Common Core: There is Hope

The shift toward a nationalized agenda within the educational sector has long been in the works. ‘Common core’ curriculum or otherwise known to reformists, parents, students, and administrators as the potential death of public education has become the standardized scapegoat within the educational spectrum. Article after article has demonstrated that this push to a nationalized educational structure is promoting a rush towards socialism and is diminishing the rights of the states to deal with education. Despite some flaws within common core (like most other enacted legislation), the concept and design of ‘the core’ is actually quite intriguing; especially to a future educator.

The difficulty in grasping the positives of common core are often led by teachers who ‘don’t want to be told how to teach,’ or parents who don’t want the government to tell teachers what and how to teach.’ However, in all actuality, common core does neither. Ultimately, the teacher is the one presenting information to students and they are able to do so however they would like. There are ‘guidelines‘ not necessarily standards that common core presents, but in order to promote both equity and equality within education shouldn’t there be some sort of basis or foundation to allow teachers to build off of? Most teachers are going to use common core or any generalized curriculum as a foundation in which they can utilize as a starting point, bring outside sources or varying teaching methods to the table, and educate students to the fullest of their abilities. Common core or any generalized curriculum allow teachers to have a basis to work with, but then add to the basis through allowing the teacher to add in supplemental material. However, there will be other teachers (typically considered ‘bad’ teachers) that will manipulate the system and use the curriculum to their advantage by simply negating any additional teaching materials and techniques and blaming common core on inadequately education students. This (like in any system) is quite inevitable.

The ‘core’ also promotes unification among schools to demonstrate some sort of proportional knowledge being displayed across the states. With an increasing number of migrant workers moving around the country, common core promotes the ability for a student to have a less difficult time transitioning from one school to another. In turn, this promotes a more equal opportunity to students that are constantly moving and switching schools.

Today, there are still issues with the common core curriculum. The mathematics curriculum sometimes seems overly complicated when dealing with simple math. In addition, the ‘core’ also hinges on statistical methods of analysis (a child is not a statistic) However, despite curriculum and evaluation issues, there are positives to take away from the overall aesthetic of common core. The system is far from perfect, but once states begin to use common core as a set of guidelines (not standards), public education might be headed on the right path.

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Dispelling Inequity in Education

Today in the educational realm, we are no longer segregated by race, but by socioeconomic status. In many ways, this separation between low-class and middle to upper class is in fact a division of both race and ethnicity (that being because of the statistically high number of minorities in the lower-class as compared to the statistically high number of Caucasians in the middle to upper class). Academic tests that have been created by policy makers have demonstrated that, for the large part, there is a disparity between test scores of minorities and that of white students. Unfortunately, reformists who have focused on eradicating this disparity, have focused on the curriculum itself. The curriculum, though an important factor in the determining of test scores, is nationalized to such a degree that all students should be receiving the same education.  But if this is true, why is it not working?

Reformists blame common core. Parents and students blame teachers. Teachers blame parents and students. Democrats blame the lack of federal involvement. Republicans blame the excessive amount of federal government. It’s a blame game.

With all the blaming occurring within the educational spectrum, we often overlook the reasoning behind why there is a racial and economic divide within both society and school. Yes, to some extent the curriculum is ‘Euro-centric’ or lacks the creativity and critical thinking within itself, however why are middle class to upper class students relatively more successful than lower class students despite being offered virtually the same curriculum?

Location [not to be confused with environment]. Location is the reasoning behind this inequity. School districts receive their money from the taxpayers within the confines of their district. Poorer districts receive less money. Richer districts receive more money.

Fair? Yes and No.

Yes, in the sense that you get what you pay for. Those from middle to upper class families are paying more for their child’s education and expect to receive an equal if not better education for their child. Those that pay less (in tax dollars), receive a lesser education, one with potentially lesser resources, skilled teachers, and course offerings.

No, in the sense of inequality. The middle and upper class aren’t receiving an equal education to that of the lower class, thus their potential of achieving is higher than that of the lower class. When we as a country promote this inequality in education, we are perpetuating a cyclical succession of socioeconomic statuses.  The rich stay richer while the poor stay poorer.

The American dream isn’t dead; it simply never existed. It is another glorified term that has tried to seduce society into believing that you can overcome any sort of adversity. People have succeeded; they have fought through their socioeconomic status, however, chances of overcoming of one’s own socioeconomic status are minimal. Unfortunately, your chances aren’t based on who you are or how hard you work, it is likely based off where you were raised, what school district you attended, or how much money your family earned while you were a child. In the end, it is receiving an equal opportunity in schools. The educational system must not neglect lower socioeconomic areas, but provide them with equal materials, skilled teachers, and course offerings in order to assist in creating a society of equal chance; after all, America is the land of ‘equal opportunity.’

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The American Identity: Education in Deciphering the Racial Divide

Societally, Americans perceive their history through a single perspective. This interpretation, though biased, is engrained in each student while they receive their education in schools. In a previous post, I wrote about the ‘Eurocentric’ domination that has plagued our world history curriculum. I noted that, students who learn about Asia, Africa, or South America in world history classrooms, only do so when these continents have come in contact with Europe (i.e. Triangular Trade, Silk Road, Columbus’ New World, etc).

When we study ourselves as Americans, we similarly turn to the ‘Eurocentric’ idea that has established itself in our world history curriculum. American history textbooks overlook the racial divides that played an integral part in the formation of who we are today. We identify Abe Lincoln as the President who freed the slaves, but don’t identify the consistent battle African-Americans endured until the 1960’s when Martin Luther King Jr. walks down Washington. We acknowledge the life of Native Americans, fail to confess our injustices against them, and briefly mention the forcing of Cherokee, Muscogee, Seminole, Chickasaw, and Choctaw nations on the Trail of Tears. Yet don’t identify how that has impacted them, what it has done to today’s view of these people, and why during this time, we as Americans, felt that the color of one’s skin, the religion of one’s ethnic group, or the language one speaks was justification for discrimination, murder, and the social alienation these people have endured to this day.

How can we teach such disparities in our curriculum if in American history textbooks we glorify ourselves as a ‘melting pot,’ and establish the idea that the racial divide and discrimination are a thing that hasn’t happened since MLK?

I recently watched the documentary Precious Knowledge, a film that follows various ethnic studies classrooms in Tuscan, Arizona as lawmakers make an attempt to close the program. The Tuscan ethnic studies program focused on inspiring young Mexican students, as well as other minorities or those interested, to learn more about the culture of Mexico, the surrounding Arizona area, and the obstacles minorities [including women] have faced since the birth of our nation. The program uses Paulo Freire’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed as one of the textbooks to encourage students to critically think about the education they are being provided, as well as the racial divides that still are prevalent today.

Unfortunately three years ago, the program under the duress of politicians, was eliminated due to the subject of ethnic studies demonstrating “racism and classism toward Anglos, advocation of ethnic solidarity, and suggestion to overthrow  the government.” At one point, a major politician within Tuscan sat in one of the classes and was taken back by the statement of a teacher proclaiming that Ben Franklin, despite being considered critical to America’s development, was actually a racist. Later, this politician while voting for or against the ethnic studies class admitted that the class portrayed Ben Franklin, in a negative light [as a racist], thus demonstrating the racism toward Anglos and desire to overthrow the government. All in all, the act of shutting down the program by politicians demonstrated the unconscious racism that occurs within today’s society; the idea that the ethnic studies program challenged. [There is good news, at the beginning of this year the ethnic studies program was reinstated by the Tuscan school system]

The issue is that Americans aren’t intellectually stimulated in schools. We have a fetish toward facts, numbers, and statistics and demonstrate a fear of questioning and theorizing. We lack the realization that the world around us has been shaped by individuals who haven’t been mentioned in history textbooks, the television, or news. Educating our youth needs to begin with the construction of our country as how it was, not how we wanted it to be. As someone studying history, I want to know who the real Benjamin Franklin was, I want to know how we as a nation treated other races and genders, I want to know why we are who we are today. American history isn’t a study of dates and facts, it’s the study of identifying what it means to be an American, and Americans can be racist or sexist, they can have cool accents, they can win gold medals at the olympics, they can be narrow minded or open minded, they can speak Spanish or any other language. All in all, who we are as a country is who we are, and an American history textbook should never cover that up.


Check out this article by the Clarence Lusane as part of the Zinn Ed Project!



Imaginative Education

Education is about imagining the future. How do we create an education that cultivates this imagination? ~Angela Davis

Recently, I had the opportunity to hear political activist Dr. Angela Davis speak at Gettysburg College. The venue was packed with a largely diverse group of students, professors, and locals. Dr. Davis spoke eloquently about racism and related back to the sesquicentennial of the Gettysburg Address in Gettysburg as well as the semi-centennial March on Washington. She projected to the audience the past and current struggles that are inherent by being black in America. She also spoke of education and the need for change, the need for redesign, and the need to imagine.

In regards to education, Dr. Davis focused on this shift to allowing children to imagine their future and to cultivate their minds through their imagination. In education today, students are constantly bombarded with the concept that there is an answer to everything. They are no longer thinking abstractly. Abstract thinking, or imaginative thinking (as Dr. Davis referred to it as) is often neglected within schools, especially with the rise of high stakes testing.

Dr. Davis made valid points as to how we teach students and how we use these teaching methodologies to assess student’s success. We no longer evaluate children based on their in class and out of class attitude and achievement, we now have an academic predictor (see article) that correlates statistics on tests to that of the success of students. We often attribute the lack of education in public school with these statistics, however instead of looking at these statistics and the right answers students mark down on tests, we should be reinventing an educational system that promotes not only critical thinking, but allow students to imagine the world in which they live in and desire to live in. With a continually interconnected world, we have stressed the wrong educational values for students.

We place students in a world where there is a singular right answer. Unfortunately, without their imagination and critical thinking skills, we as parents, educators, and adults have failed students who are educated in this right answer educational system. We are no longer educating students, but have students fit a mold in which accepts little thought, desire, and imagination. When in education are students allowed to express, imagine, and think within the confines of our educational society? Where is curriculum that provides teachers the necessities to allow students to think outside of the right answer?

Education is meant to be imaginative. Children are always curious about the world around them; however we kill that desire by focusing on one answer rather than a multitude of imaginative and creative questions. As a nation, we have failed to adhere to the demands in which our world is adapting too. We can regain our footing in education if we allow students to imagine, think for themselves, and allow them to know that not everything has one answer.

Imagination in education will not only allow students to learn, they will become educated.


Autism Awareness Month: An IDEA to Include

Every April, we celebrate the tens of millions world-wide who have autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and autism. It is a month dedicated to remember equality and to understand those who are affected with the disease. Currently, an estimated 1 out of 54 boys and 1 in 252 girls are diagnosed with autism in the United States. This is a disease that affects so many and is sometimes left undiagnosed.

As this month is celebrated, we must also remember and celebrate the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act which has provided millions of Americans with infinite resources and opportunities. The act has reduced ‘segregation’ and prejudice among Americans, as those with disabilities are integrated among those who are without disabilities. This has especially been important in schools as children who suffer from disabilities are no longer placed in a room with only those with disabilities, but are free to be in non-special education classes. This act has also greatly affected those with autism and has allowed them the chance to become apart of society as opposed to their past role outside of society.

I have seen inclusion work from an early age. In third grade, I became friends with a classmate who had autism. We sang songs together, I gave him help in class when he needed it, and we even sat next to each other in class. From third grade we moved to fourth and fourth to fifth and eventually we graduated together. He was active in music programs and even though he was provided a teacher aid he was just as smart as those in his classes. You could tell he was slightly different from the rest of the kids in his class, but when he interacted with others and/or gave an answer in class, he sparkled, he inspired, he was simply incredible.

All students regardless of disability should be given that opportunity to sparkle. It is with my experience that I love inclusion. Inclusion allows both those with disabilities and those without to smile and have fun together. We shouldn’t neglect or forget about those with disabilities and place them in a special room, we must include them. They learn from us and we learn from them.

Now, there are special circumstances regarding disabilities and inclusion that might need to be thought of. Some students with disabilities simply can’t handle long school days and/or handle the classroom setting. Not all students with disabilities can be fully included in core classes simply because they might distract the class or they can’t handle the class. That is totally acceptable, however we must also interact and include these students with disabilities in outside classes such as recess, gym, lunch, and/or classes that prepare students for jobs after high school. This is incredibly important.

I can’t help but feel that my experience with inclusion has shaped not only my life but the life of my autistic classmate and friend. And I know everyone deserves an equal chance and everyone deserves to be included.

Make this April an opportunity to include not exclude someone with a disability.


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