Opt-Out, Into Play
NOTE: Originally, the term opt-out began as a method by which individuals could avoid receiving unsolicited sales phone calls product or service information.“Opt-Out” gathered more energy and visibility as parents across the country began protesting the high-stakes testing campaigns and opting out of the mandated tests used to enforce ‘teacher accountability’ and standardized instruction that accompanied the Federal No Child Left Behind Act and more recently,“Common Core,” the state standards initiative. Both programs are known for their reliance on high-stakes testing. The primary mission of the Opt-Out Movement, which is now established in most states and large cities, is to support parents who fight back against Testing policy, as well as the intimidation and fear tactics used by school officials at every level to enforce student participation. The Opt-Out Movement has demonstrated how parents can effectively push back against Big Government and Big Business interests that are trying to dominate the learning culture.
School administrators and leaders, not unlike teachers, often say their “hands are tied” when parents call for more creativity and less stress. As the Opt-Out movement has emerged as a credible threat to ‘the System,’ it should seriously consider Play as a way to change the nature of institutional learning. Some parents may not immediately grasp Play’s full role or potential, but that is the reason behind this Blog. Indeed, to disregard Play is to completely overlook the very power that our factory education has allowed to waste away in the lives of the children it claims to serve.
By adopting and uniting behind Play as a birthright and principle of learning, parents would possess a powerful unifying and governing energy force to help them frame their vision of education. Interestingly, many teachers over time have become generally resistant to Play —although one teacher shared with me that she was having to "teach kids how to play when outdoors because they didn’t know what to do with themselves."
If so many educators, with all their training and continuing education credits, can’t appreciate— or creatively leverage— the power of play in reaching young minds, then they work effectively divorced from the children they say they work to serve — and this is nothing less than a form of blindness that is passed along to the young. By adopting Play in principle and practice, the Opt Out movement can shift its focus from Resistance to Advocacy promoting the single greatest force that not only drives learning in the young, but one capable of moving and guiding us forward on the path to Learning Culture Transformation. If we want teachers to be more creative, parents must make their voices heard.
A Call to Parents of the Opt-Out Movement
Tough Questions for Opt-Out
One day, for a brief moment, 1950s post-war America woke up to find itself the greatest and richest country in the world. In 2018, the super rich, foreign and domestic, preside over an America whose infrastructure, great middle class and education remain stuck in the 20th Century. If we don’t begin thinking differently about Education— or of ways to invent our way forward — we will wake up on the dustheap of history.
For starters, the Opt-Out movement needs to ask, “Stop testing, but for what?” Let’s assume testing is abolished. Are parents still going to continue the practice of herding children into buildings and even drugging them to sit compliantly? What is the point? Should we find a more human way to engage their minds with kindness, civility, care, and creative experiences — so kids can learn to empower themselves. Plenty of learning cultures have moved in this direction. What are we waiting for? For someone else to do it?
For if even we successfully stop testing, we will still be stuck with the factory’s brand of teaching and culture. If Opt-Out wants to bring change to the factory, then who or what platform will Opt-Out trust or follow? What ground does it walk or build on? Does Opt-Out intend to build anything at all?
More questions: If Opt Out succeeds in Stopping the Test, is the Movement prepared in any way to take on stewardship of the learning culture? Will parents take control for good? Does Opt-Out think it can change the culture without taking control of it? If so, then who will guide it — and how? — and on what practical basis?
A Vision Beyond Testing
Are parents smarter and more trustworthy than the credentialed school leaders and administrators who continue to conduct business as usual amidst this mess? Does Opt-Out envision being able to fire rogue, abusive, incompetent administrators and teachers? Will true democratic power come to our learning culture? These are important questions. But the bottom line is this: We gave experts the authority and they created their power, and they have failed. These are our kids, these are our schools. And our tax dollars pay to keep the system humming. It’s time to take control.
I believe that parents ought to have the final say in how Education works on a daily basis, but on what ground can parents create that power and stand confidently to claim and defend such a position without becoming factory owners themselves?
We the People must rise above an education that keeps our children on the short answer and the short leash. We desperately need generations of thinking, questioning, resilient, creative, fearless imagineers and purpose-driven problem-tacklers coming out of our schools. To achieve this, the learning factory must be transformed into a ‘learning habitat’. This is what families and the nation need in order to thrive economically and to give birth to a new meaning and vision of America.
Play Can Lift Opt-Out
But from where will these qualities — and this new generation — spring? The answer: From a sustainable learning culture in which these qualities can be fostered and grown. Obviously it will take more than sharp teachers and parents to do this. We will need something alive like solar energy to bring about this kind of flowering growth in kids. We need warmth, light, fertile ground, and a life force flowing with a pulse beat of its own. We need a guiding spirit we can trust that's larger than life. We need to tap into a powerful energy source that resides in every child. We also need something that fits seamlessly and aligns as a natural extension of the extraordinary growth of the Opt-Out movement.
Play must be adopted as the next giant idea and organizing principle for education. For without play — and a way to harness it — we will we remain blind to the real needs of kids’ minds and rudderless even if we can see. And, perhaps just as important, we will also remain blind to the capacity of Play to break through the factory and transform it.
The soil we stand on is owned by no power. We are parents, teachers, youth and community, standing on the birthright and belief that children have a right to learn; free of control, authority, and dictate. And if kids must go to school by law, that means the public spaces we designate for learning must — by law — become “protected sanctuary” and funded equitably and indiscriminately with liberty and justice for every child.
- Jeff Peyton, Founder
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