“When you come to a fork in the road… take it.” — Yogi Berra
If we continue to do what we are doing– to walk a curricular path that is confined to reading and math and mastering only one language — we will not die. But many of our children will. Just as they have during this past decade when school reform meant preparing students for standardized tests that ignore the many natural and innate ways in which kids are actually intelligent.
Or we can go back to the old road– the one we all walked through the 60′s and 70′s and 80′s when we were just kids ourselves; where inequalities were enshrined in law and in our cultural DNA. Remember that road? The public school system convulsed from one legal mandate to the next trying to reflect the very Constitution we taught in social studies every day: Brown v Bd of Education, PL94-142, Title IX, Lau v Nichols, and on. And on… until we got it (sort of) right. In that era, there were no standards. No expectations. No accountability. And little growth. Children of privilege did as well as they wanted. Children of color… not so much. And the achievement chasm split the socioeconomic continuum like a great Grand Canyon. There were haves. And not.
And now there is a pathway toward the Common Core. This is where the handwringing begins.
This is when educators fear a loss of control– as if they forgot their place in the political machinery of public education. (Don’t you know? Public tax dollars pay for schools and salaries. Those dollars are allocated by elected officials. Those elected officials represent voters who demand certain actions in exchange for their votes. Things like… schools where all children are learning what the community wants their children to learn.)
This is when the loudest voices are often from those who haven’t even read the standards, but envision a set of mind-numbing factoids that every kid will be required to swallow. They hype their own fear. The nationalization of learning. The standardization of our kids. (Wasn’t there a song about that from Pink Floyd or somebody?)
This is when educators begin to doubt their capacity to behave as they would have their students behave.
After a decade of complaints about the road we were currently on– the so-called reform road– we are beginning anew. We are on the cusp of another full-scale transformation from basic skills and test prep academies to 21st century skills.
Never in the long (constantly changing) history of public education has there ever been a more promising opportunity to insure that every student has the skills and knowledge and values to compete and contribute in their world: the ability to think creatively and critically, to seek relevance in daily school tasks, to readily apply new learnings to authentic problems, to communicate effectively in multiple ways and contexts and audiences.
Entrepreneurialism. Innovation. Civic Literacy. Activism. Voice.
At the crossroads, there is angst in the air. There always is.
But when you come to that fork in the road…
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• More from Kevin W. Riley at the official website of The Milagro Publications