After Taking Bold Stand Against Testing Kindergartners, Susan Bowles is Teacher of Year

In the political landscape that is Florida, Gainesville is a lonely, tiny blue dot in a vast sea of red. Last night, that blue dot celebrated a symbolic act that could have major repercussions in the national elections coming up next year. Kindergarten teacher Susan Bowles was named Teacher of the Year in Alachua County, adding further validation to the bold stand she took last September in refusing to administer a test she found to be flawed and an egregious waste of classroom time. In her bold act of refusing to administer the test, Bowles fully expected to lose the job she loves so much. Instead, her action prompted the state to drop the test and she has been given a high honor for her work.

Naming Bowles as Teacher of the Year takes on a special symbolism to me because it comes precisely when JEB! Bush is making his push to enter the 2016 presidential election. To JEB! fans, his educational “reforms” in Florida are one of his chief accomplishments. To those of us in the blue dot, we know that JEB!’s “reforms” had nothing to do with school performance and had everything to do with enriching the private firms run by his cronies to administer the tests. That enrichment of his cronies resulted in trickle down, but only to JEB! [And Rick Scott’s “reforms” of JEB!’s testing program were merely a function of switching out JEB!’s cronies for Scott’s, but I digress.] Adding even more to the symbolism here, Bowles teaches at Lawton Chiles Elementary.

The test to which Bowles objected was only one in a wide array of tests mandated by the test-crazed Florida Legislature. This test, the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading (inappropriately marketed by Scott’s cronies as FAIR), was legislated to be administered three times a year. But as the Gainesville Sun reported in September, Bowles found that changes made for this year made the test meaningless and a huge waste of time:

In past years, both tests existed in paper format for kindergartners, but this year the FAIR became a computer-based test for the state’s youngest students, which has made it necessary for teachers to administer the test one-on-one.


Some kindergartners are coming to the test without ever having touched a computer mouse before, which Bowles said causes the testing time to stretch from the prescribed 35 minutes to 50 minutes or an hour.

There is also no way to go back and correct answers on the test, she said, so a student who accidentally double-clicks to enter an answer could end up skipping multiple screens on the test, rendering their results inaccurate.

But the main issue for Bowles, and others, is the loss of instructional time after administering these tests — a total of six weeks, in fact.

Bowles initially took to Facebook to announce her decision not to administer the test. Again, from the Sun:

Bowles said she was so frustrated after trying to test two students last week that on Sunday she took to Facebook to publicly air her act of civil disobedience, in a post titled, “Why I am refusing to give the FAIR test to my kindergarteners.”

“I know I may be in breach of my contract by not administering this test,” she wrote in the post. “I cannot in good conscience submit to administering this test three times a year, losing six weeks of instruction. There is a good possibility I will be fired.”

Attention to Bowles’ move snowballed, and her actions garnered huge amounts of support from parents. A blog at the Washington Post noted the attention. The blog post reproduced what Bowles posted on Facebook about the test. Bowle’s preface to her letter to parents is especially courageous:

To the parents of the boys and girls in my class,

I wrote you a letter over the weekend to let you know that I am refusing to administer the FAIR test [Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading] to your precious little ones. I had hoped to send you an email or letter, but it would not be professional of me or allowed by the district for a letter to go out letting you know that I am doing something that is a breach of contract and therefore against the law. I want you to know that for the 26 years I have been a classroom teacher, I have been a good employee, and have always complied with my superiors. I also want you to know that this is not in any way being done because our principal or superintendent are mandating these tests. This is a government issue. So this decision does not involve anyone I work for. It is an act of civil disobedience.

I am hoping for government change in policy regarding testing.

That last bit turned out to be prescient, as well. Bowle’s letter to parents was dated September 7, 2014. The Gainesville Sun article came out on September 9 and the blog post at the Washington Post was September 11. On September 15, Florida’s Commissioner of Education caved in to public pressure about the test and cancelled it. As the Post stated in a blog post that day:

It turns out she wasn’t fired. On Monday, Owen Roberts, the superintendent of schools in Alachua County where Bowles teaches, sent a letter to parents saying that Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart has decided not to require FAIR testing for any students in grades K-2. The e-mail doesn’t directly name Bowles but does refer to “all the attention focused on this issue over the past few days.”

Congratulations to Susan Bowles for her brave act of civil disobedience and the benefit to the youngest Florida students that it produced. Congratulations also to Alachua County Public Schools for rewarding Bowles’ principled stand.

The Gray Lady Waited Three Years to Quote People Calling Torture Torture

In this post, I described the Harvard study that showed that US’ largest newspapers stopped calling waterboarding torture once it became clear the US was doing it.I wanted to look more closely at an odd time lapse in the NYT’s Orwellian treatment of waterboarding.

In a seeming defense of their refusal to call torture torture given to Michael Calderone, the NYT admitted they had responded to pressure from the Administration, but claimed that they balanced that by admitting that others consider it torture–classic “on the one side, on the other side cowardice.”

However, the Times acknowledged that political circumstances did play a role in the paper’s usage calls. “As the debate over interrogation of terror suspects grew post-9/11, defenders of the practice (including senior officials of the Bush administration) insisted that it did not constitute torture,” a Times spokesman said in a statement. “When using a word amounts to taking sides in a political dispute, our general practice is to supply the readers with the information to decide for themselves. Thus we describe the practice vividly, and we point out that it is denounced by international covenants and in American tradition as a form of torture.” [my emphasis]

But if they were doing so, you’d think they’d be giving voice to people actually calling waterboarding torture.

At least according to the study, that’s not what they did at first. Not until 2007 did the NYT regularly (45.5% of the time) start quoting people calling waterboarding torture.

Except for a brief spate of articles in 1902‐1903 in the NY Times which quoted mostly military officials and senators, almost all of the articles that quote others calling it torture appeared in 2007 and 2008.


Before 2007, the NY Times had only scattered articles quoting others. However, beginning in 2007, there is a marked increase in articles quoting others, primarily human rights groups and lawmakers. Human rights representatives predominate during the first half of the year. However, beginning in October, politicians were cited more frequently labeling waterboarding torture. Senator John McCain is the most common source, but other lawmakers also begin to be cited. By 2008, the articles’ references are more general such as “by many,” or “many legal authorities.” Stronger phrases such as “most of the civilized world” also begin to appear.

In other words, NYT’s “defense” of its actions appears to ignore a three year period during which they didn’t call torture torture, but during which they offered no counterbalance correcting that spin (which among other things means we can add it to the list of things–warrantless wiretapping, the leak of Plame’s identity Judy Miller received from OVP, and now calling torture torture–that the NYT did in the lead up to the 2004 election).

Which is all the more troubling given that NYT claimed they were watching their spin closely. One of the first NYT articles to report on waterboarding included this paragraph.

Defenders of the operation said the methods stopped short of torture, did not violate American anti-torture statutes, and were necessary to fight a war against a nebulous enemy whose strength and intentions could only be gleaned by extracting information from often uncooperative detainees. Interrogators were trying to find out whether there might be another attack planned against the United States.

As they pointed out in response to this study, FAIR immediately pounced on the Orwellianism.

The New York Times, revealing the interrogation techniques the CIA is using against Al-Qaeda suspects, seemed unable to find a source who would call torture by its proper name.


The article took pains to explain why, according to U.S. officials, such techniques do not constitute torture: “Defenders of the operation said the methods stopped short of torture, did not violate American anti-torture statutes, and were necessary to fight a war against a nebulous enemy whose strength and intentions could only be gleaned by extracting information from often uncooperative detainees.”

The article seemed to accept that the techniques described are something other than torture: “The tactics simulate torture, but officials say they are supposed to stop short of serious injury.” The implication is that only interrogation methods that cause serious physical harm would be real and not simulated torture.

The article quoted no one who said that the CIA methods described were, in fact, torture. Yet it would have been easy to find human rights experts who would describe them as such. The website of Human Rights Watch ( reports that “the prohibition against torture under international law applies to many measures,” including “near drowning through submersion in water.” Amnesty International U.S.A. ( names “submersion into water almost to the point of suffocation” as a form of torture, and emphasizes that torture “can be psychological, including threats, deceit, humiliation, insults, sleep deprivation, blindfolding, isolation, mock executions…and the withholding of medication or personal items.”


If the Times had included independent human rights or international law experts in the article, this information could have been available to readers.


In fact, the Times might have looked back to its own archives on the subject to find critics of U.S. detention policies. Some of the information included in the May 13, 2004 article was first reported on March 9, 2003— except the original story quoted Holly Burkhalter of Physicians for Human Rights, who decried the lack of a “specific policy that eschews torture.”

In response to that and a bunch of complaints about the NYT’s coverage of Abu Ghraib, NYT ombud replied,

The specific issue is the use of “abuse” rather than “torture” to describe certain actions of American military personnel, intelligence officers, and private subcontractors. I asked assistant managing editors Craig Whitney and Allan M. Siegal for comment as they are, respectively, in charge of the news desk (where front page headlines get written) and all matters of language and style. Both were surprised when I raised the issue; both noted some substantive definitional distinctions between “abuse” and “torture”; both asserted that there is no Times policy one way or another; and both acknowledged that readers may be right.

Wrote Whitney in an e-mail message, “Now that you tell me people are reading things into our not using ‘torture’ in headlines, I’ll pay closer attention.”

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