Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Mitchel Chester targets Low-income School Districts: Prison-like Schools in Holyoke Part I


The Panopticon is a type of institutional building designed by the English philosopher and social theorist Jeremy Bentham in the late 18th century. 

The concept of the design is to allow a single watchman to observe (-opticon) all (pan-) inmates of an institution without the inmates being able to tell whether or not they are being watched. 

Although it is physically impossible for the single watchman to observe all cells at once, the fact that the inmates cannot know when they are being watched means that all inmates must act as though they are watched at all times, effectively controlling their own behaviour constantly. 

My 10 year old Nani started at Lt. P. Clayre Sullivan School in the 2nd grade.  "How was school today, baby?" I'd ask Nani.  "Good!" she would reply with a big smile.  It was short but, sweet. Later on in the day,during dinner or on the weekend Nani would burst out with a detailed "mommy Ms. Granahan is so nice...she let us..." 

The next year in third grade Nani had Mrs. Eichorn.  And, when I asked Nani "How as your day, baby?" I got "Good!" but, something began to change.  Nani started to report more "quizzes and tests" and then, gym disappeared from her day.  Later in the year, Nani started complaining about very short recesses. The first time she reported "mommy, we only got 5 minutes of recess today," I thought she was exaggerating.    

After meeting with Principal Breish, I learned Nani was not exaggerating. Principal Breish let me know the kids were allowed 30 minutes to get in line at the cafeteria, eat and get outside to recess.  "Why?" I asked dumbfounded.  "We just don't have time in the day; there's so much we need to pack into the day - some children need two blocks of ELA," shrugged Principal Breish. "But, any educator knows how important music, art and exercise are to cognitive, social and emotional development," I countered.  

"I agree, Ms. de Jesus but, we just don't have enough time in the day and the state says this is what we have to focus on.  Your daughter is doing excellently, but unfortunately, we can't focus on her 'extracurricular needs' we have to focus on making sure the students who are not reading at grade level, pass the MCAS.

I couldn't understand how school officials and the state found it appropriate or even reasonable to eliminate crucial elements of our children's social, emotional and cognitive development like gym which teaches our children about: fairness, determination, achieving goals together, respect, trust, camaraderie, navigating a loss or a win. And then, there's just fun exercise and laughter which release important endorphin or, happy hormones and facilitates high self esteem important factor in the formation of healthy relationships.  How could the state rationalize six hour days of "drill,prep and test?" with science, music or art just once a week for a third grader?  

Music, art and outdoor activities are something we prioritize at home so, Nani's school day was starting to feel like a cage.

While the television has never been something we prioritize, Nani and I occasionally watch NOVA a PBS science show.  From a very young age, like most kids, Nani loved to play in the dirt, explore worms, insects and of course collect rocks. 

In the third grade Nani would ask me "mommy, when are we gonna learn about science at school?"  As a parent, I took my concerns to Nani's teacher, Mrs. Eichorn who was very understanding and empathetic but, completely powerless to remedy the science void for her third graders or nurture their natural thirst to discover their world.  

Why?  Why, was Mrs. Eichorn powerless to talior her lesson plans to fit the needs and learning styles or, readiness of her whole class?  

In a meeting with Mrs. Eichorn, the reading and math coaches and principal, I asked "why can't math be taught using hands-on manipulatives?"  "Why can't reading be more physical? Like using theater to teach reading and writing comprehension. Why isn't there any science in my daughter's day?"  "Ms. de Jesus we think those are great ideas but, unfortunately we are given specific rubrics and we must comply with those."  I learned the curriculum just wasn't flexible to fit the needs of student's diverse cognitive abilities or learning styles. I was basically told the school had received rigid standards from the state.  
The state mandated curriculum standards were designed to address student's low reading and writing comprehension (English Language Arts/ELA), and math Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS)scores.

According to the Department of Early and Secondary Education (DESE) The (MCAS) is designed to meet the requirements of the Education Reform Law of 1993. 

What is the Education Reform Law of 1993 and why did it come about?  What does this law stipulate or guarantee us TODAY?  

Stay tuned for Part II of "Mitchel Chester Targets Low-Income School Districts:Prison-like Schools In Holyoke." 


  1. Thank you so much for this well needed piece!

    1. Thank you Francheska, truly appreciate your readership..please stay tuned and SHARE! (Keep Our Voice Local)