How I Went Left or “The NCLB ruined my life”

The year was 2002 or so. Timelines aren’t going to be exact but I will try my best.

I’m a young teenager navigating his way through the final year of middle school. 8th grade, lovely state of California. The Junior Bush is our president with Arnold Schwarzenegger (back when he was a staunch Republican) being our governor. The adults are still trying to grip what the hell just happened on 9/11 and the Bush administration is of course seizing the moment.

The Beginning a.k.a “The Last Year of Middle School” 

 

One of the many controversial policies passed was the No Child Left Behind act. While I’m not going to delve deep into what it entails or what it does, I’m going to talk about the effect it had on a local level in my particular school district.

Midway through 8th grade (which up until this point was a fine year. I was riding high, taking computer science with a college-level instructor who honestly was one of few people who inspired me to be what I am today. Hell, I remember talking to him about how networking was my weak point with tech and he gave me a copy of Networking for Dummies, and wrote a note on the inside cover saying “I hope to be working for YOU someday”. I wish I still had it, but alas, was lost to the years. Ah, nostalgia) the school district got orders to throw out our current curriculum with math and start everything over from scratch to be NCLB compliant.

This meant–yes–starting us at the beginning with basic addition. Prior to this happening, we were getting into pre-algebra so we wouldn’t be dead on arrival when we got to high school. Imagine how much of a whiplash we all got when we suddenly had to hit that reset button in our brains. Worse yet, we had to do things the way the curriculum told us to do them. In the case of math, we were required to turn our notebook paper sideways and use the lines as columns for the numbers as if we were in 1st grade. If we didn’t do this? Marked down. We were required to show work and even if our methods were correct in the grand scheme of things, if they didn’t match the methods laid out in the curriculum exactly, it was considered incorrect.

A brief explanation of the class system before we proceed: In my middle school we had what we called core teachers. These teachers are the ones who are responsible for handling–as the name implies–the core subjects in school: Math, English, History. In our case, we were the only group of students our core teacher was handling.

Our core teacher was becoming fed up because she labored to get us caught up and prepped for high school and the district/government just came down and tried to erase all of that progress, and watching us struggle to go all the way back after having pre-algebra slammed into our heads? She didn’t like it.

During the next math class, she announced her intent to fix this by making a new, advanced math class that we’d have to give up an elective period for (as in, classes we could choose and have fun in, like art/music/etc), and it was put to a vote which period we’d have to give up to make this happen. Everyone voted the last period of the day, which meant bye bye CompSci. 🙁

I don’t blame our core teacher for doing this because I know she had our best interests at heart and didn’t want to send us into high school woefully underprepared for HS-level math. But it still sucked that thanks to the Bush administration’s stupidity, kids were being forced to give up more of their free time to make up for it.

And I wish it stopped there because boy, it only got worse. 

The Big Interlude Between Middle and High School

 

That summer was meant to be a fun time, celebrating making it through another big part of life and moving on to high school, but also preparing for the huge change in environment because things were going to be very different. Except…it wasn’t.
My grandfather had caught on that NCLB was a huge train wreck, and talked with my parents about it. Thus, it was established that if the public school system couldn’t educate me, I’d be going to a learning center and being actually educated there. This was not instead of school. Rather, it was in tandem with school. This would prove to be disastrous and arguably may be one of the big reasons why I nearly failed out of high school.
As such, that summer was spent with me being in what might as well have been summer school, which absolutely sucked because really the summer days never seem to last long enough, and before you know it, you’re back in school.
 

High School, or “The Grand Clusterfsck” 

 

9th grade begun about as well as I could have hoped. Getting acclimated to high school life was a challenge in and of itself, however the nagging issue of the NCLB was still there as one would expect. Additionally because the learning center I was at was obviously not bound by government requirements, a war began where I’d learn how to do math one way at the learning center, but by NCLB standards that was considered wrong and math class would attempt to rewrite the correct method into my brain. This would continue until my last year in which I said ENOUGH and had to use every bit of free time I had available to me to not fail out.
10th grade is where everything began falling down. Not only did I have the stress of trying to learn two different methods of math at one time (and I am horrible at math. I was back then, still am now), but to top it all off the California HS Exit Exam was reinstated (thanks, Arnold), and yes, that was now an additional requirement for me getting out of this hellscape of a school system. Fun stuff. I also found out about this literally the day of the testing because I had fractured my arm and needed to take a couple days off of school. Imagine my surprise when I came back and surprise! Foisted right into the library to take the exam. Nice.
(Though I do have some fond memories of this, in a way. My 9th grade math teacher noticed what was going on with the learning center and tried as much as he could to look the other way. Further, when I did pass the math portion of the exit exam on my 2nd try, he actually sent a hall pass for me to come over so he could break the news to me himself and congratulate me personally on passing with all the hell going on in my life at the time. He was a cool dude.)
This was also of course around the time Bush was going after Osama and then said “WHOOPSIE DAISY” and went after Saddam Hussein instead which even my teenage brain saw as total bullshit but that’s really got nothing to do with the central point of this story. It did add to the fire, though.
No, the last big problem was due to our own governor. At the time, he really, really had it out for immigrant families, and constantly threatened deportation. Racism against Mexicans was huge. (And yes, I know it always has been, but this time in particular it felt exceptionally bad.) 
 
Protests were staged, and immigrant families just…didn’t turn up for work to go protest. This extended down to students, and I understand why: Because Arnold was threatening to upend their homes, so they joined their parents. During this time? School was like a ghost town. No one was really there because the protests were huge.
 
The district decided they wanted to seize the moment, so it was announced that we’d be losing about 3 weeks of summer (starting in August rather than mid September). Who’d they blame? Oh, those damn Mexicans! If you’re angry with this, go blame them, they did this to you! They claimed that the lost educational hours had to be made up, and the protests caused enough of a loss that they had to cut summer.
 
So now, our 3 months of summer was effectively cut down to 2. Because racism, so the district said.
 
Thankfully a lot of the school saw through that lie, but there wasn’t much that could have been done to convince them to undo the change.
 
There are many other non-political stories I have about high school, but none of them really disprove the point that I feel like Bush’s antics absolutely fucked me out of an education. Schwarzenegger also had a hand in it too, by making the exit exam mandatory again, making life harder for students AND causing the schools to laser focus on only math and English. Want to learn about history? About tech? Tough cookies, tests are more important.
Those events are ultimately what caused my political compass to shift left at a young age (and continue doing so over the years). I also can’t even imagine what poor students are going through with DeVos at the helm now since she’s arguably worse than anything Bush had in his cabinet.

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