Common Core Thoughts and More

I’ve been reading many tweets on Twitter about the Common Core. Some pro-Common Core, others decidedly opposed to the Common Core. I’ve read about some who agree that we need more accountability in schools while others think that we have enough. There is one thing for sure and that is that education is not nor will it ever be a “one size fits all” proposition.

Some of the greatest minds of the twentieth and twenty-first century have been people who didn’t really shine in the classroom. To name a few they include Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, Sergey Brin, and Steve Jobs. No one could possibly say that any of those individuals lack or lacked intellect. Quite the contrary. However, the genius that they possessed went largely untapped in school. Most of today’s education, like its forbears in an earlier time is based around the notion that you can somehow prepare children for success by teaching them a prescribed set of courses determined by a state or national board of experts.  In the abstract that assumption may have some validity but in reality it almost always fails the test. It fails not because we don’t have good teachers, or even better students and parents. It fails because human beings are infinitely variable and so are the communities from which they come. Skills and knowledge which might be appropriate in Los Angeles, Miami, Chicago or New York are not the same as those needed in Dixville Notch, Duke Center, and elsewhere. 

Measurement is important and any one who has ever taught loves to know that what they are teaching is actually being retained and applied by their students. However, incessant testing and evaluation produces incredible stress which actually undermines the educational process. Mahatma Gandhi once said, that “poverty is the worst form of violence.” I propose that incessant testing is yet another form of violence. 

In an age of dramatic societal upheaval today’s children need a place of sanctuary. Often times the only place of sanctuary is the school building and of course the classroom. Compulsory public education in the United States ought to be about imbuing students with the skills necessary to live and work in a free and democratic society. We need more emphasis on social and emotional learning and skills associated with that focus. 

Preparing today’s students for careers ought to focus on social and emotional learning skills along with reading, self-expression and basic computation. Today’s students will face a much different world than their parents and we cannot know for sure exactly what skill sets will be required except those skills encompassed in getting along in society. For those of you who think this is an overly utopian notion I beg you to spend some time on the front lines of education. Look at the damage being done to students and teachers by this pro-test agenda. Never have I seen the level of dissatisfaction nor stress in my 34 years of experience. Never have I seen a greater need for empathy and compassion all around. 

We need to promote community which nurtures students, parents, teachers, administrators, and the world at large. One of my favorite concepts comes from South Africa and it is called Ubuntu. Desmond Tutu offered this definition in his 1999 book.

"A person with Ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good, based from a proper self-assurance that comes from knowing that he or she belongs in a greater whole and is diminished when others are humiliated or diminished, when others are tortured or oppressed."

I hope that we can create openness and availability among our school communities. Such affirming communities can guide us into the future with success. Continuous testing and evaluation while noble in its purpose and theory is actually leading us in the opposite direction.  Namaste! 

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