Friday, October 23, 2015

These are the good old days

National attention has been focused for the last few decades on the effort to create meaningful standards for K-12 education. In recent years, Common Core standards have become a flashpoint for conflict. I see Facebook posts from friends both local and far-flung complaining that Common Core is forcing an unnatural and incomprehensible pedagogy on children, especially in math, frustrating kids and parents alike.

Parental complaints like this always reminds me of the Peanuts comics Charles Schulz drew in the 1960s about the so-called "New Math," which focused on set theory, concepts of equivalence, and number lines rather than memorizing arithmetic facts and computation methods. It's clear from the set of strips that Schulz understands the new math, and while he lets Sally channel the displeasure of a generation of angry parents, he doesn't side with her. Instead, he presents her as the voice of willful ignorance and stultifying lack of ambition.

Noel and I were talking yesterday about how we sometimes seem to have stumbled through a portal into an alternate educational dimension, with our kids. Their teachers are, almost to an individual, dedicated, energetic, creative, and loving. Their administrations stress college and career preparedness, and I see that emphasis in the teachers' classrooms. The assignments they give and the pedagogies they employ engage our highly intelligent children; nearly every day we hear from them about what they are learning, and the innovative ways the lessons have been brought home to them. Real-world applications have been presented and stressed; when I ask my kids how a certain abstract concept matters in life or careers, they are always ready with an answer.

Maybe we have just lucked out with the teachers and schools we've had. But I don't think so. Seems to me that, despite all the obstacles in their way (of which the greatest by far is legislative parsimony -- far more than unions or out-of-touch professional training, the favorite villains of conservative media in the state), most educators never stop trying to do their job well. I'm constantly amazed at what my kids are learning to do and how they're being challenged. I went to expensive college prep schools when I was their age, and in so many ways they are getting a better education that I did -- largely because teaching methods are so much more advanced, standards are clearer, assessments measure actual learning better, and enrichment opportunities are more plentiful and more challenging.

I'll always be grateful for the teachers and principals that are giving my kids this terrific foundation for advanced learning and lifelong curiosity. What they're being asked to do now -- and how they're rising to the opportunity -- bodes very well for what they'll be able to do five, ten, and twenty years down the road.

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