I took these on an Olympus OM-1.
Since I wrote this (five months ago as of this writing) more arguments have been added to the four I here enumerate. The opposition is metastasizing, grabbing headlines like nobody could have predicted in December. I will include those new arguments — and my counter-arguments — in red.
There are four main arguments against the Core Curriculum, which constitutes the new learning and teaching standards for elementary and high school.
Okay, then. First argument. Such judgements were made within the first few weeks of school this year, when the Language Arts skills curriculum was largely and deliberately a review of first grade skills. This quite effectively reversed the effects of summer vacation. In fact, if you ask any teacher using the curriculum beyond week 10, you will learn that this ELA curriculum is incredibly fast paced and very challenging. Math is another area of misunderstanding. Teachers used to be expected to cover Mathematics with a very broad brush, with only one coat of paint. Children had a very shallow understanding, therefore, of grade level Math. The Core Curriculum introduces a new concept: depth of knowledge rather than breadth of knowledge. Children will have a better foundation for higher math if they learn the basics thoroughly.
Second argument. Too difficult? Would you rather a second grader learns about Dan in the Van and Sally in the Alley, or about the Great Wall of China and Greek Mythology? You may be surprised to learn that children actually prefer non-fiction. They love to learn from stories, not just be entertained by them. The previous method of teaching reading featured one story per week: a story that was rehashed on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and part of Friday with the objective of teaching skills such as sequencing events, finding the main idea, and identifying the setting. Believe me, it was as dull as North Korean opera. Now children are hearing stories about Ancient India, Ancient Greece, Mesopotamia, and other far-off places. They are not expected, at the primary grade level, to fully understand the geography and the place in literature associated with these stories: they are expected to learn an advanced vocabulary and to gain a foothold in cultural literacy. Later on, in the fifth grade, for example, they may hear about Pandora’s Box. The fifth grade teacher will be able to draw on prior knowledge, because the story will not be entirely strange to the students who learned about Pandora in the second grade. One might well ponder the words of Albert Einstein: “Education is not the learning of facts, but the training of the mind to think.”
Three. Teaching to the test, or too many tests? Not if you know what a test is. There are several different types of test. One is evaluative; one is diagnostic; one is, quite frankly, punitive. An evaluative test might be, for example, a math assessment at the end of a lesson. Or it might be a worksheet. Or it might be a written explanation of what was learned. It is used to determine whether the students actually learned what was covered in a lesson. A diagnostic test is given before a lesson is taught, so teachers know what the students do not know and must be taught. It is akin to going to a doctor’s office to find out what medicine you may need. A punitive test is one that is given as a sort of punishment, such as a pop test. The important point to remember is that the Core recognizes that any student work can be perceived as a test. If a teacher needs an evaluation of his or her lesson, what could be better than to assess student learning via an examination of student work from that day? The students may feel they’re being tested, but for whose benefit is it and what kind of test is it? Incidentally, there are no more standardized tests in the Core Curriculum than there were in the old one.
Fourth argument? This is a subset of argument two, the difficulty argument. This attempts to pull a veil of respectability over that more direct argument, however; a not very convincing attempt, as you will see. Teaching children about Mesopotamia or Mohenjo Daro is not developmentally inappropriate — even if those places are news to the teachers. You cannot expect to have a literate, civic-minded population if you don’t give them the tools to think and the knowledge that brings wisdom. Allow me to illustrate how the Core Curriculum encourages the development of higher-order thinking skills.
Fifth argument: No teachers and no parents were involved!
Sixth argument: My God, it’s Bill Gates!
The opposition to the Core Curriculum is vaguely reminiscent of the tactics of the Tea Party. Blind rage against inevitable change. But we need to understand the urgency of improving our schools. We need to understand the urgency of making a more national curriculum, because our mobility puts our children at a disadvantage. We need to stick to the Core Curriculum and make it even better.
the starlings and the pigeons in city hall park
the traffic coming off the brooklyn bridge
then into the subway and under the river
a transfer later and up into the brooklyn air
walking for no purpose on 8th avenue staring
at passing fences then it’s william gaynor’s house
but somebody’s removed the stoop
nothing is just right
nothing is perfect
just like love
It’s always fascinating to look to the new year. All we can do is guess what’s going to happen. Will we be okay? Will all our loved ones be okay? What’s the worst thing that will happen?
Every year has its ups and downs. Not many are as bad as 1941, 1963, 1968, and 2001. All in all, I’d venture to say we’re destined to have a fairly unremarkable year. I really hope so.
Happy new year!
Talk about a bunch of doggerel: six hundred billion dollars for “defense.” They used to call it the War Department, before 1945; unless there was a war, they didn’t really have all that much to do. But defense? Ah. Everyone’s against war, but nobody can be against defense, or you’re anti-American.
Well, the Senate just passed a big expenditure authorization which includes, among other things, assurances that no Guantanamo Bay inmates will be tried in American courts.
America is engaging in one of the most obvious and despicable acts of civil rights violation that has ever been perpetrated by our national government since the involuntary internment of over 110,000 Japanese Americans during the Second World War. And nobody has the courage to demand an end to it. So it is with the decline of an empire.