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A PERSONAL MESSAGE FROM UPWORTHY
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democracy

Family

A 9-year-old goes in on standardized tests and ends with the best mic drop of all time

When 9-year-old Sydney Smoot stood up at her local school board meeting, I doubt they expected this kind of talking to.



If you need proof standardized testing is setting students up for failure, just ask the students.

Sydney Smoot has a bone to pick with the Hernando County School Board. The issue? The Florida Standards Assessment Test, or FSA for short. On March 17, 2015, Sydney bravely stood up at her local school board meeting to share how she felt about the test and why she believes it's failing students and teachers.


"This testing looks at me as a number. One test defines me as either a failure or a success through a numbered rubric. One test at the end of the year that the teacher or myself will not even see the grade until after the school year is already over. I do not feel that all this FSA testing is accurate to tell how successful I am. It doesn't take in account all of my knowledge and abilities, just a small percentage." — Sydney Smoot

Can we give this little girl a medal? She was speaking right to my soul with that speech!

I reached out to Sydney and her mom, Jennifer, via email to find out more about what prompted this passionate speech.

What inspired you to write your letter?

"What inspired me to speak all started one day when I came home. My mom asked me how the testing went, and I told her I was told not to speak about the test to anyone. I had not felt comfortable signing something in the test. I had concerns about this test because there was a lot of stress put on students and myself. I was a little nervous before the speech, but when I was called up to the podium, I did not feel nervous because I knew this speech was going to help a lot of people."

Have you ever thought about running for president? Cause I'd vote for you!

"I've thought about running for president because if I'm president, I will be considerate about the people in this state."

You gotta admit, she looks pretty good up there, right?

Parents have a right to be concerned about standardize testing regulations.

One thing that really stuck out to me in Sydney's speech was that the FSA prohibits students from talking to their parents about the test. So I was anxious to hear what Sydney's mom thought about the stipulation. She had this to say:

"When my daughter came home telling me she had to sign a form stating she couldn't talk to anyone including her parents, I got concerned. Not only that I didn't like the fact that the last four of her Social Security number was on the test labels along with other personal information. In today's world of identity theft, it doesn't take much for people to get a hold of these things and use them.

I would like to tell other parents to learn more before these tests start in your children's school and know what they are testing. They have options, you can opt out so to speak, and the child can complete alternative testing if they are in the retention grades; or, if the child wants to take the test, support them and let them know that no matter how they do, it does not define them as a person.

It's a test and a poorly designed one at best."

Standardized tests are changing the classroom. And not for the better.

As Sydney shared in her speech, she and her classmates are feeling the pressure when it comes to preparing for the FSA. But they aren't the only ones. Teachers are also struggling to get students ready and are often forced to cut corners as a result.

What standardized tests also fail to take into account is that in many ways, test-taking is a skill, one that not every student is ready for. When I was in school, we spent months gearing up for the dreaded FCAT, the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test. And if months of test prep wasn't bad enough, if you didn't pass the FCAT, you couldn't graduate high school. Talk about stressful! The pressure of your high school career rides on one test, combined with the fact that standardized tests don't accurately measure what students have learned. Plenty of capable students fail these tests due to increased anxiety and stress. If high school students are struggling to handle the pressure of standardized testing, imagine how difficult it must be for elementary school students like Sydney!

Young Sydney is a testament to how important it is that we listen to students and create curriculum that challenges and educates them, rather than scaring them into "learning." I think Sydney's suggestion of three comprehensive tests throughout the year makes way more sense than one big statewide test that interferes with teachers' schedules and stresses students out. And let's be real, when's the last time you heard a kid ask for MORE tests?! Clearly standardized tests aren't the answer or at least need some serious work. Hopefully Sydney's message will make an impact and get her school board and schools across the nation to rethink how we measure students' success.

This article originally appeared on 03.27.15

Democracy

Dr. Seuss might be known for his children's books, but his political cartoons were next-level

The well known author wrote more than 400 clever and poignant cartoons during World War II.

Image dated November 25, 1969, via SIO Photographic Laboratory Collection: Selections, UC San Diego Library

This photo was taken of Theodor Seuss Geisel at the UC San Diego Library.

Did you know that in addition to being a beloved author of children's books, Dr. Seuss wrote more than 400 political cartoons during World War II?

Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, gifted the world with stories like "The Cat in the Hat," "The Lorax," "Green Eggs and Ham," and dozens of other childhood classics until his death in 1991.

In recent years, however, it's some of his lesser known works from the 1940s that have gained attention.

As World War II was slowly moving toward a reality, Seuss began penning cartoons for PM, a liberal publication, frequently pushing back against the "America First" mentality of U.S. isolationists opposed to U.S. involvement in the war.

So when Donald Trump adopted "Make America Great Again" as his campaign slogan, echoing cries of "America First" — the rallying call for an anti-Semitic and Nazi-appeasing segment of the wartime U.S. population — some of Seuss' cartoons began to find new relevance more than 70 years after first being published.

Like this one, which depicts a mother reading a book titled "Adolf the Wolf" to children while wearing an "America First" shirt, explaining that because the wolf's victims were foreign children, it didn't really matter that the wolf ate them — a clear parallel to the conflicting approaches to our modern refugee crisis.

Dr. Seuss, political cartoon, isolationism, refugee crisis

A Dr. Seuss political cartoon sharing thoughts on isolationism.

Image dated Oct. 1, 1941, via Dr. Seuss Political Cartoons/Special Collection and Archives, UC San Diego Library

"And the Wolf chewed up the children and spit out their bones ... but those were Foreign Children and it really didn't matter."

Russia, Germany, Europe, war, political cartoon

Cartoon about WWII and Hitler dragging Russia into the war.

Image dated June 25, 1941, via Dr. Seuss Political Cartoons/Special Collection and Archives, UC San Diego Library.

"A. Hitler taxidermist"

clams, frantic, Hitler, political satire, 1941

Dr. Seuss uses clams in talking about Hitler in a political cartoon from 1941.

Image dated July 17, 1941, via Dr. Seuss Political Cartoons/Special Collection and Archives, UC San Diego Library.

"We Clams Can't Be Too Careful."

political satire, cartoon, WWII, war commentary

A political satire created by Dr. Seuss on the impending World War II.

Image dated May 27, 1941, via Dr. Seuss Political Cartoons/Special Collection and Archives, UC San Diego Library.

"The old Family bath tub is plenty safe for me!"

Suess's other comics took aim at overarching issues like anti-Semitism, racial inequality, and political obstructionism — all issues still relevant today.

To be sure, the comics were far from perfect and reflected some ugly stereotypes of their own. For instance, many of his cartoons amplified some pretty awful impressions of Japanese citizens and Japanese-Americans. And while it's easy to chalk that up as being simply an element of the time, that type of anti-Japanese sentiment helped fuel the racism and paranoia that eventually led to Japanese internment.

WWII, Hitler, cartoon, singing, antisemitism

A Dr. Seuss cartoon depicts Hitler singing.

Image dated July 20, 1942, via Dr. Seuss Political Cartoons/Special Collection and Archives, UC San Diego Library.

"Only God can make a tree to furnish sport for you and me!"

elephant, tank, satire, archives, political, Dr. Seuss

An elephant tries to stop a tank in a political cartoon.

Image dated Oct. 24, 1941, via Dr. Seuss Political Cartoons/Special Collection and Archives, UC San Diego Library.

"Stop all U.S. progress."

pledge of allegiance, flag, political cartoon, racial prejudice

Political cartoon uses 'Pledge of Allegiance' to make a point.

Image dated July 30, 1942, via Dr. Seuss Political Cartoons/Special Collection and Archives, UC San Diego Library.

"The Guy Who Makes a Mock of Democracy."

appeasement, Nazism, America first, political cartoon

Political cartoon suggests the war is coming to America.

Image dated Sept. 9, 1941, via Dr. Seuss Political Cartoons/Special Collection and Archives, UC San Diego Library.

"Relax, Sam, I assure you the express turns off right here!"

If the world of Dr. Seuss can teach us anything, it's that history is our best defense against modern tyranny.

Well, that, and the fact that Americans will always love goofy hats:

satire, analogies, political satire, cartoons, 1940's

Political cartoon suggests burying your head in the sand.

Image dated April 29, 1941, via Dr. Seuss Political Cartoons/Special Collection and Archives, UC San Diego Library.

"We Always Were Suckers for Ridiculous Hats."

See more of Seuss' wartime comics at the University of California San Diego Library's website.This story originally appeared on 03.02.17

Identity

Baseball legend Jackie Robinson once sent a telegram to the White House for equal rights

A brilliant example of what can happen when you use your voice.

Image by Bob Sandberg/Library of Congress. (cropped)

Professional baseball player Jackie Robinson swings a bat in 1954.

Jackie Robinson was an amazing baseball player with serious conviction.

He had the same level of conviction in his demand for real, substantive legislation about civil rights.

He was the first black player, EVER, in baseball's major leagues in America — he would know.


Real change doesn't happen all at once. But we get there faster when voters speak up and say they expect more from our elected leaders.

Take the slow path of civil rights in America. Voters like Robinson helped push for real equality when he sent this telegram to The White House and President Eisenhower in 1957:

Image via National Archives.


In the wake of the Brown v. Board of Education ruling stating that segregated schools were not cutting it, the 1957 Civil Rights Act began taking shape under Eisenhower.Eisenhower signed the half-loafy 1957 bill, but that was just the beginning of a nation setting itself up to specifically make rights more available to everyone (and to make denying people those rights subject to some real penalties).The 1957 act was the first civil rights legislation passed since the mid-1800s, but it was was mostly lip service; it didn't do enough to tackle the huge problem of racism and prejudice in America.

There's no doubt about it, Robinson was hardcore. He did not sleep on the quest for equality.

You gotta admire athletes and people in the public eye who stick their neck out and use their public voice for equality!

And the fact is, they did have to wait a little bit longer. In 1960, another civil rights act passed. Then again in 1964, another civil rights act. We're talking two separate presidents to get America at least starting to get in front of that whole racism thing. And we're still working.

Robinson may not have gotten what he wanted right off the bat, but demanding more and not giving up hope was vital to keep the momentum going and build real change.

Bit by bit, we're building a more equal country.

Think of marriage equality. We weren't getting all wins in the court system over the years, but each fight helped to change public opinion until polls started showing that the majority of Americans believed in marriage equality. And then, finally, that Supreme Court ruling in June 2015.

Conviction and equality win, and so does love.

This article originally appeared on 09.21.15

Canva

A total mind expanding experience is a click away.

I found a hidden gem on the Internet this week: NPR has a Soundcloud set of "binaural soundscapes." Strap on your headphones — it's going to be a surreal ride.Important note: If you have hearing loss, this may not work well for you.

Maybe you don't know what a binaural recording is.

Basically, the deal is, you have two ears.

They are the width of your head apart. And there's a big lumpy meatball in the middle. So your ears hear different things. Then your brain processes these two distinct streams of information and uses them to position stuff in space. Standard stereo recording often uses a couple of mics, but it's not trying to position them in a way that mimics your ears.


Recording artists have started building these crazy microphone setups that imitate the position and direction of your real ears.

Then they take them around the world. The results are astounding. You really can feel the birds singing as they move through space, or people passing you on the street.

It's like a window into other landscapes. It makes the world feel so close and small and familiar.

Here are a few of my favorites.

(Oh, and this doesn't work with regular speakers. Use your headphones.)

First stop: A regular day on a street in Tibet.

(Close your eyes. Trust.)

Wasn't that just amazing?

Next up, a stop in the Ecuadorean rain forest to hear the song of the orapendula. (It's a bird. I looked it up.)

I could listen to that all night.

Let's wrap up with a visit to Dzanga Bai, a clearing in the Central African Republic, where elephants gather as evening closes in.

For more magical journeys, check out the rest of NPR's Binaural Soundscapes.

This article originally appeared on 01.05.15