Friday, August 8, 2014
Education As A Priority For Living More Than OK
As the Summer comes to a close I see activity at the local elementary schools as teachers return to prepare their rooms for the new school year. My belief is that education is important in developing minds to face the challenges of life with critical and creative thinking. Education provides the foundation to prepare young people to explore possibilities for their futures and create new possibilities that are not apparent at present time. I am thankful I had a mother although not well educated herself, due to the time period she grew up in, emphasized education to me. Also I am thankful for the many fine teachers I had who inspired a love for learning. In the past and in my book, I have mentioned my third grade teacher, Mrs. Verna Clifford, who believed in her students and focused on the basics of reading, writing and math to set a foundation for future learning.
Thinking of education, caused me to have interest in a new Glenn Beck book written with Kyle Olson. The title is Conform: Exposing the Truth About Common Core and Public Education. No matter what side of the argument one is on it is an important book to think through the problems with education. I went through public schools in Barberton, Ohio and appreciated the education I received. Did I have perfect teachers all the time? – no. I would have, if they could have used cloning technology to create more Verna Cliffords. But the majority of teachers were passionate about teaching. That is one problem I have with those who bash public education (which Glenn is not doing). People pick out the bad examples of teachers and paint all public school teachers with the same brush. It would be like going to a grocery store and finding one apple with a bruise on it and asking the grocer to throw away all the apples.
In Conform the beginning starts out with the well documented problem that American students fall behind similar students in many other countries. They point out that studies show that American students “rank 31st in math, 24th in science and 21st in reading globally” (page 7). If we want to continue to be a global leader our education of our youth obviously needs to improve. It is problems like this that Common Core is trying to address. Glenn and Kyle go through the book making sounds arguments that maybe Common Core is not the best solution.
I am going to discuss just a couple of concerns that I felt strong about in the book. Again I suggest if you are concerned about education in our country to pick up a copy to read and think through the issue yourself. One problem I have strong feelings about is that the Common Core system encourages “cookie cutter” education and teaching to the test. An example of this can be found on page 87, “If the English portion of a Common Core related test asks one question about Shakespeare but four questions about the Environmental Protection Agency document, it won’t be long before schools tailor their curriculum to include the EPA document. As McClusky puts it “Year after year, questions become curricula”. I have spoken with teachers who lament the teaching to the test dampens their love for teaching. More importantly, many College students have told me that it is all the required testing that turned them off to education. How can we create a love for learning to build creative and critical thinkers in such an environment?
Speaking of the tests, when I was working on my Masters in Counseling many classmates were school teachers. You could hear the anxiety in their voices when they mentioned that the TAKS or TASS tests were coming. You would think it was an invading army with the anxious voices. They would mention how anxious the students were. I would think in my mind “Of course! If the teachers and counselors are this scared of the tests that is going to rub off on the students”. In my discussion with college students many have shared how schools would focus for a couple of weeks in all the classes on the TAKS English for example before the test. How ridiculous! I am not against comparative tests. I think back to my elementary and junior high days. We had national tests but they were never hyped up like they do today. You just took the test and received the results. The emphasis on teaching was not particular national test questions. Instead of looking for new ideas for teaching someone should look back at what worked right in the past before test scores started to slip across the country.
Then a point that raised my blood pressure was on page 112 and 113 where they discuss all the data that is being collected on students to predict possible failure in college and to force career directions on students. I have seen this in action. One institution I worked at used an assessment tool for all incoming freshmen. In our college success course we would go over the results. One day one student came to my office and said the computer report said he would drop out. I asked him if he wanted to finish his Associate in Air Conditioning & Heating. He said yes. So I told him, “who is right – the computer report or you?” He went on to finish his degree. Another student, a girl, was doing poorly in her classes. She told me she did not like the health care program she was in. She actually wanted graphic design but a school counselor in high school told her that her career test showed she should do nursing, (which she did not like but did as the counselor told her to). Glenn is so right on this point. I am a believer in that career tests can be a useful tool but they are not exact predictors as the talking head experts like to make them out to be. Most of these “Experts” who say that students need to know at age 17 what they will do for the rest of their lives, did not know themselves at that age where they would be at age 50. That is one reason I promote to my college students to explore thinking about Dr. Jim Bright’s concepts of the Chaos Theory of Careers. We should be building up students critical thinking abilities so they can shape their own futures instead of following cookie cutter sameness in what computer programs tell them what to do.
These are just a couple of points that tapped into my thinking on education. Glenn and Kyle were very good at presenting arguments about the problems with Common Core. I do wish they would have spent more time presenting solutions. That is weak point in the book. Parents need to be more involved in promoting the importance of education in the lives of their children. If we keep saying they are the future of the country what are we doing for them to help them prepare for progressing in that future?
Reflection: What was your education experience like growing up? Who were your favorite teachers and what made them your favorite? What did you learn from them?