THE BLOG
02/28/2011 01:53 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Do Not Judge, Do Not Condemn

"I was bold in the pursuit of knowledge, never fearing to follow truth and reason to whatever results they led, and bearding every authority which stood in their way." -- Thomas Jefferson

My wife and I have decided not to put all the pressure of carrying out the Bartlbey Project on our son's shoulders this year. When he is a little older and decides on his own that this is what he wants to do then we will definitely support him. However, we have not given in to the high stakes testing culture. We are going to "opt out" our son from NCLB testing (PSSAs here in Pennsylvania). We have asked other families to join us and some are considering it, but their support or lack of it will not deter us from our decision.

How do you actually "opt out" of PSSAs? Finding out the answer to that question is not really easy. Here in Pennsylvania if you go to the Pennsylvania Department of Education's website (PDE) and try to find out, after two hours of searching and if you're a smoker, two packs of cigarettes, and if you have anxiety issues, after 2 milligrams of valium, you'll find nothing helpful. Calling PDE doesn't help either. They could learn a thing from American companies that have exported customer service overseas (Agents with the first name "Peggy" are more helpful). The best help I got came from two sources. The first was from a friend (also a principal) with a friend at PDE. The other help actually came from my son's school newsletter. According to my friend with a friend and the school newsletter, parents can "opt out" of PSSAs for religious reasons. Religion can work miracles!

So even though we found out that Colorado just allows parents to "opt out" of testing because -- get this -- they want to, at this point in Pennsylvania, the only publicized way out of high stakes testing is using religion. My guess is that other states also are probably not very forthcoming with this type of information. However, religion is a federal issue and NCLB is a federally mandated monstrosity. Therefore, all families can use religion as a reason to "opt out" of high stakes testing.

In what follows, I have prepared a letter to be used in any and all public schools by people of most religious affiliations. Please feel free to copy, to cut, and to paste any or all portions of this letter for your own use in freeing a child from the pain of high-stakes standardized testing.

Dear (Insert Administrator's name here)

We are asking that you allow our son to "opt out" of NCLB and PSSA testing. There are many reasons that our family has decided to "opt out" of state and federally mandated testing, however, we have been told that there is only one legal exemption -- religion. Since religion is the only recognized legal excuse (that we could find) we will use it. Therefore, we are asking for a religious exemption.

We are Unitarian Universalists with values rooted in the teaching of Jesus. Forced participation in state testing violates the following religious principles we value and strive to teach in our home.

"Unitarian Universalists believe in the never-ending search for truth. If the mind and heart are truly free and open, the revelations that appear to the human spirit are infinitely numerous, eternally fruitful, and wondrously exciting." NCLB and PSSAs are antithetical to this belief. These tests assume a static truth and train the mind and heart to close to the possibilities of multiple answers or interpretations. They force children to believe in a single correct answer and that there is no need to search for knowledge -- knowledge is given. This contradicts the value we are trying to teach our son concerning curiosity and the endless possibilities available to him as he searches for his own truth.

As followers of the teachings of Jesus, Luke reminds us that Jesus said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged" also "For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. And finally, "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. NCLB and PSSAs are designed exclusively to judge and condemn children, teachers, schools, and communities. We refuse to continue to take part in this pernicious system. We are also trying to teach our son to be open to the possibilities that "others" sometimes have different values or ways of seeing the world. We do not want him to judge others for their differences. We hope that one day our son will recognize differences in others and value and celebrate those differences. NCLB and PSSAs force children, teachers, and schools to devalue differences.

We also believe in the Ethic of Reciprocity or the Golden Rule -- we are to treat other people as we would wish to be treated ourselves. As a family, our belief in the Golden Rule encourages us to help our son learn the value of fairness. We want him to treat others fairly and we hope that he will in turn expect others to treat him fairly. NCLB and PSSAs have been demonstrated to not treat differences in children fairly. They fail to recognize the multiple intelligences present in all children. NCLB and PSSAs discriminate against students from lower socio-economic conditions and unfairly penalize students with special education needs.

Even though the United Nations is not a religious organization we also would like the school to understand that NCLB and PSSAs violate certain articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights

  • Article 18. Everyone has the right to freedom of thought.

NCLB and PSSAs prescribes thoughtlessness and punishes children that experiment with their curiosity or try to explain their learning in ways that can't be measured by standardized tests.

  • Article 26. Education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and to the strengthening of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms. It shall promote understanding, tolerance and friendship among all nations, racial or religious groups.

NCLB and PSSAs narrow the school's curriculum and therefore deprives children of the right explore the possibilities for learning in the many disciplines that have either been shortened or outright eliminated from the curriculum. For example, if science and social studies are neglected how will children learn about the scientific nature of the world and learn to appreciate and value the vast cultures on this planet?

In summary and respect, we would like you to permit our son to "opt out" of NCLB and PSSA testing this school year for the religious and cultural reasons stated above.

Sincerely,

(Insert your name here).

The following faiths can also use the Ethic of Reciprocity as a religious reason for "opting out" of NCLB testing. http://www.religioustolerance.org/reciproc.htm

Bahá'í Faith: And if thine eyes be turned towards justice, choose thou for thy neighbour that which thou choosest for thyself.
Brahmanism: This is the sum of Dharma [duty]: Do naught unto others which would cause you pain if done to you.
Buddhism: Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.
Confucianism: Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you
Hinduism: This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you.
Islam: None of you [truly] believes until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.
Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not to your fellow man. This is the law: all the rest is commentary