As I write this I am not yet 40 years old. But I’ve been paying attention to politics for more than half my life, some 20 years now. I’ve studied the history of the United States, world history, and history from various other perspectives. In Marxist thought, very popular among intellectuals and college students, history and life in the world today MUST be viewed through the lens of oppression. What the oppressors have and the oppressed don’t have is as much about wealth as it is about power. But what should we do when the oppressors pretend to be the liberators?
In a society such as the United States we have the paradoxical mix of those trying to throw off oppression by using oppression. In a society which constantly claims to value diversity we have a great deal of public (meaning government) pressure to conform. The latest episode in this saga to make the world a better place is in education.
Common Core is not about diversity. In fact it seeks to stamp out diversity. It’s all about standardizing education so as to make education the same everywhere in the country. This is the antithesis of diversity. But don’t we need standards in education? Of course, which is why NO ONE is arguing against having education standards. But there are standards which encourage ingenuity and exploration, and there are standards which stifle that same creativity. That’s part of the problem. The honest criticism of the Common Core initiative is met with hyperbole and other dishonest defenses. Critics of this initiative are often accused of opposing standards, and instead preferring to keep standards at their historically abysmal lows – which of course no one does.
The Washington Post has an interesting article on this very issue from November 2013 by Valerie Strauss. Strauss’s article begins like this:
A public school teacher in Delaware wrote the following moving piece but asked not to be identified out of fear of retaliation.
The stage is set here. An education professional reveals to us that honest debate is not welcome on matters of the Common Core initiative. That’s nothing new. Efforts to “reform” education frequently fail to do anything but raise education funding, while the quality of education constantly diminishes. Honest debate about education has not been permitted in America for decades, with the education establishment and controllers of education dollars being the worst at attacking honest criticism of the system. Strauss continues:
It explains what is happening to many teachers who are being given scripted lessons aligned to the Common Core State Standards by their principals and district superintendents. Note that this teacher is not opposed to standards. It’s an important point, as critics of the Common Core’s implementation in many school districts have been accused of being opposed to standards and wanting to keep the “status quo.”
In my mind, dishonest defense of an idea automatically makes the idea suspect. There could be good reasons for the deception, on the other hand there could be only bad reasons. Either way, it should be enough to remind us that thinking people don’t blindly accept the official story of either side. In this case, I don’t accept the reactionary accusation that Common Core critics just want the “status quo” what ever that’s supposed to mean. So who are the critics and what are they actually saying about Common Core? Strauss’s article continues:
I was taught in teacher’s college that each student had an individual learning style, and that my job as a teacher was to discover each child’s pathway to learning and help them to embark on that path. My calling was to meet the needs of the child.
Some years I witnessed the growth in the year I actually taught the student. Many times I simply planted the seed that another teacher watered and yet another reaped the harvest. Teaching, for me, has always been about the children. Their learning. Their growth. Their future.
I used to do many fun, innovative projects with my students. My students have owned and managed their own businesses, written children’s books and read them to younger students, done year-long literature studies on specialized topics, hosted project fairs, and an array of other student-created, choice- driven projects. They have designed, researched, written and read beyond their peers. My high school students were required to read 25 novels per year…yes, even the ones with learning disabilities could meet this goal with the help of assistive technology. Meeting and exceeding standards has always been my goal.
Last year, however, my performance appraisal listed me as “satisfactory.” What has changed? I’m still me. I still bring the passion, dedication, and years of experience to the classroom that I always have.
What has changed is Common Core State Standards. I was given a curriculum and told by my administration to teach it “word-for-word.” In a meeting with my administration, I was reprimanded with “Don’t forget, standards drive our instruction.”
I’ve seen many news stories about parent concerns about Common Core and now a growing body of criticism from teachers all saying Common Core is not accomplishing what we were promised, things like making students better prepared to live life in the global market place. Strauss continues quoting the Delaware teacher:
Standards drive instruction. Data determines effectiveness. Positive outcomes for students requires proof.
If I don’t supply that proof, I’m not an effective teacher. Period. And my administration has warned me that my job depends on this proof.
I can’t do projects with my students anymore because I have to teach the curriculum word-for word, and I am only allowed to use standards-based assessments (which I must create myself). It doesn’t matter how my students learn best. It doesn’t matter that the Common Core State Standards assume a steady progression of skills that my students have not been formerly taught. It doesn’t matter that my students arrive at my door with a host of factors that I cannot control…their home situations, their former schooling, their attitudes toward school and learning and themselves, the neighborhood they live in, whether they are English Language Learners or have special needs, or whether they have just broken up with their girlfriend in the cafeteria. All those factors also affect student performance, but none of that matters. What matters is how my students perform on the state test. (And I must STOP teaching for 6 weeks in the spring to make sure our students pass that test.)
I’m not opposed to standards, it’s the standards BASED part that I have issue with.
My students like to tell me that I’m old school. They are right. I’m from the school of teaching CHILDREN, not standards. I’m from the school of student needs, not student data. I’m from the school of thinking and discovery and choice; not canned, watered-down, one-size-fits-all, global curricula.
So now we see coercion and threatening the livelihood of teachers are techniques implemented to defend and promote Common Core. If Common Core is such a grand thing why are these methods necessary to defend it? Better yet, why are an increasing number of teachers willing to speak about against it, even if doing so threatens their jobs?
In the United States we’ve all been taught diversity is essential for a healthy society. We need people of differing backgrounds and perspectives and opinions to be allowed to offer their way of doing and thinking to the rest of society. We are told this type of freedom enriches us all. Ironcially, what is called diversity is actually a form of competition. Different ideas are offered and we get to choose which ones we like and don’t like, and we can use those ideas how we see fit in our own lives.
But now we are being told diversity is a bad thing in education. We need an elite group of unknown people with mythic level expertise to direct education standards for us all from on high. Common Core is an effort to homogenize education, which is not diversity. It’s one thing to say there is chaos in education (which there is, and for many reasons). But there’s also been a method to the madness. Different states try different things in education. They put various ideas into practice and then we compare the results. But the creators of Common Core think they know best. These self appointed experts pretend they have figured out the only right way to do things for students. Data driven education is the standard; not student driven, not parent driven, not teacher driven. All students are to be treated as cogs in this perfect education machine. Apparently, input from parents or teachers is not welcome.
If you’ve asked yourself what all this data is used for, you might want to look at this article for some food for thought. The intent behind data driven education may not be as pure as we’ve been led to believe.