Standardizing the Masses


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Today’s Standardized Education: Are They Learning Anything?


Yes, kids are learning. But what they are learning is dangerous to a society who wishes their citizens to grow in critical thinking and innovation. They are learning how to take tests and follow the leader.

For 14 years, as a former New York State Certified Secondary School teacher, I have witnessed over a decade of changes within the school system, and many theories seem to get recycled throughout the decades. But currently, the new Core Curriculum program being installed nationwide is a grave concern on the parts of students, teachers, parents and school administrators alike. Kids are inundated with homework, and their freedom to learn what they are actually interested in is severely limited due to all the new standardized testing that is increasingly expanding.

Education is a creative process, as much an art as a science. It can’t just be distilled into some sterile formula.

With standardizing every child’s education in America, no child gets a chance to learn from an inspirational teacher who needs time to teach something fresh and personal. With tons of homework and no down-time, no child gets a moment to daydream and allow new connections to form to then replace outdated ideas. With few opportunities to pursue personal strengths and interests because of emphasis on core study and limitation of electives, no child gets to discover an alternative path for oneself outside of what has already been predetermined.

Is no child left behind? Or no child left unindoctrinated?



Who came up with this new Core Curriculum?


The right approach would have been to involve teachers, child development professionals, and other experts in the education field to assemble a program of instruction based on the ways kids learn best. But these standards were set upon guesswork; there was no cognitive science in child-based learning considered. Largely, bureaucrats made these decisions, not teachers. In all, there were 135 people on the committees that wrote and reviewed the Common Core Standards. Not a single one of them was a K-3 classroom teacher or early childhood professional. The National Association for the Education of Young Children is the foremost professional organization for early education in the U.S., yet it had no role in the creation of the K-3 Core Standards.

Why is this so important? Because the teaching methods, which will now affect the entire nation’s next generation beginning from the very moment they hit school, were not created on today’s modern education and psychological theories. The most extreme revamping of the education system in the history of America’s schools is, from its starting point in kindergarten, destined to fail because it is built upon unsound and old fashioned education theory that we know does not work.

Many professional groups opposed the K-3 standards. More than 500 early childhood professionals, (educators, pediatricians, developmental psychologists, and researchers), many of the most prominent members of those fields, signed the Joint Statement of Early Childhood Health and Education Professionals on the Common Core Standards Initiative.

Their statement reads in part:

We have grave concerns about the core standards for young children…. The proposed standards conflict with compelling new research in cognitive science, neuroscience, child development, and early childhood education about how young children learn, what they need to learn, and how best to teach them in kindergarten and the early grades…

Their Joint Statement makes arguments grounded in what we know about child development—facts that all education policymakers need to be aware of. First, that standardized testing is highly unreliable for children under age eight, and there is little and inconclusive evidence that standards for young children lead to later success. Many countries with top-performing high-school students provide rich play-based, nonacademic experiences—not standardized instruction—until age six or seven.

Second, long hours of direct instruction in literacy and math, or “drill and grill” teaching, is replacing active, play-based learning in many kindergartens, the very methods through which young students learn best.

Third, since didactic instruction and testing crowd out the most successful ways young children learn, the essential building blocks for academic and social accomplishment are lost. Hands-on exploration encourages developing social, emotional, problem-solving, and self-regulation skills. From Kindergarten right through to the secondary levels, all of the most crucial elements of creating a responsible citizen in our world today are the most difficult to standardize, and cannot be measured through testing.


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An Assault on Teachers


As a sad result of this core curriculum movement, teachers have no time to do what they do best, teach. Most teachers enter the profession because they are pretty darn smart. They loved school and have hopes for their students to love school, and they imagine that they have a pretty unique way they can achieve that goal. This is impossible to achieve in such a rigid educational structure. A creative approach to teaching is practically not allowed under the common core, which essentially aims to make teachers dispensable and replaceable.

Performance-based teaching is ruining the strength of American education. It stimulates schools to cheat on their data, and it encourages a weaker pool of educators to join the teaching force because they can be told what and how to teach. We are teaching skills over real learning with the goal of preparing them for a future in which we can’t possibly know what skills are most needed.

When I was in kindergarten 35 years ago, the idea of having a personal computer or access to instant knowledge at my fingertips through the internet was unthinkable. In grade school I learned basic skills, but we were also encouraged to answer questions that required critical thinking while being given flexible time to be creative. So I learned to love the learning process. And I have never let go of that love, no matter how many jobs were not available to me along the way. How sad it is that our youth may not know this contentment, for we are robbing them of the joys of learning.

It is education’s business to make sure when children leave school they have an interest in challenging themselves to learn new ideas. Rather it has become the business of education that is teaching kids to master a set of skills needed for a certain job—which in all likelihood will be obsolete by the time they are adults in the working world.

This fight against creating a nation of thinkers has been going on for a long time. We run our educational institutions like corporations. Schools are required to meet a set of goals established by someone far removed from the actual classroom setting, determined through numbers and performance-based data. We are setting these kids up to be workers not thinkers.

And it was John D. Rockefeller who said exactly that: “I don’t want a nation of thinkers. I want a nation of workers.” It is no surprise that Rockefeller created the General Education Board organized to dispense funds for education. The next time you look at your child’s homework, think twice about why they are being taught in a particular way. It’s most likely to train their brains for the labor ahead, not to develop and free their minds.


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