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Author Maya Angelou blasts Obama’s Race to the Top

Maya Angelou (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post) Maya Angelou (Photo by Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)

Renowned author and poet Maya Angelou was one of more than 120 authors and illustrators who recently signed a letter to President Obama asking him to curb policies that promote excessive standardized testing because  of the negative impact “on children’s love [of] reading and literature.”  Now she has blasted Obama’s signature education initiative, Race to the Top, saying that it is “a contest” that doesn’t help children learn to love to read and get a better understanding of the world.

Angelou, who has been a strong public supporter of Obama’s, appeared Monday on the MSBNC show “Andrea Mitchell Reports,” where she was asked about her opposition to policies that emphasize standardized testing and her view of Race to the Top, a multibillion-dollar competition run by the U.S. Education Department that allowed states and later individual school districts to vie for federal funds by promising to enact favored education  reforms favored by the administration. Critics have charged that Race to the Top has led to increased high-stakes standardized testing because it requires states that win funds to evaluate teachers in part on student standardized test scores.

“Race To The Top feels to be more like a contest,” Angelou said, “… not what did you learn, but how much can you memorize.”

She also said that young people should have the freedom to read the great authors, including Tolstoy and Balzac, because their books help young people learn about the complexities of the world.

“Writers are really interested in forming young men and women,” she said. “… ‘This is your world.’  ‘ This is your country.’  ‘ This is your time.’ And so I don’t think you can get that by racing to the top.”

Angelou’s comments prompted Mitchell to say at the end of the interview that the author had provided “a very important lesson for all of us — and for the White House as well.”

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.

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