It’s Never Just a Game

My son and I watched the Miami Heat lose last night, ending their winning streak at 27 games. I think we were both disappointed, even though neither one of us are really Heat fans. For my son, I think he recognized a missed opportunity. The Heat were 5 wins away from breaking a pretty amazing team record. I’ll admit that I was hoping they would hold the streak and then lose to the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.

While sports commentators do have a tendency to get a tad melodramatic (Dick Vitale never met an adjective he wasn’t ready to use), one of the guys on the post-game show wondered if this was a game that transcended the season. Fans, he noted, will remember where they were this night. At first glance, such a claim seems silly. After all, yesterday the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding the most important civil rights issue of our time. North Korea is aiming war heads at Hawaii. Simply put, I’m guessing everyone out there can list 10 things more important than the Miami Heat’s winning streak. (Well, everyone but the Miami Heat.)

But, I’m not so sure the guy’s claim on ESPN is necessarily off base.

I can remember watching Pete Rose break Ty Cobb’s hit records and sitting through the entire Baltimore Orioles game so I could watch Cal Ripken, Jr. take a victory lap celebrating his consecutive game streak. Heck, I even tuned in when the Connecticut women’s basketball team won their 89th game a few years ago. I don’t really remember anything about the game, but I do remember that feeling of empathetic happiness as I watched them celebrate.

There are times, it seems to me, when some games and sporting events do transcend the season and capture the world stage. Last night’s game is fodder for conversations around the water cooler.

Even so, it’s never really surprising to me when I run into people who don’t like sports. I’m not shocked if people didn’t watch the game last night, and I certainly recognize that there are millions of people who don’t care that the Heat missed out on the record.

But it is always surprising when I run into people who are dismissive or hostile to sports. At a meeting this morning, one of my colleagues offered a spirited (and relatively aggressive) dismissal of ESPN, college sports, and wondered, quite frankly, why people waste their time on sports. Geez, I thought, I don’t like opera but I don’t think it’s a waste of time for those who do.

I also, though, get a bit peeved at people who are so dismissive of sports.

In 2010, an estimated 91 million Americans watched the Super Bowl. By comparison, the 2010 mid-term elections, with a higher than normal voter turnout, had 90 million voters. On any given fall weekend at the University of Michigan, U of Tennessee, U of Texas, and other major universities, 70,000 to 100,000 people march into stadiums to watch college football. And that’s just football. NASCAR races routinely draw 100,000 ticket buyers and baseball draws around 75 million over the course of the year. Add in basketball, soccer, hockey, and other professional sports and it’s not hard to imagine that sports saturates American culture. Consider that every major newspaper has a sports section. ESPN runs 24-hours a day with sports news alone, and Fox has regional sports outlets across the nation.

There is a reason we use sports metaphors to describe politics; not political metaphors to describe sports. Quite simply: sports has become America’s religion and sports figures serve as our mythological heroes, and, at times, our sacrificial goats.

It is easy to wax philosophically about sports, moving athletes into the pantheon of greatness and immortality. But, we do a disservice if we forget the practical and social importance of the way games impact American culture. Kevin Grace, University of Cincinnati archivist, notes that early American immigrants saw sports as “socializing force, an ‘Americanizing’ force.’” Understanding sports became a part of the fabric of the American tapestry for early immigrants. Sports offered a sign of American prosperity and American democracy. Men, women, children left work or school for three hours in the middle of the day to watch baseball; colleges battled for supremacy on the grid iron; and by the mid 1930s, nations battled for ideologies at the Olympics. For Americans, sports united us in our loyalty to our country and bound us to our communities. Athletes became our heroes, epitomizing the American dream and creating ritualized events that captured our imaginations.

Sports offer the illusion that order is possible, a momentary stay from the confusion of daily life. The playground movement begins in the early 20th century, coinciding with the rise in participation in sports. Early street ball games slowly moved to sandlots and play grounds. This participation fed a desire to escape the everyday drudgery of city life, a need to return to pastoral settings to express oneself. In a country where different traditions and different cultures were clashing, sports offered rules that transcended those cultural differences: Catholics, Protestants, Whites, Blacks—everyone got the same number of pitches and the base paths stayed the same.

It might be “just a game,” I want to tell my colleague, but sports in America represents the best and, at times, the worst our culture has to offer. In times of trouble, a nation might wonder “where have you gone Joe Dimaggio,” searching for the solidity and poetry that is sports. We watch as sports erects barriers and then breaks them down; we witness the triumph and tragedy on television, at the local YMCA, and in little leagues. Most important, sports in America gives us the chance to witness: to see and recount, to tell a story. In the telling and in the seeing, we bind ourselves in our shared culture.

And that strikes me as pretty darn important.

 

Actively Learning Passively

As with any profession, education has its share of buzzwords, none more prevalent these days than “active learning.” On the surface, we all know that students (and the rest of us) learn by doing. To truly master a subject, we must take control and actively engage with the material. Active learning isn’t just about practicing. Certainly, you can only talk about welding so much before you have to take a chance on blowing yourself up and light the torch. You have to do arithmetic to get good at arithmetic. Active learning, though, is about seizing control of the educational process. After we learn to multiply, active learning is the willing application that shows understanding beyond simple regurgitation of ideas. It’s the difference between simply welding two pieces of metal together and understanding how to mix the gases.

We also know that the long term goals of education have always been to create active learners, but in the American system, we have industrialized education at the lower levels, focusing on facts and passive recitation. Such a focus is at the heart of the debate regarding standardized tests (passive measurement) and things like portfolios. In the “old days” (a relative term for sure), we imagined that students would take all these facts we dumped in their heads for 12 (or 16) years and after school, while gainfully employed, they would apply and actively engage.

Such a method was tried and true, especially at a time when a high school degree was the standard educational pinnacle. Yet, we have spent a good decade now trying to disrupt the classroom and reform education.

One easy way to think about the birth of classrooms is to go back to the development of the printing press. Gutenberg gave us this great tool that allowed us to reproduce books, unfortunately, no one could read the them (or the user manual). Eventually, these crazy dudes in robes emerged, stood behind a podium, and read to the masses. It was live theater without the acting. More importantly, it was the basis for our educational model. We could, as so many others have noted, take a person from 1650 and drop them in a modern classroom and they might not notice a difference. (Well, except for all the women in the room.)

Usually, when people make this claim, they have that little smirk that displays some sense of wonder at the backwards notions left in the world. I’ll admit that I’ve been guilty of such a smirk in the past.

However, as I was sitting at a presentation the other day, listening to yet another speaker tell me how important active learning is and how we need to push more faculty away from the old ways of teaching, I wondered if, perhaps, we aren’t taking things to an extreme and complicating the classroom more than we need to do so.

I think this is particularly true in K-12 when we often ask kids to behave in ways totally foreign to both their biological abilities and societal expectations. Our frontal lobes, those things we most need in place to actively engage intellectually, aren’t formed until our early 20s. When we lament a child’s lack of desire to learn, we are really, it seems to me, lamenting the fact that the kid doesn’t love the subject as much as we do. More importantly, we are asking the 10 year old (or 16 year old) to use a part of his brain that doesn’t even exist.

I also wonder, as we think about an educational format that has existed (and worked by the way) for 400 years, why we are so hell bent on changing the formula? Yes, sitting at a desk and listening to someone lecture isn’t that much fun and yes it is a passive learning format. I’m sure Plato and Aristotle’s students wondered how that guy could go on and on (and on and on). People listening to monks in robes read probably spaced out periodically.

But they also learned stuff. The history of humanity is the history of innovation and invention. Many of the things invented and innovated are directly tied to educations that involved long hours of passive receipt of knowledge.

We might also note that in no other industry (and I’m including education) would we take a winning formula and decide demand disruption. Ask the folks at Coke how well New Coke went over in the 1980s.

I can’t honestly write that I want a return to large lecture halls and silent students, but I think I can admit that I regularly have my doubts about our desire to disrupt an educational model that values the sage on the stage. That sage has earned her spot and has valuable things to say. Certainly, she also wants to inspire her students to go forth and actively engage, but I think we also need to recognize that they can’t be inspired if they don’t hear her speak first.

Common Sense Legislation: Term Limits in Texas

Sen. Kevin Eltife and Rep. Lyle Larson have introduced term limit legislation for Texas statewide elected officials. What is fascinating to many observers, of course, is that both Larson and Eltife are Republicans introducing term limit legislation in a state Republican’s control. Their bill is not, they tell us, directed at Rick Perry, a man who casts himself as an independent, outside the beltway regular kind of guy, a task increasingly difficult to sell considering he was first elected to public office in 1985 and has now spent 13 years as Governor.

Admittedly, when term-limits where all the rage a few sessions ago, I wasn’t much of a supporter. Like our current (and seemingly always) governor, I argued term-limits already existed–we just called it voting. Additionally, I might have added in my more naive days, we need experienced congressional leaders who understand the law and the constitution.

However, times change and people get older (and I’m getting older, too–guess the lyrics and win a prize!) and I can honestly say since we can’t seem to vote the bums out, let’s legislate them into retirement. There is, it seems, a fine line between experienced and entrenched. Too many of our politicians have become less and less focused on doing what is right for the country at large and more and more focused on doing what is necessary to get re-elected. Their views and policies have become increasingly focused on the narrow, provincial, and localized concerns of a select few constituents and lobbyists who have access and power creating rigid silos of incompetence and independence. Some of this attitude is, admittedly, our fault. Instead of electing smart people and trusting them to do what’s best, we holler and yell for them to “represent” us by doing exactly what we would do (even if we don’t understand the issue). And cut spending everywhere but in our home town. (Or social security, medicare, and the military. Other than those programs, go save money.)

Of course, it’s worth noting that the current bill under consideration only applies to statewide elected officials. Senators and State Reps still hold immunity from actual voters under the bill.

And that is a shame. The reality is that our system of voting has become so corrupted by gerrymandered redistricting and insane unregulated campaign financing that our two esteemed politicians should include all elected officials, both state and national, to the same standards.

We could, of course, avoid legislating term-limits if we attacked the actual problems regarding elections. I’m not referring to voter fraud, especially considering that there is no evidence of large scale voter fraud (yes, Republicans, a majority of Americans did vote for the black guy. On purpose even.). If we were really serious about reforming our political climate, we would focus our attention on re-districting (for both state and national offices) and campaign finance reforms.

Our current method of re-districting, an act that takes place very ten years is so overly controlled and contrived by the political party in power that getting elected has become a defacto act for most politicians. Sure, it’s possible that an incumbent might avoid getting re-elected but it’s also possible the state of Texas will use the lottery proceeds to fund education. Instead, our ability to crunch numbers, coupled with archaic laws governing representation from the federal government, have allowed us to create districts that look like drunken amoebas (on crack) that merge like-minded voters (by economics, ethnicity, etc) into single districts with similar voting patterns. While that might allow a politician to report that 98% of my constituents support X, it also stifles political discourse.

Of course, there are a variety of ways we could change re-districting to create a more fair and more competitive electoral system: ask the person at your local newspaper how they determine routes for delivery; ask the city official who develops the garbage pickup; or ask the local pizza delivery people. Hell, ask a 10 year old and you would get a better system than we have now. Most importantly, we just need to start asking people outside politics, people with no vested interest in actually being elected, how to best fairly distribute voters in a given region. Simply put, we need to take the task of redistricting away from the very people who benefit from creating districts.

Likewise, campaign financing has run amok. Politicians amass “war-chests” large enough to feed a small African country (or re-fund our public schools). These accounts grow faster than my retirement account, creating a system where half of our national congressional representatives are millionaires. These accounts, at both the state and national level, allow politicians to reimburse themselves (or the state) for travel and expenses related to re-election. And we wonder why our politicians are always on the campaign path? These aren’t war chests, they are supplemental salary funds.

Like re-districting, the solutions are simpler than we might imagine–establish a maximum limit campaign spending. The last presidential election cost almost a billion dollars. The average Senate race spent 8.5 million dollars. While I realize those campaigns helped put a lot of people to work, I can’t imagine the money was distributed fairly. Instead, incumbent politicians, many with 8, 10, 12 year war-chests are able to bombard and dominate the news cycle and air waves. Arguing that voters have a choice or an ability to vote the bums out might sound like a positive, voter-friendly idea, but it also assumes that the playing field is level and that voters are truly empowered. The squeaky wheel gets the grease, so they say, and the politician able to dominate the conversation will get re-elected. We might even, gasp, develop viable third and fourth party candidates so that voters actually have a choice that extends beyond candidates fighting for status in national parties beholden to large donors who shape policy.

Regulating and reducing campaign spending should, one would hope, reduce the influence of outside, wealthy donors who currently hold a disproportionate sway over politics. We can create a more proportionate monetary contribution level so that my dollars become just as valuable as Bob Perry’s.  And, of course, we must regulate PACS. Yes, such regulation infringes on free speech, but, and this seems really important, we regulate free speech throughout America. When speech is harmful and destructive, the Supreme Court, that august body that is supposed to apolitical has allowed government intervention. I can’t imagine anything more destructive to America than a dysfunctional political system that creates politicians who are largely unaccountable to the people they are supposed to represent.

The cost of these increasingly corrupt systems is political leadership beholden to the few creating laws that impact the many. And that just doesn’t make any sense.

Sunday Morning Garage Sales–a poem

Back before kids and before we had too much stuff, my wife and I enjoyed our fair share of garage sales during our holidays. We might camp the first part of spring break and then scour the Thursday and Friday papers for “moving sale–make an offer,” “clothing half-price,” “and “everything must go!” These days, we have friends who travel to far away cites to shop till they drop, but back in graduate school, when we were lucky to have a roll of quarters, 7 dimes, and two dollars in nickels, a weekend garage sale-ing was our poor-man’s trip to Dillards. Saturday was always the big day, but back in the day garage sales were weekend events. We might hit a variety of sales on Saturday, making notes in the newspaper, and return on Sunday looking for slashed prices, preying on the desperate desire to move the merchandise.

Like the large discount supers-store, garage sales have always struck me as a quintessentially American form of commerce and trade. On the one hand, we are a nation prone to waste, filling garbage pales with uneaten food, partially used pens, and barely worn clothes. Yet, every weekend, we also see the budding entrepreneurial spirit that makes our country so interesting as we try to recoup the costs for all those items we thought might help us keep up with the Jones’s. The essential becomes expendable.

Either way, a while back I wrote the poem below after driving by one such driveway filled with both economic hope and the corresponding despair. I had recently read Wallace Steven’s “Sunday Morning,” a poem that captures the difficult relationship American’s have with religion, nature, and our sense of independence. I hoped, as I was writing, that stealing some of Steven’s words would help the poem. Either way, as we wind down our spring break here and the weather turns warm and sunny, I sometimes miss those days trolling through our neighbors’ cast-offs, searching for that one “thing” that might make the day complete.

Sunday Morning Garage Sales

Complacency has no
place on Sunday morning.
Yesterday’s clothes
pulled on, there will be
time enough at noon
to clean. Coffee
strategically situated
mid-thigh, danger be
damned, donut devoured,
sugary finger trolling the
page looking for
nothing in particular
except a better deal than
Walmart specials–
close-out
prices on the neighbor’s
driveway. Church bells
ring, evoking some
pale remembered
tradition, replaced
by bargain shoppers–
pockets lined with coins,
small bills, dreams of the
Antique Road Show:
“I bought this at a
garage sale early one
Sunday morning for 2.50.
They had it marked 3 but
I talked them down. I sure
hope they’re not watching.”
Smiling. Comfortable with the
mysteries of junk
commerce:
Someone else’s
treasure consigned
to the concrete bargain bin.

At each stop: brakes screech,
doors fly open in
unambiguous undulations
as tired eyes watch,
prepared to
make a deal with
whatever devil arrives
just so the day ends
with a clean slate,
counting green-backs
as the whispered
wonderings of
Sunday morning linger.

Worried Love–A Poem

One of the reasons I love teaching at a university is that each year we break for spring. Certainly, by this time the 10 hour days, 6 days a week are catching up to me and my colleagues. Haggard and worn, my favorite memories of spring break involve camping. There’s really nothing like turning off the phone, leaving the tv, and hitting the trails. Better yet: that tired and worn feeling at the end of the day sitting by a fire with a rum and coke. Even though we’re going to miss out this year, I include a poem I wrote a while back after one such trip. I realize it’s pretty presumptuous to post one’s own poetry and I make no claims to it’s quality, but after 93 posts on contemporary topics and a couple of weeks blogging about education and the budget, I don’t really feel like thinking on the Friday before spring break.

Worried Love

My wife hates it when
I hike alone.

Her worry
is both endearing and
annoying. I tell her the
javelinas won’t find me
tasty–I’m too thin and
bony–but she’s not
amused.

I quote
Abbey: “get out of the
goddamned contraption . . .”

Before I finish she rolls
her eyes and waves
away my words, telling
me I’m welcome to hike
if I can find Abbey and
take him with me, pointing
to the pamphlets, underlining with
her finger the warning not to
“hike alone.”

She worries about snakes,
quotes statistics about
heat stroke, broken bones.
Bears.Wild pigs.
I smile at her
frustration, the
repetition of this
game we play.

What can I see from a
car? Hoary rosemary
mint looks like thistle at
seventy miles an hour;
mountain oxeye blurs like
black eyed susans.

Early mornings are best.
I leave camp at dawn to
see the sun hit
wildflowers.

They open slowly like
my family emerging
from their sleeping
bags. The freshly
opened dayflower,
midnight blue, a splash of
yellow to feed the insect
world. Beardlip
penstemon, hidden in a
crevice, a plant to
sneak up on, quietly,
like chasing a deer
down the trail.

She hears me pack and
knows I’m going,
tells me if
I break a leg,
twist an ankle,
get eaten by a bear,
don’t come
crying to her.

I tell her I
love her too and
pack my stuff for the
morning hike.

Take This Test and Shove It

There’s nothing inherently wrong with standardized testing. SAT, ACT, GRE, STARR, TAKS, and other such exams can offer us a benchmark of shared knowledge. While I willingly admit that such tests have cultural biases, from a practical standpoint we might also note that doing well on these exams offers access to power. In other words, the exams, for better or for worse, do represent certain academic values and they offer us insight into where our students stand with regards to understanding those values.

We do something similar in our classes on a smaller scale all the time. Every 6 weeks or so, I give a “standardized” exam to my students. The exam measures their performance on information we’ve covered in the class and I have a yard stick allowing me to see where each student stands. Each student takes the same exam with the same questions.

By the end of the semester, my students have taken 3 or 4 such tests, completed some other assignments, and we can use their performance to determine how well they understand the material from the course. While each exam might be important, no single exam is so high stakes it controls the final grade. Such a process has been in place educationally for a good while now. It works because it holds students accountable but also judges them based on the totality of their work. Students who perform at a high level earn high grades, but a student doesn’t have to be perfect to earn a passing grade. Sometimes, heaven forbid (and don’t tell their parents), they are simply average in their understanding.

My exams and other performance measures certainly aren’t perfect, but they do reflect the information I find most valuable for any given class. Some classes ask students to know more facts and figures; others ask students to apply material or perform a task. All of the exams, though, represent a professional opinion regarding the most important information discussed in the class. Exams reflect the academic values of the teacher.

Certainly, I might find it useful to see how and where my students “fit” with regard to other students of similar age and education. State or national standardized tests offer us that opportunity. You say your high school has a rigorous science program and you teach the ideas, concepts, and facts the profession finds important? Great. Good work. Let’s find out where your strengths and weaknesses might lie. We can then highlight your strengths and find ways to improve your weak areas.

Each year we start the process all over again. Amazingly enough, such a process has helped America become one of the most literate countries in the industrialized world and has helped create a university system that is the envy of the world. We may not be first on those “world-wide measures” of academic performance, but no one else in the world tries to offer every child an equal education. And last time I checked, things are going pretty well around here.

Naturally,  we can’t leave well enough alone s0 we have spent the last 10 or 15 years in education completing undercutting any sort of constructive exam process by creating high stakes testing and performance measures that, essentially, punish both students and schools if a student under-performs on one exam. Instead of using larger state-wide testing to identify areas of weakness that might allow us to improve, we have developed a state-wide minimum skills test that we use as a hammer to punish.

Texas, long a leader in educational “reform” willing to put its taxpayer dollars where its governor’s mouth is, pays $1.2 billion (that’s a B) to Pearson to cover the costs of STAAR testing. (Because, of course, no one in Texas is capable of writing a standardized test.) We have spent a decade attacking public education with nearly constant “reforms” designed to hold educators “accountable” for their student performance (all the while, of course, cutting funding and trying desperately to create charter schools).

As I noted a few days ago, there’s nothing evil about wanting students to have a base-level of information. Certainly, we can all agree that an educated high school student will know how our political system works (or how it works in theory because it clearly doesn’t work in practice anymore), know how to multiply, understand the basic laws of nature, and have a certain vocabulary. These might or might not be separate from some higher level skills depending on the age of the student. We can’t make everyone a great critical thinker, but I’m fairly certain we can teach everyone how to multiply 9X9, understand the basics of gravity, and remember George Washington is one important dude in American history. (Actually, as I write that statement, I also realize how naive I sound but bear with me.)

What bothers me the most about standardized tests, though, isn’t the exorbitant cost. Sure, $1.2 BILLION might seem like a lot of money (and don’t forget to add millions more in indirect costs), but Texas has a trillion dollar economy so this is couch change in the big picture. Likewise, the worst part isn’t that standardized, high stakes testing simply increases the industrialized concept of education. The assumption behind such testing is that learning takes place in this linear process where intelligence and intellect is easily measured, assessed, and accounted for. Picture Charlie Chalpin (or Lucille Ball) on the assembly line. Diane Ravitch calls standardized testing companies vampires as they suck the life-blood out of the classroom.

The real, long term destructive power of standardized testing is the fact that we use them as bludgeons to beat teachers and students and that use implies a distrust of teachers. In essence, we daily attack the professionalism of our teachers. We are, without a doubt, hiding our collective political disdain for education professionals behind a desire to “improve performance” using STAAR (or TAKS or any other set of letters). The long term cost is high turnover and fewer highly qualified people willing to consider teaching as a viable profession. Not only do standardized tests and curriculum turn the classroom into an assembly line, they remove the creative energy from those in the front of the room.

And when teachers go through the motions, so do the students. That’s not exactly the standardization we need.

Uncommonly Common Core Misses the Point

When I teach T.S. Eliot’s “The Waste Land,” my students invariably hate it. The poem is difficult, no doubt. Filled with allusions to texts and ideas they’ve never heard of, foreign language passages, and references to myths long since dead to them, they consistently tell me something like “it was so hard, I didn’t even understand the footnotes.”

Eliot, I tell them, would argue your lack of understanding is evidence his poem matters. Our lost communal myths have created a sterile, empty, and fragmented world. Eliot, in the poem, argues for a return to shared stories. When we have consistent cultural narratives, I tell them, artists’ poetry would make sense to everyone.

Lest we imagine such a trend is new, I tell my students, it’s worth noting that we might read Homer’s The Odyssey as a conservative cautionary tale. The suitors try to re-define the myth of power in the kingdom, rejecting the rule of law and the gods. The price they pay is slaughter in the mead hall. The epic poem ends with a pretty strong call for maintaining the shared myths of the past.

Of course, later in the semester we call into question how narratives are constructed and we discuss the politics and power associated with myth.

But a part of me sympathizes with Eliot. There are days when I’m teaching and realize my students have virtually no shared narratives. We exist in a world so overloaded with information that it resists cultural narratives. People have become islands of individualized data, music, television, and culture. Individual choice has superseded communal bonds.

Educationally, we are trending the same direction. Computer analytics allow students not only to target academic areas where they might struggle, we are slowly developing ways to self-select examples targeted to our preferred learning styles.  On one hand this makes sense. We know that most kids are educationally equal until sometime around the 3rd-4th grade. We begin losing the economically disadvantaged students as the course materials change and becomes less relevant to their daily lives. Individualizing education offers us the opportunity to create assignments and lessons that are relevant, timely, and worth studying for students. The potential to engage students and encourage persistence to high school graduate is exciting.

As we create the bubbles of individual understanding, however, we will continue to lose those shared stories that bind us on emotional and communal levels. If every student in a class is reading a different story or studying a different math problem, we are learning in a bubble of isolation. Certainly, we can come back together and discuss higher learning skills, but we are losing something along the way.

Like Eliot, I have this sense that we need a base level of knowledge that helps us remain culturally connected. I have, in many ways, sympathy for the standardized test movement, believing that at the heart of standardized testing is rooted in this desire for some shared knowledge.

In many ways, there is wisdom in requiring that everyone progressing through a school has a base level of knowledge and we can claim they know certain things. These bits of knowledge, facts, and ideas help us come together. We might not like all the facts, but sometimes learning isn’t about individual goals but the communal good. We all benefit, for instance, if everyone understands basic math and core citizenship rules.

In a perfect world, of course, we might come to some agreement about that shared narrative.

Anyone who has participated in (or even read about) textbook adoption meetings, though, knows no such agreement exists. There’s a reason Odysseus finally just killed all the suitors. That’s old school veto power.

In the absences of shared agreement about narratives (or even factual knowledge), the federal government has pushed a Common Core upon our states. On the surface, one might imagine these are good things. We will, as a nation, decide what an “educated” person knows and we will incentivize states to meet these minimum goals. Diane Ravitch notes her lack of support centers around both the process and the lack of serious research into the standards: “They are being imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools. We are a nation of guinea pigs, almost all trying an unknown new program at the same time.”

Well, at least we’ll be united in failure if they don’t work. Maybe that’s our shared narrative.

Certainly, these are major issues with regard to the Common Core.

But like so many other things, including standardized tests, a Common Core misses the point. The problem with education isn’t that we don’t have goals. Lord knows anyone teaching today is assessed, outcomed, and evaluated half to death. We also don’t have disparate goals as educators: reading, writing, and arithmetic. At a base level, we all want these three things.

Our problem is that the path to a common core of knowledge is fragmented into shards of personalized knowledge. We might know how to read, but we never read the same thing. Periodically, I’ll catch a news story about newly minted American citizens. They stand proudly: a community of learners who studied the same text, memorized the same laws, and conquered shared ideas.

I wonder, as I watch them, if we haven’t over-complicated the core. Perhaps Eliot was on to something–what we need is a return to simple stories, myths, and narratives that we all share.

Things I Read

And Things I Learned

Washington Monthly

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Joanne Jacobs

Thinking and Linking by Joanne Jacobs

Inside Higher Ed

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

FiveThirtyEight

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Balloon Juice

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

Scott Adams' Blog

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)

The Full Feed from HuffingtonPost.com

Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes.)