opposed to social promotion legislation in New Mexico, my son stays home from school

one lump or two with your unexcused absence?

Icalled Roy in fake sick to school last week. Here’s why:

About 10 days earlier, another mother from his class had called to ask what I thought about our third graders taking a trip to the state capitol. The students would have an opportunity to tour the Roundhouse, meet some legislators (maybe even the Secretary of Education) she told me, and maybe even get to observe some the lawmaking process for themselves. An employee of the current administration, this mother had the ability to arrange the trip we were discussing.

Our conversation was brief. I remember making listening noises initially. Later, though, I’m certain that I made the noises indicative of outright support. Words of restrained enthusiasm, even. A hands-on civics lesson for my son’s classroom; what could be better?

Once our connection was broken, though, I started thinking about some of the other things the other mother had said. Essentially, that there was a reason for the timing of the class’s proposed trip to the capitol, an hour away. There was legislation pending that would affect third graders around the state, and the implication was that a class of fresh-faced third graders touring the building and grounds – our fresh-faced third graders, mind you – might be just the sort of auspicious event that could provide for a photo op for some interested party’s gain.

Well, upon reflection, gross.

So I told a friend that I was going to keep Roy home from the field trip. I’d offered him a choice, I told her: an hour-long bus ride to and from the capitol with his class or a trip to the tea room. He chose the latter.

“But what is your opinion of the bill itself?” she e-mailed me later.

I didn’t respond because, truth (that one’s for you, Michael K): I didn’t know. My only objection at the outset had been that my son might be used to forward someone’s political agenda – be it tilted to the right or to the left. But my friend’s question revealed my ignorance, made me feel uncomfortable and, finally, awakened in me a sense of responsibility to become informed. You can understand how this went down.

Social promotion is what is being decried in this latest legislative session. Our governor wants children who cannot read by third grade to be retained, period. Our schools are failing these students by passing them on to the next grade, making no one’s jobs easier but their own, perhaps (insert evil laugh here).

Hey, I want children to read! I mean, what kind of a terrible person doesn’t want third graders to read, right?

Not so fast.

Because standardized cutoffs send the same message as standardized testing or anything else: people (in this case, small ones) are the same everywhere, all the time. We’re not. And in our state, one of the nation’s poorest, legislation like this seems to have been drafted in the vacuum available to the socially disconnected. Schools with classrooms in which 80 percent of its third graders are learning English at the same time they’re learning to read are simply not going to meet these expectations because they kind of can’t be met. It’s like the proposed bill was written by someone who doesn’t live here.

Here’s my take: we can raise the bar on education as much as we want for as long as we want, but if the people on whose behalf we are supposed to be raising it aren’t getting the help they need to clear it — I’m talking about support and training in the years leading up to this third grade cut-off — not a one of them are going to get over it.

Also, we’re talking about some big-ass third grade classrooms coming into existence in the near future. I hope the state’s prepared to hire all of those teachers, for reals.

So I didn’t do what at least one other parent in the class did: send their child to school on field trip day anyway but have them abstain from the outing. I didn’t even call the mother back who’d arranged the trip in the first place to revisit my newly realized concerns. I could have; she’s also a friend. Instead, I kept Roy home and was cowardly about it. I suppose I’m really writing this today to make up for that.

(Roy and I did enjoy our tea party, though. I highly recommend the macaroons in case you’re passing through.)