Thursday, March 22, 2012

Educating the Kids

            When students with an IEP turn 13, we begin adding transition goals to their plan.  We start with an overarching goal, and for most of my students, I write, “Naomi (or whatever their name is) will be an independent learner.”

            There is a lot of debate about what kids should know at each grade level today.  You can even find books titled, “What Your Fourth (or Third, or Fifth) Grader Should Know” at Sam’s Club!  Most parents aren’t aware of this, but the education system in this country is getting ready to undergo another major shift.  The majority of the states have adopted The Common Core Curriculum, and they are busy developing a timeline for implementing this new curriculum.  The idea driving it all is the belief that what is taught at each grade level should be standardized across the country.  (For those of you who thought it already was . . . uh . . .sorry.)

            Bringing consistency to the states regarding school curriculum is a good idea.  But I think it can lead people to think of education this way:

We sum up education by the content that is poured into the student’s head over a course of 13 years.  If you are “educated,” you have slurped x-y-z into your head.

            I believe education is better illustrated as this:

 The educated person is someone who knows how to solve problems.  They have the tools to get the information they need.  They are an independent learner

            The “stuff” we’re supposed to know today is overwhelming.  Education cannot be condensed down to a set of facts.  There’s just too many.  Yes, I do believe there are some basic facts and information all students should know before we cut them loose.  But even if some of these facts haven’t stuck, does a student know how to learn them on his own?

            A current debate today among parents is - what’s better, formal schooling or homeschooling?  I heard an opponent of homeschooling telling about a college freshman, who had been homeschooled all his life, entering a college biology class completely unprepared for what was ahead of him.  During the first weeks of the semester, the new student left class in a state of panic as he first went to the library and then back to his dorm each afternoon to read and study a mountain of material that he had never covered before he got to college.  That first semester of college biology was grueling.

            “That boy just proved how important it is for kids to be in a formal program with specific guidelines of what needs to be covered before someone is given a high school diploma,” the homeschooling critic summarized.

            My takeaway from the story, however, was completely different.    If you haven’t been in a high school biology class in 30 years, you’re in for a shock at what is covered now.  I marveled that the homeschooled student had the skills and drive to learn all that material on his own.  As far as I’m concerned, that student was educated.  He was an independent learner.

           In the next year I'll be going to a lot of inservices on the new Common Core Curriculum, but my ultimate goal for my students will continue to be that they become an independent learner.

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