Vote a Wish

A week ago, I had the Illinois General Assembly meeting streaming in live on my computer. I wanted to follow the life of HB306, the bill that would bestow upon Illinois parents, the legal right to speak on behalf of their children when it comes to opting out of standardized tests. It seems bizarre that I need Springfield to give me this legal right. My daughter recently broke her ankle and was on crutches for several weeks. I refused a few things on her behalf; gym, going up and down stairs, recess, being in the hallway during class changes. She didn't have to face the teachers and refuse these things for herself. I spoke for her, because I'm her mom. My other daughter has been wheezing and having a difficult time breathing when she runs. I suspect she may have asthma, so I told her teachers "don't make her do anything that makes breathing difficult for her until I get her checked out." Again, she didn't have to tell her teachers this herself. I spoke for her, because I'm her mom. Whether or not HB306 passes, opting out will continue to happen. This bill would mercifully take the burden of opting out off of the child -- a.k.a. the underaged person in the home -- and give parents the legal right to make that call.

I'm all for kids having to speak for themselves. Break a neighbor's window playing ball? Tough as it is, you are going to have to look the unhappy window owner in the eye and apologize to them yourself. Great-great Aunt Bessie gives you a five-dollar bill in a card? Frightening as her ancientness is, you have to thank her personally, not me. You handed in an assignment and the teacher claims he never got it? Go talk to the teacher and argue your case yourself. The older my children get, the more I insist that they speak for themselves. As their parent, when they speak for themselves and when I choose to step in and speak for them should be my call to make, not the state's.

As I listened to the Illinois General Assembly, I was captivated by the chanting of the gentleman running the show. There were many bills being voted on, and throughout the process I kept hearing him intone the words, "All voted a wish. All voted a wish. All voted a wish." It seemed like for a few seconds after every bill, all these State Representatives had a fleeting opportunity to offer up some sort of wish to... I don't know, maybe Abraham Lincoln? Is there a patron saint of Illinois politicians? I wondered if democracy had deteriorated to the point that wishing real hard was built into the process of getting a bill passed. "All voted a wish. All voted a wish. All voted a wish." I googled "all voted a wish" and discovered the actual phrase, when articulated clearly, is "Have all voted who wish?" meaning "Hey House Reps! You had you chance to weigh in on this bill. Did you take it? Did you even want to?" So, unfortunately no helpful spirits hanging around the Illinois General Assembly, unless you count Henry Martyn Robert, Patron Saint of Orderly Rules.

I stayed close to my computer, sound turned up, trying to do things nearby but eventually, I needed to leave. HB306 still had not been presented, but I had to put gas in my car, return books to the library and pick up my kids from school. Mundane tasks still need to be done even while the legal right to speak on behalf of my children was due for a vote.

A friend and fellow education advocate was in the state capitol, following this bill and reporting back from the frontlines. While at the library I got a message from her that HB306 wouldn't be heard that day. A state representative had assigned a "note" to the bill. Note? Like "pick up some milk" note? Or like "doe a deer" note? Neither. In the world of politics, a note attached to a bill basically questions whether the bill will impact the health, wealth or happiness of anyone. It's a great little safeguard, provided it is used in the spirit in which it was conceived. A genuine "note" could question the financial impact a law might have on a given group of people, and better to figure that out while it is still in bill form than after it becomes written in stone. However, in this case, this note was a political maneuver used to impede the progress of HB306, a stalling tactic. A state agency needs to answer the question raised by the note, and this note was attached so late in the process that the sponsor of the HB306 ran out of time to get an answer from an agency. A vote couldn't be called, because that last minute note couldn't be addressed, and gosh darn if that didn't cause HB306 to miss the deadline for a House vote. And what happens to bills that miss their deadlines? They get sent straight to the Rules Committee. So that's where HB306 stands at the moment. It's in the Rules Committee with a big old clunky note attached to it.

If education issues aren't that interesting to you, or if you really see the value in testing children, retesting them, then testing them again, and again, and again, you probably aren't that concerned about whether HB306 lives or dies. I'm following this bill so closely because I still can't wrap my brain around the fact that as a parent I have to wait for my state government to grant me the legal right to speak on behalf of my children. Put up any argument you want defending the relentless standardizing testing students are currently made to take. Even if all of those arguments were valid, even if every single argument had merit, as a parent I STILL should be able to legally speak on behalf of my child.

All voted a wish. All voted a wish. All voted a wish.