Education’s Changing/Unchanging Cycle By David R. Otey

It is crazy the way the same road of education is taken over and over again. To me, it looks like only one road is traveled on.  At a certain point someone goes back to where we used to be and repaints that part of the road a different color, adding some new bushes and benches, new clocks and happy music from a speaker. Then they shout ahead and say to the leaders, “Hey, turn them around. We’ve got this section ready for them again.”  No matter how you dress up state standards, change the lingo to create the “new and improved” paradigms, restructure and repackage the curriculums to sell the same content for higher prices, tack on a “new and improved” state testing system worth billions to the geniuses behind that, present some very serious looking smart people in front of a camera for the ‘public display’ of intelligence at work, it’s STILL the same routine, the same interference of non-educators making the rules for “real” teachers. The content is the same, too.

What I understand from the articles and videos I’ve studied so far about the origin, the con-artist push for connecting to states with financial aid packages to accept the program without public involvement, and the methods of practice involved with the Common Core Standards and the multi-million dollar business creating matching curriculums and matching state tests, there are two main factors that stand out.

One main factor is the utopian idea of a national set of educational standards. This forces every participating state to accept new curriculums, making them replace very good already being used great curriculum  Every kid studying exactly the same thing at the same time so they all come out of the cookie cutter assembly line with exactly the same smartness and abilities for academic wonder kids. Imagine the kid assembly line idea Pink Floyd used in their classic film, The Wall (1982)-for their  song, Another Brick in the Wall.  Now is the time, I guess, for the country to try and do with schools what has been successful for fast food franchises. Uniformity for the sake of conformity, for the sake of having a stronger hold to ensure the survival of a dying system of education that has not met the needs of society for the past 50 years at least.

Is there really that much difference between the states for teaching Reading, Writing , language and Math ?  I was educated in New York, Florida, Georgia and Maryland when I was growing up between 1960 and 1972 when I graduated. I remember all the numbers looking the same everywhere I went. The letters for the words looked the same, too. Even their sounds were the same, give or take a slight difference in dialect for pronunciation. I was taught the same lessons for periods and commas and exclamation points–all of that stuff. It was all exactly the same in every blessed school I attended.

How about this ”new math” idea coming around with Common Core, driving the parents and teachers–I’m one of each–crazy. Guess what. It is NOT new math. It is another style, another method, another way of looking at how to process numbers. It’s been around a long time, taught in higher level course work. I feel like it was purposely chosen to alienate the parents from being able to have any control over the education process and direction. The programs disable the effectiveness of parents in relating to their children for school work.  My school recently sent a letter to the parents stating we are doing all we can to also master the new forced changes and will try to help them as much as possible, for the parents to please remain patient and to call with any questions and the teachers will collaborate with the parents.

I work a full time job in special education in a grade school, and I shake my head at this ridiculousness. I also foresee a great increase in the population of the kids I teach. Just watch the “resource rooms” blossom in population within the next 5 years. The only plan to prevent that might lie in the fact that our state has been requiring that by the year 2015, if I’m not mistaken, every special ed. kid is to spend 80% of his/her day in a regular class room. Combined with that has been the push to make every class room contain 2 teachers teaching along side each other, sharing the responsibilities of both groups of kids in the same room. You already know how that works, don’t you. The same as it always has worked. The main lecture of the lesson is given to all at the same time. This time with 2 teachers instead of one. Then the class is split into 2 or more groups according to “their abilities” (academic level). Forget “confidentiality”,  which is a joke anyway, as far as communities go, because everyone knows who can and who cannot “get it” in the academics kid world. So, this new set up can hide the weakness this program will create, is already creating.

An instructor of mine at the University I attended said this, I paraphrase. ” Every 20 years the system changes. First they had all of the special ed. kids in the same room. When the parents screamed about the hardships their kids were going through the system split them up into different rooms according to their abilities. Now, you watch..”, he said in 1995 as I sat listening in class. “You watch what will happen. They will put them all back into the one room again.” As he spoke, he placed one after another of those plastic transparency sheets on the overhead projector so fast no one could write the information down. His point was to simply show us the research already accumulated about this practice by that time. He had at least 30 of those sheets. I never forgot what he said. The shift didn’t start as soon as he said it would. it actually started five years later. But I saw him in a grocery store one day, knowing he retired, and I told him, “You were right. It’s happening now.” He smiled and nodded.

Another factor is this push for government control of the nation’s education system. It is another chapter following the fiasco of No Child Left Behind. This plan looks more innocent but the same “program” is  within the Core like jelly in a donut. State rights are being conned out of the public sector without any avenue for the public to fight for the protection of their statehood. State governments sell out their people for big piles of money to supposedly help the state in other ways. Governmental destitution and desperation override creativity and communication, as this wave of control freaks plug in their sales pitches to grab a whole side of the Monopoly Game neighborhood for long enough to drain more of the taxpayers money and local school districts money through forced purchase of those curriculum texts and new state tests.

The love, care and skill of real teachers and their administrators for their students, their schools and their communities will make them learn and guide others through this swamp. They know how to work through bad days and bad plans without giving up. They know how to handle sudden changes. Support your teachers. Ask what you can do to help all around. Be patient and also think about visiting your capitol leaders to encourage them to maintain state rights for their education.

The end.

Driven By Research-? By David Reid Otey

A recent article about people angered over Common Core Standards included a statement from CCS supporters that the CCS system is “Driven By Research”.  I teach special education in a grade school as my day job. It’s been a joy for eighteen years and still is, more so today than when I started. Not because of any specific standards but because of why I do this job: the love of learning and of helping children grasp, understand, practice and master skills they will use later to help preserve the existence and progress and success of the communities they live in.

In my work I stay aware of the pros and cons of every new system that comes a long as a result of someone figuring out a way to get government grant money for ego-building projects disguised as national improvement utopian plans. CCS is the newest happy meal in the mix. I have listened to  peers praise and damn the CCS. The phrase ”research driven” has been used so much that it makes me laugh now. One lesson I finally understood after decades of learning and sorting through pros and cons of any issue is this: Research is as subjective as anything else in life. All research is driven by whichever club, committee, family, organization, street corner gang, political party or neighborhood watch group has an interest in researching anything. Here is the clincher. WHY they are researching in the first place: to affect an improvement that benefits and advances the position of control, fame or finances of their group.  Experts exist on both sides of every issue. It becomes a match not of wits so much as of who advertises the most, yells the loudest and convinces the best with expertise in all styles of social-political propaganda (which, in itself, is good or bad–depending upon which side of the propaganda you stand.)

A  teaching friend told me recently she was frustrated by the stresses CCS is placing on our students. She said it very unfair to shove this system into a place where it doesn’t belong. I smiled as I said, ” I agree. But we know something those great researchers overlooked or never worked with kids in the first place to understand. Kids Rule. They always have and they always will. They rule by giving the results that prove what motivates them and what they consider to be important techniques to keep them interested. It’s a business. The kids are customers, like it or not. They can shut something down pretty fast. If they understood their powers better, they would be shutting a lot of things down regarding curriculum choices in their schools.”   I have seen curriculums change, watching old text books of past “research driven high quality perfection” being thrown in the dumpster.

In the meantime, as the cloud of controversy slowly moves its mass across the crowds of protesters and praisers, the clock keeps ticking. I have never yet seen the three hands on my class room clock stop because of issues, only because of dead batteries. The kids show up and we get started with “ok, today we look at this and how….”.  Numerous reading and math programs have sailed through the halls of every school, each one being labeled as the ”King James” version for all to use for the conformity systematic learning, as if all minds were wired the same, as if all families agreed on the same standards for raising children, as if all families shared the same importance of education in their homes.

Bottom line is this. We teachers will do what we have to do, are told to do. But when we see THAT LOOK, that warning sign in the faces of our students, equally represented by the shifting grades they receive from assignments, WE will shift, too, as we teach them, as we feel what they are telling us with their moans, with their aggressive or nervous energies. We are the real experts. We know how to intervene with subtle weavings of ”common sense standards” between the scripted sentences of the teacher manual. We know how to reach the minds we have interacted with consistently in close quarters for a long, long time. Think of it this way: combine the film where the children’s eyes would glow as they stared at anyone to hypnotize them into a self-destructive act WITH the opening speech of The Outer Limits-“we control your tv set” (mind), and you have the reality that makes ALL “good” teachers instantly engage with ”sanity preservation standards” to run a smooth, happy, successfully learning class. And THAT, by the way, comes from ”driven research”. 🙂    Have a great day.  The End.


Education: The struggles to get it right. Part Two. By David Reid Otey

Before children enter a school building for ”formal” education,  they are already equipped with curiosity, imagination, willingness to learn, energy, excitement, expectation for fun, joy and wonder. Kids already naturally lean towards certain ‘ways’ of taking information in, of categorizing and using the information as a life skill before they enter the class room.  Every child has a talent area where the child’s mind goes frequently and consistently.  It’s that ‘something’ they like to create, to study, to play and experiment with. Music, Art, Cooking, Sports, Building, etc. Kids already have ‘their way’  of looking at ‘their world’, of figuring things out for themselves and choosing what is worth their attention. This is what every person is born with: a natural connection to the world through curiosity of the senses  with a natural purpose of understanding what surrounds them and affects them. So, what is the purpose  of having school at all in the formal public sense?  Two main reasons, I think.

One is to keep the kids off the streets. It cuts down on possible crime rates and gang formations, on any negative that would exist more so with kids on the streets all the time. The second reason is to maintain the community structures and businesses that make every town’s existence possible. Someone will have to take over the businesses and services that make every community run smooth. Those are the two practical reasons for schools.  There has always been school, if you count the teachings kids get at home all the time in helping their parents with caring for the house and the family and sometimes a family business. But in the far, far past, there wasn’t the chance for kids to see or learn much beyond their own front yard or the beyond the limits of their town, city and communities. With a public school they have the chance to know more about what’s in the whole world rather than just a tiny percentage their hometown represents. This extra knowledge gives them more ideas of interest and might help them discover, for the first time, things they are good at doing.

Elementary school is the most likely place for new information to be exciting. Then comes Junior High and Senior High where children start getting beaten over the head with redundancy in English, Language and Math classes. When I did a “block” teaching assignment, which is free assistant labor for a paid public school teacher in their classroom, I was told to teach Algebra. I needed exciting ideas so I approached a math professor at the University I studied at. He took me into a back room full of shelves and books. He pulled out a book and said, “Here are some good math games and mind puzzles for them”. I looked it over and said thank you but handed it back. I left his office wondering why he could not think of a practical use for Algebra. I soon discovered the use in areas of money and sales. And a friend of mine showed me how he used Algebra figuring roof pitch before building a roof and for figuring how many shingles to order.  In a “student teaching” session, which is the same as ”block” only ten weeks longer, I watched a special education teacher use a ’21 spelling rules’ workbook with her students. Really ? There was no creative writing. This was a ‘waste time’ class, as far as I was concerned. As more and more examples of these “more of the same” content situations appeared, I started wondering what else was possible to make our students really capable of getting on with life after school. Even newspapers nation wide would carry articles about schools not preparing students for the real world, claiming a high percentage of graduates could barely read and spell, or do simple math calculations. They needed retraining by the people who hired them. So I have a framework of an idea. Nothing really new but a blend of the old and the new.

Taking the practice of apprenticeship, it goes like this. For grades 6,7,8,9, a student chooses an occupation from a list. This occupation is the area of focus that all math and reading and language and spelling will come through. Every occupation has an extensive vocabulary with many words inter-defined. Every occupation uses math in some capacity. History, Social Studies, Health and Geography can also be taught through an occupational focus. Three weeks before the end of each nine week quarter, the student is given a one week opportunity to put in for an occupation change for the next quarter or to stay in the current one. Think of the experiences and ideas and curiosities that would be aroused, enlivened and excited from exposure to this format. In grades 10, 11, 12, the students would choose two occupations and be made to stay in those occupations for all three years. This would guarantee every student being capable and trained for at least two kinds of jobs. This would also help more students decide on college education and exactly what they’d like to do, thereby reducing needless expense floating around majors and minors and circumvent poor academic counselors.

The list of occupations would cover sciences, law, medicine specifics–nurse and doctor and surgeon topics, music–instruments and writing and singing and performing, theater/acting, cooking, business, construction specifics–carpenter, electrician, plumber, arts, writing/journalism, radio/television, movie industry, semi-driving,  farming/agriculture, operating heavy machinery–bulldozers and such,  wood working/furniture and more, watch repair, sales work, sewing/seamstress, and more. This would obviously take work preparing and setting up for, but that is what ”real” teaching of youth should be in the first place. It would take help from the community at large to make it successful. It would be worth it because it would make education sensible and directly related to the needs of both the children and of the community. It would create more pride in belonging to the world at large. We would see more talent showing up in the world of entrepreneurs. So many benefits to this and great payoffs for the investments required. This, to me, would be ‘getting it right’ in our education system.     The End.