"FORT WORTH, Texas -- Each year, hundreds of students use the essay portion of the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills test to write about being abused, neglected or raped.
That's according to education officials, who say others write about being depressed, wanting to die or hurt themselves or others.
Such essays fall under the state's definition of an outcry, and school officials have a legal and ethical obligation to report the revelations to law-enforcement officials. Test graders who find such content label them an "outcry."
The information is sent to the Texas Education Agency, where student identification numbers are converted into names, and the essays faxed to district officials.
The law requires educators to notify the proper enforcement agency if a student discusses anything criminal, including child abuse, neglect and rape, or even the revelation that a child is bringing a weapon to school because he or she feels unsafe.
Texas labeled 688 essays "outcry" last year and 592 in 2003, a drop in the pool of more than a million essays.
The writing section of the three-year-old TAKS is designed to give students flexibility -- opening the door for personal essays.'''
And it isn't just grade school children who reveal being raped, abused, beaten, and depressed. College students do, too.
I wrote here not long ago that my students can't discuss a Supreme Court decision in class without discussing the protective orders that exist because of their actions against former girlfriends or the protective orders they have sought against former boyfriends.
Today one of my most promising students discussed the violence in her life. Can she live long enough to get through school, make her car payment, get her teaching certificate, see her children grown. Will this terrific woman live to our next class meeting?
I am not sure that what we teach in government class has any connection to the lives my students live. They really can't recognize the majesty of the U.S. Constitution when they are out on parole, or they are pregnant with a fatherless baby, or they are beaten regularly by men they fear, or they don't know who to call or if they should call the police on the neighbors who are abusing their children. One young woman asked me if she should leave her apartment when her boyfriend beat her, should she wait, sleep on it and call the next day? Should she leave the scene and go somewhere else to call?
As I am lecturing, droning on and on about the Texas Constitution of 1876 will they sit dissociatively, zoning out? How many times have a mistaken their blank stare for disinterest, when it may have been dissociative? They can't learn because they are living in an atmosphere that does not acknowledge that they can't study at home because it isn't safe, they don't have enough money to change their lives, and their problems are enormous.