Sunday, April 06, 2014

Common discord

I understood the words printed on the torn newsprint worksheet that came home from my son's first-grade classroom, but compiled into directions they confounded me:

“Put the items into a number sentence with the longest item first.”

Under the words -- which were growing more meaningless by the minute -- there were three line drawings of various tools. Pictured were a screwdriver; a pencil; and a tube of lipgloss, which had the words “glue stick” printed on its side.

And then there was this:
A. ____________________________
B. ____________________________
C. ____________________________

I was lost.

Were they being literal? Did they want us to cut out the pictures and paste them onto a line?

Maybe they wanted us to measure the pictures and incorporate the measurements into a haiku.
Perhaps we are supposed to get a real screwdriver, measure it and then sharpen a pencil until it is smaller than our screwdriver but longer than a lipgloss (as it so happens, we are fresh out of glue sticks) and then write all of those figures down in alphabetical order.

No. They didn't say we'd need a ruler for this exercise.

Wait! What's the mathematical equation for “screwdriver” again?

I scratch my head and start to hyperventilate as my son looks on, unperturbed.

He hasn't mastered reading directions in the same way the test prep people haven't mastered writing directions, so it seems they are evenly matched.

Or more likely, it's his teacher who has helped him interpret this strange new choreography.

“I'm just going to draw pictures. Longest first ... Shortest last,” he says, matter-of-factly.

Everyone has to have standards, I suppose.

At least that's what I tell myself every time my social network lights up with 140-character assassinations of this latest education reform we all know as Common Core.

I don't disagree, but I don't agree completely either.

Not that I'm a scientist. Or a sociologist. Or a teacher. Or an expert on anything, with the exception of the face my kid makes when I give him the elbow-kind of noodles instead of the shell-shaped ones in his macaroni and cheese.

I am an expert on that expression.

Which may explain why I haven't gotten too worked up over the latest incarnation of Education ReformTM.

I'm certain Scott Foresman and his descendants have been irritating parents, one torn-out worksheet at a time, since the late 1800s.

And I'm sure my father wasn't the first person in the history of education to complain to a third grade teacher that creative spelling isn't going to make human communication any easier in the long run.

The experts are always changing their minds.

It's a slippery slope.

I don't want to roll my eyes every time someone I love comes and tells me the latest research on coffee and apple cider vinegar being the cure for whatever ails. Or that Singapore math is better than any other methodology.

Not that I don't want to believe the scientific double-blind study of 164 randomly sampled people from Scandinavia.

I know being skeptical of science is likely to spin out of control. Who's to know which among us will end up on a Fox news camera talking about how Global Warming isn't really a thing or that Intelligent Design is definitely a thing …

You know …

Because winter is persisting. … 

And humans can't be happenstance. … 

And kids shouldn't be ready for college right out of kindergarten. 

… Or what happens to the kids who will never be ready for college?

It all boils down to the fear of the unknown, I think.

Fear that we aren't prepared for the future. Fear that we can't prepare for the future. Fear that our children will be the ones left behind because everything is different now.

But I can't help thinking things are always going to be different. And school is the textbook equivalent of a single page torn from the workbook of life. We can only prepare so much for a future that is always changing. Eventually we just have to react or adapt.

Maybe we should be taking great comfort in knowing that even if our kids can't string a few words together into a cogent math sentence, they won't be precluded from shaping the next great educational reform.

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