the ones that used fossil fuels.
We didn’t run out of fossil fuels, we simply were forced to use other energy sources because with an increased population, we were polluting the air at rates never seen before. Plus, as I told you, we have had massive climatic changes in North America caused by Global Warming.
Why didn’t you believe the scientists in your time that Earth was heating up at an alarming rate? I just don’t understand your thinking back then. The evidence was all around you. Glaciers were shrinking at alarming rates. Fires were ravaging huge parts of the Earth. The weather during your lifetime was getting more extreme—remember all of the tornadoes, hurricanes, and huge blizzards? Oh well.
But lets shift gears again. Online learning is now the standard for most American’s today. Today’s computers are not only faster than the ones you used, but we think of them as an extension of ourselves. My computer has the processing power of our brains, and scientists have developed software that led to an “intelligence explosion” and interestingly, a better way to participate in the actions of our government. President Fusaro was the first American President elected when all eligible citizens voted from their computers in their homes or in public libraries. Don’t worry, every citizen in our country has all the technology I spoke about.
We have great courses to choose from. However, we are accountable to the government in four areas of learning: reading and language arts, mathematics, science and engineering, and history and political science.
My Favorite Lessons
My favorite lessons on my computer are in courses that combine activities from different fields of study. One course I took was entitled: Why People’s Ideas Don’t Change? This was interesting to me because I wondered why people in the early part of this century wouldn’t change their ideas about climate change, evolution, and how children learn. Seemed as if everyone was stuck in the muck, and resisted changing their ideas. Climate change is real. Life evolved on the Earth according the ideas laid out the famous Charles Darwin. And we humans are not robots. We learn in many different ways. What happened back then to turn your back on solid research supporting these ideas? Well, let’s take a look.
The course was based on research done early in this century that found that beliefs about controversial factual questions (such as climate change, evolution, or how children learn) was closely linked to one’s ideological preferences or partisan beliefs.
The teacher used a teaching method that I really like. It’s called the “Case Study” method, and using this approach, we learned the basic ideas of people’s resistance to change, but in the context of a real issue or problem. One of the controversial questions that we studied in our course was the question of whether or not Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) prior to the Iraq War invasion. Honestly, I had not read much about this war, but once I did, I realized how controversial the war was to Americans during the early part of the century.
The researchers who conducted the study on the Iraq War found that people’s pre-existing ideas are preserved even when they are presented with contrary information. The first mechanism that they shine a light on is that individuals may “engage in a biased search process, seeking out information that supports their preconceptions and avoiding evidence that undercuts their beliefs. A second mechanism is called the “backfire effect.” In this case, individuals who receive unwelcome information may not simply resist challenges to their views, they may come to support their original opinion even more strongly—i.e.–the backfire effect.
The fact that people’s pre-existing ideas influenced whether they would accept new information was also related to their ideological beliefs—liberals tended to accept the new information; for centrists, it didn’t matter, but for conservatives, they tended to push the new information away, and hold more solidly to their exiting ideas. Even when people were given information that Iraq did not have WMD, most of these people did not accept the information, and even became more resistant to alternative explanations.
Well, this course helped me understand why we have held on to your education reforms that so many researchers in your day showed were not supported by research. I read about one of your researchers by name of Diane Ravitch. At one time she did support the standards-based high-stakes reform movement, but in mid-2005, she wrote a book that showed how the reforms starting with NCLB were ruining American education. It was in your day that you actually decided to use student test scores to determine if our teachers and schools were good or bad.
So many people have held on to their preexisting beliefs about how we learn. They continue to believe that everyone should learn the same material, and that the way to find out if we learned the stuff, is to take a multiple-choice test. It’s like they think that ideas can be stuffed into our heads! Don’t they know the work of Jean Piaget, Lev Vygotsky, or Marcia Linn? All of these educators discovered and taught you that we humans learn from experience, and that we actually build up our ideas through interaction with the content and other people. Why did the education reformers of your day ignore this research, and instead listen to corporate types who knew nothing about education, let alone how people learn?
Enough of this.
Few Schools, Lots of Kids
During the early years of this century, school districts all around the country closed one school after another. They blamed it on budget short-falls. But their decision led to a real problem for us. Remember I said that because of the radically changing climate, many people had to move to safer areas, and these tended to be cities in the far west, in the south, and along the east coast. The cities filled up, but there was very little space for kids to go to real brick and mortar buildings. There just weren’t enough classrooms for all of us. We only get to go to school once a year.
Fives Walk to School on Thursday
The NCLB law insists that all students must take the exams in a school building under very tight security measures. I read an article published on the blog site, The Answer Sheet that said that testing days were like a “lock-down” rather than a normal day at school. The author of the article, Larry Lee, visited an Alabama school when the state reading and math tests were given (NCLB act). According to Mr. Lee, there was “no laughter, no smiles, no hugs, too many straight-faced youngsters, too many with stress that the nurse was on call.”
The teachers picked up the their tests from a secure room. After signing off for the tests, the teachers returned to their rooms, and opened the big plastic box that contained the exams for the students. The students started bubbling in their answers.
Believe it or not, the same system is still in effect today.
The Big Day. But in my day, things are a bit different. Remember I told you that I take all my courses from home using my computer. My computer screen delivers all the content that I need to prepare me for the Big Day. On the Big Day, each kid takes a walk to the closest school building. There are so many people living in the our urban areas, that not all the kids can come to school to sit down and take the bubble type examination on the same day.
My test day is Thursday, because on Thursday Fives go to school to take their high-stakes test. That’s right. On the last Thursday in April, those kids whose numbers end in 5 get to walk to school and take their tests. There just isn’t enough space for all the kids in the neighborhood to come to school on the same day. When we get to school, we are assigned a room where we will spend six hours taking our exams. We also get a 20 minute break for lunch!
This is an exciting day. It’s the one day that I get to go to school, and see the kids that I have been communicating with over the Internet. Its a great experience. As that last Thursday in April gets closer, I get more and more excited. Not only do I get to walk to school, but I get to walk through the Green Spaces near our apartment, and see the beautiful buildings that surround these spaces. We can visit the Green Spaces, but only on allotted days and only for a couple of hours.
I can hardly wait until tomorrow, because tomorrow is Thursday, and we Fives walk to school on Thursday. We’ll get to take our tests, and see our friends!
P.S. I found the following articles valuable in my research to write this letter to you. You might want to check them out.
- Why Scientific Perception Persist even with Facts & Teaching
- The Testing Games: How America’s Youth are being put at Risk
- What Teachers know vs. what education policy makers do
- Testing and Teaching to the Test: It’s going to get Worse
This is a fictional story written by a 14 year-old student living in the year 2053 in Atlanta. Skyler brings us into the world of the future by writing a time travel letter telling us about life, education and testing. Is Skyler’s world a forecast that has any believability? Is the convergence of the effects of global warming and the effects of a failed education policy a coincidence, or could they be related?
Note: This post was adapted from Five’s Walk on Thursday, published by Science Workshop, Inc., Atlanta, GA, and published in print in by Jack Hassard, Science Experiences, Addison-Wesley Publishers, 1990.
Tags: climate change, futuristic thinking, global warming, Global Warming deniers, High-Stakes Testing, Iraq War, Life in 2053, NCLB, Online course, President Obama, Weapons of Mass Destruction