Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Promise Made is a Debt Unpaid

A Promise Made is a Debt Unpaid

President Elect Trump made many promises during the campaign.  Many of which, even as President, he does not have the authority to keep.  One of those promises is to get rid of Common Core.  The problem with that is Common Core is not a federal program.  It is a curriculum established by the various state governors who saw the need for a common curriculum throughout the country.  Unlike some European countries, education has always been a local matter in the U.S.  As our society has become increasingly mobile and children move around the country with their parents, the issue of extreme differences in curriculum has become more of a problem.
Common Core was not the first attempt to create a shared curriculum throughout the land.  About thirty years ago, E.D. Hirsch sounded the call for a common curriculum in his book Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know.  Hirsch’s thesis is, and was, that more than skills and strategies, students need knowledge.  In his 1987 book he included an appendix of 5000 dates, places and ideas that students should learn in school.  He has argued that this shared knowledge base would lead to more equal opportunities for all students.  His 1987 book was a best seller.  At 88 he has published a new book.  Once again he is arguing that knowledge not process matters.  He notes that racial and socioeconomic achievement gaps remain.  Reading scores of 17 year olds have declined significantly since 1988.   Hirsh and those in the campaign, Knowledge Matters, argue that students do not bring enough knowledge to what they are reading in the higher grades and without that knowledge their comprehension of text drops. 
No Child Left Behind placed significant emphasis on math and reading, often to the exclusion of the arts and social studies.  The Every Student Succeeds Act places a much greater emphasis on a well-rounded education and lists subjects outside of reading and math that students should be studying. 
Hirsh argues that reading comprehension should be tested based on content knowledge that the students have been taught rather than teaching these skills in the abstract.  Because the framers of Common Core took the politically feasible way out, demanding skills but not content, there is no subject matter curriculum that all students learn.  Hirsch likes to cite the example of France.  Between 1977 and 1989 France had a national elementary curriculum that was content specific.  When that curriculum switched to a locally determined curriculum that focused on general skills such as “critical thinking” achievement declined across all demographics and social stratification increased. 
Then there is the question of the age of the internet.   Many teachers argue that teaching cultural literacy and knowledge based curriculum is not only boring but a waste of kids’ time especially given their digital access to knowledge.

So would it be good to dump the Common Core even if a President Trump could do that?   Would a curriculum based on cultural literacy be better?  And if so, whose culture would that be?  We have promised our children an education that will provide them a future-when will we pay up?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Together we Can Save the World

Together We can Save the World

Based on the results of the last election, it appears that most voters think our country and the world need saving.  We may disagree on what the right approach is but  we do seem to agree there is much to do.

Now that the voters and electoral college have chosen, there is still work to be done.  So if you are not willing to vote and then sit and let your voting do the working, here are some ideas for how each of us can do our part to save our country and the world.

First do justice.   You know the old Superman slogan, Truth, Justice and the American Way.  Remember that the American Way is justice.  Essentially that is looking at the world with a sense of fairness.  Innocent until proven guilty.  Treating others as we would like to be treated.   Give people a fair chance to show what they can do and contribute.  Don’t prejudge based on race, religion, ethnic background or sexual orientation.  Decide by the behaviors of each individual person.

Be righteous.   I am not suggesting any religiosity.  To be a righteous person is to be a good and moral person.   Morality is not aligned with any one religion or necessarily with any religion at all.   It means to live in a principled and honorable way.   Treat each other with honesty and decency, respect each individual’s humanity.  Don’t be over impressed with yourself so that you begin to believe that what you believe and how you act defines righteous.

These behaviors are critical for the success of our country and the world.  But since our time on this earth is time limited, the most important task is to teach these traits to our children.  We must raise good children.  They are our gift to the future.   Raising our children with good character in our schools, our homes and our communities can send forth a wave of change that can indeed change the world. Schools cannot hide in the corner of academics only.  Families cannot delegate this responsibility to schools.  Communities must count success as character not an accumulation of material wealth.   In this season of thanksgiving,  we need to be grateful for every child who demonstrates that he or she has learned these lessons.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What's it all about?

What’s it all about?

Our educational system is all about raising standards.   This almost universally means pushing academic goals on younger and younger students.   It also means adding more tests to measure whether or not our kids can be pushed to meet those new higher standards.
Some of the new standards require kids to perform at a level that is greater than typical cognitive development for their age range.  No matter, it is good for business to push higher standards and it is good for politicians as well.

We insist that all kids learn intermediate algebra.  Let’s just forget the fact that few will ever use what they have learned again.  We gorge on math and diet on social studies.  We have all but forgotten character in our students, our studies and in our national conversations.  Joseph Gauld, founder of the Hyde Schools, recently received the Sanford N. McDonnell Award for Lifetime Achievement in Character Education.  The award recognizes an educator’s commitment to teaching character. 

The academic content we teach our kids may be gone by the end of the day or the school year.  It may do them no good throughout their lives.  Yet good character will stand by them throughout their lives.  Citizens of good character will enhance our nation.  Almost all of our people carry around pocket computers known as mobile phones.  But seldom use the fact-checking potential they give us.  We accept what we are told no matter how preposterous.  Parents defend their children who have bullied others instead of seeking guidance as to how they can rectify this terrible behavior.  We do not value character so it is little surprise that there is so little of it.  Character development is the whole of what we should be doing in our schools.  Academic skills are a subset of that.

What’s it all about?  Unfortunately, schools have become places to navigate so we can get a job or into the college we want.   We have all but forgotten Aristotle’s words, “Educating the mind without educating the heart is no education at all.”   Until we believe this all the rising test scores will do nothing to give value to a high school diploma.