Monday, February 23, 2015

"A Great Teacher Is A Great Artist"

After last week's post on some of the corporations and individuals lining up to make a fast buck (or a fast billion) off the labor of our children in school, a couple people I respect, both online and in person, told me they agreed that while "unleashing powerful market forces" on our children is a bad idea, they actually supported the Common Core standards. One parent who is a public school teacher and whose daughter is currently in public school kindergarten, told me that she had read the kindergarten standards and found them an improvement over what was there in the past.

I've never read any of the Common Core standards for any grade. My criticisms of this federal curriculum is the secretive, un-democratic manner in which they were developed; that professional educators were largely excluded from the process of their development with no early childhood professionals input at all; that none of the standards were field tested in any way before being foisted upon our children; the intentional injection of greed and private profit as the driving force; the inextricable marriage between Common Core and standardized testing and the use of these tests to make high stakes decisions about funding and individual teachers' careers; and the galling fact that no matter how good or bad the standards are, no matter how developmentally appropriate or inappropriate, and no matter what professional educators discover and learn in the process of using them, there is absolutely no mechanism for feedback, changes, alterations, or re-writing

That is, the only avenue for input available for teachers, parents, and students is protest and civil disobedience, such as opting out, walking out on tests, and rallying in the streets, which is what we're doing.

My friend agreed with most of my criticisms, but felt that if the standards could be separated from the all the crap, they were better than what came before them. This is a common theme among supporters, they want to separate the "standards" themselves from the rest, but that's not possible in the real world, or at least not so far.

And it might be true that the Common Core standards, magically separated from all the negatives that go with them, are better than what came before them. In fact, I'll stipulate to that. I told my friend as much as she left, adding, however, that I'm opposed to any educational standards in which adults tell children what to learn and by when. She replied, "You're an idealist."

I suppose I am an idealist, at least in the sense of thinking we can change our societal view of children and education so dramatically that we might one day offer a child-lead, emergent, play-based, democratic curriculum in all of our K-12 schools. But this is where the research points us. In fact, the adult-lead, top-down, learning-on-a-schedule approach that has come to define schools around the world is one of the most difficult ways for anyone to learn anything. This is what independent research tells us. Oh sure, those who support adult-lead education can point to their own research, but everything they cite to support their position are studies on how children learn in schools. It's like claiming to understand tigers by studying them in the zoo; it's like studying orca whales at Seaworld.

If it is idealism to follow science, then I'll confess to idealism. Research that is focused on how children learn the most and the best, those that look at the tigers and orcas outside of captivity, always points to a child-lead, emergent, play-based, democratic curriculum. And that is what this blog has been about since the very beginning. For those who need to see the research for themselves, I will simply point you to the endnotes of researcher Peter Gray's book Free to Learn.

"I've come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit." ~John Steinbeck

Teaching is an art and a science, yet we continue to try to turn it into a job along an assembly line. Indeed, this is always the end result when you put one group of humans (in this case adults) in charge of determining when, what, and how another group of humans (children) are going to learn.

The purpose of public education in a democracy isn't vocational training as so many insist; it isn't so that we can "beat the Chinese." The purpose is to create good citizens. Beyond that, however, there is a higher purpose for education and that is to assure that each child has the opportunity to become a masterpiece of his own creation, an individual who is inspired, motivated, and passionate about life. This is the rational approach to education because it is the surest path to each of us reaching our potential.

(I have more to write about this, but I'm out of time this morning. I plan to get back to this tomorrow.)

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Nancy Flanagan said...

I've written numerous blogs in which I essentially agree with your friend--the Common Core Standards are, like many education reforms, not evil in and of themselves. I've done extensive work with the Common Core ELA standards for secondary students, and they can be useful, as a framework for developing curricula.

The early childhood standards are abysmal--inappropriate is too mild a word. And there are gaps and holes and trouble spots across the standards, as well as philosophical differences in approach. But--let's be honest--no set of standards would please any one consumer. A good education, at its heart, cannot be standardized. Even in reality-based (as opposed to idealistic) classrooms. The CCSS are just another reform, at the end of the day: perhaps well-meant, but by definition, of limited utility.

What really freaks me out is not the standards as curriculum-building tool for teachers, but the aligned tests and the uses of data generated. Pearson and Gates have an on-line curriculum already developed and waiting in the pipeline until the shouting dies down, and that's flat-out scary.

Retain your idealism.

Laura said...

Do you happen to read or follow Katy Bowman's work? Her latest book (Move Your DNA) is has a large focus about how most all scientific work is done by scientists who are "in the tank" and thus don't realize their bias. She uses the orcas and their floppy fins at Sea World as her prime example/metaphor. Albeit she mostly talks about mechanical forces in the environment and how it affects one's health. But I loved how the metaphor was use crossed my interests.