Goyte Parody: Some Study That I Used To Know

Preface: This video was created by CollegeHumor.  Therefore, some language (a couple of words) may not be appropriate for all students.  Additionally, at the end, while the nudity is pixellated, it is rather obvious.  This being said, the video was appropriate enough to be published on TEDEd.

“Indoctrination in Common Core ELA textbooks”

A few weeks ago I saw a video on Facebook titled “Indoctrination in Common Core ELA textbooks”.  It was posted on June 15 by Aliēnātus: the truth is out there.  The goal was to open people’s minds to what was in the Common Core curriculum and that the curriculum is horrible because it “indoctrinates” students starting in the 1st grade.  According to the commentators in the video, the book(s) shown have been approved by the state of Utah.

I was outraged, but not by the curriculum, rather by the ignorance of the commentators in the video and by the comments on the video.  It still outrages me, thus, I have decided to embedded the video and share my thoughts.

My Issues with Statements Made in This Video

The commentators have no authority on the subject matter.  The commentators who are evaluating the curriculum have no stated background in teaching, curriculum planning/design, or education.  One commentator claims he has a 6-year-old (1st grader).  This does NOT make him an expert on what is taught or should be taught but isn’t being taught in the 1st grade.  It is apparent that he has not seen the entire K-12 system as a whole, its successes and its failures, from the standpoint of an educator.  He is a parent.  He may be an expert on the interests of his child, but that does not translate into the expertise of the educational goals for that grade.

The commentators’ narrow focus on the title, “Literature and Writing” ignores the benefits of working with content in different contexts.  Since the commentators are not well-versed in educational issues, they do not understand that one of the major problems of the American school system is that we pulled apart our content and put each one into different boxes called grade level and subject matter from which we were told to never deviate into another subject or grade level.  In other words, the 1st grade English teacher taught 1st grade English, which included reading, spelling, writing, and literature.  Students were not taught reading in 2nd grade science class because “that’s the 1st grade English teacher’s job.”  We now know this chunking to be very problematic and the term “cross-curricular” has entered the educational vocabulary.  Encouraging students to write about advocacy in a “literature and writing” class highlights that you don’t just write papers in an English class and talk about society in social studies, you can mix them!

It’s also important to note that writing is not just about the motor skills of writing letters and sentence structure.  Why should we waste students’ precious time writing about insignificant things like, “The sky is blue.  I like puppies,” when they are capable of so much more?  Many students have already grasped these basic verbal concepts by the 1st grade, thus, we are wasting their time by re-teaching the same concept with only adding the motor skill of writing.  We end up hindering the grow of their mental skills; and when their brain isn’t stimulated, students get bored, which can directly lead to learning, “nothing” all day and hating school.

The commentators project their adult understanding and definition of “advocacy” and cannot fathom that a 6-year-old can advocate for anything.  The concept of “advocacy” can be complicated or boiled down to a very simple basic element: standing up for what you think is right.  Isn’t that the exact same message behind the anti-bullying campaigns in elementary schools right now?  The commentators laugh and one says sarcastically, “Yeah, my six-year-old does that all the time.  She looks at what is wrong in the world and says how do I organize my people and my community to fix these social problems?”  By six years old, kids are able to identify things that are right and wrong as well as come up with ideas on how to change the status quo.  Why tell a six-year-old, “no, you’re only six, you have nothing positive to contribute to your family/house, neighborhood, your school, or your city”?  We’re not talking about six-year-olds organizing and starting a national revolution, but they can see that there are people who are starving and that creating a community garden and donating the food to a local food bank can help.  It’s also fathomable that 1st graders could organize a school-wide blanket drive to donate blankets to the American Red Cross for the upcoming winter.

The commentators ignore the intended audience of the curriculum guidebook that they mock.  The guidebook is written for a college-educated educator.  The voice and style of the paragraphs is written such that it will not be an insult to the intelligence of an elementary school teacher.  The educator is able to translate the broad concept of “call to action” into simpler words that each individual student will understand.  The concept of “call to action” really isn’t difficult to understand at all.  A six-year old definitely understands, “the sentence that says ‘I want you to clean your room.’ is a call to action because ‘clean’ is a verb, and a verb is an action, right?”  Why are we insulting the intelligence of six-year-olds?  If they are capable of understanding the concept, willing to learn it, and desiring more out of their education, then we should be teaching them.  It is the role of an educated, effective teacher to translate concepts from complex to simple.  Teacher guidebooks are written for the teacher, not the student.

The commentators have ignored the basic principles of persuasion: logos, ethos, and pathos.  Logos ethos, and pathos are Greek words that used to describe the three types of appeal that are used to convince people in an argument.  They are essentially logical appeal, credibility appeal, and emotional appeal.  These are very complex subjects that are repeatedly studied throughout middle school, high school, and college.  However, the commentators do not understand that the fundamental understanding of these complex concepts must begin early.  Since the commentators do not seem to have an education background, they have not experienced the problems that occur later when this ground work is not laid.  An effective elementary teacher is able to teach a very basic understanding of these concepts.

The commentators have ignored the value of recognizing how someone is manipulating you in favor of focusing on the fact that we are equipping 1st graders with tools to manipulate.  A six-year-old has already experienced manipulation using all three types of appeal: in video and/or print advertisements, in overhearing an argument between their parents or other adults, or by engaging in an argument themselves.  It is imperative that students begin to understand how peer pressure works (usually a combination of all three, but typically lots of logical and emotional appeal) and how to avoid failing prey to it.

The commentators take issue with the example of arguing with their parents.  My gut instinct is that the reason parents were chosen is that they were looking for an authority figure that a child may feel comfortable arguing with, and it’s pretty safe to assume that each child has at least one parent (or guardian).  But I think the bigger problem is if you are worried that we are teaching six-year-olds how to argue back to their parents instead of simply obeying and doing as their told without incident…perhaps you need to re-evaluate your parenting style.  I mean..if you can be outsmarted or outargued by a six-year-old…then you probably have not taught your kids WHY you want them to do something, which is just as important as the WHAT.  Why don’t we want to equip our children as early as we can with the weapon of words instead of the weapon of fists?  Why do we want to enforce blind obedience, but then wonder why kids aren’t thinking for themselves?

The commentators fall victim to the exact “problems” they criticize in the teacher’s guidebook.  The commentators emphasize and pause on certain words to elicit an emotional response from the viewer.  They are trying to convince the viewers that this guidebook is indoctrinating students by using their “authority” as a parent of a six year old, emphasizing emotional words, and trying to insert sarcastic commentary as part of their emotional appeal.  The end goal of this video was not to objectively review the Common Core approved, curriculum guidebook for 1st grade in the state of Utah, but it was to stir up emotions and fuel rage-filled comments.

“Inquiry Learning vs. Standardized Content: Can They Coexist?”

On my lunch break today, which was sandwiched somewhere in between covering for various teachers who were attending Individual Education Plan (IEP) meetings, I read an article through my Flipboard on MindShift by Thom Markham titled, “Inquiry Learning vs. Standardized Content: Can They Coexist?”

The short answer to the headlining question? Yes.  My only question?  Why is this even being debated?

Ok..stay with me, here…Let me explain why I don’t see a reason for debate.  My complete sentence answer is, “They not only can they coexist, but they must coexist.”  And I really think most teachers and parents would agree with the statement if we set the record straight on some terminology.

First, the words “standards” and ” formulaic” are NOT interchangeable.  I frequently here “standards” and Common Core being described as formulaic restrictions that will suffocate learning.  Standards are not prescriptive.  They do not tell the teacher to teach commas on Monday and prepositions on Tuesday.  They are the common foundation in which a teacher can build anything upon.  Standards are “the basics”.

Why do we need standards?  There needs to be a common foundation for teachers, other students, parents, and students to know what is minimally expected for them to know.  There should be some content standards.  For instance, by the end of the 1st grade a student in America should know the significance of the year 1776 to the United States of America.  Another reason: certain facts do not need to be cited in a paper because they are considered to be “common knowledge”.  This “common knowledge” should be defined somewhere.

There are various reasons basic content standards should be outlined.  It gives parents, educators, and tutors who teach privately (“homeschool”) to ensure the same common knowledge is being learned so that if in 5 years a switch must occur, from one district to another, from private to public education, etc., the new educator does not need to spend time “remaking” the common foundation.  This ensures that students who change education styles do not feel like they need to skip grades or be put in remedial classes because they are ahead or behind “grade-level”.

We know we need to teach skills.  We know we need to use a project-based learning environment.  We need to keep the individual accountable yet learn to work effectively in collaboration.  However, without this foundation, the content-based standards, we cannot reach the higher-order thinking required for project-based learning.

How can one create a new type of solar cell without a good grasp of mathematics or knowledge of what the suns rays are composed of?  How will student be able to solve problems if they don’t have the background knowledge to identify what the problem even is?  How will that person submit a research paper for publication in a journal or write a grant to produce a prototype if he can’t write a proper sentence?

Let’s look at standards in another way.  If we don’t have standards to minimally define the objectives of high school, then why do we even have high school altogether?  Think about the educational goals and objectives of high school.  How are they different from middle school or even elementary school? If we cannot even define the objectives we want students to accomplish in high school, there is a much larger problem than curriculum/methods of presentation.  How much of compulsory learning is actually “essential” to being a productive member of society and what is superfluous?

There are quite a few rhetorical questions in that last paragraph.  However, we really need to think about why we need standards versus what the standards should be.

Last analogy: if I asked you (in the USA) to go to McDonald’s and get me a medium Diet Coke (please), would you know what size glass I’m asking you to get?  Now let’s exchange McDonald’s for Burger King.  If they both have a Diet Coke machine and I asked for a medium Diet, would I get essentially the same thing?  Most likely, unless they recently changed cup sizes on me.  I remember a number of years ago some of the fast food restaurants changed their glasses sizes and suddenly a medium at Burger King was previously the large and I was charged more.  Standardization is what allows you to expect cups to usually come in 8oz, 12oz, 16oz, 20oz, and 32oz.  Once in awhile you may find a 10oz.  You don’t expect to find a 13oz cup at McDonald’s.  And how did the graphic designer know what would fit on the cup?  Standardization.  All McDonald’s restaurants have the same size cups.

Education standards function the same way as the cup.  Teachers are the graphic designers.  We make the difference between the look of the cup, but it’s foundation is still a cup.

Project-based learning must coexist with content standards.  Neither will thrive without the other.  It is a symbiotic relationship (a term learned in science class, yet here it is in another “subject”).

“Are we creating scavengers or readers?”

Truth be told, I’ve never been a fan of questions at the end of the chapter or even a worksheet of questions to answer as you read the selection. From a student’s perspective, they love them because they think–“Jackpot! I don’t have to read, I just have to answer the questions.” So they scan. They find the answer to the question. And even then, if they cannot find it within a couple minutes or it’s not blatantly obvious because it’s not bolded–they give up and claim, “it’s not in the book” or “I couldn’t find it in the book so I skipped it.”

I’m not sure at what point in a person’s education that the the desire to do as little as possible came to be. Perhaps, it is because schooling is legally mandated until the age of 16 (at least in the USA). Students view their education as something forced upon them rather than something they chose to do. Days, months, and even years of a student’s life is consumed with studying and memorizing information through classes upon classes that do not interest them, seem to have no connection to the real world (or more importantly, their real world) or because they are told they “have to” learn it. And when people are confronted with something they do not want to do, they will take the path of least resistance around it.

Perhaps the path of least resistance developed out of necessity. Students are overwhelmed with academic pressures, societal pressures, family obligations, and personal desires. Prioritizing is the only way students are able to (somewhat) handle all these pressures. Some people choose academics. Some choose family. Some choose society. Some choose personal desires. Once a priority ranking is established, students then try to cope with “getting through” the other pressures, rather than try to balance them. Skimming text is one such technique. And while skimming has it’s uses, students have abandoned reading for understanding in favor of skimming. They find the answer, but have no idea what’s going on.

Fred Ende recently published an article on SmartBlogs (SmartBlog on Education) titled, “Are we creating scavengers or readers?” He makes several good points about the scavenging method of reading versus reading for comprehension.

Brief Intermission: For those of you unfamiliar with the “scavenger” method of “reading,” it basically works like this:

  1. Read questions given to be answered.
  2. Seek location in informational text or literature where this answer might be located.
  3. Find keywords and/or “giveaways” in text material.
  4. Write answer down without reading for context or deeper understanding.

Notice that this approach doesn’t actually involve any “reading.” For lack of a better characterization, it’s not good.

Ende also points out that one of the Common Core’s goals is to remedy the issue of skimming versus reading for understanding by requiring students “supply evidence” from the text. However, Ende makes clear that “supplying evidence” doesn’t always yield in complete comprehension.

Seemingly, the Common Core State Standards (or Common Core Learning Standards here in New York) should address these concerns. And maybe, on some level, they do. However, when students are asked to “supply evidence from the text” on an assessment, it doesn’t necessarily mean that students will understand, or even consider, what was read. “Supplying” something is much less intensive than “explaining,” and much, much less intensive than “creating.” Yet, much of the sample and real questions I’ve seen ask students to respond to a prompt by supplying (or “using;” whatever that means) evidence from the text. Even local assessments that our districts are creating appeal to students to “find” evidence, without necessarily encouraging them to “think” about it.

“Scavenging” for information has several good uses. It is beneficial when trying to review a large amount of text to determine if it warrants further, more in-depth reading/analysis. Unfortunately, the skill of scavenging has been taught and reinforced year after year under the guise of “understanding”.

I do not know if Common Core will be the push to separate scavenging for answers and reading for comprehension. But I do know this: I will be the push to separate the two in my classroom. It may take me a few tries to word the questions correctly and to teach the difference. I will provide opportunities for students to hone both skills. I will not “produce” scavenger-only type readers. Why? Because that is the change I can make.

Article: Culture, Not Curriculum, May be Key to High School Reform

I agree with this article.  The “achievement gap problem” does not lie solely upon the teachers, solely upon the students, solely upon the parents, solely upon the curriculum, or solely upon the school’s administration.  It lies in the culture of the school.  Each “piece of the puzzle” puts in a certain amount of effort that is required and demanded by the school’s culture.  We will only get back what we put in.  We will only get back what we demand others to put in.

The article says it’s time to focus not on the plants we grow but instead on the soil we plant them in.  I’m a product of the good soil in this area.  I went to the local public schools for K-12.  I would love nothing more than to turn around and give that same high quality (or better!) education back to the school system that empowered me.  It was the culture of the local district that made a difference.  It was the sincerity of the teachers.  It was the hard work the teachers put in.  It was the hard work my parents put in.  It was the hard work I put in.  The least important component to me of my public education was the curriculum.

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Culture, Not Curriculum, May be Key to High School Reform
Article By November 12, 2012, USNews.com

School leaders can improve student achievement by empowering teachers and engaging parents, one expert says.

Resurrecting a struggling high school is more about changing culture than curriculum, according to Charles Payne, a University of Chicago professor and affiliate of the university’s Urban Education Institute.

Schools should be places where teachers are trusted, students are challenged, and parents are engaged, Payne said Friday at an annual conference hosted by the Education Trust, an advocacy group. When that happens, students show up and teachers stick around, and that alone can boost student achievement.

“If you can get your students to … show up regularly, if you can get the teachers to stay in one school … then students have a better chance to develop, even if we hold the quality of teaching constant,” he told a ballroom full of educators and administrators. “We’ve got to stop worrying about the particular plants we are planting, and worry more about the soil.”

[Find out what teachers wish parents asked at conferences.]

Teacher collaboration, strong community ties, rigorous instruction, supportive leadership, and a safe learning climate can all help change the makeup of the soil, he said, but those elements are futile on their own. Without support from their principal, colleagues, and parents, educators who are excited about engaging their students will eventually revert back to the status quo of teaching with workbooks and answer sheets, he added.

“[They] get tired of being the hardest working person on a staff where the other teachers are almost laughing at [them],” Payne said. “You can create all the pockets of good instruction you want, [but] if the organizational environment doesn’t support [the change], it is likely to destroy it.”

[Read how high school teachers put training to work.]

School districts that have transformed their culture, often through a change of leadership, have seen improvements in graduation rates, drops in truancy levels, and increases in college readiness, he said, pointing to Baltimore City Public Schools, Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, and New York City Public Schools as examples.

In New York, district administrators revitalized a push toward smaller schools focused on personalized attention and community partnerships. As a result, graduation rates for minority students improved 8 percentage points, Payne noted.

Administrators in Baltimore started throwing annual block parties to connect with students, and cut down on the number of long-term suspensions. Graduation rates at Baltimore high schools are up 20 percent from four years ago, and up 26 percent among black male students, he said.

Montgomery County schools shrunk the achievement gap at all grade levels, in part because district officials moved their top talent to underserved schools, Payne added.

“There are some groups of African-American and Hispanic students who, when they get a different caliber of teachers, can turn on a dime,” he added. “Montgomery County cannot be the only place where those students exist.”