Friday, April 12, 2013

Common cores and creating change

For those of us in 46 of the states of the U.S. with school age children, a shift is taking place. This shift is a change to an idea known as common core standards in education. According to the superintendent of the school district here, it is the largest educational shift in forty years.  A Facebook share of a teacher's pessimistic rant against common core standards prompted me to point out that not all teachers hate these new standards.  Someone else, who has home schooled their children and has a degree in education fired back at me that obviously, we hadn't implemented the new standards and all teachers hate them.  She then stated that it was sad that she spent 5 years in school to become a teacher and now wants nothing to do with being a public school teacher.  As a parent of two children in public school, as a PTA board member  and as anthropologist, I see a very different story and a lesson here.

For those of you who aren't familiar with common core standards, here is the very short answer:  Common core standards shifts focus from building curriculum from the kindergarten level upwards to making sure that every graduating high school senior can read and think critically, apply math concepts, and understands how to look for information.  Some teachers aren't real thrilled with having to learn new teaching methods or making any changes, but others are really excited by the idea that this could make public education better for the vast majority of children.  Our school is a pilot for implementation, and so far, the community is cautiously optimistic (the end of next year will see us fully implemented and 2015 will be the first year of the new standardized tests- which will be piloted in two weeks at our school).  We agree that each child deserves a quality education. We agree that critical thinking and reading and applied maths are all important life skills. Our teachers have been learning how to apply these new standards to their classroom, and many of them are seeing an improvement in their students.

What does all of this have to do with spirituality?  The first thing I see is that one member of a group (people who's background is in education) is speaking on behalf of all others and about something she has no experience with.  She was quick to assert that her view was superior to mine because she is the expert, but she never stopped to ask who I was or what my experience is.  She also silenced the voices of the dozens of teachers, who I personally deal with daily, who like these new standards and are excited to see full implementation.  She assumes that standards were created with ill intent, when they weren't.  They were created and adopted by the states as away to improved education and allow American students to compete with other industrialized nations, something which has not been possible for many years.  We must be careful to not allow our experiences prevent us from thinking for ourselves, from trying something new, and allowing other people a voice.  Change can be good, and nothing, especially the American education system will get better if no one will get involved, try something new, and speak up not only fro themselves, but for those who are denied a voice. My other lesson here is to ignore those people who have nothing good to say about anything.  There are very few circumstances in life where we can't find a silver lining. All we have to do is be open to it.

A little addendum, the person I was referring to, did eventually acknowledge my points, but I'm not sure the irony of the situation ever permeated.

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