Whenever I hear talks or read articles about “What Kids Need to Know” and establishing a curriculum to ensure every child has an identical base of general knowledge, I immediately think of tape recorders.
Some of you (many of you?) may have heard me tell this story before, but it bears repeating.
On the first day of my Senior year in high school in the second to the last period of the day I sat down in my assigned Senior English class. My teacher was James Worley, who was somewhat infamous for his “strict” teaching and his eccentric clothing. Eccentric because he wore the same thing every day. His “uniform” was a white button down shirt, khaki pants and a green cardigan sweater. We all thought that was a little weird.
The bell rang, and Mr. Worley turned to us and said, “The first thing you need to know is that 95% of everything you have learned in school to this point is garbage.”
My first thought was “I am going to love this class.”
He went on to tell us that all we had been trained to do in school was act like tape recorders. We entered our classrooms and hit record while the teacher hit play, spewing forth whatever information they wanted us to “memorize”. Then at test time, we would all come in and hit play and the teacher would hit record. The problem with this, he said to a room of somewhat stunned 17 year olds, was that as a result none of us had learned how to think. At least not in school. He said that if all we were going to do was memorize, we might as well bring in our tape recorders, set them to record or play as the occasion demanded, and go do something fun, like tennis.
He hated tests (especially multiple choice or fill in the blank type exams) and would instead ask us questions like “Why do you think the author chose this name for the main character?” He of course had never told us The Answer to any of the questions he asked. We had to think about it on our own, and then he scored our answer based on the level of thought and relevance to the book. He hated grades but was forced to give them, so in class he used a complex system of checks and minuses, which we could look at anytime we wanted. (They were in a book that was always open on his desk.)
He didn’t care if we remembered all of the characters in a particular book. He didn’t care about memorizing genre’s or listing “influential” authors. He had no interest in “What We Needed to Know”. He told us that if we knew how to think, we could find out any information we might need – and this was before the internet.
The Common Core is essentially interested in producing fancy tape recorders into which more information is stored at a higher cost. Any test based system – especially tests that are standardized & multiple choice – is touting tape recorder learning no matter how much proponents of such insist otherwise.
And one more thing: What happens to the tapes in tape recorders? They often get recorded over, lost or damaged so that the information is no longer available. Ten years later (or five, or even two or maybe over a summer) if you need any of that info, you do what you would do had you never “learned” it in the first place; you look it up. The difference is that if you are looking it up of your own accord, you probably need it for a specific purpose, and therefore are more likely to remember it long term.
Don’t buy into the rhetoric about “higher standards” and “improved test scores” through a “better curriculum”. We may have moved from analog to digital, but it’s all the same in the end. Kids are still being trained to hit “Record” during class and “Play” during tests.
Surely there are better uses for their time.