Richard Weigel: Whose standards drive education?Published 10:37pm Wednesday, April 6, 2011
There is no mistaking that education is a key factor for improving the economy and keeping America at the forefront of innovation and productivity. The question that must be answered is, “whose education” are we intending to provide?
Everyone has a point of view about education because everyone has attended some form of K-12 schooling. So, let us begin with a little history lesson.
In the late 1800’s there were competing academic philosophies among educators, business people and government entities. Some wanted rote memorization, some wanted critical thinking, some wanted the traditional Latin/Greek and philosophy focus that had been part of the finishing schools of the early 1800s. Almost all wanted to divide students into college ready or career ready and only 10 percent were expected to attend college. This led to the formation of the Committee of Ten. This committee recommended eight years of elementary education followed by four years of high school. All students were to study English, mathematics, history, civics, biology, chemistry and physics. Sounds a lot like today doesn’t it?
In 1918, the Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education refuted the work of the Committee of Ten and believed that students should have practical rote skills and values including right attitude, sterling character and right principles. They proposed courses on health, fundamentals (reading, writing, mathematics and oral expression), worthy home membership, vocation, citizenship, worthy use of leisure and ethical character. Note that some of that is still happening today.
Why the history lesson? First, it may be apparent that not much has changed. Second, most people do not agree on what children should be taught. Third, at least every decade there is another group of people who believe they know what is best for our children. Every decade there is another committee or commission who want to tell us what it means to have a well-educated student.
Currently, Michigan and 40 other states are adopting the new Common Core Curriculum otherwise known as a new National Standard. However, you may not know that the “standards” set by our state have been changed at least every 10 years for the past 30 years? Now, they are about to change again. Talk about a moving target!
What does this mean for all of us? Ted Sizer, a current education leader, responded to a proponents of the common core by saying, “It’s not which standards, it’s whose standards!”
That is the point of this editorial. Setting standards is not always about providing what is best for our children. Standards are a political determination made by whoever has been appointed to make the determination. And who gets appointed? Usually it is a mix of traditional academic subject experts from the universities and politicians assigned to a committee. You will not see a mix of artists, business people, nurses or teachers who are asked what our children should learn. Thus standards can be oddly arranged ideas often without a foundation in what is best for our children or our community.
Our children are not round pegs that must be molded to fit into square holes. They are individuals with interests and talents that need to be nurtured by experts. Our children need knowledge and skills that will prepare them for their future and not our past. This requires our schools and their respective communities to communicate and listen to each other.
Niles Community Schools will be opening the Niles New Tech Entrepreneurial Academy this fall. Students are going to work in collaborative teams on real world problems and projects, many based on projects and problems in our community. The teachers (experts) are receiving training on how to help our children to learn in ways that fit with their interests and skills. Students will have numerous ways to show their learning and progress.
In addition, we are working to reopen Eastside School as an elementary magnet school where the focus will not be on replicating a one-size-fits-all approach to education but rather a project-based approach reflecting the best ideas in education and our community. Our “experts” will have a forward-looking and client-centered approach to helping all children reach deeply into their interests and talents so they can excel in all areas.
Our other schools are also taking steps to look toward the future by introducing blended learning, online opportunities, improved writing, formative assessments and more. Our “experts” are not standing still and we want your input on what we are doing.
I am not saying that the new “common core” is bad. However, it appears to be another group of academicians telling our teachers what is important and what needs to be taught. And we know that the new common core will have tests tied to it and although a child may be a great musician, a terrific thinker, superlative in speaking, or good with hands on projects — the tests simply won’t measure those things. I wonder how many of our great American thinkers, inventors, musicians, industrialists and healers would have passed these tests.
We should work together as a community to answer the questions on what we want our children to learn and be able to do. After all, we all need to know “whose standards” are driving education and make sure that those standards agree with what we want for our children.
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