The Philosophical Problem of Common Core or, Why All Modern Education Fails


IMG_1066Apple has done the world a great disservice by dubbing a great speech from Dead Poet’s Society in order to sell an iPad. The speech is as follows:

We don’t read and write poetry because it’s cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering, these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for. To quote from Whitman, “O me! O life!… of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless… of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?” Answer. That you are here – that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?

Now, I’m not exactly sure what any of that has to do with Apple products (my verse will be an overpriced machine?), but the speech itself is the cry of anyone who has sat through a humanities degree. Such people tend to realize that there is a life beyond what one can earn in terms of income. I happen to be one of those people with a humanities degree and like so many other people with one I’m consistently bombarded with the question, “Well what can you do with that though?” Well, I could ask why you want fries with that, or I could just become incredibly successful since that tends to be what people with humanities degrees do, mostly because they can read and write unlike their peers. The whole point being, everyone looks at an education as a vehicle and rightfully so, where we go wrong is in viewing education as a vehicle to a nice job.

Our quest for pragmatic education has its current culmination in a Common Core curriculum, an incredibly controversial program that doesn’t seem to have much to offer. From a scientist stating that its mathematical solutions are difficult to follow to Indiana officially removing Common Core from the classroom, Common Core is in desperate need of a PR firm. More than likely this program will eventually collapse and another program will take its place, yet our educational ratings will continue to decline and our students will still continue to lose the wisdom of previous generations.

The core problem in Common Core and in all modern education elements is that it attempts a “one-size-fits-all” education pattern, or to put it one way, Common Core is “…designed to ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to take credit bearing introductory courses in two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce.” Via interpretation, the message is, “We’re preparing your kids for a job or to go to college prepared to get a job.” Every student from Maine to California will study under a uniformed method, expected to produce the same answers. Common Core will make the teacher nothing more than a factory worker, imputing data into tiny little machines and expecting them to produce the same product; and if the factory worker fails then the government just takes over the school completely (a la Bush’s still intact “No Child Left Behind” policies). Just as every iPad is the same after coming off the factory floor, so too should every child’t education be the same after coming off the factory floor of US public education. The Orwellian term employed throughout the website is “equality,” but expecting the same results from the same method is not equality, it’s uniformity.

Of course, everyone wants to remove Common Core, but this is a return to the status quo, a status quo in which American students are failing. Even college students are considerably worse off than they were ten years ago, especially in job prospects. Getting a vague business degree with a minor in management might seem like a sure-fire way to get a job until you realize that everyone else has that same degree. Or even getting a degree in the medical field or some other “hot field” right now doesn’t mean those positions will be open 4-6 years from now. I had many friends who did biology majors and have advanced degrees in pharmaceuticals because at the time they began working on those degrees, that field needed jobs. Once they graduated, however, the jobs were already filled. Same thing with those who received law degrees in the early 2000s, to the point now that unless your law degree comes from an elite university, you’re going to struggle to find a good that will even come close to paying off your school debt. Yes, we can remove Common Core, but it doesn’t come close to touching on our educational crisis, our problem, which is philosophical in nature.

The problem isn’t necessarily Common Core, the problem is we think education is meant to get us a job. When we approach education with the attitude, “This is meant to help get a better job,” then education is no longer about learning what is necessary for life, but instead what is necessary for a living. Education becomes a pragmatic pursuit that teaches the student nothing about the world and only about what is necessary to survive in the world. To some, this might sound logical, but put it in an analogy: It’s like taking a paratrooper in WWII, teaching them how to fire a weapon, how to jump out of a plane, how to survive once they land, and how to read a map, but then never telling them where they’re dropping, who the enemy is, or why they’re fighting. They’ll have all the technological knowledge in the world to make a good soldier, but they’ll still be ineffective because they’ll know nothing of the world around them. Our current educational system teaches our students how to get along in the world, but then tells them nothing about the world, meaning the students ultimately learn little.

A better approach is to realize that the goal of an education is not to develop a worker, but instead to develop a human. While many might agree, they ignore the ramifications of such a statement, the biggest one being is if we truly adopt this as our approach to education then there is no way to quantifiably measure learning. If we are in the business of developing humans and humans are diverse, it means that the outcomes in education will equally be diverse. Yet, we should allow such diversity to occur because diversity is the beauty of life, it is essential to a free society. Uniformity punishes anyone who steps out of life while diversity celebrates the lack of a line (within reason of course). The problem with Common Core isn’t just in its implementation or curriculum, it’s in the philosophy that works behind it that snuffs out diversity in learning. A better way to learn is to allow the natural creativity inherent within all humans to bubble to the surface and for the teacher to help the student hone and perfect that creativity.

Teachers ought not be viewed as factory workers putting cogs into machines and expecting the same results; rather, teachers ought to be viewed as midwives, bringing unique individuals into the world, guiding the process, but not forcing the process. Education ought to teach students about the world and how to be good humans within this wide, adventurous, and mysterious world. This approach is especially true at younger ages; an eight-year-old shouldn’t worry about a career path, nor should we prepare her for a career path. Let her first learn how to be a human before she learns how to be a worker. Do we really expect an eighteen-year-old to know what he wants to do in life? Or even a twenty-one year old? Why are we preparing them for careers before they even know who they are? Let them discover this world and who they are within the world, let them develop who they are within the world, and I assure you the career will come on its own. After all, that’s how it worked for thousands of years and the human race progressed quite nicely.

Though we’ve put a higher emphasis on the hard sciences, students are losing more interest in those hard sciences (unless we show how learning them will make them money). Our experts are at a loss, but it’s not that difficult to know why students aren’t interested; it’s because we’re giving them tools to understand the world without actually helping them to understand the world. At three and four years old, these kids unceasingly ask “why” when they encounter every new things, yet within two years they’re put in an institution with the capacity to answer these whys, but the students stop asking questions and instead become bored. Pragmatic education, educating students for jobs rather than life, doesn’t like or allow for a lot of “whys,” and instead just wants to feed the curriculum to the student. An education geared for life, however, teaches the student not only how to keep asking why, but how to search out the answer. An education for life takes the inquisitive taste for adventure of the four-year-old and helps that taste mature and develop into the actualization of that adventure later in life, of always asking questions and seeking answers.

Now don’t ask me for which system we need in order to accomplish this. While I’m heavily in favor of the classics, I also realize that how the classics are administered is going to vary from culture to culture, from state to state, town to town, and teacher to teacher. There is no single uniformed approach to learning how to live life; while a classical education is proven to be the best approach, that approach is quite ambiguous. All I know is that whatever educational system is developed at a local level, it must have one goal and one goal alone: Teach children how to be humans in this world. Don’t prepare them for the career path or for college, prepare them for life, which is so much more than what you do for a living or where you go to school. We prepare our students for a living when we ought to prepare them how to live.

We can continue on with Common Core or programs like Common Core. We can try our best to improve our education, but as time goes on we’ll notice that the job market becomes harder and harder despite all our innovative methods. We’ll find that we have students who understand certain aspects of jobs, but cannot think outside of the box or muster up enough creativity to find a new answer to an old problem. We need to educate our kids for life, not for jobs. Jobs will come and go, but life will always be around. If we train our kids for jobs and that job market fails, then they have no other recourse for income. If we train our kids for life, however, and their job fails, they will always have a calling, a mission, a goal, and the creativity to find some other way to make it in this world. Real success isn’t measured in tests, it’s measured in the lives our students end up living. By that measure, I’d say we’re failing.

 

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