Sometimes I’m not sure where to put posts about education related topics. Part of our quiet, simple life entails home education. So sometimes I may post things related to education here instead of over at my learning blog. This is one of those cases, especially since I prefer to keep the learning blog a more positive, idea sharing place as opposed to brimming with controversy.
If you haven’t been following the story, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are a hot topic right now. I confess I haven’t looked at it much simply because I have enough on my plate right now. But I’m friends with Spunky on Facebook and she has been posting frequently about it on Facebook and now on her blog. So I started doing a bit more reading.
I found a couple of items that as a former teacher and current home educator were most telling. The first was a link shared by Brandy. In the Washington Post article Teacher: One maddening day working with the Common Core by Jeremiah Chaffee, Chaffee explains his experience and observations of digging into the Common Core. What he discovers is truly appalling. I don’t see how you can spin it any other way. What the teachers are being asked to do goes against every shred of good teaching. Please do read the entire thing, but here is a lengthy quote (bold mine):
This gives students a text they have never seen and asks them to read it with no preliminary introduction. This mimics the conditions of a standardized test on which students are asked to read material they have never seen and answer multiple choice questions about the passage.
Such pedagogy makes school wildly boring. Students are not asked to connect what they read yesterday to what they are reading today, or what they read in English to what they read in science.
The exemplar, in fact, forbids teachers from asking students if they have ever been to a funeral because such questions rely “on individual experience and opinion,” and answering them “will not move students closer to understanding the Gettysburg Address.”
(This is baffling, as if Lincoln delivered the speech in an intellectual vacuum; as if the speech wasn’t delivered at a funeral and meant to be heard in the context of a funeral; as if we must not think about memorials when we read words that memorialize. Rather, it is impossible to have any deep understanding of Lincoln’s speech without thinking about the context of the speech: a memorial service.)
The exemplar instructs teachers to “avoid giving any background context” because the Common Core’s close reading strategy “forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all.” What sense does this make?
Teachers cannot create such a “level playing field” because we cannot rob any of the students of the background knowledge they already possess. Nor can we force students who have background knowledge not to think about that while they read. A student who has read a biography of Lincoln, or watched documentaries about the Civil War on PBS or the History Channel, will have the “privilege” of background knowledge beyond the control of the teacher. Attempting to create a shallow and false “equality” between students will in no way help any of them understand Lincoln’s speech.
How in the WORLD does anyone think this is quality teaching? One of the cornerstones of learning is connecting what you already know with what you are learning. And notice this is not about educating students. This is all about creating a level playing field. So if a student in that class has been to Gettysburg or read a book about it… Too bad. That’s not fair to the rest of the class or the test taking protocol.
Isn’t the bottom line that they don’t want educated students? They want people who can read a piece of
propaganda text and answer questions. No thinking. No connecting it to your prior knowledge. No forming conclusions based on your dearest beliefs. Read and answer like a good little drone on the education conveyer belt.
The Washington Post also ran a resignation letter that ties in very nicely with this in Teacher’s resignation letter: ‘My profession… no longer exists.’ by Gerald Conti, a history teacher of forty years from Syracuse, New York. He writes (bold mine):
With regard to my profession, I have truly attempted to live John Dewey’s famous quotation (now likely cliché with me, I’ve used it so very often) that “Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself.” This type of total immersion is what I have always referred to as teaching “heavy,” working hard, spending time, researching, attending to details and never feeling satisfied that I knew enough on any topic. I now find that this approach to my profession is not only devalued, but denigrated and perhaps, in some quarters despised. STEM rules the day and “data driven” education seeks only conformity, standardization, testing and a zombie-like adherence to the shallow and generic Common Core, along with a lockstep of oversimplified so-called Essential Learnings. Creativity, academic freedom, teacher autonomy, experimentation and innovation are being stifled in a misguided effort to fix what is not broken in our system of public education and particularly not at Westhill.
My profession is being demeaned by a pervasive atmosphere of distrust, dictating that teachers cannot be permitted to develop and administer their own quizzes and tests (now titled as generic “assessments”) or grade their own students’ examinations. The development of plans, choice of lessons and the materials to be employed are increasingly expected to be common to all teachers in a given subject. This approach not only strangles creativity, it smothers the development of critical thinking in our students and assumes a one-size-fits-all mentality more appropriate to the assembly line than to the classroom. Teacher planning time has also now been so greatly eroded by a constant need to “prove up” our worth to the tyranny of APPR (through the submission of plans, materials and “artifacts” from our teaching) that there is little time for us to carefully critique student work, engage in informal intellectual discussions with our students and colleagues, or conduct research and seek personal improvement through independent study. We have become increasingly evaluation and not knowledge driven. Process has become our most important product, to twist a phrase from corporate America, which seems doubly appropriate to this case.
Take some time to educate yourself if you have children or grandchildren who will be impacted by this. If you follow Spunky on Facebook you can read what she has written about how this mindset is filtering into even homeschool and/or Christian curriculum. Do not assume that because your child attends a Christian school or is homeschooled he/she is safe from this. If you want to know the status of Common Core adoption in your state, go to Truth in American Education and download the map in the sidebar.
And perhaps this cartoon I shared on Facebook sums it up best. If this is what it means for Caroline to be left behind, I’m all for it.