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Brief 1.6-NoLedge

I left the salon conversation feeling angry. The subject: Common Core, yet another revolutionary strategy for utterly transforming the primary education system employing BIG data and frequent feedback-producing examinations. “The results will be demonstratively worse in the short-run,” our evening’s provocateur reassured us. “The data will most certainly show that our students have been performing more poorly than the old, poor data showed, but once we start measuring the right things, students scores will start to improve.”

This assertion seemed about as unlikely as every other confident prediction accompanying every other revolutionary strategy for utterly transforming primary education I’ve watched crash and burn over the last more than half century. Primary educators seem more prone to seduction by The Next BIG Thing than anyone, with the possible exception of your standard Snake Oil Salesman. The wise S.O.S. cautions their ‘fish’ that the elixir might taste unimaginably horrible and could leave the severely deficient feeling much worse in the short run. In the longer run, of course, the canny S.O.S. will have beat town, leaving no forwarding address.

Perhaps I was angry because I felt like a played fish and I’d seen that lure before. Near as I can recall, my graduating class performed much more poorly on standardized tests than the typical South Korean or Japanese classes of that era. Subsequent classes have likewise compared so consistently unfavorably that it’s nearly a tradition now. Don’t get me started with the equally dismal comparisons with French, Dutch, German, or British kids. Seems each graduating class has been shadowed by scary predictions of certain doom.

Whether it’s junk food, television, loud music, or something more imperatively biological, it seems our students mostly undermine themselves. We’re sometimes characterized as lazy, unmotivated, spoiled. Most of us graduate with the confident understanding that we’re unlikely to succeed, thanks to these endless negative comparisons.

Some of us, and I can confidently include myself in this group, never did test well. Many of us were assessed early as quite bright, perhaps genius, by an instrument that was of course later determined to not be very reliable at assessing anything. Still, those of us who learned early that we were quite smart never quite out-grew that crooked assertion, reinforced as it was by frequent examinations which we inevitably scored quite poorly on. We thought we were motivated. We went on TV-less diets and switched to folk music from brain-jangling rock and roll, but still the predicted excellence never appeared.

For me, I later learned, that I didn’t learn like they were insistent that I should learn. I could find my way, but don’t ask me the names of the streets. I could discuss the meaning of statistical analysis, but do not ask me to manipulate abstract symbols like any three year old in Singapore can. I could cook, but not follow even simple recipes in the anal-retentive way every South Korean school child can.

I was angry because I recognized yet another clever, increasingly popular scheme for disqualifying some of the genius in our society so we might compare favorably with societies that have little in common with ours. Yea, it’s a global economy now, but it seems unlikely that discouraging intellectual diversity might yield more positive results.

I was mostly baffled, like I had been in Junior High School, over what it means to know. The BIG data knowledge management folks move forward confident that they know what knowing entails. They design means for testing this curious ‘knowledge,’ which seem to me at best correlative without approaching causative, as if remembering street names necessarily means I know my way. But I can find my way without knowing the street names. What about me? What about all those like me? I suppose we really should be more dedicated, lose the TV, switch to classical music perhaps, do what I did, which was write down page after page of text book, hoping that by transcribing I might retain that ‘knowledge’ rather than just exhibit Fourth Functioning under expectation-induced pressure.

Someone at the Salon noted that his Prius enabled him to save a lot of fuel by continuously feeding back fuel economy information, giving him endless opportunities to choose. He proposed that Common Core’s feedback system should induce similar choices in primary students and, Voila!, knowledge would accrete.

I managed not to vomit my supper on the carpet while retreating to the kitchen.

©2013 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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