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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PISA Envy

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Tests confirm…ed reformers are suffering from impaired judgement and diminished critical thinking skills due to an acute case of PISA envy.

Ed reformers should reconsider their admiration for education systems that prepare young people to live and work in closed societies that don’t value creativity, freedom of expression, and independent thinking.

In a free and open democratic society education should serve the needs and interests of students, rather than data miners, corporations, or the state.

Common Core may “promise” deeper learning and critical thinking but the sterilized and standardized curriculum of scripted modules, discipline of thought, and continuous test prep would be more appropriate for classrooms in nations that expect conformity and require obedience from their citizens and workers.

In their quest for higher PISA scores, other nations will cultivate compliance and competition in the classroom rather than creativity and collaboration so that students willingly attend after-hours tutoring, Saturday classes, and even hook themselves up to amino acid IV drips to boost energy levels during long study sessions.

iv-drips-2The significant differences between a vast and geographically diverse continental nation like the United States and smaller land-locked or island nations like Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore etc. will most certainly account for a dramatic difference in the career paths available to students.

Career readiness in America should be about preparing students for the wide array of vocational opportunities our country has to offer including the arts, science, health care, manual trades, conservation, forestry, culinary, military, public service, hospitality, ranching, dairy farming, equestrian, criminal justice, human services, engineering etc.

Trying to model our school programs based on the rigid education systems in countries that do not have such a variety of career choices and vocational paths is foolish and not in the best interest of our students or our nation.

Education programs in smaller nations that are not as geographically and culturally diverse and with more restrictive governments will naturally focus on standardized curriculum and much narrower academic skill sets and job skills because students in these nations have more limited social, political, and vocational options.

As far as the ed reformers love affair with data, rather than comparing the Reading and Math PISA scores of say Singapore or China to the United States, why not compare their Human Rights Watch “scores” to the United States?…

“Chinese people had no say in the selection of their new leaders, highlighting that despite the country’s three decades of rapid modernization, the government remains an authoritarian one-party system that places arbitrary curbs on freedom of expression, association, religion, prohibits independent labor unions and human rights organizations, and maintains party control over all judicial institutions. The government also censors the press, internet, and publishing industry, and enforces highly repressive policies in ethnic minority areas in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Inner Mongolia.”

Human Rights Watch World Report 2013: China

“The Singapore government in 2012 continued to sharply restrict basic rights to free expression, peaceful assembly, and association. However, there were small signs of progress in other areas, including changes in mandatory death penalty laws, and limited improvements in protecting the rights of migrant workers and combating human trafficking.”

Human Rights Watch World Report 2013: Singapore

If ed reformers insist on comparing the academic performance of American students to young people in other nations, then they should be careful not to include those education systems that primarily serve the math, reading, and science needs of restrictive governments in nations with more limited career opportunities.

Preparing American students for the wide variety of career opportunities in our nation requires a customized and vigorous curriculum focused on student interests and designed to increase academic, emotional, social, and vocational skills rather than a standardized and common curriculum focused on a narrow set of Math and ELA Standards and intended to increase PISA scores.

People learn through experimentation and experience. They acquire knowledge and skills by taking risks and testing things, not taking tests.

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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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Build Your Dream

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The lessons the Common Core teaches our students about achieving success in school, work, and life are misleading, and the empty rhetoric about college and career readiness is misguided.

The Common Core evaluates student competency and proficiency in regards to a very narrow and shallow set of learning standards.

This test-centric and data-driven approach to learning is more about repeatedly measuring student skills than actually cultivating them.

While competent and proficient workers are often retained and maintained by employers, it is imaginative and courageous risk-takers who will advance and succeed by creating their own opportunities to learn and lead.

“Now today, I’m going to give you the six rules of success. But before I start, I just wanted to say these are my rules. I think that they can apply to anyone, but that is for you to decide, because not everyone is the same. There are some people that just like to kick back and coast through life and others want to be very intense and want to be number one and want to be successful. And that’s like me…”

~ Arnold Schwarzenegger, “Six Rules for Success” University of Southern California, May 15, 2009

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

Dare To Dream

A dreamer is one who can only find his way by moonlight,

and his punishment is that he sees the dawn before the rest of the world.

~Oscar Wilde

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The Kid (Buddy Mondlock)

©1984 by EMI April Music, Inc./Sparking Gap Music (ASCAP)

I’m the kid who ran away with the circus

Now I’m watering elephants

But I sometimes lie awake in the sawdust

Dreaming I’m in a suit of light

Late at night in the empty big top

I’m all alone on the high wire

“Look he’s working without a net this time.

He’s a real death defy-er!”

I’m the kid who always looked out the windows

Failing tests in geography

But I’ve seen things far beyond just the school yard

Distant shores of exotic lands

There’re the spires of the Turkish Empire

It’s six months since we made land fall

Riding low with the spice of India

Through Gibraltar we’re rich men all!

I’m the kid who thought we’d someday be lovers

Always held out that time would tell

Time was talking — guess I just wasn’t listening

No surprise if you know me well

As we’re walking toward the train station

There’s a whispering rainfall

‘Cross the boulevard you slip your hand in mine

In the distance the train calls

I’m the kid who has this habit of dreaming

Sometimes gets me in trouble too

But the truth is I could no more stop dreaming

Than I could make them all come true

 

Learning Through Play

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“Learning through play with “hands-on, minds-on” approaches (not workbooks) is a powerful way forward. Play gives children space to dream, discover, improvise, and challenge convention. It’s crucial to social, emotional, cognitive and even physical development, helping them grow up “better adjusted, smarter and less stressed.” We know this.

So, where did play go?

Over the last three decades, while schoolchildren K-12 have become better test-takers, they’ve also become less imaginative, according to many experts in education, including Kyung Hee Kim, a professor of education at the College of William and Mary. 

In 2011, she analyzed scores from the Torrance Tests of Creative Thinking and found that: “children have become less emotionally expressive, less energetic, less talkative and verbally expressive, less humorous, less imaginative, less unconventional, less lively and passionate, less perceptive, less apt to connect seemingly irrelevant things, less synthesizing, and less likely to see things from a different angle.”…

If we want a better, smarter planet, we need to change the way the next generation children are taught. Allowing more students to grow up without those prosocial, exploratory skills, leaving them unable to reach their potential, would be criminal.

Play can deliver.

What are we waiting for?”

~ John Converse Townshend, “Why Playful Learning Is The Key To Prosperity” Forbes 4/10/14

Sir William Osler and His Inspirational Words

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It is much more important to know what sort of a patient has a disease than what sort of a disease a patient has. ~ William Osler

Too many leaders and promoters of the education reform movement are pontificating prognosticators rather than practiced practictioners.

For many reformers, their view and vision of education is shaped and informed by business experience and their ability to increase corporate earnings, rather than actual classrooom experience and years of cultivating student learning.

Reformers view education more as a digitized, mechanized, and standardized delivery system, and the classroom is an artificial learning environment where personalized products will engage delayed and disinterested learners.

Reformers mistakenly believe that focusing on high quality standards, standardized testing, and data-driven instruction will increase student achievement and prepare them for the social and emotional challenges of college and careers.

Success in the classroom and the workplace is much less about close reading and staying connected to text as it is about the ability to maintain close relationships and connect with other humans.

The Common Core emphasizes the development of hard skills so our students can compete with foreign students while employers increasingly desire and demand employees with soft skills who can collaborate with foreign workers.

Entrusting David Coleman to manage and direct the process of creating the Common Core State Standards has resulted in a sterile and standardized approach to teaching that is more data-driven and test-centered than desire-driven and learner-centered.

Reformers seem to have a huge blind spot when it comes to their continued praise and support for Coleman and the empathy-less classroom practices and policies he advocates for our children.

Hard to believe these parents would entrust their own children with a babysitter, tutor, coach, mentor, doctor, counselor, or teacher who informed them,  “As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a sh#@ about what you feel or what you think.”

Can only imagine how different the Common Core State Standards would be if the chief architect had been Sir Ken Robinson or Sir William Osler…

“…Perhaps Osler’s greatest contribution to medicine was to insist that [medical] students learned from seeing and talking to patients and the establishment of the medical residency…

He liked to say, “He who studies medicine without books sails an uncharted sea, but he who studies medicine without patients does not go to sea at all.”

His best-known saying was “Listen to your patient, he is telling you the diagnosis.”

Source: Sir William Osler and His Inspirational Words 

Ed reformers misguided and misplaced efforts to increase student achievement will not succeed if they continue to support rigorous and standardized rules for learning rather than a more vigorous and vibrant approach in the classroom that embraces the philosophy….learning rules!

Hell! there ain’t no rules around here! We are tryin’ to accomplish somep’n! ~ Thomas Edison

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