NECAPS and Barbie…Adventures in Parenting

The beauty of being a woman of a certain age is that whenever I mention how much things have changed over the years, I am met with a chorus of “No, these things used to happen” or accusations that I am suffering from “Get off my lawn” syndrome. While I may have a touch of “Get off my lawn” syndrome; the beauty of having two kids who are 13 years apart is that when it comes to certain matters, I really can notice a difference.

Case in point, modern day schooling. My eldest was affected by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 but it didn’t affect him at the tender age of 8. However the girl child is far more aware of the importance of standardized testing than I think any kid should be aware of, especially at the relatively young age of 8.

Here in my corner of the world, standardized testing starts in the 3rd grade but really it starts at the end of the 2nd grade. Kids in my community were sent home for the summer between 2nd and 3rd grades with a packet of study materials so large that it is was obscene. Helloooo! It is called summer vacation, not summer test prep. The schools are most likely hip to the fact that during our all too brief summer, my idea of fun was not going over practice NECAP’s (the name for the official tests here in New England). So fast forward to the start of the new school year and what are the kids working on? Prepping for the tests which are administrated in October.  What does this test prep look like? Taking practice tests and being drilled. To keep the atmosphere fresh and lively, the school principal likes to take a break from the onerous job of being the principal and serves as the school DJ. Apparently the most popular song for getting the kids pumped up for this test is ‘Eye of the Tiger’.

Excuse me; is this a school or an army boot camp/Amway meeting? Riddle me this? Why do kids in grades 3-5, need to be prepped and pumped to take a test? Why is my 8 year old talking test taking strategy? Whatever happened to getting kids pumped to learn for the sake of learning?  Word on the street in in my community is that this test really matters.

Back in the early 1980’s in Chicago we had standardized testing and looking back, it obviously mattered but no one told us that it mattered. We learned shit, we took a test. Period.  I can only imagine how tortuous school would have felt to me if I am been pumped up to take a test, considering that I am an anxious person in general, it would have been a recipe for disaster.

Yet the more some things change, the more some things don’t change. Back in the 1940’s, Kenneth and Mamie Clark conducted a series of experiments of dolls with kids to determine racial attitudes. The Black kids showed a clear preference for the white dolls. This experiment was repeated again in recent years and despite the changes that have occurred in terms of racial progress in the US, Black kids still saw the Black dolls as inferior. This has hit home in BGIM land, with the dreaded Barbie dolls. It has become clear to both my husband and I that our biracial kiddo does not see beauty in that which is like her. In many ways, I blame myself, all of my positive uplifting talk means very little when she is has only 2 friends of color and sees few people of color.

This discovery has knocked me on ass and right now I am about ready to snatch up all the white Barbie’s and send them to their grave. Yet racism is systemic and so engrained in every aspect of our culture, the truth is that even in a predominantly Black area we would still have battles. So I fight the good fight of parenting and rage against the machine of standardized tests and false beauty standards that lessen and other and strip of us of our own self-love.

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  1. October 6, 2013
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