Monday, April 30, 2012

Newest Ed Reform Leader is a 12-Year-Old Opt Out Hero

“I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; and because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do something that I can do.”

We’ve heard from a lot of heroes lately in the ed reform movement; from teachers and  parents like Chris Cerrone and Renny Fong who are stepping forward and sharing their struggles, to principals who are standing up and speaking out against the standardized testing debacle.

These are ed reform heroes. These are the people who will help empower our children with the freedom to learn; the ones who push for an education that is customized to the child rather than standardized to the system.

While these parents, teachers, and school leaders push for students’ rights to receive the education they deserve (rather than the ones politicians and corporations want), there is yet another important voice bubbling up.  

The newest heroes of the ed reform movement are the students who opt out and speak out. Their voices are both loud and proud. They are against tests that they know do not benefit them, and in many cases actually do them harm.

While there are adults who believe the education system pulls the wool over the eyes of children, many young people are also becoming wise to the standardized testing farce. Last year 5th grader Joel from Harlem wrote an essay exposing the truth about standardized testing  Then 12-year-old Anthony Hererra made a video and wrote an article explaining why he doesn’t want to take the test and thanking everyone for their support of his decision.  

Our latest hero is 12-year-old Joseph Dougherty who did his best to opt out of the standardized tests. He knows they are useless for children in general, but he has also discovered they are harmful to him in particular. They cause stress and anxiety, which leads to emotional and physical distress.  As a result Joseph’s mom informed his school principal that he would be opting out of the test and asked that he be provided with alternative activities during all the days of testing. Against the wishes of this young man and his mother, his principal, Thomas Capone, forced Joseph to take the test.

When Joseph explained he did not want to take the test, his teachers called him “a fresh little boy who needs to do what he is told.” He also knew his principal wrote an email to his mother explaining that if he didn't follow orders, he could be taken away from his mother because he'd call child protective services.
So, Joseph was coerced into doing something that he and his mother knew was wrong.

The principal and his staff will tell you that they’re “just doing their jobs.” They’ve washed their hands of any wrongdoing after forcing Joseph to comply to school orders. This despite the fact that even the enforcers, as professionals, should know these tests are wrong.

These teachers dutifully carry out their orders, even following the directions now included with the tests on how to handle their charges when they cry or are vomiting.  

Fortunately, Joseph knows that those who are trying to harm him are followers who are just enforcing somebody else's rules; rules driven by politicians without teaching credentials and corporate interests who stand to make billions off their data extraction work. (Yes, it is possible to be honest with children about the reality of the adult world. It won’t hurt them and it often helps!)
“How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.”
Joseph took the test. He followed orders. He had no choice. However, young Joseph could take some comfort as he sat in under fluorescent light in the testing room, doing what adults, who should know better, forced him to do.

Here’s why.
  • He knows he is not fresh.
    He is a respectful young man.
  • He knows he is not opting out of the test because he’s taking the easy way.
    He wants to learn, not memorize and regurgitate.
  • He knows he is not a coward.
    He is a courageous young man that is not afraid to stand up and speak up about what he wants and what is right.

Most importantly, Joseph knows he is not a follower. He is a natural-born leader who already realizes that being a follower and blindly doing what you are told may make you a “success” in school, but it is not what makes for a success in life.

Joseph Dougherty wants to give the most important members of the opt out movement a voice and a face. He wants you to know his name because he knows he is a part of the movement to empower students with the freedom to learn what is meaningful. That indeed means moving ahead to a time where we don’t prepare compliant widgets to perform on the assembly line, but instead free-thinking individuals who reach for the limitless potential inside them. 

“We must become the change we want to see in the world.”


  1. I applaud this young man for standing up for his principles. I pulled my children out of the public school system because I personally do not believe in the memorize and regurgitate system they are teaching our kids. I would rather my children learn what they want in a manner that is less about what they can memorize. I want my children to want to learn more because they are interested in the subject.
    Why limit our children to what schools feel they should learn when we have so much more interesting things for our kids to learn!
    Congratulations Joseph! I hope your mother is very proud of you!!

  2. Thank you Joseph and Christine! We are in solidarity with you in Indianapolis.

  3. Way to go, Joseph! I am so impressed with your maturity and courage.

  4. What wonderful purple prose! Way to go!

  5. Amazing job, Joseph. I hope my sons can stand up and do what is right in their hearts like you have done. You are so brave and an inspiration to all young people who will not be oppressed but open the eyes of Americans everywhere! Hang in there, never mind what people at school think of you...what matters is what you think of yourself. You rock!!!

  6. My daughter is 7 and is in this school and they are more worried about their budgets then anything I have threatened to take civil suit agaist them for bullying and not giveing my daught her 504 and IEP we finally got the 504 it only took 3 years I can't wait for the big state wide test b.c. my daughter is not going to be able to take them either I would like to see them call CPS on me .GOOD JOB BUDDY you and your mother are doing the right thing keep up the good work !!!!!!!!!!

  7. “How wonderful that no one need wait a single moment to improve the world.”
    Anne Frank

    How true. I removed my then 7 year old son from the school system in 2002.

  8. Let's hope this boy's parents remove him from this abusive school and allow him to opt-out of forced education!

  9. Good for you Joseph! However, next time they try to "force" you to take a test, know that you don't have to do it simply because they say so. Just say "no" and don't do it. When I was thirsty and my teachers told me not to drink in class - I did it anyway. When I had to use the toilet and the teachers told me I couldn't - I got up and went anyway. When my 8th grade gym teacher (who had sexually harassed me previously) tried to lock me in his office with him after class - I screamed, raised hell, and even tried to strangle him to get out of there. Then I left school, experienced Europe for a few years, got my GED, and graduated with a B.S.

    Fight back.