or, Why I Don’t Despise Common Core.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding the Common Core State Standards in common (K-12) education. Some teachers think it will revitalize the curriculum and return the focus to critical thinking and problem-solving. Other teachers criticize the “one size fits all” model and worry that the skills taught are not developmentally appropriate. Although I do share the concerns over age-appropriateness, there is one part of the CCSS that I think is crucial, and that I hope will remain a part of education in America even if the standards themselves are abandoned, and that is the (theoretical) universality.
There’s been a lot of talk in the anti-education-reform circles (specifically, within the Badass Teacher’s Association, which is on Facebook and elsewhere – I’m not going to link, because I’m still deciding what I think of them, in many ways) about letting the students themselves drive curricular decisions, rather than parents, teachers, or administrators. I’ve been thinking about that a lot lately (I’m enjoying my summer job, but the mindless nature of running a cash register and stocking shelves does give me plenty of time to think). The main problem I have with it is that, to use a sports metaphor, a student needs a rudimentary understanding of the playing field before he or she is able to pick up a ball and run with it. What common or K-12 education, and even some of what post-secondary education does (or at least, what it tries to do) is to show students a little bit about a lot of things, so that they have some sense of the true scope of all the things they don’t know about.
Some time ago, I was listening to NPR’s “Science Friday” podcast; the episode where Ira Flatow interviewed Jeff Potter, the author of Cooking for Geeks: Real Science, Great Hacks, and Good Food (available from Amazon here). After excessive amounts of hinting, my wonderful husband bought it for me, and I slowly worked my way through it. I’ve never thought that I was a very good cook, since most of what I make is either easy to the point of being simplistic or comes in a box, bag, or can. One skill I am quite proficient at is ordering takeout, and we’ve been doing quite a bit of that of late. At least, until the money started to run out. Summer is tough when you’re a college student, because although financial aid does help pay for living expenses, they don’t give you any during the summer break. Therefore, I’ve had to be a bit innovative, which is not something I undertake lightly when it comes to food. I’m fortunate that my husband is a trained chef who loves to experiment and will eat almost anything, but after a long night of cooking for everyone else, he’s been known to neglect cooking any dinner for himself. This is problematic for two reasons: 1. He is a diabetic and should therefore not skip meals, and 2. He takes his diabetes and cholesterol medicine with his last meal of the day (which means that if he skips dinner, he doesn’t take his meds). After several weeks of nagging him that a granola bar was not the full meal he was supposed to be eating, I “blew up” one night last week and said, “You know what? I’m sick of nagging you to take care of yourself. Therefore, I’m going to cook dinner for you, and you will eat it, and you will take your pills, and I will not listen to any arguments.” And that, as they say, was that; I’ve cooked dinner every evening since that night. Mostly, I’ve been just tossing cut-up pieces of veggie burger patties on top of noodles (I’m convinced that Robert would eat almost anything if you served it over a bed of noodles or rice), but tonight, I wanted to do something a bit more. Here is the recipe I started with:
For my “Unca” Duane, on July 4, 2013 – what would have been his seventieth birthday.
July 13, 1994 – also known as my fourteenth birthday – was an unmitigated disaster, in the opinion of my poor teenage self. Less than two weeks before, I had been dragged bodily from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois and plopped down unceremoniously in a tiny town in northeast Oklahoma that my elementary-school classmates had christened “Hickville.” And with no movie theater, no shopping mall, no public transportation, and nothing worthwhile within walking distance, it certainly seemed at the time that my life was in a free-fall. To make matters worse, our planned celebrations had fallen apart rather spectacularly not fifteen minutes into the first event (which was, incidentally, a screening of the Disney film The Lion King, just to show how long ago this occurred) due to a bad thunderstorm that caused a power outage. There would be no movie, no ice cream, no music on the stereo, no pizza – I was crushed (today, less than ten days from my thirty-third birthday, I look back at that poor child and think, “How spoiled she was!” but I also remind myself that I was a hormonal teenager at the time, and probably worse than most due to the not-yet-diagnosed major depression). What saved the party was my Uncle (or “Unca,” as he always signed himself on birthday and Christmas cards) Duane. He came over to where I was pouting by myself and talked to me about turning fourteen, and what a big deal it was. I remember only two sentences of many: “I kissed a girl when I was fourteen,” and, “I played hooky from school when I was fourteen,” but the net effect was that I started giggling and forgot to feel sorry for myself. His calm way of sharing “secrets” raised my spirits in a way that jokes, silliness, or lectures never would have. I still won’t claim it was a great birthday, but it was certainly a memorable one. Thanks to my Unca Duane, I remember it with fondness, rather than just disappointment and embarrassment.