A Twitter conversation led me to this place. What does a place of learning need to welcome all, to offer all the kinds of paths to the future which our children need?
If that is the belief system, I think that the rest - the pedagogies, the spaces, the schedules, the ways we treat each other, and the kind of deep, inspired learning humans deserve - will follow.
High School Math Teacher (1996): "That damn kid, he's rather go to Saturday School than come to my class."
High School Librarian (replying): "Well, you'll have to think about that!"
Why would a student come to your school, if she/he were not forced to? This is a question you must ask every day, as every teacher ought to ask, Why would a student come to my class...?
What does your school, as a whole and in every space inside, offer children? Safety from unsafe families or communities? Food which otherwise be in short supply? A chance to hang out with their friends? Do they come for just one teacher, or only because of music or sport? Is that good enough for you?
These kids of questions are rarely asked in American education, though we fill millions of square feet of wall space with "mission statements" and "learning goals." We just don't ask, "What is this school for?" In fact, we avoid that question so deeply that last January the US President got up in front of the nation and actually suggested that the solution to high school dropouts was to make dropping out illegal. Talk about giving up...
So why? What do you - as an entire school - offer every student that would make them come if compulsory attendance laws and the parental need for babysitting disappeared? Would they come because they understand that your school is a safe and happy place in which they are offered a world to learn in a somewhat less-risky-than-real-life situation? Would they come because they are excited about what they invest in when they walk through your doors? Would they come because they find the push to discovery, learning, and growth to be inspirational instead of coercive? Would they come because you offer a great collection of paths to an independent future? Would they come because you offer a laboratory for democracy and life - that you are - all together - creating a future better than the present?
I cannot tell you why... but you must find this answer, and that answer is the ethos your school must embrace - universally.
I'm not against the"Common Core" because I'm a crazed postmodernist. There are other things I'm against because of that. And I'm not against the "Common Core" because I doubt the need for us to share some commonalities of knowledge.
I'm against the "Common Core" because it is neither "common" in my experience nor is it generally at the "core" of what people need. Instead it is part of a long history of education as Pygmalion - to use George Bernard Shaw's lovely mythological metaphor.
"None of this is new. "Established in 1914, the Ford English School taught the company’s immigrant workers more than just how to speak English. It taught them about American culture and history and instilled the importance of such virtues as thriftiness, cleanliness, good manners, and timeliness." There has always been a tension in the United States between the expressed ideal of a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural society - you know, that brilliant combination of ethnicities in any World War II film - and the reality on the political ground, which is that "our leadership" would find things "much easier" if we were all "white, protestant, straight, northern Europeans,"' I wrote more than a year ago, while pointing out that even that belief is a lie, a cover for something else, that is, if school is about being a "white, protestant, straight, northern European," it guarantees that those now in power will watch their children begin school with an insurmountable lead on everyone else, thus assuring social reproduction.
People think the "Common Core" is inclusive because teachers can choose books, but in this, they miss the point. The "Common Core" is "white protestantism" because of the values it suggests while pushing all children to meet Middle Class Age "Appropriate" Learning Targets - or in their carefully crafted words - "provide teachers and parents with a common understanding of what students are expected to learn. Consistent standards will provide appropriate benchmarks for all students, regardless of where they live."
What if it doesn't really make a f---ing bit of difference to my kid's, or my community's, life, if my 7-year-old doesn't... "by the end of year, read and comprehend informational texts, including history/social studies, science, and technical texts, in the grades 2–3 text complexity band proficiently, with scaffolding as needed at the high end of the range"?
Pygmalion, why are you superior?Could my 7-year-old spend that year investigating physics with balls and paper airplanes and by building bridges instead? Or learn to speak the languages which might surround her in our community? Or learn measurement concepts by learning to cook? Or might he just want to listen to, and tell, stories? Or, as was the case of my kid at that age, was he far more interested in adult reading and music than in the "grades 2-3 text complexity band"?
In Finland, much of Scandinavia, kids don't even begin school until they're 7-years-old, and since the "Common Core" claims to be built on "best practices," and Finland tops those international comparisons, maybe the alphabet is the best cultural target. In Ireland I watched 7-years-olds from all over participating in classrooms with kids up to age 12, with all that subject matter, but mostly... participating by listening and talking.
A culturally diverse school is not about flags in the hallway or "welcome" written in a bunch of languages, its about being a learning space where kids get to negotiate how their culture meets the others around them. Where, say to begin, holidays are shared on equal terms, without pressure to either "opt in" or "opt out." Where time is respectful of cultural differences, whether it is Ramadan and Yom Kippur or "on-timeness" or "appropriate speed." Where communication is accepted and developed because it is authentic, not because it meets E.D. Hirsch's cultural expectations, and as it is developed, we all learn to communicate more widely, and we learn far more about communication choices.
A culturally diverse - a culturally "open" - school also refuses to grade by compliance to Anglo norms. It is not a question of why read For Whom the Bell Tollsinstead of The English Patient, but rather, the violence you will do to The English Patientif you try to analyze it and write essays about it "the common core way"?
Where is the student now? Where does the student want and need to go? What are the possible ways to get from point A to the much more nebulous point B?
There is really never one way to learn anything, to read anything, to write anything, to calculate anything. There are always choices, and there must be choices - unless we plan to never improve as a species. "Why is fastest better?" I once heard James Gee ask. "Why is the shorter proof better in Geometry? Why is it better to finish an assignment faster?"
Or why is a five paragraph essay better than a one paragraph argument? Or a ten page rant? If this were true Tom Clancy would be a better writer than James Joyce or Virginia Woolf or Colm Toibin, and (let me just assert this truth), he is not.
If all the rules were true, this wouldn't be great literature
It is way past time to stop imposing single solutions on our learners, Neil Postman and Charley Weingartnerrecognized the choices created by (then) new media in 1968 required teaching practice to radically change. You are now over 40 years late.
And that lateness has been horribly destructive. I am sorry to have to tell you this, but the majority of students leaving American schools at the end of 12th Grade (or before), will describe most of their education to that point as an irrelevant waste of time. That's because it is not "their education" at all, but something imposed on them by people who appear to have nothing in common with them.
"Most of us lack all kinds of powers. I can't lift my car by the bumper in order to change a tire. That's what jacks are for. I can't add long columns of figures in my head. That's what calculators are for. Tools give us the ability to make up for what we lack in native powers." John Perry in the Wall Street Journal.
I believe in Toolbelt Theory, which begins with the concept that we humans are, perhaps above all, toolmakers and tool users, and that thus, in the education of our children, the most important thing we can help them learn is how to be very good at both. "After all," I tell people, "without tools humans are a very long way from the top of the food chain."
It is human to make, choose, use toolsSchools need to stop limiting tool use and equating tool use with "cheating." The tools of today are incredibly powerful, incredibly diverse, and create never-before-seen opportunities for so many students failed, consistently, by our one-size-fits-all education system, that we must embrace these tools, and help students learn to get the most out of the technologies which sit - or will sit - in their pockets. We can't do that by limiting, filtering, and blocking.
Right now, right from the first day of school, every student can read from paper, from a computer screen, from a tablet screen, from a mobile phone screen, or listen to their computer, tablet, or phone read to them, or some combination of those things. Right now, right from the first day of school, every student can write with a pen, a pencil, a stylus, their finger, a big keyboard, a little keyboard, a touch screen, or just by speaking. Right now, right from the first day of school, every student can communicate through text or speech, audio or video, music or art, with much of the world. Right now, right from the first day of school, every student can pull in information from anywhere on the globe, at any time - and truly - that is a skill you must help them learn to do well. And we can't do that unless the tools are present every day, all the time, so that we can all learn what works for each of us.
One Ethos, Open Culture, Many Paths, Many Tools. Because if education matters, it matters enough to do the right things for our kids.
- Ira Socol