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.
I’m taking a class called Composition Pedagogies this semester. Basically, we’re learning about how to teach Freshman or First-Year Composition classes. Well, not so much of how in a day-to-day sense of “this is how the computer system works,” or even “these are the kinds of things you should be teaching.” So far, we’ve been looking at some of the different “big picture” ideas of what Freshman Comp. is for, as in, “what purpose does it serve?” I thought I would have trouble with this, because as a high-school teacher, we’re already told what purpose our classes serve, which is to meet or exceed the state’s pre-determined objectives. I’m learning, though, that within that, there’s still a lot of room for “big picture” ideas, because, since there’s no way to cover every objective (I wish I had a source for this, but someone once told me that they had read an article in which someone had done a time-and-motion study with Oklahoma’s Priority Academic Student Skills, and found that the objectives for Junior English would take 250 clock-hours to teach to mastery, and what we have is 175 50-minute class periods, assuming class isn’t canceled or shortened for a pep assembly or a fire drill or something), teachers have to decide for themselves what is most important for their students to learn.