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Education Advocate Says It's Time to Give Childhood Back to Children

Public education advocate Jonathan Kozol with CEA President Sheila Cohen.

August 1, 2016

"I probably won't live to see the day when the happiness of children is given the priority it ought to have in an affluent and civilized society—but you might," Jonathan Kozol told Connecticut teachers gathered at CEA's Summer Leadership Conference this morning.

The legendary public education advocate and author was presented with the National Teachers Hall of Fame 2016 Friend of Education Award at the annual CEA conference. Former NEA President and National Teachers Hall of Fame board member Keith Geiger presented the award to Kozol for his "over 50 years of eloquent advocacy for all of America's school children."

Even as he nears his 80th birthday, Kozol continues to speak out about the need for public education to prioritize children's success and well-being.

Kozol told CEA Members that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), while imperfect, is a big improvement over its predecessor, No Child Left Behind (NCLB).

CEA members applauded Kozol's long-standing commitment to public education.

NCLB made possible the now too common practice of tying children's test scores to teachers' evaluations, which Kozol called "one of most destructive policies that can possibly be instituted."

He said that the policy is most harmful not to teachers, but to their students.

"Enormous damage is being done day-to-day to the well-being of our children," Kozol said.

ESSA doesn't mandate the use of standardized test scores in teacher evaluations, but it also doesn't prohibit it, and Kozol said, "Therein lies the challenge."

Kozol said that NCLB's turbulent 15 years indoctrinated local politicians and high-ranking state officials to believe that anything that truly matters in a child's education can be measured by a standardized exam. He said that many believe "anything that can't be measured isn't worth the time that it might steal from that which can be tested, and I'm afraid that the pressure to judge teachers by test scores isn't going to be easy to reverse."

Former NEA President and National Teachers Hall of Fame board member Keith Geiger presented Kozol with the 2016 Friend of Education Award.

"I know CEA has made a valiant effort to prevent this," Kozol said. "I know the struggle will go on in this state, as it must."

Kozol, who began his career as a teacher and union member in Massachusetts public schools, said, "We can be at once professionals and a union—a union that's not afraid to fight. Teachers at their best are not simply technicians for proficiency, they're also warriors for justice."

Kozol said he recognizes that there certainly is a role for testing in education, but that it must be appropriate testing that doesn't overshadow essential aspects of teaching and learning.

"What I do believe is that there needs to be a sane and healthy balance between children's future role and the present tense of childhood in which this little boy or girl exists right now," he said.

"Children ought to have the right to more than token bits of happiness," Kozol continued. "They need to have an opportunity to know that learning can be very hard, but that it doesn't need to be a grim and gray straight line march to a predetermined destination. It can also be a glorious adventure that nobody can ever really chart out in advance."

Kozol added, "It's time to give back childhood to children. They only get those years of childhood once, and once they're gone, they're gone for good."

Watch an excerpt from Kozol's speech below.

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