Like Poseidon’s Trident, I have a feeling that education is coming to a point. Sometimes it feels like Government wants to wield this thing to exert their will, and then I read about Michelle Rhee of StudentsFirst and her attempt to bridge the gap between Big Brother and the taxpayers. People (smart, dumb and everyone in between) have spouted out opinions, facts (some with apostrophes) and dogma, for millenia. And we still have issues. Obviosly, we haven’t quite figured it out yet.
Figured out what? Like Douglas Adams writes in his “Hitchhiker” trilogy of five books, we do not even know what the question is. But we know the answer, darnit! 🙂
First I’ll start with Common Core Standards. Then I’ll talk a little about a pilot curriculum being introduced in our high schools. And then we will wrap up quickly with pedagogy. But here is the short of it: we must surround our children with love, and out of that love to gird them with the tools they require to go forth and fix all the stupid mistakes we have marred their path with. 🙂 We must be an extended family – not merely a large mob of individuals doing what is best for certain other individuals, but seeking what is best for the whole. Who determines what that is? Ah… that is a crucial question. I believe the ubiquitous “Golden Rule” kinda lays it out for us, in my opinion.
Common Core Standards
What is this? So glad you asked – others better than I have assembled quite a volume of responses to that question. You could start with this helpful NPR article, which will guide you towards the Ohio PTA’s response. The basic idea starts off sounding great – clear, concise guidelines on how to get from point A to point B. Great! No brainer, right? Well…. the problem is that the path is not exactly that clear. All teachers are to teach the same general principles, but there is no indication as to exactly how that happens when you have 30 kids, a veritable soup of backgrounds, experiences, proficiencies, handicaps (I say that in the generic sense) and distractions.
And what do you do if you do not agree with the destination, the “point B”. I looked at the planning guide for High School math, and one of the examples is the quadratic equation. Yeah, I think the last time I used the quadratic equation was on a test in … oh, high school. So very practical to my day-to-day life.
Having a Common Core certainly sounds like a Good Thing(r). It makes perfect sense if the warm bodies in the educational facilities are on an assembly line waiting to be filled up with skills so they can plug into the working world. Is that what we have? Is that what we want?
Unit 4 will be testing out a new curriculum developed by Community Informatics at the University of Illinois (a better link might be to the Youth Community Informatics). The initiative has strong ties the Graduate School of Library Information and Sciences, and the curriculum was developed by Dr. Bertrand (Chip) Bruce with help from folks like Dr. Ann Bishop. I have not yet found the pilot curriculum online; I was provided a hardcopy to look over. And don’t ask me to scan it in – me and the home computer are not on good terms. 🙂
Based on what little I have gleaned over the past few months, Community Informatics (CI) draws heavily on John Dewey, seems (to me) related to Asset-Based Community Development (ABCD) and has flavors of Myles Horton and Paulo Freire. I know some readers are anti-Freire, so maybe we can have some good discussions about that. Anyway, this whole thing excited me. After reading through the pilot documentation, I do have some questions that carry over from my critique of Common Core – essentially, “Great, we have this awesome plan. How do we actually implement it?” After talking with a local high school teacher who intends to be teaching this new program next year, I believe those steps will be fleshed out over the summer.
The pilot has 20 modules crafted around the 5-step Inquiry Cycle. The first 10 modules focus on “Youth as Social Inquirer”, the last 10 focus on “Youth as Social Activist”. Perhaps what I like most about this method is that I see myself learning and striving in life along these routes, but in a much looser and less structured way. Which leads me to….
First, I am using a basic definition of “how you teach”. [*ducks as all the English teachers start throwing tomatoes*] Teachers deal with Real Life(r). It doesn’t matter if you have the world’s best curriculum, teaching here in Champaign means that you are going to have to teach a wide variety of learning styles, personality types and various levels of behavioral patterns. Personally (and I could be very wrong – please tell me if I am), I do not believe there is any one-size-fits-all. As much as I love the Pilot Curriculum and all its novel ideas (which probably date back to Plato for all I know), some kids will do well in that kind of situation, some will not.
So what to do about it?
I am convinced that, by and large, our teachers are striving mightily to do their best. I am convinced that they need support from both the Administration and the parents (and to a broader extent, the community). And please note, I am not insinuating that they are not getting that support. I am all for trying out new things to see what works as long as we have the strength and humility to admit when things are not working out well.
I am also convinced that their is beauty all around us. We often see the dirt, the smell of decay and other things that offend us. Let us look instead for that which is truly good, noble and honorable. For there is much. We have amazing, talented kids. We have wonderful, hard-working parents. We have generous volunteers, committed and passionate elected officials, tireless teachers and crazy awesome professionals. We have people like you.
PS – I have to give a shout out for the Tae Kwon Do movement going on. One local ATA that I know of is mindblowing wonderful; they engage students of, literally, all ages physically, mentally and intellectually. They label it “anti-bullying”, but they go so much further. They teach respect, using your head, being confident, knowing yourself and your self worth. Why do I mention the ATA in a post about curriculum, pedagogy and standards? Go to one of the classes and find out for yourself. I wish I went to school like that.