All Children Are All Our Children

by Doug Selwyn (Author)
©2019 Textbook XVI, 202 Pages
Series: Counterpoints, Volume 529


What would schools and communities look like if the health and well-being of all our children were our highest priorities? More important than test scores, profits, or real estate values? What actions would we take if we wanted to guarantee that all our children were growing up with what they needed to be healthy, happy, and successful—and not just some of them?
The United States was once among the healthiest countries in the world. As of now, it is ranked no better than twenty-ninth. Those who bear the brunt of our worsening health are the poor, people of color, and, most of all, our children. All Children Are All Our Children situates our ongoing health crisis within the larger picture of inequality and the complex interplay of systems in the U.S. based on class, privilege, racism, sexism, and the ongoing tension between the ideals of democracy and the realities of corporate capitalism. Public education is caught in the middle of those tensions.
All Children Are All Our Children begins by defining what we mean by health, looking at the many factors that support or undermine it, and then identifies steps that can be taken locally in our schools and in our communities that can support the health and well-being of our young people and their families, even as we work towards necessary change at the state and national policy level.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • Advance Praise for All Children Are All Our Children
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Introduction
  • Front Row Seat at a Train Wreck
  • Taking Initiative
  • Getting Our Priorities Straight
  • What Do We Owe Our Children?
  • Unexpected Research: My Own Story
  • Sam’s Story
  • References
  • Chapter 1. Defining Health
  • Lea’s Story
  • Population Health
  • References
  • Chapter 2. Inequality
  • Income Inequality Is on the Rise
  • Inequality in Schools
  • What We Are Talking About When We Are Talking of Inequality
  • More Equality Means Better Health and Education
  • Poverty
  • Poverty and Schools
  • Out of School Factors Related to Poverty
  • Race
  • Consequences of Racism on Health
  • Race, Poverty, and Schools
  • Political and Social Power
  • Gender
  • Why Inequality Matters and What We Might Do
  • Support Programs That Support Children and Families
  • Other Steps We Can Take
  • References
  • Chapter 3. Chronic Stress
  • What Is Stress?
  • Stress at the Earliest Age: Pregnancy Through Age 2
  • Race and Stress
  • Schools, Race, and Stress
  • Gender and Stress
  • Sexual Assault and Violence
  • Self-Esteem
  • Economic and Career Disparity
  • Stress and Status
  • Academic and Testing Stress
  • The Impact of Chronic Stress on Students
  • References
  • Chapter 4. Environmental Factors
  • Flint, Michigan
  • Lead Poisoning
  • Where Does It Come From?
  • Corporations Dump Waste on the Poor
  • Mining
  • What’s Wrong With Coal?
  • What Can We Do?
  • Our Children’s Trust
  • References
  • Chapter 5. Corporate Capitalism v. Democracy and the Common Good
  • What Is Corporate Capitalism?
  • What Is a Democracy?
  • Democracy and Capitalism
  • The Impact of U.S. Capitalism, Racism, and White Supremacy on the Larger World
  • Seeing the Connections and Taking Action
  • References
  • Chapter 6. The Purpose of Education
  • The Purpose of Education and the Role That Schools Play Within That
  • Schools Are Not the Same Thing as Education
  • A Brief History of Schools
  • An Excess of Democracy
  • Education for Freedom or Conformity
  • What Is the Purpose of School?
  • Schools and the Status Quo
  • Aligning Policies With Values
  • What Do We Value?
  • References
  • Chapter 7. High Stakes Standardized Testing
  • How Did We Get Here?
  • There Is No Such Thing as a Standardized Child
  • There Is No Such Thing as a Standardized Neighborhood: Test Scores and Zip Codes
  • There Is No One Assessment That Measures Intelligence
  • There Is No Such Thing as Standardized Development or Maturation
  • Intelligence Testing and Standardized Testing Are Based on Racist Theory From the Eugenics Movement
  • No Expert in Research Would Support Making High-Stakes Decisions on Taking a Single Test
  • The Tests Are Culturally Biased, Favoring Students With Certain Kinds of Experiences and Knowledge
  • Students With Special Needs Must Take the Tests
  • Some Students Do Not Test Well
  • The Silence at the Heart of the Education System
  • Loss of Local Control
  • Narrowing Curriculum
  • Privateers
  • Publishing Companies
  • Resistance to the Testing: Opting Out
  • References
  • Chapter 8. Denying Our Children
  • Denying Their Language
  • Denying Their Language and Culture
  • Home Values and Expectations Conflict With School Values and Expectations
  • Denying Point of View
  • Denying the Reality of Maturation and Development
  • Denying Play
  • Denying the Ways That People Learn
  • Multiple Intelligences
  • IQ and the Eugenics Movement
  • Standardized Education: Working on the Assembly Line
  • If It’s 10:30 It Must Be Math
  • Students Are Denied Hope, Meaning, and Joy
  • References
  • Chapter 9. What Can Schools Do?
  • Relationships
  • Connections Between the Schools and the Community
  • Home Visits
  • Cautions
  • Picnics or Before School Gatherings
  • Orientations at the School
  • Middle and High School
  • Welcoming Students to School
  • Getting to Know Students as Learners and as People
  • Advisory and Parent Involvement
  • Being Available, Being Accessible, and Reaching Out
  • Lunch With Tracie
  • Attending Events
  • Physical Health
  • Food and Nutrition
  • Connecting Schools With Farms
  • Snacks
  • Backpack Programs
  • Cooking Classes
  • Just Roots
  • Creating Gardens at School
  • Recess and PE
  • Teaching Children to Play
  • Opportunity to Learn and Grow
  • Democratic Education, Internships, and Individualized Instruction
  • Learning to Learn
  • References
  • Chapter 10. It Takes a Village to Change a Village
  • Working in Community
  • An Asset-Based Approach
  • Working With the School Community
  • Teachers Working With Teachers
  • Parents, Families, and Staff
  • Immigration Stories
  • Growing a School Community Garden
  • Our Day in Court
  • Natural Helpers: Assets in the School Community
  • Acting Together
  • Teacher Walkouts
  • Doing Nothing Is a Political Act
  • Black Lives Matter in Schools
  • School Boards
  • Once the School Board Is Elected
  • Involving the Larger Community
  • Community Health Improvement Plan for Franklin County and North Quabbin
  • Communities That Care/Collective Impact Model
  • Community Development Corporation
  • Working at the State and National Level
  • References
  • Conclusion: What Will We Do?
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index

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There is a cliché in the research world, attributed to Einstein (as so many things are) that says if you know where you are going at the start it’s not research. This book is surely an example of that. I started out in a somewhat modest direction, moved by my concerns about high stakes testing and the harm it was doing to students, but this journey has moved far beyond testing, to touch on virtually every aspect of our society. That journey has been shaped and guided by hundreds of conversations that took my inquiry deeper and helped me to situate what is happening to students in the schools within the much larger, more complex tensions between the goals of capital and the goals of democracy. There were many who took the time to speak with me at length, and while I can’t thank them all here, I do want to recognize many of them.

Thank you Allen Lang, Anita Bodrogi, Anya Rader Wallach, Azeeza Islam, Barbara Bowman, Barbara Grannis, Benjamin Fels, Brittany Greene, Cheryl Dukes, Chris Adams, Christen Averill, Christy Bezrutczyk, Diane Dame, Don Fels, Ed Mikel, Gary Thomsen, Heather Tedford, Hannah Williams, Isabel Dennis, Ishbel Dickens, Jamaal Bowman, Jan Maher, Jason Favaro, Jay Lord, Jennifer Russo, Jessica van Steensburg, Jim Dawson, John Waite, Jon Garfunkel, Kat Allen, Kim Norton, Kris Echigo, Kyle Ainsworth, Lang Walsh, Leo Hwang, Lisa Mark, Louise Kinney, Lynn Gilbert, Maria Timmons Flores, Marian Wagner, Megan Matzelle, Merri Jeanne Brennan, Mimi ← xi | xii → Simmons, Pam S. Kelly, Paulette Thompson, Phoebe Walker, Phyllis Booth, Rebecca Timson, Richard Robbins, Rosalie Romano, Ruth Charney, Stephen Bezruchka, Steve Goldenberg, Tim Hartnett, Tom Ikeda, Tracie McCarthy, Vincent Carey, Wayne Au, E. Wayne Ross, Yong Yu, and Vera Vivante.

I have worked on issues related to high stakes testing with the group NCAPE (North Country Alliance for Public Education), and I want to thank Margarita Garcia Notario, Mark Beatham, Christy Bezrutczyk, Chris van Houton, and Kathryn Brown in particular for their dedication and passion in looking out for the health of the children. Members of the Rouge Forum, co-founded by Rich Gibson and E. Wayne Ross continue to organize and act against inequality and injustice and the Rouge Forum has been a place to find kindred spirits, inspiration, and invaluable resources.

Rethinking Schools is an organization of educators that has been addressing many of the very real issues that affect the health and well-being of our children for decades. They provide a forum, through their journals, books, and conferences for educators to communicate with each other, to come together in community. They have informed my work for years.

The Puget Sound Writing Project (now Puget Sound Writing Consortium) has been helping teachers find their writing voices for many years, and models building community through teachers teaching teachers. They have offered a nurturing place for me and for many other teachers to take risks and to grow as writers and as teachers of writing.

I was first introduced to the concept of population health and to understand the role that inequality plays in compromising health through the work of Dr. Stephen Bezruchka, and his knowledge, passion, and persistence in helping to educate others has been inspiring.

This book would not exist if it were not for Jan Maher, who helped shape order out of chaos. She is an extraordinary writer who also is a wonderful thinker and editor, and she has helped me to think through and make sense of the overwhelming amount of information I was trying to understand and organize.

Thank you to Shirley Steinberg, editor of the Counterpoints series, and to Luke McCord, Sarah Bode, and Megan Madden, who helped move the book through the publishing process smoothly and efficiently.

There are, at the center of this book the students with whom I have worked, both at the K-12 and university levels, who continue to move through the world with a desire to learn and understand, to make meaning and to find a place in the world that makes sense. I have gotten far more from them than I have been able to offer, and I am grateful to them beyond what I can communicate. It has been a great joy and a privilege to learn with and from them.

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Front Row Seat at a Train Wreck

As a long-time teacher, first in K–12 and then at university, I have had a front row seat at the slow-motion train wreck that has been public education since the passage of No Child Left Behind, and it has been painful in so many ways. I had never been a fan of standardized testing, finding it a waste of teaching and learning time that provided little to no useful information to help me as a teacher or my students as learners. I was aware that it was a vestige of the eugenics movement that flourished at the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth centuries, the assumption that there was one “right” way to do and know things, a single right answer, that intelligence could be measured and reduced to a single score, and that some students (and races) were more intelligent than other students (and races). I also knew that some students did not show what they knew or how “smart” they were because they did not test well, and some had real anxieties connected to the testing, so it was a very stressful experience for them. There was little help I could offer them, but I did what I could in the classroom, encouraging them to do the best they could and to not worry; they would still move on to fourth grade.

My colleagues and I would have conversations about the tests, and those conversations were nearly as frustrating as the tests themselves. Teachers ← 1 | 2 → would complain loudly about the tests and I would say, “Let’s not give them.” They would quiet down and say, “We’d get in trouble.” I would respond, “Not if all of us say no. All of the teachers in our district, all of the teachers in the state. If we all said no they couldn’t or wouldn’t fire all of us.” And they would say “No, we can’t,” so I would just walk away.

It was bad education, it was harmful for the children, but we would not do anything about it. And that included me. I continued to give the tests, excusing my actions by telling myself that it was only a couple of days, that it was not such a big deal, that I could support those who were stressed, and there was nothing really to be done. Once the tests ended we could go back to real teaching and learning and we would recover.

I became much more seriously alarmed about the significant harm being done to students in the late 1990s when my class of fourth and fifth graders took the tests. I was teaching in another school, with a very different population of students. Most of these children came from homes in which they did not speak English and came from cultures foreign to the one in which they were now living. We had spent the year in our classroom focused on what we collectively valued most: pursuing our questions, concerns, and interests; learning how to work together and to communicate as speakers and listeners; learning how to carry out research and how to make use of the skills we learned to make things better for ourselves and for our learning community. We addressed the academic basics, but we did so through projects, through materials that were of interest and relevance for the children, and which allowed them to communicate what they knew and had learned through a range of modalities. They did not bubble in any circles.

I did offer them a two-week course, “testing as a foreign language,” in hopes of helping them learn how tests work, to become familiar with the kinds of questions they were likely to encounter, and to acquire some test-taking strategies. They created tests about Pokémon, which was popular at the time, and the students “administered” their tests to the adults in the school. I had hoped that designing their own multiple choice, true/false, and short answer questions; writing reading passages with related questions; and then scoring the tests when they were returned would help the students to understand that the tests don’t measure or assess whether you are smart or not, or whether you are a “good” or “worthy” person, but that they measure whether you have learned the particular material that you are asked about and whether you are able to show what you know using a number two pencil and a test booklet ← 2 | 3 → full of circles. The students enjoyed the experience and truly enjoyed that we adults failed miserably. But that did not fully prepare them (or me) for what was to come.

These children, who had demonstrated their intelligence, their skill, their compassion, their problem-solving abilities, their caring and respect for themselves and others, their critical thinking, their resilience in dealing with the extraordinary ups and downs that many families of recent immigrant (and many non-immigrant) families face, hit an impenetrable wall with the tests, which many were taking in their second or third language. Just that fact alone, that children who could speak two or three languages were more likely to fail or struggle than children who only spoke English made clear how wrong these tests were. Watching the students dissolve into tears and sink into their chairs in utter frustration as they tried to negotiate page after page of contextless test questions sounded every alarm bell, raised every red flag, and broke my heart. This test, created by people who clearly did not know “my” students, and maybe didn’t know any students, created great harm to the children in my class, to the other children in our school, and to thousands of children in schools around the state. We knew it as teachers, as administrators, as parents, and as family members. We knew what the students knew and what they did not know, and we knew a great deal more than that. We knew them, knew that the tests captured little or nothing of who these children were, but we were forbidden to say anything about it.

I decided to share the tests with my teaching colleagues, who were mystified and horrified by the impact the tests were having on their students. Teachers who were not proctoring the tests were not allowed to see them and so they had no basis for understanding what was happening. My sharing with them was illegal, but I felt it was important for them to know what their students were experiencing. As they paged through the booklets they became angrier and angrier at the abuse being done to their children. And yet they continued (and continue) to give the tests and to say nothing of their concerns for fear of being punished.

I was investigated by the state for sharing this proprietary material with my colleagues; at the center of public education was (and is) a test created and scored by a private, for-profit publishing company that parents, teachers, students, and administrators cannot see. I finally experienced no formal punishment, but the chill was in the air.

I refused to give the tests the next year, but this was handled within the school, as I watched a different class (not taking the tests) while ← 3 | 4 → another teacher proctored my class. This “handling” did nothing for the students, and in fact it penalized them in that they did not have their regular teacher to support them while they took the tests. Any learning the students might have done during the weeks of testing and in subsequent weeks was severely compromised by the trauma they experienced while testing, and that trauma stayed with the students well beyond those testing weeks. What the children learned was that they were not good enough, were not smart enough, were not savvy enough to succeed in school or in life and that it was their fault. The testing process made them less healthy, less whole.


XVI, 202
ISBN (Softcover)
ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2019 (January)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2019. XVI, 202 pp., 1 b/w ill., 1 tables

Biographical notes

Doug Selwyn (Author)

Doug Selwyn has been an educator for more than thirty years, the first half as a teacher in K–12 in the Seattle Public Schools and the second half in teacher education, first at Antioch University Seattle and then for ten years as a professor of education at the State University of New York at Plattsburgh until his retirement in 2017. He received his doctorate from Seattle University in 1991 and was named Washington State social studies teacher of the year in 1990–91. He has published several books on education, most recently Following the Threads (Peter Lang, 2009). He lives in Greenfield, Massachusetts, with his wife, writer Jan Maher.


Title: All Children Are All Our Children