Common Core For An Uncommon Nation

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Expecting students to spend countless hours trying to solve Common Core math word problems is not the same as helping them to become more effective problem solvers.

Insisting students think critically about text that they must stay “connected to” is not the same as helping them to develop critical thinking skills.

That explains how students in China and other authoritarian nations may excel at critical thinking on the PISA exam yet grow up to be compliant and obedient citizens who do not challenge oppressive government policies.

It is not conformity that has been the engine to power America’s economy but creativity. It is courageous inventors, innovators, and entrepreneurs who have advanced our economy over the years.

These leaders don’t fit educational molds, they break them. They don’t learn or think about problems the same way as everyone else. They will often improvise and innovate and they are more inclined to break with tradition and “rules”, than they are to follow them.

Seems silly almost trivial to continually fret over American students’ international rankings on the PISA test, when American employers continue to bemoan the lack of soft skills in their new hires.

A much more meaningful test of college readiness and global competitiveness would measure student creativity, courage, integrity, curiosity empathy, imagination, leadership, optimism, self-reliance, self-confidence, risk-taking etc.

Common Core evangelists have a selective love affair with data as they choose to focus on certain data points that lend credence to their “sky is falling” assessment of American education while ignoring other more significant data points.

Ed reformers continually praise the Chinese, Japanese, and Korean education systems because of their students’ consistently high PISA scores but they have publicly expressed little interest or concern regarding data revealing higher suicide rates in these nations and even among Asian Americans.

Here’s a good Common Core math problem;

How many new jobs will actually be created for all the Common Core college graduates when our monthly jobs report continues to show steady growth in service industry such as retail, fast food, hospitality, transportation along with construction and manual trades as the traditionally middle class and college graduate positions in government, finance, and other professions continue to decline or stagnate?

Why are the ed reformers so focused on PISA scores and the supposed education crisis in America, but they pay little attention to data revealing a growing student loan crisis in America….perhaps it is not too late to add financial literacy standards to the Common Core?

Public schools in America should primarily serve the academic, emotional, social, and vocational needs of our children and uphold the political and social values and ideals that gave birth to our nation.

Ed reformers efforts to impose a one size fits all standardized education program across this country demonstrates that they are willing to disregard and sacrifice basic democratic beliefs and principles with respect to public education and individual freedom for the sake of higher student scores on an international skills test.

This misguided Machiavellian approach to education reform makes as much sense as requiring driver education classes for all Amish students because not enough Amish children have been taking and passing driver’s tests.

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Learning To Care

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If you just learn a single trick, Scout, you’ll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view…Until you climb inside of his skin and walk around in it.

~ Atticus Finch, ( Gregory Peck) “To Kill A Mockingbird”

Passion and Purpose

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David Coleman has made it perfectly clear there is no “room” in the Common Core for such trivial matters as students’ thoughts, feelings, and personal reflections.

Coleman may claim his emotionless Common Core will improve the career readiness of students but there is ample evidence that what employees think and feel has a direct impact on worker engagement and job satisfaction.

“Best places to work” companies don’t just have ping pong tables and free lunch, they have a “ soul” which makes work exciting and energizing.

They invest in great management and leadership. They train and develop people so they can grow. And they define their business in a way that brings meaning and purpose to the organization…

Now is the time to think holistically about your company’s work environment and consider what you can do to create passion, engagement, and commitment. It may be “the issue” we face in business over the next few years.”

Josh Bersin, “Why Companies Fail To Engage Today’s Workforce: The Overwhelmed Employee” Forbes, 3/15/14

Hard to understand how a passionless set of standards will improve the career readiness of students at a time when record numbers of employees are reporting feeling disengaged and dispassionate about their jobs…

Gallup’s data shows 30% of employees Engaged, 52% Disengaged, 18% Actively Disengaged.  “These latest findings indicate that 70% of American workers are ‘not engaged’ or ‘actively disengaged’ and are emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive,” states the report.

“Gallup estimates that these actively disengaged employees cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity.  They are more likely to steal from their companies, negatively influence their coworkers, miss workdays, and drive customers away…

Though higher education generally leads to higher earnings, it by no means guarantees higher engagement.  Consider the data: College graduates in the survey were 28% Engaged, 55% Not Engaged, 17% Actively Disengaged.  High school graduates were 32% Engaged, 49% Not Engaged, 19% Actively Disengaged.”

Victor Lipman, “Surprising, Disturbing Facts From The Mother Of All Employee Engagement Surveys” Forbes 9/23/13

K-12 education programs that claim to prepare students for college and careers should be focused more on cultivating a wide array of social and emotional competencies that are transferable workforce skills rather than continually testing a narrow set of measurable Math and ELA skills.

Learning should be a self-directed journey of discovery. Students should be “free to learn” as they explore their interests and pursue their passions rather than simply following a curriculum map and standardized pathway to each Common Core learning standard.

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“Another turning point, a fork stuck in the road
Time grabs you by the wrist, directs you where to go
So make the best of this test and don’t ask why
It’s not a question but a lesson learned in time

It’s something unpredictable but in the end is right
I hope you had the time of your life”

Learning should be passion-driven rather than data-driven and focus on the needs of students rather than the needs of the tests. Classroom activities should provide numerous opportunities for students to connect with their dreams, feelings, interests, and other people rather than demand students read closely and stay connected to text.

Data-driven programs focus primarily on testing and measuring student knowledge while passion-driven programs provide numerous learning experiences that interest students and cultivate student wisdom.

The following excerpt from a 2010 valedictory speech reveals the consequences of standardized and test-centric education programs, unfortunately David Coleman is not interested in students thoughts and feelings…

“…While others sat in class and doodled to later become great artists, I sat in class to take notes and become a great test-taker. While others would come to class without their homework done because they were reading about an interest of theirs, I never missed an assignment. 

While others were creating music and writing lyrics, I decided to do extra credit, even though I never needed it. So, I wonder, why did I even want this position? Sure, I earned it, but what will come of it? When I leave educational institutionalism, will I be successful or forever lost?

I have no clue about what I want to do with my life; I have no interests because I saw every subject of study as work, and I excelled at every subject just for the purpose of excelling, not learning.

And quite frankly, now I’m scared…”

Erica Goldson, “Here I Stand” 6/25/10 Valedictory Speech

Many education reformers do not understand  that being “ready” for college and careers is not just about the subjects learned in school, but did you learn how to live?

In 2014 Jim Carrey gave the commencement speech at Maharishi University of Management that challenged students to overcome their fears and follow their hearts…

“Fear is going to be a player in your life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about your pathway to the future, but all there will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear.

So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the universe for it. I’m saying, I’m the proof that you can ask the universe for it — please!…

I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love

You are ready and able to do beautiful things in this world and after you walk through those doors today, you will only ever have two choices: love or fear. Choose love, and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart.”

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What we want is to see the child in pursuit of knowledge,

and not knowledge in pursuit of the child.

~ George Bernard Shaw

Follow Your Heart

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Excerpts from Jim Carrey’s 2014 Commencement Speech at M.U.

“Fear is going to be a player in life, but you get to decide how much. You can spend your whole life imagining ghosts, worrying about the pathway to the future, but all it will ever be is what’s happening here, and the decisions that we make in this moment, which are based in either love or fear. 

So many of us choose our path out of fear disguised as practicality. What we really want seems impossibly out of reach and ridiculous to expect, so we never dare to ask the Universe for it.

I can tell you from experience, the effect you have on others is the most valuable currency there is. My father could have been a great comedian, but he didn’t believe that that was possible for him, and so he made a conservative choice. 

Instead he got a safe job as an accountant, and when I was 12 years old, he was let go from that safe job, and our family had to do whatever we could to survive.

I learned many great lessons from my father, not the least of which, was that you can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance on doing what you love.

That peace that we are after lies somewhere beyond personality. Your need for acceptance can make you invisible in this world. Don’t let anything stand in the way of the light that shines through this form. Risk being seen in all of your glory.

You are ready and able to do beautiful things in this world, and as you walk through those doors today, you will only have two choices: love or fear. Choose love, and don’t ever let fear turn you against your playful heart.”

Reading fiction improves college and career readiness

From your parents you learn love and laughter and how to put one foot before the other. But when books are opened you discover that you have wings.

~ Helen Hayes 

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Common Core enthusiasts CLAIM that K-12 students need to read much more nonfiction and informational text if they are to be ready for college and careers.

These reformers must not have read the following informational texts that cite research and DATA suggesting a healthy “diet” of fiction provides plenty of “nourishment” and perhaps, better prepares our students for the cognitive, social, and emotional challenges of college and careers.

While comprehension of informational text is an essential skill for employees, it is the lack of soft skills and emotional intelligence that employers more often cite as, “The Real Reason New College Graduates Can’t Get Hired”.

“The imperative to try to understand others’ points of view — to be empathetic — is essential in any collaborative enterprise…

To bring the subject home, think about how many different people you interact with during the course of a given day — coworkers, clients, passing strangers, store clerks. Then think about how much effort you devoted to thinking about their emotional state or the emotional quality of your interaction.

It’s when we read fiction that we have the time and opportunity to think deeply about the feelings of others, really imagining the shape and flavor of alternate worlds of experience…”

~ Anne Kreamer, “The Business Case for Reading Novels” 1/11/12

“I’ve noticed for many years that executives I coach who only read non-fiction tend to be somewhat more two-dimensional in their perceptions of others and of situations; they seem to have fewer options to call upon when making decisions or solving problems…

The research Anne cites resolves my chicken-and-egg quandary: it seems that reading fiction improves your sensitivity to and appreciation of complex human situations; it provides a richer ‘toolkit’ of understanding from which to pull when making decisions and building relationships.

And as our business lives get more complex, faster-paced, less hierarchical and more dependent upon our ability to build support with those around us – that kind of toolkit becomes ever more critical to our success...”

~ Erika Andersen, “If You Want to Succeed in Business, Read More Novels” 5/31/12

“I was in China in 2007, at the first party-approved science fiction and fantasy convention in Chinese history. And at one point I took a top official aside and asked him Why? SF had been disapproved of for a long time. What had changed?

It’s simple, he told me. The Chinese were brilliant at making things if other people brought them the plans. But they did not innovate and they did not invent. They did not imagine. So they sent a delegation to the US, to Apple, to Microsoft, to Google, and they asked the people there who were inventing the future about themselves. And they found that all of them had read science fiction when they were boys or girls.

Fiction can show you a different world. It can take you somewhere you’ve never been. Once you’ve visited other worlds, like those who ate fairy fruit, you can never be entirely content with the world that you grew up in. Discontent is a good thing: discontented people can modify and improve their worlds, leave them better, leave them different…”

Neil Gaiman“Why our future depends on libraries, reading and daydreaming” 10/15/13

Can’t help but wonder if ed reformers penchant for doublethink, unsubstantiated claims, standardized education, and nonfiction, along with David Coleman’s infamous statement, “As you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a s%@# about what you feel or what you think.” are all inspired by fictional text?

Talk about your irony…in futuristic fictional literature, reading a book is portrayed as dangerous to society because it promotes creativity, dissent, feelings, individuality, and independent thought.

Fast forward to 2015 and the Common Core State Standards are used to closely monitor and regulate reading in the classroom in order to discipline student thoughts, (stay connected to text), limit choice, and discourage personal feelings and reflections.


“We must all be alike. Not everyone born free and equal, as the constitution says, but everyone made equal . . . A book is a loaded gun in the house next door. Burn it. Take the shot from the weapon. Breach man’s mind.”

~ Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

“In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality was tacitly denied by their philosophy.”

WAR IS PEACE
FREEDOM IS SLAVERY
IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH

~ 1984, George Orwell

“We really have to protect people from wrong choices.”

~The Giver, Lois Lowry

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What Does It Mean To Be Well Educated?

My mother said I must always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors. 

~ Maya Angelou

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Education should provide countless opportunities for students to discover their talents and pursue their passions, instead of being an obligation and competition to be “ready” for college and careers.

Schooling should be about students learning to love, being loved, and cultivating a love of learning, rather than students learning primarily for assessment.

It is far more important that students are free to learn in school and well educated, than subjecting them to continuous testing to determine if they have been educated well.

We always find time for what we truly love, one way or another.

Suppose further that love, being an inclusive spirit, refused to choose between Shakespeare and Toni Morrison (or Tony Bennett, for that matter), and we located our bliss in the unstable relationship between the two, rattling from book to book, looking for connections and grandly unconcerned about whether we’ve read “enough,” as long as we read what we read with love…

The whole world’s a classroom, and to really make it one, the first thing is to believe it is.

We need to take seriously the proposition that reflection and knowledge born out of contact with the real world, an education carpentered out of the best combination we can make of school, salon, reading, online exploration, walking the streets, hiking in the woods, museums, poetry classes at the Y, and friendship, may be the best education of all—not a makeshift substitute that must apologize for itself in the shadow of academe…

You get the idea. The American tradition, in learning as well as jazz and activism, is improvisatory.There are as many ways to become an educated American as there are Americans.

To fall short of your highest goals—mastering that imaginary “complete” reading list, say—is OK as long as you stuck to the struggle. And the joy.

~ Jon Spayde, “Learning in the Key of Life”, Utne Reader, 1998

When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life. 

~ John Lennon

Today many schools are eliminating vigorous extracurricular experiences that help students discover the ways they are “smart”, so they can devote more time to preparing students for rigorous standardized tests so the state can measure and compare how “smart” they are.
Ed reformers clearly fail to understand that for many people, success in life was less about how much they had learned in school, and more about whether they had learned how to live…

“Hope that you spend your days, but they all add up
And when that sun goes down, hope you raise your cup
Oh, I wish that I could witness all your joy and all your pain

Hope when the moment comes, you’ll say…

I, I did it all
I, I did it all
I owned every second that this world could give
I saw so many places, the things that I did
With every broken bone, I swear I lived…”

The difference between school and life? In school, you’re taught a lesson and then given a test. In life, you’re given a test that teaches you a lesson.

~ Tom Bodett

All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten

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“All I really need to know about how to live and what to do and how to be I learned in kindergarten. Wisdom was not at the top of the graduate-school mountain, but there in the sandpile at Sunday School. These are the things I learned:

Share everything.

Play fair.

Don’t hit people.

Put things back where you found them.

Clean up your own mess.

Don’t take things that aren’t yours.

Say you’re sorry when you hurt somebody.

Wash your hands before you eat.

Flush.

Warm cookies and cold milk are good for you.

Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.

Take a nap every afternoon.

When you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together.

Wonder. Remember the little seed in the Styrofoam cup: The roots go down and the plant goes up and nobody really knows how or why, but we are all like that.

Goldfish and hamsters and white mice and even the little seed in the Styrofoam cup – they all die. So do we.

And then remember the Dick-and-Jane books and the first word you learned – the biggest word of all – LOOK.

Everything you need to know is in there somewhere. The Golden Rule and love and basic sanitation. Ecology and politics and equality and sane living.

Take any one of those items and extrapolate it into sophisticated adult terms and apply it to your family life or your work or your government or your world and it holds true and clear and firm.

Think what a better world it would be if we all – the whole world – had cookies and milk about three o’clock every afternoon and then lay down with our blankies for a nap. Or if all governments had as a basic policy to always put things back where they found them and to clean up their own mess.

And it is still true, no matter how old you are – when you go out into the world, it is best to hold hands and stick together.”

Robert Lee Fulghum , “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” Ballantine Books, 2003 (1986, 1988)