^ the apostle of Common Core standards : US Secretary if education Arne Duncan

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We support the Common Core curriculum initiative, both for its content and its suggested teaching methods. We also support it for the nationwide equality inherent in it.

A society educates its children for two lives : citizenship and employment. Education for citizenship is primarily a moral undertaking and does not change, because human nature doesn’t change. Education for employment is primarily economic, and as the structure of a modern economy changes all the time, so must education change as well.

These are axioms of education. There is nothing new about the Common Core initiative. Throughout the history of Western civilization, education has prepared students for employment. Nor is there anything new or shocking about Common Core being nation-wide. Throughout most of Western history, the curriculum was civilization-wide, not just national.

Children should not grow up compartmentalized by national political agendas, much less by states. Children should be educated so as to move, work, live, and communicate everywhere in the world. That’s how it was in Roman Empire times, in the merchant city-state era of Greece, and again in the “Renaissance of the 12th Century,” a time and place of huge intellectual advance in both Europe and Islamic society, and — because the two go together — of big economic advance as well.

The resistance to a Common Core curriculum and practice comes from two advocacy sides that have nothing else in common. That’s often how it is with important progress movements. No one should be intimidated by seeing these strange political bedfellows raise the hue and cry side by side.

On the one hand is the ultra conservative think tank interest, which fears a “national take over” of education, which it holds to be a matter of local control. This despite the Common Core initiative having been put together by governors of states, at the state level, and major employers. Common Core is not a “national takeover.’ it is a coming together of every state and many interests who want to see America’s school graduates ready and able to claim the best jobs of tomorrow. On the other hand are certain teachers unions, and many educators committed to current pedagogy : these interests decry the rigid rigor of Common Core and its emphasis on testing and more testing.

The objections from the Right can be dismissed quickly. Why does it matter whether a curriculum initiative is nationwide rather than local ? If the initiative is beneficial, that’s enough. There is a Constitution, it applies, via its Supremacy clause and the 14th Amendment, to the states, live with it.

More serious are the objections to Common Core being raised by teachers and educators. It is understandable that those who have long personal investment in the current pedagogy should feel that their work is good, and that a radical change of direction will unsettle the process and cast teachers adrift while they adapt to the new standards and method. This will happen, and it will have an effect on teaching during the transition period. That’ always the case when systems embrace large change. The bigger objection is that Common Core practices don’t educate students as well as current pedagogy; that testing, in particular, dominates teaching to the exclusion of course work. One very vocal opponent of the tougher standards say that they were put together “in violation of how education standards are supposed to be decided” — whatever that means. My own thought is that if the new standards work, and employers accept them, that’s game, set, and match/.

The entire anti argument misses the point. Which is that both teaching methods work equally well. How could they not ? Students learn what they are told to learn; and they learn it how they are told to learn it. This applies to EVERY teaching method, rote memorizing included. Every student goes to school in recipient mode; the teacher gives, the student receives. Recipient mode is marvelously adapted to taking in what is received. Students even in my stone age time knew well to listen to teacher and give back what he or she wanted. It was a school survival skill. Somehow we managed to learn what teacher — and the college we were headed to — wanted us to learn. We didn’t sit in class and say, “that’s a bad method.”

The crafters of Common Core know this. Their standards seem designed for students first — should they not be ? We hire teachers to teach not what the teacher wants to teach, or how, but for what the society wants taught. As for “how,” that’s still up to the teacher, but within the guidelines implied by the “what.”

Which for Common Core means lots of testing. Too much testing ? This to me is — with one exception — as red a herring as it gets. The exception : CC testing seems to  begin at too young an age. Kids younger than 3rd grade probably don ‘t have much to test for, other than cognition and other physical issues. But that said, all of life is a test, constantly, in everything. All employment is a testing. Every task that an employee takes up is a test of his or her mastery of what is tasked. When an employee does whatever is in his or her job description, he or she is not in recipient mode : he or he is in performance mode. That, dear reader, is what testing is. It is education’s performance mode.

Bring it on.

—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere

UPDATED March 31, 2014 at 9.50 AM

UPDATED again on April 20, 2014 and re-posted.

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