Thursday, October 25, 2012

Common core ignores the power of the interests and ideas that come from our students and teachers - Deborah Meier

Editor’s note:  I feel fortunate to be living during a period in our history where for the first time we can easily form social learning circles that bring together from around the world, experts, authors, and others that share passions and can engage in rich and meaningful dialogue. The power of the technology to connect in ways never before possible is a game changer when it comes to learning. I have brought together one such amazing network of people who come together to think about and grapple with issues of ed reform and alternatives to the status quo with The Innovative Educator group.  Here is a piece of that learning where education icon Deborah Meier shares some of her thoughts on the common core.

Deborah Meier - Shares

Its a nice thought--that it [Common Core] is offering a "common language". I wish it were. But common core as presently understood is a 13 year mandatory curriculum (developed largely by experts in testing, not the subject matter being tested) of what is to be taught--and in what sequence. It ignores the power of the interests and ideas that come from students and teachers as the basis for forming curriculum"--or of picking up from the world around us our "curriculum". Starting "where we are" intellectually and moving out from there--a common approach to thematic studies, for example. Or spending months on one "small" part of history or science, in order to be able to ask deeper questions and make deeper sense--rather than covering" a lot in order to be prepared for shallow tests. (Uncovering vs covering as we sometimes say.) etc, etc.
In the schools I’ve worked in we were able to spend months on the Constitution (if we chose to) and thus less on other aspects of American history. We could focus long enough and deeply enough to engage in projects, to question the evidence, to weigh one source over another, to imagine other possibilities, to look for patterns, to acknowledge disagreements, etc, etc. We could return to last year's themes and subject matter as it cropped up gain in the context of this year. It enabled Mission Hill to study the same topics in all grades, Kgtn to 8th grade at the same time and thus turn the whole school community into a shared learning experience, and to lie out the idea that we're never "done", there is always more to learn about the same subject in new and different ways.

It also enabled us to give younger students the experience of watching older students and vice versa as they observed each other's work. It turned our hallways into lively places for common study, made it easier to have a wide range of books on the same topics, bring in experts from outside, and on and on. In all the schools I've worked in and with we've also been able to set aside time from the exploration of our private, personal passions and see where they took us individually or as a group. It meant, of course, a different way of assessing young people's work. What we developed instead was a "common" set of questions, habits of mind we called them, for getting at what we were trying to make sense of. It also meant that we spent two years covering "less" than one year's high school physics course. And on and on.

Reading The Power of Their Ideas or In Schools We Trust may give you some sense of what such a curriculum might look like. Or read an old book--36 Children by Herb Kohl. Suggestions, from others?


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  1. I still think about "The Way it Spozed to Be" by James Herndon when I want to get refocused on individuals and vast needs and abilities they have. Expecting people to be the same holds back those "ahead" of the standards and makes it even less likely for those "below" them to "catch up."
    Our beauty lies not in our common traits, but in our differences. Our strength (as a community, a country, and a planet) is not in what we do the same but rather our differences and unique perspectives.
    The common core is another political agenda, another opportunity for the sluggish textbook companies to make money, another money making opportunity for testing companies, and just one more tool for states to keep teachers off balance so they can more easily be controlled.

  2. This is where I'd start with a reading list -