Let a 1000 Standards Bloom

It has been brought to my attention (see HERE —Lawrence Baines), and HERE) that our Education secretary Arne Duncan, while speaking at the 114th Annual National PTA Convention on June 11, 2010, had this to say (among much else):

“For years, we have actually been lying to children and lying to ourselves by pretending that 50 different standards, in 50 different states, will make America competitive and help our children succeed in life. We have to stop pretending. We have to tell the truth. And we have to raise the bar for all children.”

For if the testing materials are different, not only from state to state, but from city to town, even from school to school, how can the test results have any meaning beyond the particular location where that particular test was administered?

So yes, national standards would take us a long way on the road to an objective and national evaluation of our students’ achievement in school. Similar to the advanced placement program that more and more of our public schools seem to be using for this very purpose.

For at the present time the achievement, as well as the native intelligence of our students, is measured much more by just a few national tests, such as the advanced placement exams and the college boards, than by the still widespread traditional grading systems that reflect at best a degree of mastery of only those particular skills and materials favored by the people of the local school.

So yes, wouldn’t it be progress if grades, in fact mostly reflecting good behavior, did reflect how well the student had mastered a national curriculum, that which would make it possible for the students in Mississippi to be placed right along side, say, the students in Massachusetts, and be compared in regard to their respective masteries of the very same subject matters and skills.

So yes, it’s understandable that our Education secretary, and our President, are caught up in this movement. But, and this may have something to do with the fact that neither the Secretary nor the President has ever been a public school classroom teacher, “50 different standards in 50 different states” are no where enough. There should be many more. For, how many parents, for example, of more than one child would ever say that one standard for his children would ever be enough?

Here is the delemma, for the parent of more than one child, for the classroom teacher, for the school principal, and yes, it ought to be a dilemma for the Education secretary and the President. What children can learn, ought to learn, can best learn, can’t profitably be imposed upon them from without.

The dilemma? Well, you and I, all of us, are “without.” Whatever we do with the children, whatever help we give them, we have to do it from without. Yet children will learn most of all and first of all, not from us on the outside, but from within, from what they bring to the learning process, and from what each one brings, different from what everyone else brings. For no child is like any other child.

The dilemma? No child is like any other child. Yet in our schools, in learning situations whatever they may be, even in the home where there is more than one child, we have to have the learners together, and somehow help them to learn, even when what they learn will be unique to them. The secretary of Education is lying to himself by pretending that there is one standard that somehow fits all.

There can’t be, there can’t be a single standard. The very best we can do, and even here we risk leaving something important out, is to determine what subject matters and what skills will be most helpful to the child as he or she sets out on a long course of life-long learning.

So yes, mathematics is one of them, also art and music, languages, and much else. But a single standard for mathematics? If you’ve ever been a classroom teacher you’d know that was not possible.

In fact that’s what so many try to do now, set up standardized math goals for all children with the result that most children learn that they’re not good at math, with many of these dropping out of school entirely, and, according to their own words, because of math.

We’ve had it right in the past, by having many different standards, as in the one room school house. We ought to have as many standards as there are kids. What’s the expression, “let a 1000 flowers bloom?” Evidently Chairman Mao never said that, and what he did say (100 flowers?) probably meant something else.

But this is what the Secretary should have said to the assembled parents, let a 1000 flowers bloom, let there be as many standards as there are children. Let the child be tested, but only tested in regard to what he is and what he can become by his own efforts.

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