Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Why do we have schools and why do they need a common core?

Print Friendly and PDF Having read, seen, and heard a number of stories regarding Common Core and, more specifically, testing related to Common Core, I keep coming back to one nagging question: Why do we have schools?

I am not trying to be funny. I am really and truly asking WHY schools exist? Is it to train a work force? Is it to create an informed population? Is it to babysit children?

Here is a column from the JacksonHerald Today web site, from December 2010
What is the purpose of education? That question may seem obvious, but ask 100 people why schools exist and there will be 100 different opinions.

Among those opinions, a popular one is that education is for the training of workers in our economy. Indeed, over the last two decades secondary schools have increasingly put an emphasis on workforce development. A growth in vocational programs has ridden that wave and today is a large part of school programs.

But perhaps that idea has gone too far. Schools don’t exist just to train worker-bees for economic development. Students shouldn’t be viewed as mere “products” of an assembly line.

At their core, schools should prepare people to be constructive citizens. A part of that is the building of a common base of civic, cultural, social and political knowledge.

But all too often, that core is missing, either through neglect or extreme political correctness. The common body of knowledge has fragmented such that it really doesn’t exist.

The result is that schools are churning out people who have some specific technical skills, but no understanding of the larger world around them. They can’t balance a checkbook, evaluate political candidates, or understand information that is put into a historical context because they themselves have little historical context. And too many have no concept of how to express their ideas either verbally or in written form.

While schools tend to focus on language and math skills, that doesn’t seem to be working. Take a look at the terrible grammar and spelling by those who put comments on any of the various mainstreetnews.com websites — the inability to communicate clearly is obvious. And while some students do conquer math, many high school graduates can’t compute simple math formulas.

Maybe it’s time for school systems to focus less on developing worker-widgets and more on developing well-rounded citizens.
A more wordy dissertation can be found here  in an article from WholeSchooling.net.

Thomas Jefferson wrote to George Wythe (find it here):
I think by far the most important bill in our whole code is that for the diffusion of knowledge among the people. No other sure foundation can be devised, for the preservation of freedom and happiness...Preach, my dear Sir, a crusade against ignorance; establish & improve the law for educating the common people. Let our countrymen know that the people alone can protect us against these evils [tyranny, oppression, etc.] and that the tax which will be paid for this purpose is not more than the thousandth part of what will be paid to kings, priests and nobles who will rise up among us if we leave the people in ignorance.
Needless to say, we do have schools, we do have this entity called the Common Core having a strong impact, and we have people all over the place complaining about Common Core tests, and complaining that we have too many teachers "teaching to the test", as the saying goes. With that idea in mind, I do have to quote Diane Ravitch, who, in an article entitled "Why So Many Parents Hate the Common Core" on CNN Opinion (see it here), wrote "It is time to stop testing students on material they have not been taught."

I find it a bit enlightening to come across diametrically opposite complaints about the same thing: the Common Core is bad because it forces teachers to teach to the test, then tests on things that have not been taught. Which is it?  Actually, I believe the real basis for the dislike of Common Core is neither of those.  I have the sense that everybody who dislikes Common Core has his/her own rationale for that dislike, and the only reason those complaints sound so loud is because they have a common enemy. 

When New Yorkers complained to the New York State Education Department in the past, it was generally in regards to a local concern.  People in Oregon were little concerned, and probably largely unaware, about the complaints that surrounded the demise on Regents Competency Tests as New York went to a "Regents for all" standard with its Math A/Math B program. I cannot reverse that direction, since being an upstate New Yorker, very little news came about the status of the Oregon Department of Education.  Both states, however, are wrapped up in Common Core issues. (See here for Oregon and here for New York).

Should we have a common core? In some respects, yes, in other respects, no. Should there be some common knowledge between and among school graduates throughout the country? Definitely yes. Should big business be behind it and federal aid be tied to it? Definitely not. I cannot get past the fact that the business world was responsible for sending millions of jobs overseas, and keeps what it does in the US only when it helps their own bottom lines. Business is patriotic only when it is convenient.  Sorry, Bill Gates.  We must remember that in our society, business is there to help the citizens, not the other way around.

When we consider how much involvement big business should have in education, we must consider the impact it has had in the world of health care.

One nice thing about Common Core is the "common" part. In this day and age when people listen to music and podcasts and books on headphones, and DVR or Tivo a couple of the thousand TV channels (when they are not streaming other media) and read a digital book they cannot lend to their neighbor or watch one of the 35 professional or college sports games on at any one time, it is nice to have something in common.

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