Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Rotten to the Core

The school year has begun. It reflects the triumph of the "reactors" to the cultural changes that were behaviors of the actors of the 60's. Nowhere is their impact more keenly seen than in the new "national core standards of education" that is being adopted around the country.

The curriculum doesn't reflect any accommodation to the real world implications of the universal accessibility of knowledge, cross border economic activity, environmental degradation, or full earth pressures on the capacity of the earth to sustain its ever rising population. It is as if the last 50 years of educational progress never happened. This curriculum guide would look familiar to any educator from the 60s. There is lip service paid to some diversity in the suggested readings that teachers might pull from, but the thrust, tone and temper of the core curriculum is red state, Kansas, conservative. It is a finger up the ass of the reformers who would have our children integrated, capable of speaking to others in their native tongue, aware of the moral and ethical responsibilities of being a passenger on spaceship earth, and sensitive to the gender, race, ethnicity, age, class, and specific history of their fellow human beings. It is a testimony to the persistence and perseverance of those for whom change is a threat. It is the perpetuation of the school as factory, with universal evaluations, and the denial of individuation of students in the process. It is a political and contemptuous document. It is a perfect representation of professionals caving to the mean spirits of the reactors.

Though we are constantly told that reactors hate the elite liberal establishment and that it is the dominance of those persons who have stolen their country from them, that provokes their ire. I believe the objects of the reactors' contempt are not so far afield; They hate their own. While they dwell in/on the over written, over studied, over analyzed, fin de siecle, what is most galling to them is that their own children continue to turn on them with a fury. (Footloose 2 is about to be released). I thought that was history you say. Can't we get past those persistence analyses of the culture wars? The fact is that those wars have never ended. Their children elected O'bama. Their parents reference back to Reagan, harboring a desire for a big daddy that will spray hose the protestors, and reaffirm the cowboy tradition,

The turn against status quo happens in waves. That is why it is so persistent. Whereas coastal inhabitants of big integrated cities were the hot beds of the breakout of counter culture, it is only recently that, let's find the appropriate symbol, earrings started to be worn by local postmen in Salina, or full sleeve tats are seen on the arms of the short order cooks in Wichita.

In 2004 Thomas Frank, What's The Matter With Kansas, got real smart and historical about the process of the conservatives effectively taking over a group of people who should, by all rights, loath them. And that was before the Tea Party, before Obama, before the financial crash that threatens the very ground they plow on. Now they are only more entrenched.

Liberals fear these people. They fear the push back. They accommodate them despite all the evidence that they have been rendered ineffectual. They tolerate their rights to have hair brained opinions, their pro any business activity, their anti science, anti compassion, anti democratic, venomous rhetoric. The Core Standards is evidence of the depth of the fear of alienating these radicals.

No one I speak to has read the Core Standards. "They" take the time to write them. We should take the time to read them. Here are written the specifics of how it is that we will condemn our children to a life of missed opportunity. It has been so refined to conform to the 'taste" of the reactors, certified by the professionals who vetted it, and passed the political stress test, that it insures our students will have no tools to effectively negotiate their world.

The debate re. the effectiveness of this curriculum, see comments in the NYT is joined by those persons on the front line of the impacts of these dicta. Teachers argue with administrators re. whether teachers will be hand-cuffed by these standards and how they will be evaluated.

No one challenges the content of the curriculum. The chapters on English language skills and how through them students will also touch on social studies through readings in non fiction are so moribund as to be hilarious. Take for example the reiteration of a curriculum component I suffered through all those years ago. "The ability to write logical arguments based on substantive claims, sound reasoning, and relevant evidence is a cornerstone of the writing standards, with opinion writing—a basic form of argument—extending down into the earliest grades."

Now I imagine two alternatives to this standard: 1. Crap detection. By subjecting students from the earliest years to media hype, exploitation, hyperbole, exaggeration, outright lies, false claims, bad data, and marketing ploys, students will learn how to recognize these propagandistic means of mind shaping and develop the tools to resist them, They will also study political speeches, legal arguments, and debate techniques that are designed to obfuscate the truth. or, conversely 2. they will study the techniques of the big lie, the exaggeration, the creation of bad data, the fallacious argument, and marketing technique. They will make them their own.

Of course reactors are victims of and perpetuators of the big lie so when you peruse the non prescriptive but suggestive reading list you see the continued veneration of the founding fathers, the Bard, and the mundane. So Twain is represented by Tom Sawyer not Huck and Orwell's reading suggestion is Politics and the English Language not How the Poor Die

A Prof at Va. Tech looked at the "standards of learning" from 2009 and formed the following opinion re. how they are so much self serving propaganda.

There are alternatives, effective parents are going to have to create them. All of the following examples fall neatly into a world of ideas that so gall the reactors.

Bucky Fuller used to give a talk to that began with his blowing up a balloon on which was printed a globe. He tossed it among the children and asked them to find the spot where they were from. He grounded them on earth, and suggested that they work from the grand to the particular when learning their sense of place. It begins an understanding of where am I and shifts away from the parochialism of state citizenship. Having established that we live on a water planet we might build an aquarium in every learning environment and in the process create a microcosm that requires sensitivity to the delicate nature of eco-balance. By placing learners in a position of care re. the health and welfare of this micro environment we establish a baseline of human responsibility. We drill down into this environment and allow students to examine the structural nature of this/their world. As they examine the building blocks of life forms they are introduced to the concept of their place in the continuum of life. As the living elements in their aquarium have adapted so too have the creatures on the earth and the myriad of those forms are identified at least in the largest categorical forms. Moving through an overview of the evolutionary process they come to terms with the "family of man". We have begun the examination of "who I am". As we have come to appreciate the variety of adaptation of the creatures in our pool, we can begin to appreciate the same adaptive practices on earth. We examine the flexibility and mutability of creatures in their struggle to survive. We observe the art and culture that are the building blocks of adaptation. We realize that individuals live within the context and frameworks of groups. Within those groups there is shared responsibility and by sharing, the greater good for all is obtained.

You can see how this evolves. It is but one alternative to the linear, hind-bound, curriculum of yesterday. I wouldn't even broach english as a subject.. I would teach form, style, and manner in the context of substantive content.

I would introduce "foreign" language at pre-school, and again, as I have said in this blog, I would pull my kids out of school, form a cluster of up to 10 others, hire a teacher set, and turn them loose.