Parents, unless you start making a lot of noise, it will continue getting worse.

Because of the high stakes attached to the FSA, the tests are shrouded in secrecy and security out of all proportion to their actual value. Therefore, most teachers in Florida don’t voice their opinions about testing or the effects and consequences of testing in public.  

So when a teacher is able to reflect on their own life – as a child, a student, and as a teacher – and share their insights into education as it is today, everyone should pay close attention. It’s always special when we hear from teachers, former teachers, and retired teachers, who support our work. 

Yesterday was a special day. 

Jesse George Shoemaker is a retired teacher from Polk County, who shared his letter to President and Mrs. Trump, US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Gov. Ron Desantis, Rep Melony Bell, Sen.Kelli Stargel, the Polk County School Board, and to the parents and teachers in The Opt Out Florida Network:

This document has been sent to the following people. I am trying to tell my story about the sad shape of our US educational system. Please help me tell my story. Please copy and share as you wish.

TO: President Donald J. Trump
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Melania Trump
First Lady of the United States
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Betsy DeVos
Secretary of Education
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, D.C. 20202

Ron DeSantis
State of Florida
Office of Governor
The Capitol
400 S. Monroe St.
Tallahassee, FL 32399-0001

Billy Townsend
Board Member
District 1
Polk County Public Schools
PO Box 391
Bartow, FL 33831

Sarah Fortney
Board Member
District 3
Polk County Public Schools
PO Box 391
Bartow, FL 33831

Lisa Miller
Board Member
District 7
Polk County Public Schools
PO Box 391
Bartow, FL 33831

Rep. Melony M. Bell
11 West Broadway Street
Fort Meade, FL 33841-3303

Sen. Kelli Stargel
2033 East Edgewood Drive, Suite 1
Lakeland, FL33803

Also sent to Opt Out individuals
From: Jesse George Shoemaker
419 Terranova Street
Winter Haven, FL 33884
863-604-0243, jgshoe@verizon.net

Included in this communication are several documents:
1. Letter discussing how standardized tests would have ruined my life
2. Reply from Florida DOE as assigned by Governor DeSantis
3. My rebuttal of that reply.
_____________________

Jesse’s letter is shared here, with permission:

I taught middle school science and agriculture in Polk County, FL for three weeks shy of eight years and was named the Teacher Of The Year (TOY) once. The last three weeks of my eighth year, I could not force my self to go back into the classroom. I could not sleep. I had constant, out of school, panic attacks. I had PTSD. 


In 1968 and 1969 I was an active duty US Marine. I never had a panic attack in the Corps, but I did while teaching. There is something horribly wrong with that fact, horribly wrong with US education. I hope my story will help the enormity of that fact leap into your consciousness and into your actions to improve education.

When I was a child, I had a fever of 107 degrees F that fried parts of my brain. My first name is Jesse. I learned to spell that in the first grade. The first day of second grade I was asked to spell my first name. I wrote Jsees. I was so not-with-it. I did not hear the ‘e’ at the end when pronouncing Jesse. I got so mad I went home and insisted everyone call me by my middle name, George. I would not answer to Jesse at school or anywhere else.

I was in the hospital often during the third grade, due to horrible stomach pain. That year, our hometown pharmacist gave me the wrong medicine and almost killed me. The correct medicine made me sleep through most of third grade. I failed third grade. As far as I knew I was the only kid that failed in that school that year. I was an eight-year-old failure, and I knew it. I knew I was stupid. I knew I was the dumbest kid in my class. I knew I was the dumbest kid in that school.

It did not matter that there was a reason why I failed. Facts may be different from how a child perceives reality. My reality was that I was stupid.

I hated school. I hated teachers. I hated books. I had serious Dyslexia although no one knew what that was back then. I guess they either thought I was stupid, or I simply did not want to read. The teacher gave Mom a “Dick and Jane” reader. Each night after supper, Mom asked me to read. I couldn’t read. She would ask and ask until I cried, and she would give up. As if school was not torture enough, I could expect more torment after supper.

In my head I was alone in a world full of people that were against me. At a picnic in the woods, I went for a walk and came upon a house and garage. The garage had a sign that said Penny Arcade. I ran back and told everyone. We all walked to the arcade. Only, it said ‘Park Yar Carcass’ (P—y arca–). The instant I saw the sign the second time I saw what it really said. Everyone laughed at me and walked back to the picnic. I sat down in the leaves and decided talking was little more than an opportunity to prove my stupidity. So, I stopped talking to everyone except my dog, Ada, a Basset Hound. We took long walks in the woods, sat on a log or stump, and I repeatedly asked Ada, “Why do they make me go to school?” I would hug Ada and cry. I hated all of life, except for Ada. Looking back now, I wonder if Ada saved my life. Dad had given me a lifesaving jewel in Ada.

I thought I was all alone in the world, but now I realize my father knew I needed a friend and something to be good at. He began raising Bassets and became my Little League coach. Ours was the best team in the area. We almost never lost. I was a good third baseman, and I hit home runs.

I was voted the most popular senior in high school. Not bad for a dumb kid. Being an athlete and the class clown was preferable to being the dumb kid.

I was in my 50s when I realized what Dad had done for me. Sadly, he was gone by then.

Sports became my life. I started on my high school basketball team. We were a small rural school, but our senior year we won nineteen games and lost only four. I earned eight varsity letters in high school. My basketball coach and art teacher pushed me through high school. Since I knew I was stupid but was good at physical things, I was on my way to Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island the Monday after my last high school class. I hated school so much I did not go on my class trip or to commencement. I was out of there. I knew I would never go to school ever again. In the Corps I learned I was good at learning by doing.

After the Corps, I kept wondering what I would do for the rest of my life. I began to wonder if I could get through college. I asked my high school English teacher if she thought I should try. She said, “If I were you, I wouldn’t even try.” Today she says she would never have said that to me, but that is what I remember. At the time, that was what my reality was and still is today.

I worked four jobs; painting houses, selling fire alarms, working in a factory, and working at a lumber mill. There was no fun in that life. I decided to give college a try. I did not want to look back when I was 50 years old and wonder what I could have become if I tried going to college. I started at a major university in the AA Agriculture curriculum. I earned a 4.0 my first term and switched to a B.S. degree in Agronomy. Between high school and college my brain began to heal itself, I guess. I taught myself to read in college – albeit very slowly.

The first day of remedial college English, the professor put magazine pictures on a desk and asked us to write about what we saw. I picked a picture of a US Marine recruit on the rifle range. I wrote about the sand fleas and no-see-ums, the heat, my boots constantly being so wet with sweat I had bleeding athletes’ foot, Drill Instructors cussing us and beating one guy to a pulp, and the fear of not qualifying: every Marine must be a rifleman.

The professor graded the papers and handed them out. She gave me mine last and told the class that I had no sense of romance. She said I did not even mention the smell of the gunpowder. I stood up, left class, walked to my room, and began packing to leave college and go home. How could I learn from overly romantic professors who knew less than I knew?

Some of my classmates knew I was a Marine. They raked the teacher over the coals. One student ran to my room and said the professor wanted me to come back. She apologized. Later, in a business writing class I wrote that, “I will contact the manager.” The professor was so old he scolded me that I should never use the word ‘contact’ because that is what the pilot says before the airplane propeller is turned – World War I lingo.

Every aspect of my college education was a nightmare. In an International Marketing course, the professor thought it would be a good idea to barter with Russia, trading agricultural supplies for crops. He had no idea that DuPont traded agricultural chemicals for potatoes and lost their shirt because the Russians harvested green potatoes that basically turned to liquid in shipment. It is a good idea, but if you have no experience you can lose everything. He did not have enough experience to caution his students.

I did learn that education without experience is not worth much. That is precisely one of the things that is wrong with our system of education. There are too many highly placed educators, who have been out of the classroom for so long, that they have lost or forgotten their experience; or maybe they are concentrating on following insane rules rather than using the knowledge they have gained from their experience. Then there are the decision-making lawyers and politicians who have no teaching education or experience.

All my education was worse than pulling teeth. I absolutely hated it. I constantly looked for ways to escape. I convinced my high school Principal I should drop English and Math and replace them with home study Electronic and Photography courses, which I never sent for. A teacher falsified the grades because he knew I was smart enough to work in one of the factories in town. I convinced my college Dean to give me 16 credits for the education I had in the Corps and take a three-month business internship, that I was not qualified for. As it turned out, that internship was responsible for a twenty-year-long career I had with a huge multinational corporation.

In my thirties, I learned I have a very high IQ. I was always able to sort through a problem and find an answer, but my learning did not follow the standard path. Cookie cutter education would have dumped me into a pit of depression.

After college, I worked for multinational corporations for thirty years. I earned a six-figure salary for more than a decade. I had one boss who learned I could sort through difficult, multilayered situations rapidly and suggest successful solutions. He sent me everywhere to fix problems.

I have lived in or worked in five foreign countries and in every state, except Alaska. I have lived a wonderfully exciting and rewarding life. If they had had standardized tests back then, I would never have graduated from high school. It wasn’t always pretty, but I did it my way. I could never have done it formal education’s way. I simply could not take tests successfully. I could not stand to be told what was important to know. I graduated college with a 3.2 GPA. I was a scientist. Under a regime of standardized tests, I would have been a cutoff saw operator all my life.

After retirement, I taught middle school. I had a student that could not sit in a desk for more than a few minutes. Then he would go crazy. He stood up and screamed. I related to that kid. He was me years earlier. I sent him to the garbage to dump my trashcans. I always had something physical for him to do.

That child had no business in regular school, but his grade level would not allow him to attend a vocational school. He was a sixteen-year-old middle schooler. He should have been sent to vocational school, but ‘they’ could not see what he needed. He quit school, is a laborer, has an apartment, a car and a girlfriend. He is happy. He is doing it his way. I wonder what he may have become in a less standardized educational environment. Yet, people miles away from the classroom think they know what is best for every student.

He is proof that ‘No Child Left Behind’ and many of the educational initiatives since have failed miserably. They certainly failed him. These initiatives and Standardized Tests fail the students that need help the most. Our educational system is ludicrous.

Stop this standardized testing nonsense. Stop the age-inappropriate testing. It is horrendous to send elementary children, shaking and crying, to school to take tests that prove very little: test after test after test. Are we purposely trying to make children hate school, hate learning? Try to imagine the reality we are putting into the minds of these children. I’ll bet their reality is far different than we think it is. Get rid of these stupid roadblocks to a worthwhile education.

My wife, Judy Ed,D. was testing a elementary child with special education needs recently. The child looked at her and said, “I’m going to fail this year, ain’t I?” That child had taken many progress monitoring tests. He learned to see himself failing before he takes the state standardized test. He is fluently bilingual (Spanish and English) but has such a severe learning disability, that he can barely read. For him, testing is sheer torture and this otherwise great kid knows he is “stupid.” Stop this ignorance.

We no longer teach math facts. An elementary student spends so much time putting marks on paper to calculate 9×9, they have difficulty finishing the test. And what sense does it make to educate in a way that makes it impossible for many parents to help their children do homework. When a student must read a passage to answer a math question, are we testing reading or math? I could continue with these samples of stupidity for paragraphs.

I am sorry to say that I do not believe our educational system will improve. The system is run by politicians, lawyers, and education EdDs or PhDs who have not been in the classroom for years or ever. You teachers and parents can change it if you mobilize, but change will not happen if you continue your current path of action: doing very little. I fear education will continue to get more ridiculous.

Entirely too much of what ‘they’ want a teacher to do will not significantly benefit the student. You highly placed professional educators should stop telling teachers what to do and show them how to do it. The reason there is so little modeling is that many cannot do what they ask teachers to do.

If I had the power, I would require every school administrator, school board member, every state and federal DOE boss, every lawyer who has anything to do with education, and every politician to spend thirty days straight in an ‘F’ middle school classroom, with no special privileges. ALL of this nonsense would stop immediately.

There is immense value in knowing the student. The best thing teachers bring into the classroom is not their education. It is their empathy, their love, and their humanity. The best phrase I learned in teacher school was, “Give the student what (s)he needs.” If a middle school teacher had the same students in sixth, seventh, and eighth grade (called looping), their relationship with students would become deeper and deeper and the education better and better.

When we switched from elementary – junior high – high school to elementary – middle school – high school, sixth grade became middle school. Any middle school teacher with an elementary teaching certificate cannot teach seventh and eighth grade. Therefore; many middle school teachers cannot loop with their students, forcing those teachers to start from scratch, developing relationships with their students every year – how wasteful!

It should not take a Theoretical Physics professor to see and fix this problem. Whatever could be lost from an elementary teacher teaching seventh and eighth grade would be more than made up by the deeper relationship with students. Or (idea of the century) revamp teacher college education to include what would be necessary to make middle school looping possible for all middle school teachers.

Maybe education administrators are so focused on following the rules they cannot see the trees for the forest. Now we are faced with so much test insanity, that potential teachers cannot pass the test to become teachers. What does that mean? Have our universities become so inept they can no longer teach the basics or are the test creators completely inept?

When my mother (a third-grade teacher) passed, a woman on the other end of the continent wrote on the Funeral Home web page, “I knew I was loved every day in third grade. I was safe, and I learned how to love watching Mrs. Shoemaker.” ‘I can only imagine’ what would have been in that little girl’s mind and heart if she could have had Mom for three years (although I do understand looping in elementary school may be much more difficult).

First the humanity, then the education. The educational system has stripped teachers of their God-given gifts; the prerequisite stuff that enables the education to work. Just imagine how that little girl’s education was catapulted by Mom’s love. Third grade became a heartfelt, lifelong memory for that lady.

Mom was so frustrated with teaching she became a member of the school board. She was never able to make a significant difference in the educational system. 

Parents, unless you start making a lot of noise, it will continue getting worse. Between the US Department of Education, your state Department of Education, your school district administration, and your school’s administration there are so many levels of people, how do you possibly fight it? Get enough parents and teachers together, making enough noise, and it will change quickly. You have the power, use it.

My favorite quote is,

“For of all the sad words of tongue and pen the saddest are these: It might have been!”  (John Greenleaf Whittier)

I have never allowed the system to determine my path. I refuse to live an ‘it might have been life’. There are many students who score low on tests, who have a grand and glorious path that is correct for them. Stop making them feel stupid with these incessant tests. We should encourage and expand their dreams, not squash them. We place huge roadblocks in front of too many students. Those road blocks are dream killers. Stop it!

It is time for parents and teachers to stand up and say,

“No more! Stop this insanity. Bring back the humanity.”

Start giving our students life-fulfilling dreams. It is sad that we test the dreams out of too many students; rather, we should lead them to their dreams. Maybe you can’t force a horse to drink, but you can lead a student to their dreams.

An educator must be like my father. First get to know the students and learn what they need. My father quit high school to enlist in the Army during World War II. He was a common man, but he was the finest educator and modeler I’ve ever known. He took my path’s journey with me. If he would have repeatedly tested me along the way, he would not have helped me.

He showed me how to catch a ground ball, hit a baseball by keeping my eye on the ball and watch it hit the bat, how to shoot a jump shot, how to head a soccer ball. He taught me how to shoot a rifle. I qualified on the Parris Island rifle range the first day of live fire. That evening I was one of the few who did not get beaten severely. That night I thanked God for Dad. He was always there, using the gifts God gave him – showing me how. Stop the insanity. Bring back the humanity.

A teacher’s greatest gifts are God-given. Stop stripping teachers of their gifts.

Get involved at the following web site: https://theoptoutfloridanetwork.wordpress.com/

Sincerely,

Jesse George Shoemaker

Rebuttal
I find this reply to my letter extremely condescending, cold and without feeling for the many children who are traumatized by these standardized tests. It is legalistic and without humanity. No wonder groups such a ‘Opt Out’ have formed and are growing rapidly.

“You can certainly imagine the diversity of students enrolled in the state’s public schools;” – 

(I was a teacher for 8 years for crying out loud. Patronizing? Did they read my letter or simply pour “ignore” all over it? It does not seem as if any attention was paid to this stakeholder.)

“to appropriately measure students’ and teachers’ hard work can be difficult with such a vast spectrum of experiences and backgrounds. Standardized tests help with that very important goal. While no single assessment can ever be fully representative of a student’s capabilities, (What about 3rd grade ELA, 10th grade ELA (English Language Arts) and Algebra 1?) the Florida Legislature has determined that they are an essential part of meeting Florida’s high standards for its students.”

It does not seem that the Florida DOE listens to teacher and parent stakeholders. I think the proof of that is the fact that groups such as ‘Opt Out’ exist.

I hope that parent and teacher voices echo loudly throughout this state and force the Governor, the Legislature and the Florida DOE to listen and bring humanity back to education.

A teacher’s greatest gifts are God-given.

Stop stripping teachers of their gifts.

Bring key decisions back to the classroom.

Stop this insanity. Bring back the humanity.

Parents and teachers stand tall and be heard!