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DARRELL HUCKABY: True education is more than just the facts

Common Core Curriculum. It is becoming the most politicized educational issue since the Blue Back Speller. You know we have gone past the point of no return in regards to political partisanship when Republicans and Democrats take sides based on what our school children should or should not be taught. And it all goes back to the standards and testing craze that have plagued our schools since George Bush decided that we couldn’t leave any children behind.

Actually, it started long before George W. came up with his catchy little phrase that has turned schools from Kalamazoo to Timbuktu into testing factories and resulted in educators all over the nation being pressured almost beyond their ability to withstand the pressure. We are having trials in neighboring counties that prove it.

Now I realize that we need a curriculum. There has to be an effort to come up with a framework for what a standard education looks like. But we are missing the boat when we say that every child in every corner of every state needs to have an identical curriculum. In fact, we are missing the boat so often in our philosophy of instruction in this country that we are going to find ourselves landlocked if we are not careful.

We have become so focused on being able to prove that our students have mastered standards — learned facts — that we have thrown the baby out with the bathwater, so to speak. I know the standards, including those in the Common Core — include process and thinking skills, but those are hard to measure in a multiple choice test. The emphasis remains on specific facts, drilled over and over and over into the students’ heads in hopes that they can recognize the key points on test day. And all the king’s horses and all the king’s men in the ivory towers of learning screaming that it isn’t so at the tops of their collective voices doesn’t mean that it isn’t so. That’s what we are doing — all over the country.

The funny thing is, never before in human history has teaching facts been less important or less necessary. We live in the information age. When I taught AP History — way back in the previous school term — virtually all of my students had smart phones on their person at all times. Give them enough bars and 30 seconds and they could find the answer to just about any question a teacher could think to ask them.

Now I know there are certain things that a person needs to know just in order to have good walking around sense, but we shouldn’t be striving to simply teach our students enough information to recognize facts on a test, we need to be teaching them critical thinking and how to understand the big picture and how to ask questions and how to see more than one side of every situation.

We need to teach our students to communicate in many forms — this in an era of thumb texting and LOL and OMG and WTH. In short, we have it all bassackwards, as my daddy would have said.

And we do not need to teach all students alike or hold them to the same standards, because all boys and girls are not created equally. We should be striving to help each student reach his or her full potential. If you have the same standards for everyone you are drawing everyone to the mean. Those students who excel should be taught in environments that would nurture their needs and allow them to expand their educational horizons.

The most important job a teacher has is to inspire his or her students — to make them want to know more about a subject, or about the world, or about life itself. The limited amount of instruction a student receives in school should be the beginning of intellectual knowledge — not the end-all. If a teacher has inspired a student to want to learn and if a teacher has given that student the tools to learn outside the classroom, that teacher has succeeded — period — no matter what the end of the year test score indicates.

And sometimes the teacher has succeeded just because a certain student is still around to fail the end-of-year test.

Teaching is an art, or should be. True teachers should be allowed to use all of their talents and abilities and gifts to reach their children and help inspire and educate them — not just facilitate the acquisition of a specific set of knowledge. Imagine if Picasso had been forced to use a paint-by-numbers set.

Common Core should not even be an issue. Common excellence should be what matters. To quote the late great Paul Newman in Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid: “I got vision and the rest of the world is wearing bifocals.”