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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6 thoughts on “NECAPS and Barbie…Adventures in Parenting”

  1. I agree with you that Barbie and her un-natural dimensions needs to go away! Here’s an anecdote from my life about trying to find things that reflected the reality of my family… about 20 years ago I went into a “religious” book/supply store in NW Arkansas. I wanted a picture of a black Jesus so my son would see himself in the stories he was hearing at church. The woman laughed and told me that Jesus was white. I’m still angry at that anonymous woman.

  2. Hi. I’m a twenty-something black woman who lives in southern Georgia. When I was younger, I lived in southern Florida where standardized tests were the norm. I took a test when I first entered elementary school, and I took standardized tests all throughout high school. As frustrating as it must be as a parent to prepare your child for school with all the new standards you must be experiencing, the truth is, several jobs require testing of some kind. I have my present job as a civil servant, and beat out several people with degrees because I had higher scores on a state exam. The truth is, to get any kind of Federal job in this day in age, some kind of Federal test is required at some point in one’s career, either by the ASVAB for military service, or some kind of college-level entry exam to test basic.

  3. Shay: Re the video: What chance is there that these children are responding as much to the race of the interviewer? Black children seem to be brought up to be extremely polite to white adults, in my not entirely hugely limited experience. If the interviewer is white, might these black children be avoiding a upsetting the white interviewer by making sure she does not get offended. The interviewer doesn’t offer the option of both dolls. I’m bring this into the equation to point out that the complexity black children face iis deep and wide and if whites and the society they control really wants to change the way things are racialized, it would seem to make sense not to take things just at face value since we may be reinforcing, in the process, the very thing we are attempting to “understand”.

  4. Thanks Shay. You know how I feel about “high stakes” standardized testing. It makes my blood boil that they are creating this stress at these early grades. I have my own issues with Barbie for her unnatural body image, maybe it is time she is put away for good. 🙂

  5. While I commiserate with you on these topics I do want to share two things:
    1. My fifth grader took the NECAPs in 3rd grade and was told that when they were done they could quietly read. She was in the middle of the 7th Harry Potter book (she was still 8 at that time) and when she took the Math NECAP that day she was the first one done. Picture her filling in the pretty ovals so that she could get to what happened next to Harry! The teacher couldn’t do anything about it because you can’t interfere in the testing. She has been haunted by that test for two years. She doesn’t make the cutoff for Gifted and Talented program because there aren’t enough spaces and although her teachers push every year for her to participate in the reading GT curricula, her math scores were average (pretty good for just filling in the blanks). Now they make sure that they tell the kids how important this test is and that they shouldn’t just rush through it to do something more fun. I can see their point and it was a good lesson for her to learn, I guess. If however, she does well on the 5th grade test this year, her acceptance to GT could change! Do I tell her that? No. GT in 5th grade is not going to shape the rest of her life but how supported she feels by her family and school will.

    2). This same blond haired, blue-eyed child wishes she has red hair and freckles like the girl she is admires most in her class. She really wants the RedHaired American Girl Doll Sage because she is “different” and unique. That’s not to conflict with your point about the doll study, just another cultural example of how a girls self esteem is mired in cultural capitalism.

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