Thursday, January 2, 2014

National Curriculum NOT the Answer

"Common Core is a real-world approach to learning and teaching. Developed by education experts from 45 states, these K-12 learning standards go deeper into key concepts in math and English language arts. The standards require a practical, real-life application of knowledge that prepares Washington students for success in college, work and life. "
    ----  from Washington State Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction

     A common curriculum has been developed and is about to be implemented across the nation. Currently 45 states subscribe to this concept. Is this an educational innovation or educational Armageddon?

Critics say that the process for creating the new K-12 curriculum standards involved very little research, public comment, or even input from educators. In fact, of the 135 people on the committees that came up with these standards, none of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional.
     Stephanie Feeney of the University of Hawaii, chair of the Advocacy Committee of the National Association of Early Childhood Teacher Educators was shocked when the standards were first revealed in March 2010. She said, "the people who wrote these standards do not appear to have any background in child development or early childhood education.”

     This has been the problem with educational standards all along. They are rarely written by real classroom teachers and often represent the ideas that government and business leaders have about what makes a good, productive, compliant worker. Big businesses have invested billions of dollars in schools to bring such curriculum to students who they see as merely future workers.

     You hear these people constantly talking about how we need a stronger science and math curriculum to compete. Well, what about developing passion, creativity, and the very things that spark innovation and progress? Einstein was a lousy student. Isacc Newton was a sickly child and unremarkable student who created calculus before he was 22 as he was pondering the forces that kept the Moon in orbit. He defined gravity for us. It is unlikely that any of the discoveries that have formed our view of the universe would have been uncovered if children of those ages had been subject to the Common Core!

     In my speed reading classes, I see the results of decades of lackluster public instruction. Every day, thousands of people around the nation (and developed world) are reading and rereading books are articles, losing their place, getting sleepy, and not remembering what they read. Half of all students drop out because they can't keep up.

     Reading instruction in US public schools is a complete failure, yet schools refuse to embrace progressive ideas that could turn it all around.

     As a result of lackluster reading skills taught with methods that have been proven ineffective in creating good readers, students become frustrated, depressed, and associate learning with stress and anger. They make life changing decisions about themselves that affect their careers, their personal lives, and ultimately, their ability to be happy.

     When you think about it, it is madness, really.

     Millions of people have been taught to speed read. I have personally taught thousands. It is absolutely possible to read and remember thousands of words per minute in your reading instead of reading a pathetic 100 - 300 words per minute that is the top speed of most people. They read and reread, but can't remember.

     Why? It is because they are being taught that if you go slower you remember more. Yet the truth is actually the exact opposite of that. The faster you read, the more you naturally remember!

     John Gatto, former New York State Teacher of the Year and now an anti-mass education advocate, would likely think that the issues I have with the Common Core were included by design. 

Gatto says that students are products of an educational system that has taught them to be indifferent to almost everything except the diversion of toys and violence. He goes on to say that so many students are mistrustful of intimacy, they hate solitude, are cruel, materialistic, dependent, passive, violent, timid in the face of the unexpected, and addicted to distraction (from his book, "Dumbing us Down.")
Needless to say, Gatto has become an icon for a segment of the homeschool population.
Gatto thinks that many aspects of society would fall apart if children weren't trained to be dependent. He says “the social services could hardly survive; they would vanish, I think, into the recent historical limbo out of which they arose. Counselors and therapists would look on in horror as the supply of psychic invalids vanished. Commercial entertainment of all sorts, including television, would wither as people learned again how to make their own fun.”

The way people are taught to read is nothing short of creating intellectual dependency. Training people to read in a way that creates chaos and confusion, which creates loss of confidence and makes it nearly impossible to keep up with what is going on in the world, keeps people dependant on others to tell them what to do.
The phone conversation I had with a Seattle School District official a few years ago who told me that the speed reading program I overviewed for them did not represent the “best practices” for the district still rings in my ears. They were content with their reading program that produced huge dropout rates, a high percentage of illiteracy among their students, and low rankings among the nation’s schools.
Gatto also said that one of the lessons he was forced to teach children was provisional self-esteem.  He said “if you've ever tried to wrestle into line kids whose parents have convinced them to believe they'll be loved in spite of anything, you know how impossible it is to make self-confident spirits conform. Our world wouldn't survive a flood of confident people very long, so I teach that a kid's self-respect should depend on expert opinion. My kids are constantly evaluated and judged.”
Gatto claimed that the consequences of teaching provisional self-esteem are grave. He says that students are never taught the skill of self-evaluation, the “staple of every major philosophical system that ever appeared on the planet.”  The most damaging consequence is that the “lesson of report cards, grades, and tests is that children should not trust themselves or their parents but should instead rely on the evaluation of certified officials.” Soon they conclude that people need to be told what they are worth.
If Gatto is right, then most people have experienced decades of soul dampening learning experiences that have created rather negative conditioned responses towards learning. For example, how many people do you know that have a really positive view of learning? Not many, I expect. So many students experience boredom and feel unfairly treated by both teachers and fellow students that few describe their elementary, middle, and high school experiences in a positive light.
It is no wonder that students in my speed reading class exhibit the same fear of change, the same resistance to trying something new, the same lack of belief in their abilities as I saw among the thousands of adult students I encountered during my teaching career. The good news is that in spite of the challenges most people experience in public, mass education, most still have a primal urge to succeed and to excel, in spite of the influences that try to hold them back.
The new K-3 standards are particularly damaging and early childhood education experts Edward Miller and Nancy Carlsson-Paige feel they "will lead to long hours of direct instruction in literacy and math. This kind of “drill and grill” teaching has already pushed active, play-based learning out of many kindergartens." They go on to say that, "the standards will intensify the push for more standardized testing, which is highly unreliable for children under age eight."
Ah, testing. Testing companies are anxious for the changes, though, as they stand to make billions of dollars as schools across the country prepare to increase their standardized testing in all grades.

Teachers need to be given the freedom to use their skills and gifts to craft an appropriate learning journey.
Time to wake up. Do we put our children first or the needs of business for productive workers? We'd better decide soon.

[1] Gatto, John Taylor, "Dumbing Us Down."

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