Tuesday, September 30, 2014

They're Afraid of Thinking, and I'm Afraid to Tell Them.

Remember singing "We don't need no education.... We don't need no thought control..."?
Pink Floyd - The Wall 
Those lyrics have been rolling around in my head a lot recently.  I've often thought that the very nature of the double-negative was proof that an education was needed, I never really focused on the second line.  Until yesterday.

I'm a teacher -- a veteran teacher with 16 years in the classroom, a bachelor's degree in elementary education and a master's degree in Educational Psychology.  I'm paid to teach the best and the brightest students in my district.  And yesterday, I discovered that the Pennsylvania Common Core Standards seem to lack something integral in the educational process  -- there don't seem to be any goals, in any area - that focus on THINKING.  

Sure, there are goals to analyze literature, respond to prompts, cite sources, and evaluate structure, but nowhere in the Commonwealth's adopted PA Common Core Standards is there explicit instruction in thinking.  Apparently after all those roundtable discussions, all those meetings, all those revisions to determine what skills our students need to learn prior to graduation to be competitive in the 21st century, THINKING didn't make the cut. 

I turned to the Common Core National Standards.  And while the words "promotes critical-thinking", appear in the introduction to the standards, the actual teaching of critical thinking - of metacognition or metacognitive process -- is absent once again.  How is it that I am just discovering this now?  And if the rest of you knew, why didn't you point it out to me?  

Reflective Teaching Questions: A 30-Day Blogging Challenge For Teachers

Day 30

What would you do (as a teacher) if you weren’t afraid?

Welcome to Day THIRTY of this blog.  Despite the fact that Cindy abandoned me after two posts on her own blog, I'm glad I stuck with this -- especially when I consider the number of Unfinished Objects (UFOs) that exist in my sewing room and needlework baskets.  I'm not really a finisher -- I'm a starter, so I'm pretty proud of the fact that I made it through the 30 day challenge from the folks at Te@chthought.  However, my euphoria is somewhat dampened by the fact that I seem to have discovered tonight that the skill most fundamental to all learning and knowledge seems to have been left on the cutting room floor by the politicians fine folks who are deciding what is most crucial for our schools.

Today's prompt asks me what I would do as a teacher if I weren't afraid.  If I weren't afraid, I'd bring this "deficit in thinking" to the attention of someone.  I'm not even sure who, at this point, but I possess a strong sense of justice and firmly believe in the need for metacognition.  The mere thought that THINKING is not perceived as important enough to be taught as a 21st century skill grinds my gears.

If I weren't afraid, I'd jump up and down, and call news conferences.  But I hear the camera adds 10 pounds, and there would be at least 3 cameras there, adding 30 pounds, and who wants to look THAT fat?

If I weren't afraid, I'd ask to be put on the school board agenda, and tell my tale there and let the reporter covering yet another board meeting try to spin this story into something that would stop the presses.

If I weren't afraid, I'd march to Harrisburg, or Washington D.C., and demand to see someone with a title greater than mine who has some control over all things educational/political, and ask for an explanation about this oversight.

If I weren't afraid, I'd alert parents everywhere, and tell them to spend a weekend, or a lifetime, teaching their kids to think and to ask questions-- and to read the small print in contracts -- and not just checking the little box that says "agree" next to Terms of Use for anything.   Because these are not skills defined as important by the present system.

I don't consider myself a political person.  I am happiest in the classroom watching sparks in the eyes of learners as they make connections or create something original.   I'm blessed to have an additional set of standards in my life that target the specific population with whom I work.  The NAGC Standards exist as a recommendation for quality programming and goals for Gifted and Talented.  In addition to performance goals, there are metacognitive goals including self-awareness, self-advocacy, self-efficacy, confidence, motivation and risk-taking.  There are specific goals for promoting self-understanding and reflection.

These aren't just goals that are good for gifted and talented kids.  In my humble opinion, the omission of such goals from the Common Core may be the fundamental problem.  We're asking our kids to think, but we don't teach them to do so.  We're asking them to reflect, but don't allow time.  I've often said that I have the best job in the district, and  I know what I am doing is impacting lives -- and I've heard from former students that it's not just my life that is changing as a result of these interactions.  The kids crave the ability and opportunity to to be thoughtful.  We need to, as this challenge is so aptly named, Te@ch Thought.

But.  (And that's a big but, even without excessive numbers of cameras pointed at it...) I am afraid that my class, which exists because there are students who are gifted and talented who HAVE mastered the standards deemed worthy by the Common Core Gurus, might come under scrutiny.  You see, I discovered last evening that I am a subversive educator, teaching content that, apparently,  has no place in the Common Core Standards. 

I teach thinking.  I teach thought.  I teach perspective.  I teach Habits of Mind.  

My text for this semester invites my students to explore How to Think Like da Vinci.  Last semester, we explored the fundamental beliefs held through the NPR series This I Believe, and the curriculum written by NPR that promoted the ideas of thinking via Perspectives.  (We used 13 - see the bulletin board photo here).  What I teach isn't actually ON any test, but it certainly aids a test taker.

"We have nothing to fear but fear itself," claimed FDR.  I'd like to amend that.  The question is, should the revision be "We have nothing to fear but fear itself AND the Common Core" or should it be "We have nothing to fear - including thinking - but fear itself"?

Neither seems to have a nice ring to it.  Maybe that's why thinking didn't make the cut.  Fortunately for this generation, they know that the best part of any DVD is the outtakes and bloopers.  Maybe, just maybe, somebody will make the discovery.


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