Ann Bednarski: The formal education process resumes…
For the Nevada Appeal
Is every one ready to hit the books again? Oh, that’s right, there are no books; there are now laptops. Admittedly I love books; turning the pages is progress: it means you want to know more. Recently I tried curling up on the couch with a “notebook” and it simply was not cozy or comfortable reading off of a little screen.
Our culture has made some very dramatic changes over the last 20 years. The use of technology is one of the biggest. Usually with progress there are some unintended consequences. In the high tech world, for example, have you noticed we do not talk to each other very much? And, when we are physically together, we still don’t talk, we text. It strikes me as very odd that with all the advances in communication, we don’t talk much; I doubt anyone really thought much about that side effect. Did we diminish something essential to society-conversation?
For the last six months I seriously studied a progressive education program originally called COMMON CORE. As a teacher for well over 40 years, a parent and grandparent I was interested to learn about this idea that was conceived behind closed doors without any parents or teachers included in the group. Suddenly it seemed it was adopted and then it went to each state’s legislature for approval; that is backwards. No one knew very much about it but the caveat emptor was Federal Funding for each state’s schools would be suspended if they did not implement this program.
I watched a lecture on COMMON CORE delivered Dr. Terrence Moore, professor (hpps://www.youtube.com/?v=xCoOv_DwAk). He is a history professor at Hillsdale College. I was impressed and motivated to learn more about it. During his talk he posed the question, “What is the purpose of education?” Many thoughts went through my mind about how I would respond to that question. A few moments later Dr. Moore said, “Happiness is the purpose of education.” Pondering that sentence I agreed. We are happy when we master some task, learn how to do things, successfully communicate our thoughts, and solve problems with implication criteria and critical thinking. As a teacher I was happiest when I would see and hear my students’ “lights go on” and, so were they.
The other COMMON CORE detail ignored or hidden was any state that wanted to join the competition called “Race to the Top” had to agree to the CCSS (COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS). No one knew just how costly it would be. Billions of dollars are being spent to retrain teachers, redo tests and textbooks, and reprogram computers. None of these involves students or teaching.
Carson City Schools won the competition and received $10,000,000 as the prize. It is distributed over five years. Carson City School District was the #1 winner in the United States. Richard Stokes, Superintendent takes his position very seriously. He has an “Open Door Policy” and is personable and informed. It is sad to me that with the required implementation of CCSS he said he had to take the best teachers out of the classroom to train other teachers. They are learning how to not teach, but moderate and help students reach a consensus. Each group (usually four students) is asked to discuss and work problems together. Though the answer may not necessarily be correct, if a consensus is reached it is often considered correct. (i.e. 2 + 2 =22) CCSS has dramatically changed the curriculum at Carson City School District.
What is really difficult to accept for three years running, Nevada still ranks number 51 for quality education, even below Washington, D.C. Why?
I have read over 3000 pages of information on CCSS; I listened to some twelve hours of testimony from teachers, students, parents, superintendents, and students. In addition I have talked with many parents who have children in school. My conclusion is CCSS is the greatest boondoggle perpetrated on the American people. It is likely to implode the entire public school system.
I disapprove of this program for many reasons, the first of them is that it diminishes (some say totally eliminates) the parents’ role in their child’s education. Children are taught to use “emotionally charged” words such as “Nagged” The sentence on a worksheet was “My mother ____ me to eat my breakfast.” The choices for the blank were asked, begged, and nagged. The correct choice was nagged. When I read that I was angry because that word was not in my house and I could see no reason for the school to teach disrespecting words to young children. Reading is more non-fiction than fiction or classic literature and cursive writing is gone. Reading aloud has been gone for years; now acceptable books are on a list. Killing Lincoln is not acceptable because Bill O’Reilly wrote it.
Next I looked and assessed how CC Math is taught; it was difficult to understand and seemed to confuse students needlessly. I was appalled. I talked with several parents, most of whom say they can no longer help their children because it is a convoluted way to do math. My grandson is frustrated; soon he is going to first grade and already does not like math. My son said he has to do so many tasks before he is allowed to write “4” to the problem 2 + 2 =__ ; he said, ”Dad, I already know two plus two is four but I don’t care. I don’t like all this other stuff.” He’s not challenged.
I watched a video of a little girl drawing cubes, rectangles and circles to compute two three-digit numbers. After her many calculations she did not get the right answer. She was very frustrated; her confidence disappeared. I was surprised that when given the same problem in the commonly used vertical set-up she said, “We are not allowed to do problems this way. We have to put them in a straight line.” Why? Even grocery store receipts list items purchased vertically. It took this youngster about 20 seconds to solve this problem correctly using the vertical format.
Math professors Marina Ratner and Martin Kozlowski criticize COMMON CORE MATH (http://online.wsj.com/marina-ratner-making-math-education-even-worse-1407283282) by describing the program as full of marginalized, meaningless exercises that make math convoluted and complicates simple calculations. Children do learn in different ways and at various paces. The more math procedures I perused, the more frustrated I became. At best it is confusing, as most parents describe it.
Over the last few weeks I studied the history content of CC and actually became teary about the negativity and lack of recognition of some Americans who shaped, protected, defended, and contributed significantly to making the USA the strongest and most powerful free nation in the world. Many years ago a world leader said, “The United States will destroy itself, from within.” It was Russia’s Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev. My study of three basic subjects: language arts, math, and history lead me to believe CC is a tool to further the demise of our country.
My suggestions for parents of children in school are few.
1. Children learn what they live. Get involved with them.
2. Write down a list of what YOU expect from their school.
3. Write another list of what YOU do not want from school.
4. Do not hesitate to question the teacher; ask why? often.
5. Talk with your children and listen to what they say.
By pure coincidence recntly I watched, Mr. Holland’s Opus, a movie about a high school music teacher. I highly recommend you and your family see this film. One sentence I thought was very useful was, “A teacher’s job is twofold: impart knowledge and be a compass.” Happiness is the purpose of education. COMMON CORE destroys the joy of teaching and reduces the young, eager minds of children to faceless drones who never learn to think for themselves.
The “final exam” for me in my “self-taught course on COMMON CORE” was listening to a lecture on supporting Public Education presented by the Carson City School District on August 13 at the Community Center. Jamie Vollmer was the speaker.
Mr. Vollmer is not a teacher or administrator. He owned a company that made ice cream, once dubbed “The best ice cream in the United States” by People Magazine. After the notoriety that prize was nationalized in the media, the Governor of Iowa invited him to be part of the Round Table of Education. He accepted.
His lecture began with his study of education and how it came to be called public education, crediting Thomas Jefferson for the idea. He went through the history of education and the many changes and responsibilities now given to schools. He had a prepared list of what has been added and did not hesitate to say that many objected to the additions as they do today. He also said no additional time has been added to the school year. The list is at http://www.jamievollmer.com/pdf-the-list.pdf. He said “The purpose of education has changed from educating our kids to raising our kids.” I believe that goes hand and hand with my belief that parenting is seriously marginalized today.
Mr. Vollmer talked about the 40 years of failed programs school systems have been mandated to adopt by special interest groups in Washington. COMMON CORE is the latest program being implemented which he said he knows not much about but, he did say it is being crammed down the throats of teachers and students. Grassroots groups are rebelling against it in all states. He predicted it too would be replaced by something else which I think may well be the end of public education as we know it.
Or, We, the People get involved and lighten the burden by going back to basics skills and get the Federal Government, including the U.S. Department of Education out of our schools. The Constitution gives states the duty of providing education.
Mr. Vollmer’s presentation never once mentioned the Teacher’s Union and all the influence it has on teachers, contracts, and collective bargaining. Unions like to spend our tax dollars. I kept hoping he would include the effects of teachers’ unions in his history of education; I was disappointed. I never joined the union as a teacher because I believe it is contrary to the core of the teaching profession- to help students learn to think for themselves. Public school teachers are government employees and I do not understand why they need any union; their salaries are taxes we pay.
The other thing blatantly absent from his talk was how much and how expensive the now top heavy administrative costs for public schools have grown. The bureaucracy is too big. It should be seriously trimmed.
Nevada has recently changed the name of this program from COMMON CORE STATE STANDARDS to NEVADA ACADEMIC CONTENT STANDARDS. Changing the program’s name does not change the focus or purpose. CCSS/NACS is focused on mediocrity and conformity rather than creating a robust education system that aims for excellence and ingenuity. Is it “formal education” or “formal indoctrination”? What do you think?
Ann Bednarski, B.A., M.S.