Editor’s note: Susan and Shawn Dufresne are social justice and education activists. A brief introduction:
Susan DuFresne – Integrated Kindergarten Teacher with General Education and Special Education endorsements – 7 years in the Renton School District, Teacher of Professional Conscience, Co-Owner of the Opt Out Bus, Social Equality Educator, Artist, progressive and social justice education activist, unionist, mother and grandmother – The views I express are my own and do not reflect the views of my employer. #FreeSpeech
Shawn DuFresne – HVAC Technician, Co-Owner of the Opt Out Bus, progressive social justice and education activist, father, grandfather “I love giving free books to children who need them and allowing them to choose which book they’d like to read!”
My favorite part of the Opt Out Bus travel log are the personal stories Susan documents. They’re raw, honest, and sometimes heartbreaking. I hope you enjoy them as well and consider supporting the Opt Out Bus. -coeditor, Carolyn Leith
Shawn and I are on the #OptOutBus2016 Coast to Coast Free Books for Kids Tour.
We’re looking forward to meeting new families, giving books to kids along the way, sharing the #OptOut message, and getting together with fellow activists in cities hit hardest by corporate education reform.
Like the #OptOut movement- good things take time – and though we all want high stakes testing to be gone already, we accomplish more through standing strong together and living with each other through the process.
*You can follow their itinerary on the All aboard the Opt Out Bus Facebook page.
We stopped in Spokane, Washington to visit a dear friend, who is a fellow teacher, and her two beautiful, brilliant, kind, and loving daughters.
They all added to the bus with their ideas, including Lacy – Mary’s 3 year old who was able to phonetically spell and write “Lion” after she drew one and had asked, “Can someone write on the bus?”
Briyana – a 5th grader – wrote two messages. “Don’t make school boring.” and “Multi-age rocks!”
Mary wrote, “I teach children, not test-takers.”
Mary has embraced Project Based Learning for several years now, and although she teaches 5th grade and I teach kindergarten – we are able to collaborate across the state. I’m looking forward to dipping into PBL more this year with my kinders!
Shawn visited with several people about high stakes testing and why it is important to have the freedom to #OptOut. A retired teacher told him about her experiences teaching in both public and parochial schools. In parochial school she reported they only tested kids one time in 4th grade to see what they were missing. Imagine – one short test – no high stakes.
We met a young man who had graduated from high school in Utah. He didn’t want his picture taken, but he agreed with our #OptOut protest because even though he was great at passing the tests, he had many friends who were not. These friends had been successful in their school work – but were denied graduation for missing a few questions on a stinking test. He felt all students should take art to learn about culture. He also thought kids needed more freedom in their schooling.
A 5th grade teacher stopped by to take photos of the #OptOutBus2016 with some students. Even though she teaches full-time, she still needs to teach driver’s education in the summer to make ends meet.
“What do you think of the tests?”I asked…
She laughed and said, “That’s a tricky question. They’re mandatory. I taught 6th grade too… Always a testing grade.” 😞
“Check out www.UnitedOptOut.com .”, I said.
She took several more photos of the bus as her student drivers kept reading the bus and smiling as they read each note.
Later, we drove all day and into the night through Montana to reach Medora, North Dakota located in the Badlands of Teddy Roosevelt National Park. Teddy liked freedom too. The west drew people who liked freedom to it, but as they came, we took away the freedom of many tribes of indigenous peoples – more than that – their lives, their language, their identity, their cultures.
Shawn and I pulled into Medora late last night after driving through Montana state. The campground was beautiful. Just a mile away we had enjoyed a stunning sunset – so I was surprised to see there was still enough light to take a short walk down to a stream running by some cliffs that served as the backdrop of the campground.
As I watched a child playing along the stream bank, I thought of how corporate reformers are sucking the lifeblood out of our public schools. Just like the mosquitos and ticks.
Campgrounds across America are so quiet at night, as a rule. Crowded, often filled to capacity in the summer -full of children and teenagers – no police or patrols threatening anyone to submit – yet everyone settles in to quiet in the early evening. How does this happen, I wonder? People clean up after themselves and leave the campground spots as they found them. People get along, are respectful, and friendly to folks from all over the world in these campgrounds. Some come in RV’s – some fancy – some decrepit, some sleep in tents, some sleep in cabins – thus campgrounds provide spaces for different socioeconomic classes. And still – we get along.
Today the #OptOutBus2016 met up with a wrestling team. It started out with stares. Then they’re reading the bus. Next come the smiles, the nods of agreement, and the comments about testing. They break out their cameras. They take pictures of the bus and spread them on social media.
“Are you a teacher?”, they ask. “Yes, I teach kindergarten.” “Right on!”
“Do you want to write that on the bus?”, I ask. A wall of boys moves towards the bus. Their hands go up in the air. I break out the Sharpies.
“What do you like about school?”
“I hear you agree, but what don’t you like about testing?”
“What would you like to see more of in school?”
“What would you like to change about school?”
“The testing takes too long. I’d rather be learning. I like math.”
“I want outdoor school.”
“More sports, less testing!”
“[Testing] makes me cry and hurt.”
“[Testing] makes my grades bad.”
Just prior to the time we needed to get packing for the #OptOutBus2016 Coast to Coast Free Books for Kids Tour, our nation was brought to its knees [again] by the back-to-back shootings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. Then another tragedy in Dallas. Once again, the country’s focus turned to racism.
I was torn. Do we go forward with the tour? I seriously considered painting the#OptOutBus and creating a #BlackLivesMatter Bus. As I was packing, I looked at all the messages on the bus – the most recent being written predominantly by black and brown students and parents at Garfield High School.
I paused to reflect on 12 year old Asean Johnson’s speech at the Save Our Schools and #PeoplesMarch16 in DC…on Jesse Hagopian’s speech there, Reverend Barber’s speech, Jitu Brown’s, Yohuru Williams’, and Julian Vasquez-Helig’s, to name a few.
Jesse said, ‘For black lives to matter, black #education has to matter.’ [link: https://www.washingtonpost.com/…/for-black-lives-to-matter…/ ]
Reverend Barber said, “Let the children see us trying.”
Like I’ve said before, we aren’t expecting the #OptOutBus to suddenly end high stakes testing. But as you can see – #BlackLivesMatter and corporate education reform are connected deeply. There was no need to start over on the bus, we simply needed to add on.
As a result of Philando Castile’s life mattering to so many children – to so many public school colleagues of his, to so many in his community – it felt important to visit St. Paul, MN. Today was the day.
I worried about stepping into a sacred circle, as an outsider to be honest. We weren’t coming as white saviors, but to demonstrate our compassion through a small act of kindness. How do I navigate this attempt – to what I know is to make a small gesture – towards demonstrating that black lives do matter to some of us whites? We wanted to “let the children see us trying”…
A stop at Subway enroute to Philando’s school brought us to Jen.
Jen was very receptive to our thoughts of giving books to the children from this neighborhood. She knew someone closely connected to Philando and immediately made a phone call. She said we had 3 options: 1) Philando’s family was having a picnic at the neighborhood park and we could give books to children there 2) We could go to his school where he worked and see if kids were at the playground, and 3) There was an ongoing protest at the Governor’s mansion and maybe some kids would be there.
Jen wrote out directions, we thanked her, and headed to the park. Turning into a parking lot we saw a small family picnic in action. I tend to be shy and wanted to be respectful. I approached, but not too closely – and chose to speak to what appeared to be the parent of the group of kids. I smiled and asked if I could ask her a question. She smiled and approached. I let her come closer to me. I told her we were on a cross country trip from Seattle and that we were looking for Philando’s family picnic to give children books as is small token of our caring.
She said she was a teacher too – Special Ed for St. Paul Public Schools – and that she had seen a large group of people wearing R.I.P. tee shirts across Horton. She told me her name is Mary.
I listened intently as she told me how she was a block and 1/2 away from the incident, watching Diamond’s narrative of Philando’s murder unfold live on Facebook, as a friend of hers had been tagged by Diamond in the original post.
Mary said her husband too, is often pulled over for no reason and how he and her 7 year old very politically aware son said – “No, we are all Philando. This killed a little bit in all of us today.”
We began talking about the bus and the connections of corporate reform to racism. As a teacher and a parent, she wholeheartedly agrees with the refusal of the state tests. She said, “My kids don’t take the tests and neither do my principals’, and you know, she’s a black principal.”
She talked about how she looks forward to looking up www.UnitedOptOut.com and how she hates having to comply with giving her students with special needs the computerized standardized tests, but she does it and follows the rules required of her.
Her three beautiful children each chose a book and began writing messages on the bus. Without a word – Black Lives Matter became part of the messages written by Mary’s children.
“Black Lives Matter”
“Be nice no matter WHAT.”
“I Love YOU.”
“I love you, peeps!”
“Have a great education!”
“Love from St. Paul, MN.”, they wrote.
She asked more about our trip and she talked about how upset her 7 year old son gets when he hears anything about Trump. We told her that during this trip we’d be at the DNC protesting.
Mary and her children thanked us for the books and our work for both black lives and the #optout work.
This is just the beginning or our journey.
You can join our protest and continue on with the Opt Out Bus by liking All Aboard the Opt Out Bus (#OptOutBus2016) on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @OptOutBus (#OptOut).
If you really want to help share a little #OptOutLOVE, there’s two more ways to assist:
Number one, you can donate money to our books fund. This money will be used to purchase books at local, independent book stores and will be given to children in need. Each book will include a handwritten personal #optout note and the www.unitedoptout.com message.
The second, donate money for gas to keep the Opt Out Bus rolling.
Thank you in advance for donating and sharing!