Tell Common Core to Get Lost

Get Lost

I’ve been groping my way along … I’ve been concentrating so long on my vision that I lost sight … You see, it’s not the vision. It’s the groping, it’s the yearning, it’s the groping and the yearning, it’s the moving forward. I was so fixated on flinging that cow that when Ed told me that Monty Python had already painted that picture I thought I was through. I had to let go of that cow so I could see the other possibilities …and this is most important: It’s not the thing you fling; It’s the fling itself.

-“Chris” from the television series Northern Exposure

This past Friday I was excited to be joining a group of parents, teachers, and grad students for a Teach In discussion about corporate reform and opting out being held at Columbia Teachers College.

I was amongst strong resistance advocates including Daiyu Suzuki, Jason Wozniak, Sue Schutt, Jean McTavish, Denny Taylor, Rosalie Friend, members from Change the Stakes and others.

I had never been to Teachers College (TC) before and therefore I needed to find out how I was going to get there from my sister’s house in CT.

I used Map Quest to see what they had to say. The directions felt confusing and hard to picture in my head.

I looked at maps of the area and tried to envision the number of blocks I might need to walk if I got off at 125th St train station to get to 121st Street. Or how far from Grand Central?  How much might a cab cost? What if I took the subway? Which stop? Which subway line?

I asked Jason, who gave me good directions. My sister called her boyfriend who works in the city and knows the terrain well. I called the help desk at TC. Everyone had a different suggestion. Because there was more than one way to gtet there.

I made it there without incident (i.e winding up in Hoboken). We had a fabulous and powerful discussion that will lead to more opting out actions in the NY and NJ areas.

But as I rode the train from CT to NY, the Grand Central shuttle and then the number 1 subway to 116th St I began thinking about how my journey paralleled the issues we face in an education landscape colonized by the Common Core and high stakes testing. More than once, when I asked “How do I get to TC?” different people said to me, “Well, it depends on how quickly you need to get there.” Or, “How much do you like to walk?” I realized there were many ways to get from here to there…much depended on what my time frame was, my purpose, and the kind of journey I wished to have. Did I want to walk and sight see? Or was I on a mission? What about variable costs of a taxi versus the subway? There were so many questions, and so many options.

That is what education is supposed to be about. Learning is a journey. Common Core treats it as a destination—with one right way to get there. I don’t care that the “new math” supposedly encourages students to problem solve and remain open ended as to how to solve a problem. That’s like dropping me in middle of Manhattan and saying “Go find TC.” And then demand that the journey be direct (via standardized testing), and the destination fixed (“measured progress” that defines every child’s readiness for career and college). And then fail me for arriving late. Maybe I stopped to visit Central Park. Giving children opportunities to be confused by saying “figure it out” but then exacting asnwers on one fixed set of questions to measure their “progress” is just harfmful. It is not the same things as allowing them and their teachers to embrace learning as a journey constructed by them, and to be evaluated by them as the journey-takers.

Common Core creates a set of prefixed predetermined outcomes, measured in only one way, and tracks students along the way, to make sure they’re “on track”–God forbid they wander. But not all children learn the same way. Or at the same pace. Or with the same interests. Sometimes you want the subway, sometimes you want a cab. Learning as a journey is far less about the end point and focuses more on the process…and is valued for more than simply arriving at the end point by the fastest route. Imagine the limitations we place on the journey of learning when we tell all students there is only one place to go and only one way to get there. Career and college readiness –whatever that means to begin with—can be defined in more ways than a narrow set of Common Core standards and progress that’s measured in one way…and not “how was the trip?” Or “What did you see along the way?” Rather the only thing we demand is that you get here as soon as possible. But why? What are we rushing to? Why race to the top? What’s up there anyway? Profits for testing companies, and empty promises for children.

I’d rather take a cue from Alan Block who writes, “(Real) education … has nothing to do with marked paths and coming home. Rather (it) has more to do with meandering: with getting lost.” We need more wandering, more exploration…more getting off the pathway being forced upon us. Common Core has got caution flags, flares, orange cones, maps and security guards marking off every possible exit ramp. Reformers are afraid we might discover the road less travelled is indeed the preferred one.

In a reform era increasingly marked by concepts such as predictability, accountability, measurability, and homogeneity, more creative risk taking practices are being watered down or filtered out altogether. The journey through this terrain, using the birds-eye map view of the world as a metaphor here, is one staked out with push point pins, which exact the journey to be traveled. This is especially true for beginning teachers terrorized by the thought of “getting lost” as they begin their teaching quest. Common Core related policies and outcomes discourage teachers from knowing the landscape of teaching and learning so that they might be able to begin and end the journey from a myriad of locations, to embrace the idea of “wandering” at times. Common Core teacher “training” demands they become consumers of the curricular “map” with all the directions scripted out ahead of time, rather than asking students and teachers to be the creators of the journey.

If I had been more familiar with NYC, you could drop me anywhere and I could find six ways to get to where I was going. But not knowing the terrain, I had to follow one set of directions and feared the slightest mistake. What if I end up on the subway line #2 instead of #1? Empowered experienced teachers can begin anywhere and go anywhere by any sorts of ways appropriate to the needs and desires of their students.  Teachers who are new to education are given one map…one set of instructions…and like me travelling to TC not knowing the terrain, have a fear of getting “lost” because they have been told there is a fixed arrival time and they will be evaluated on each step of the journey. Under such immense pressure there is no time to allow students to stop anywhere along the way and have a moment of curiosity. There is nothing of value in experience except to have accomplished it. And where will students even be when they’ve arrived?


Published by educationalchemy

Morna McDermott has been an educator for over twenty years in both k-12 and post secondary classrooms. She received her doctorate in education, with a dissertation focus on arts-based educational research, from The University of Virginia in 2001. Morna's teaching, scholarship, and activism center around the ways in which creativity, art, social justice, and democracy can transform education and empower communities. She is currently a Professor of Education at Towson University.

One thought on “Tell Common Core to Get Lost

  1. Excellent post. It sums up exactly why Common Core(or other standardized curriculums for everyone and high stakes standardized tests are so wrong. Throw in the absurd preparatory materials with the ridiculous methods and confusing language especially the math material that makes little sense for any student at any level. Using the analogy used by the author of this piece and it would have directed the author to get to the Columbia Teacher’s College by routing the person from Connecticut through Philadelphia,Washington D.C. and then Boston to arrive get to the destination. That is almost literally how crazy this standardized stuff is. In addition to all that,why hasn’t anyone even asked the question,”Why in the world in a country where diversity has contributed so much,do we even want to have everyone learn the same things and think in the same way? That is totally the opposite of what we have always valued in this country.

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