I remember a brown duck. It was the next to the last duck in the line of little quackers that marched in identical form across the wall above the chalkboard. They were identical in form and expression but each was a different color with a word identifying their color in bold letters beneath each one. I stared at that duck. I hated that brown duck. And my enmity was directed at the representative of the anatidae family simply because for the life of me I could not spell the word ‘brown’ correctly.
As a student I struggled in first grade. I sat there amazed at how much everyone else knew. Of course I had two strikes against me — I was the youngest in the class, not turning six until December and I was a boy. These are not excuses, they are facts, they are realities.
In our fervor to adopt the new Common Core Standards we have set ambitious goals. I am on-board with this. I don’t shirk hard work as demonstrated by my catching up with my classmates by the second grade and going on to excel in school. It is also proven by my choosing to become a teacher.
But this isn’t about me.
It is about the impact of our desires that our children all excel in school. When my daughter was accepted in a advanced program, for gifted students we were told she would be bused to another school where a special class of high achieving students were all grouped together. Much to the surprise of the administrator of the program, my wife and I, both career educators said, “No thank you.” Our daughter was attending the public school we had chosen for her, she was in a class where we greatly respected the teacher, we felt there was no reason for her to go anywhere. It was nice to know she had qualified for the class but she would stay where she was.
But this isn’t about my daughter.
What this is about is our children. We all want what is best for our children. We want them to achieve the most they can in life and we want to be proud of them. But in the end we have to be proud of ourselves too. Parents have to be able to look back on their stewardship of a new human and know that what they did was in the best interest and to the best of their abilities as parents.
It isn’t about being right or wrong. It is about choosing the things for your child that they aren’t qualified to choose for themselves. As adults we must decide what we want for our children. That is why education is such a hot button issue with many people. You are trusting another adult to deliver what your child needs to learn.
Most of us vaguely remember what we did in school. But the specifics are less clear, they show up in the skills we have and how we employ those skills in our daily lives. I doubt if there are many parents who do not care about what their children are learning but the I also believe the same is true of most teachers.
Teachers take their job seriously. After thirty plus years in this field I know this. You cannot show up ready to wrangle a classroom full of children and not be focused and serious about what you do. Yes, there are people who fail as teachers but they do not last long.
The same is true of students. There are children who fail as students, at least in the standard sense. In every class there are students who struggle for whatever reason in their attempts to learn what everyone else is already doing. We all have our brown ducks, smiling down at us taunting us that we cannot do something no matter how hard we try. Self-doubt is the greatest ally of failure.
That is why we owe it to our children not to set walls up that they will slam up against. It is not in their best interest to say, ‘you failed, do it again’. The proper response is “I see this is hard for you, let me try another way to help you’. We need to adapt education to the multitude of needs evinced by our modern world. We should not be narrowing education, forcing children to all conform, we should be broadening it, expanding it and opening up the potential that each individual child has so that they can best assume their place in this complex world.
Our new Common Core standards seek to encourage students to think. In approaching the completion of these goals we need to offer a greater variety of teaching tools and methods, not a smaller array. We must empower our teachers and support them. We have to provide strong, developmentally correct, early childhood enrichment for all children. Schools build the future, we need to support them to the best of our abilities, not the most cost effective. The investment will be worth it. Here in Arizona and elsewhere in the United States I believe that adoption of the Common Core is only the beginning of the process of reforming American achievement and making our schools all they can be. We have much still to do.