Appealing Rhetotic Drives Out Real Issues
Cody's not a bad guy. He knows there's all kinds of cool science stuff sitting in that High Street warehouse, and not enough teachers making good use of it, and he's right that there can be more to education that success on a single measure of academic performance. But he's not right that NCLB is to blame for this and he's not right that a focus on teaching kids, especially Black and Latino kids, the skills they need and have been historically denied, is an impediment to bringing deeper levels of learning to our school communities.
This article, and the phalanx of ed school kids who support its underlying argumentation, creates a systematic dichotomy where it does not exist. The NCLB false dichotomy argument states that teachers, schools, and districts face a choice between teaching either a bland, mind-numbing, soul-killing, love-of-learning-destroying curriculum of skill-based instruction, or a rich, multi-faceted, Duck-Dodgers-and-the-21st-and-a-half-century curriculum that fills up every fancy verb on the upper echelon of Bloom's Taxonomy. The NCLB false dichotomy argument further asserts that otherwise good, hard-working, whole-child-supporting folks are being forced to choose the former or face all kinds of of big badness.
This argument doesn't hold water for any number of reasons: pre-2002 teachers didn't like curriculum either; there never has been a so-called "gold standard" in education, much less one "drive(n) out" by a commitment to standardized measures of achievement; more kids learned less in the past than now; not to mention the widespread post hoc ergo propter hoc reasoning in terms of how teachers, schools, and districts choose to respond to the federal mandate to ensure that at least 1/3 of kids should know some stuff.
The NCLB false dichotomy argument persists because it's appealing, easy to learn and repeat, and confuses a systematic dichotomy with an individual one. An enriched curriculum filled with electives, school 2.0 technologies, and 21st century skills ought to be set-up as pay-off for demonstrating mastery of all those basic skills so many folks work so long and hard to instill. We should establish basic skills as the necessary pre-requisites for the further avenues of study we all acknowledge as so very critical -- you know, yearbook, dioramas, and the french horn. The choice, then, is one faced by the individual, and determined by the individual's progress, and results in a tiered system of education, where students receive instruction geared toward their academic profile. This is also known as teaching kids what they need, and it's something more of us should do.
[Cue: Teacher, with hands clasped, making the argument that kids who struggle in school are the kids who most need electives like wood shop, which is the only class they are "good in."
To which I respond: Bullshit. Kids who struggle in school need more help in school, not classes designed to make them forget that they aren't good in school. To the extent that these kids exhibit negative behaviors, the behaviors in question are derived from the negative feeling that comes from being bad at school, feelings which will not be changed by making a bird house. Low-achieving kids are helped by receiving the kind of instruction that causes them to no longer be low-achievers.]
Ultimately, Cody's claim that a commitment to basic skill acquisition takes priority over developing "deeper learning," isn't wrong. No one except the strawmen of the world deny more is better, single measures are problematic, and rigid, binary conditions of pass-fail are incomplete, at best. Cody leaves terra firma, however when he starts applying causation where none exists, and when he asserts that we should be worried about what we paint on the bow of the boat before fixing the leaks in the hull. This is all a matter of prioritizing, and ending a denial of appropriate education comes first. The brothers Wright preceded Neil Armstrong, The Ramones preceded Green Day, and the commitment to develop an educational system that ensures kids gain the type of skills that makes all future learning possible must necessarily precede the nebulous "gold-standard" I don't feel the least bit guilty for not embracing.