Drama, Education, Ohio, Opt out, Public Schools, Schools

A Tribute to My Mother, a Teacher – Stephanie Grant Duke, by Wendy S Duke.

11 plus

My British mother bombed the 11 Plus Exam she had to take as a child. She was very ill that day, but as the test was super important, she went in but her fever took away her focus. The consequence was that she could not enter the track that led to university. Instead, she found herself assigned to secretary school. At age 16 she began working as a secretary in London, but the dream of college never died. Years later, having married her American penpal, she became a US citizen who used her secretarial skills to move from BF Goodrich to the University of Akron, where suddenly — she was able to further her education at no cost. She earned her BA and MA and became a teacher, first at Hoban High School and then on to the life of an adjunct at both Kent State and U of A. Not bad for a girl who was tested and found not good enough at age eleven.
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My mother would be appalled at what is happening in US education today. She fled a society built upon rigid class distinctions. When she arrived in the US in 1950, she found a country with a flourishing public school system. Yes, there was tracking in the high schools: college prep, business, and general ed (trades), but students for the most part were learning their subjects in the same building, participating in the same student activities, attending the same football games and dances. Social mixing could and did happen. Unless of course you were of another race. I firmly believe that my mother’s strong activism in support of civil rights for people of all colors and genders stemmed in part from growing up in the numbingly rigid British class system.

Over the past two years, as eduction “reform” policies have hit Ohio teachers in the gut, I have come home from school wishing I could call up my mom to vent. What would she say if I told her that teachers in my once distinguished school now have to teach from scripts? That all the creative and highly intelligent teachers in my building are not free to select their own reading materials. That the passion for learning has been beaten down with endless testing and data collection.

My mom used to love listening to my stories about the latest amazing arts integration project, about our staff professional development road trips to the art museum or the House of Blues or to NASA in West Virginia. She was so proud of what the school represented — a place where talents could flourish along with the arts and sciences. She would, I am sure, see through the farce of “Common Core State Standards” — a common curriculum for the commoners while the billionaires’ children are steeped in the arts and humanities offered by the best private schools.

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She would decry the abandonment of inner city students, the new racial divides brought about by de facto segregation along with the failing and closing of public schools. I can just imagine her reading about Eva Moskowitz and her brand of “success” in schooling. The relentless drill for the test and constant control of every thought and movement would make her launch into quotes from Huxley and Orwell. The dystopian future is now. And the scariest thought of all is who will be left that can remember the days when teachers taught with passion? Who will remember when students entered school to learn and grow as human beings? As it is now, education has become an assembly line of students as widgets on their way to career and college readiness from day one of pre-school.

With great love and respect, I thank my mother Stephanie Grant Duke: teacher, activist, and life-long reader and writer. Like her, I will not give in to the forces of conformity and control. We as a society will turn this thing around or else there will be no one left to think an original creative thought.

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Note: Wendy S Duke has left an indelible impact in the Akron Arts, but sadly she (directly related to this insane testing environment) is leaving the teaching profession. She is, in conjunction with this early retirement, starting The Center for Applied Drama & Autism. 

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