Philanthropist Funds Misfit Database for Kindergarten

At a recent conference titled “Producing College-and-Career-Ready Tots,” the opening speaker warned that the new assessments for kindergarteners did not yet carry sufficiently high stakes. “We’re putting great effort and money into determining which children are following directions, which ones are working well in groups, which ones are matching letters with sounds, but if they can’t do these things, then what? ‘Oh well?’” he sneered rhetorically. “We’ve had too much of ‘oh well.’ We can’t afford ‘oh well’ any more.”

The room darkened for the next presentation. Billionaire philanthropist Roger Row stepped up to the podium, into the spotlight, and clicked his clicker. As the throbbing music began, the screen showed little children in rapid succession—one sliding down a slide, another forming the number 2, another filling in a bubble on a test, and another holding a classmate’s hand. Then the scene switched to a spreadsheet of names, scores, and designations. Row zoomed in on one of the cells, which read “MISFIT.” The music stopped.

“Imagine,” began Row, “just imagine a really big idea. Think of the biggest idea you’ve ever thought in your life. Now, what you’re going to hear today is a ten-times-bigger idea. It’s an idea that will shake away the tragic failures in our society.”

He proceeded to show a graph. “Statistics show that children who cannot read job descriptions or write resumes by grade four are forty percent less likely to complete college or earn more than twice the minimum wage than those who can. In third grade, they’re only thirty percent less likely. So if you extrapolate backwards, you find out that kindergarten is the time of judgment, the time when children get sent either to heaven, as it were, or to hell. So we must identify those children who are being sent to hell—and the teachers who are sending them there! Yes, we must identify those teachers!” (Applause.) “To this end I have donated thirty million dollars for the construction of a National Misfit Database.”

Children identified as “misfits” would be entered in the database, along with all available personal and demographic information. Their teachers would be linked to them; a teacher with two or more misfits in the class would have a red light flashing next to her name. “That way,” explained Row, “we can identify those teachers who are setting up child after child for distress, romantic rejection, achievement gapping, cognitive dissonance, weird clothes, and future unemployment. Look at this girl with untied shoes. She’s a misfit, and her teacher already has a red light. The principal is now looking into ways to replace the teacher so that the child and her classmates have a chance of making it in the world.”

An audience member asked whether some of these “misfit” children might not simply be dreamy,  nervous, forgetful, or in some way different from the others. “Absolutely,” said Row. “Thank you for bringing it up. Chances are, if I had been tested in kindergarten, I would have been labeled a misfit too.” (Laughter.) “That’s why we have to get ourselves into the mindset of testing them relentlessly. Because the data add up. We can make better judgments when we’ve got reams of data.”

Row then enjoined the audience to visualize the future. “Think of the workplace of the 22nd century, the 23rd century,” he said, as the lighting changed to blue. “Think of the employment agencies and all the information they will have. They can look you up and see if you were a misfit at any time in your life! That will have an electrifying effect on our schools. It will be as though the entire school system went whitewater rafting”—he displayed a photograph of that very activity—“and found themselves heading headlong down a vertical waterfall. AAAH! the school system screams. Try that yourselves! Scream AAAH!” The audience screamed “AAAH” and broke into laughter. “You see? More of that, and you won’t see teachers tolerating the status quo while Mindy draws a tree instead of a data tree. You’ll hear her saying this instead.”

He displayed a video of a teacher telling a little girl, “Mindy, you’re supposed to draw a data tree. Now why don’t you turn and talk to Joshua, who knows what that is. Joshua, make sure Mindy does it right, OK? I’ll come back in a few minutes. Frederick, what’s that you’re drawing? You’re not supposed to draw a dark forest. What ever gave you the idea that we were here to draw a forest? Look at the objective on the screen. Class, give Frederick your support. What’s today’s objective? All together now!” The class responded in chorus: “To draw a data tree!” The teacher nodded. “That’s right. So, Frederick, I’m putting you down as a misfit for now, but if you start over and draw a data tree, I’ll take the label away, and you’ll be in the clear. Ready? Set? Go!”

As the lights dimmed, Row looked out at the audience with tears in his eyes. A rainbow spotlight lit up over him, causing “oohs” in the audience. “I would not be funding this database today,” he said, “were it not for the wonderful education I received, starting in kindergarten. My teachers challenged me in all ways but also encouraged me to pursue my own passions. They never worried about my differences. So I leave you with this thought. Be a kindergartener once again, in your heart. Now be a poor kindergartener, without opportunities, falling through the cracks, sure of being forgotten, unless someone records you and says that tough ‘M’ word that no one else will say. Let’s spend a moment of silence on that thought.”(Three seconds of silence ensued.) “Thank you, and enjoy the rest of your time here.”

Upon leaving the room, participants were interviewed on camera about their impressions. Those who said something other than “awesome,” “amazing,” or “inspiring” were entered into the National Misfit Database.

District Announces Value-Added Bazaar

In a major urban district that requested anonymity, teachers will be required to attend a bazaar in order to purchase the value-added formula that suits them best. (In education, value-added formulas are used to rank teachers on the basis of their students’ test score improvement.)

“It’s ‘bazaar,’ not ‘bizarre,’” said Superintendent Elmer Bozard, whose initial proposal inspired a major donation from an anonymous celebrity, an “influencer” who thinks education is important.

(Readers may be wondering: how can the urban district remain anonymous, now that Bozard has revealed his name? Answer: Bozard is as yet unknown to the education world. He just graduated from the Broad Superintendents Academy and has never been a teacher or principal. His appointment is still unannounced, as the previous superintendent has yet to be officially fired.)

“This is sheer innovation,” Bozard went on to explain. “Ever since we started rating teachers with formulas, we’ve been getting numerous complaints about errors, inconsistencies, absurdities, you name it. So we got together in a secret focus group with industry leaders and came up with this new idea: Let the market be the formula.”

At the Value-Added Bazaar, teachers will view demos of each formula and speak with a value-added consultant. After purchasing their own personal formula (prices range from $10 to $1,000), they will take a personality test. This will match them with a Holistic Evaluation Knowledge Consultant (HEKC) who will manage their Holistic Evaluation Needs. “Research has shown that teachers are valid people, but that they resist change,” said Shelly Speranza, CEO of Valid People, Inc. “So our consultants begin by affirming the teachers as people. Then they tell them that if they want to stay human, they will have to change, because humans change. For consistency’s sake, we make sure that our evaluations match the value-added ratings.” Consultants earn a minimum of $1,000 a day, but each teacher will only have to pay $100 a month for the services.

Although teachers may choose the formula that rates them “effective,” the sum total of ratings will lead to the firing of 50 percent of the teachers. “You see,” explained Speranza, “each time a teacher is rated effective, someone else is rated ineffective. We tally up each teacher’s ‘ineffective’ ratings and divide down the middle. The ones most frequently rated ‘ineffective’ will have to go.”

“Brilliant!” exclaimed the economist and movie actor Brian Handshake. “We’ve been dying to find a way to get rid of teachers so that student achievement can shoot up to the heavens. Now they can get rid of themselves!”

Curiously, teachers have not shown excitement over the bazaar. “I’ve got to prepare a lesson on Blake,” said a high school English teacher. “I don’t have time for this.”

“We’ll hype it up a bit more,” said Bozard, when we passed on her comment. “We’re planning to give out a lot of goodies there.” Noting that teachers often pay out of pocket for required bulletin board supplies, he has ordered a large supply of bulletin board backing paper, colorful borders with stars and animals, staples, construction paper, pushpins, and ready-made rubrics and standards.

In addition, at the bazaar, a leading software and hardware company will be offering to inject microchips in teachers for free. “When they let us track them, we know they’re not hiding anything,” said Bozard. “Their disclosure level isn’t part of the value-added ratings yet, but their HEKC will be informed of it and will treat them accordingly. Over time, their personal lives will figure into their ratings as well.”

Eventually it will be possible to purchase value-added formulas at regular grocery stores. “We expect many more brands over the next 5-10 years,” said Handshake, “and it’s important to keep the market fluid. So you can expect to see machines dispensing cards with barcodes. Teachers will just scan them against their chips, and the calculations will begin.”

  • “To know that you can do better next time, unrecognizably better, and that there is no next time, and that it is a blessing there is not, there is a thought to be going on with.”

    —Samuel Beckett, Malone Dies

  • TEDx Talk

    Delivered at TEDx Upper West Side, April 26, 2016.

  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

     

    Diana Senechal is the author of Republic of Noise: The Loss of Solitude in Schools and Culture and the 2011 winner of the Hiett Prize in the Humanities, awarded by the Dallas Institute of Humanities and Culture. Her second book, Mind over Memes: Passive Listening, Toxic Talk, and Other Modern Language Follies, was published by Rowman & Littlefield in October 2018. In February 2022, Deep Vellum will publish her translation of Gyula Jenei's 2018 poetry collection Mindig Más.

    Since November 2017, she has been teaching English, American civilization, and British civilization at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium in Szolnok, Hungary. From 2011 to 2016, she helped shape and teach the philosophy program at Columbia Secondary School for Math, Science & Engineering in New York City. In 2014, she and her students founded the philosophy journal CONTRARIWISE, which now has international participation and readership. In 2020, at the Varga Katalin Gimnázium, she and her students released the first issue of the online literary journal Folyosó.

  • INTERVIEWS AND TALKS

    On April 26, 2016, Diana Senechal delivered her talk "Take Away the Takeaway (Including This One)" at TEDx Upper West Side.
     

    Here is a video from the Dallas Institute's 2015 Education Forum.  Also see the video "Hiett Prize Winners Discuss the Future of the Humanities." 

    On April 19–21, 2014, Diana Senechal took part in a discussion of solitude on BBC World Service's programme The Forum.  

    On February 22, 2013, Diana Senechal was interviewed by Leah Wescott, editor-in-chief of The Cronk of Higher Education. Here is the podcast.

  • ABOUT THIS BLOG

    All blog contents are copyright © Diana Senechal. Anything on this blog may be quoted with proper attribution. Comments are welcome.

    On this blog, Take Away the Takeaway, I discuss literature, music, education, and other things. Some of the pieces are satirical and assigned (for clarity) to the satire category.

    When I revise a piece substantially after posting it, I note this at the end. Minor corrections (e.g., of punctuation and spelling) may go unannounced.

    Speaking of imperfection, my other blog, Megfogalmazások, abounds with imperfect Hungarian.

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