Cognitive Privilege

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I’ve been wondering lately if there is such a thing as cognitive privilege and what role it might play in the Common Core debate?

Is it possible that there are highly intelligent individuals who lack the empathy, experience, and wisdom to “see” and understand the academic challenges and struggles faced by disadvantaged and learning disabled students? These individuals mistakenly believe that all students have the cognitive ability and a responsibility to learn and test the way they do.

Educators encourage their students to learn how to think for themselves while a cognitively privileged person believes students should be taught to think the way they do.

“David Coleman stood at a podium reciting poetry. After reading Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” a classic example of the villanelle form, Coleman wanted to know why green is the only color mentioned in the poem, why Thomas uses the grammatically incorrect go gentle instead of go gently, and how the poet’s expression of grief is different from Elizabeth Bishop’s in her own villanelle, “One Art.”

“Kids don’t wonder about these things,” Coleman told his audience, a collection of 300 public-school English teachers and administrators. “It is you as teachers who have this obligation” to ask students “to read like a detective and write like an investigative reporter.”

Dana Goldstein, “The Schoolmaster” The Atlantic 9/19/12

Educators help their students to become independent thinkers while cognitively privileged people will often demand that students are trained to be text-dependent thinkers.

There has been a lot of focus on teacher accountability and the importance of every child having a highly effective teacher. From my experience, one of the most important qualities and essential “skill” of a good teacher is the capacity to have empathy for students and even their parents.

I have criticized David Coleman and his infamous statement expressing disregard for thoughts and feelings. Coleman played a powerful role in development of the Common Core Standards and from my perspective, the Standards reflect his lack of understanding or concern for the needs of cognitively delayed and learning disabled students. David Coleman clearly has a passion for close reading and not surprisingly the Common Core Standards demand that all students learn to read and think this way.

In a recent commentary on the accreditation of Wheaton College, David Coleman stated…

“Reading well is at once a powerful and a fragile practice. In our time, the technology of interruption has outpaced the technology of concentration. It takes a certain reverent respect for what an artist has made to give the work sufficient attention (and love) to allow its full depth to emerge.

Attentive study also requires daily work. The report Academically Adrift documents that as many as 35 percent of college students study less than five hours a week. On average, students are studying only 12 to 13 hours a week; this is half as much as a full-time college student spent studying in 1960. One of the saddest clichés (or excuses) I often hear is that “the most important learning in college happens outside the classroom.” What a shocking capitulation — to lose the vitality of the classroom conversation as the main event of college life, as the place where careful daily preparation meets the intense engagement of fellow students and teachers.”

David Coleman, “No, Wheaton College’s Accreditation Should Not Be Revoked” 7/30/14

If cognitive privilege does exist, David Coleman is clearly it’s poster child, and this might be the reason he does not “see” or understand the challenges faced by nontraditional college students that could impact the amount of time they have to study…

If you picture the average college student as an 18-22 year-old who lives on campus, attends day classes, and is up until the wee hours of the night, you may need to readjust your thinking…

Ask most people to describe the typical college student and you’ll probably hear something about a recent high school graduate, someone in their early 20s who lives on or close to campus, and whose life is a mix of daytime classes and campus social activities. Walk into the library at many of our institutions, and that is a description of the people we are likely to see.

But the reality is that the traditional 18-22 year-old student is now the minority in higher education.According to the National Center for Education Statistics there are 17.6 million undergraduates. Thirty-eight percent of those enrolled in higher education are over the age of 25 and 25 percent are over the age of 30. The share of all students who are over age 25 is projected to increase another twenty-three percent by 2019…

According to a recent national report titled “Pathways to Success,” the most significant challenge is retention. One of the three defining characteristics (the other two are age and socioeconomic background) of a nontraditional student is the presence of an at-risk factor, such as  working full-time, raising a child as a single parent or lacking a traditionally earned high school diploma…

Traditional students may be taking 5 or 6 years to graduate these days, but add up the barriers confronting nontraditional college students and it’s clear that higher education institutions will be challenged to create the support systems needed to help them persist to graduation…

To improve what we know about these students, governments need to develop better tracking systems for data collection. Other recommendations in the report suggest putting nontraditional students into special cohorts for group support, shorter class terms that accommodate individuals balancing work and family, a hybrid learning experience that mixes online and onsite classes, better coordinated systems that simplify access to libraries, tutoring and technology support, mentors and life coaching to help overcome dispositional barriers, bridge programs to facilitate access for high school dropouts and flexible exit and entry points to accommodate family and job situations…”

Steven Bell, “Nontraditional Students Are the New Majority” | From the Bell Tower 3/8/12

David Coleman may wax nostalgic about his days at Wheaton and “the vitality of the classroom conversation as the main event of college life”  but his vision of college readiness is out of focus considering the growth of online classes and the special needs of nontraditional students.

Coleman does not appreciate the importance of informal learning outside the college classroom as he stated, “One of the saddest clichés (or excuses) I often hear is that “the most important learning in college happens outside the classroom.” 

David Coleman might reconsider his views on student learning if he had the opportunity to read my previous post citing a recent Gallup-Purdue study that learning experiences outside the college classroom are very important for career readiness..

And if graduates had an internship or job in college where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled as well…”

Higher Standards alone will not solve America’s student achievement problem. The Common Core emphasis on grit, rigor, and independent mastery reveals a lack of awareness and understanding regarding the academic, social, and emotional challenges of diverse learners. David Coleman may be determined to properly educate America’s youth, but he clearly lacks the capacity or desire to understand them.

I welcome constructive dialogue with people who may not agree with me, as I will very often learn from someone with a different perspective that I had not considered.

That said, there is not much to be gained from engaging in dialogue with individuals who are not interested or concerned with what other people think or feel.

Wouldn’t be proper Blogging etiquette to introduce a new term without providing a definition….

Cognitive Privilege; The advantages and benefits of possessing advanced cognitive skills and abilities; person may not be aware or recognize these benefits. Many cognitively privileged people believe that learning must be demanded and required in the classroom rather than discovered and acquired.

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10 thoughts on “Cognitive Privilege

  1. Regardless of how I feel about the cc, “grit, rigor and independen(ce)” are part of the life blood of America. We are a nation of self-loathing (or self-celebrating) Puritans. Perhaps I say this as a Lit. Teacher, but we need to realistic about much of where this comes from. There is an entire narrative that is being addressed here.

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