Free Kids From 180 Days Of Stress

A recent article in The New York Times claims that our children and adolescents are under great stress because we, as a society, have given up on childhood. While economic, racial, and familial factors contribute to that stress, the education given to our children and adolescents every school day through the application of the Common Core Standards can be a major stress as well. That stress occurs because those standards were created without addressing the cognitive, psychological, and social development of children and adolescents.

We need to investigate how mandating standards that are not based on the needs of  children and adolescents contributes to their stress.

1. Could it be that making kindergarten “the new first grade” is part of the problem?

2. Could it be that focusing on teaching kindergarteners skills to make them “college and career ready” instead of helping them to learn through play and by using their imagination is part of the problem?

3. Could it be that mastering 90 discrete skills in kindergarten instead of learning through active exploration and hands-on, play-based learning is part of the problem?

4. Could it be that, after long days at school plus Before-Care and After-Care, young children come home to tutors, hired to help them with reading, writing, and arithmetic skills that were formerly taught to children a year older, or come home to do homework  to master skills for which they are not developmentally ready is part of the problem?

5. Could it be that living in the only nation in the world which limits the amount of literature read in school and replaces literature with informational texts could be part of the problem?  Could it be that limiting the kind of reading which allows for a variety of  interpretations and encourages playing with ideas is stifling for the minds of children and adolescents?

6. Could it be that not requiring children and adolescents to revise their writing in order to stimulate their thinking and, instead, instructing them to get their thinking right the first time could be part of the problem?

7.  Could it be that telling adolescents, who are primarily interested in themselves and one another, that they can’t ever write in their own personal voice, can’t ever use the pronoun “I”, can’t ever tell their own story is part of the problem?

8. Could it be that telling adolescents, who are just becoming aware of the complexity of the world and human relationships, that they must always write essays about THE ONE TRUE answer and never write essays to explore a question they have is part of the problem?

9. Could be that never teaching children and adolescents how to form their own deep questions, how to stimulate their  thinking by discussing ideas with others who think differently from them, how to use their imagination in order to innovate and problem solve, and how to tell the story of their engagement with an idea is part of the problem?

10. In summary, could it be that the Common Core Standards have simply gotten it wrong?

Of course, the Common Core Standards have gotten it wrong.

Those who know about teaching kids to be thoughtful readers and effective writers say the Common Core Standards are wrong: The National Council of Teachers of English, the professional organization of literacy educators K-college, did not endorse the Common Core Standards because NCTE stated that those standards are not developmentally appropriate, do not help students to grow as learners and thinkers, and do not prepare students for their future, explaining that the Common Core Standards could apply to the schools of 1950 but not to the realities of today.

Those who know about how little children learn say the Common Core Standards are wrong. More than 500 early childhood educators signed a joint statement opposing the Common Core Standards on the grounds that the standards are not developmentally appropriate and would lead to long hours of direct instruction, more standardized testing, and would crowd out important, active, play-based learning.

Those who know what students need to learn to have productive and meaningful lives in the 21st century say that the Common Core Standards are wrong. Children and adolescents need to be taught how to honor their own curiosity, how to collaborate with diverse thinkers in order to strengthen their own individual thinking, how to think deeply and broadly about the human condition, how to use their imagination to think up new ideas and create innovative approaches, and how to express their ideas effectively and uniquely in writing and orally. None of those skills are taught with the Common Core Standards.

The writers of the Common Core Standards were not educators and didn’t have in mind the developmental needs of children and adolescents. Their goal was to improve standardized test scores. Children and adolescents have been denied meaningful educational experiences that could have helped them to grow and as learners and thinkers in order to raise test scores, yet that has not happened. Scores on NAEP, called The Nation’s Report Card, have been flat over the years of the Common Core and still are flat almost a decade into the Common Core. The sacrifice of real learning has produced nothing.

It is time to put more life into our kids’ lives. It’s time to reduce the stress of kids having to fit into a mold which does not serve them and only produces stress in them. It’s time to engage kids in the exhilaration of learning. It’s time to help kids to be their best and happiest selves.

We know how to do that. Ask us. Ask educators.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Finally! These Are What I Call Standards.

12 Girls Created a Solar-Powered Tent to Tackle Homelessness

 

They didn’t know how to sew. They didn’t know how to code. They didn’t know how to solder. And they had never used a 3-D printer before. But 12 girls at San Fernando High School taught themselves all these skills — and more — to create a solar-powered tent for homeless people.

It’s a feat of scientific ingenuity that shows how much potential is squandered every day when girls aren’t encouraged to pursue STEM careers as much as boys traditionally have been. And it shows the astonishing imaginative reach of young people.

The girls had been invited by a teacher to come up with a science project to participate in the Lemelson-MIT Program, a highly competitive science fair for high schoolers. Most of them weren’t friends beforehand. But they all had common backgrounds and when they got together they knew they wanted to do something about the rising problem of homelessness in San Fernando, according to a profile in Mashable. Homelessness grew by 36% in the San Fernando Valley last year and many of the girls witness the suffering caused by this daily.

“Because we live here, we see it growing constantly,” Maggie Mejia, a student on the team, told Mashable. “If your parents miss X amount of bills, you can fall into homelessness, too.”

They tossed around ideas such as tackling pollution and water quality, but ultimately agreed that creating tents with power sources was the best solution.

Then DIY Girls, a nonprofit dedicated to unlocking the scientific potential of girls, began guiding them through the process of applying for grants.

After receiving a $10,000 grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program, the team got to work figuring out how to create a solar-powered tent and what that means exactly.

Starting from scratch was a struggle, but the team depended on early insights from DIY girls and soon realized that tutorials could be found online.

They learned how to sew, code, operate 3-D printers, and more through youtube videos, Google searches, and other platforms.

“You’re learning new things you’ve never even heard of or even thought of,” Chelly Chavez, a student on the team who learned coding languages for the tent’s technical aspects, told Mashable.

A hashtag was developed that captured their enterprising spirit: #wegetitdone.

Soon a prototype was developed and after working for a year, the team has a finished product that they’ll present at MIT in a competition with 14 other teams.

They were able to raise the funds for traveling to MIT through a Go Fund Me.

The solar-powered tent has button-powered lights, USB ports, and a sanitizing UVC light. It features insulated fabric and has a safety locking system. Taking into account the vagrant experiences of most homeless people, the tent even collapses into a backpack that can be rolled around or worn with straps.

For the entire team, the experience has been transformative. Many will be the first in their families to go to college. They learned valuable skills. And all of them will be challenging a status quo that routinely denies STEM opportunities to women.

“Me and her, we’re the only two junior girls in our AP calculus class, which has way more guys than girls,” Paola Valtierra told Mashable. “But we’re gonna change that.”

Amazing! These girls created a way to address the problem of homelessness in their community. These girls will inspire other girls to take on challenges in the sciences. These girls demonstrate what real national standards for learning should be.

Let’s throw out the those minimalist Common Core Standards and make these the new standards:

  1. Being informed about societal, political, and environmental needs.
  2. Posing and shaping questions
  3. Accessing one’s own imagination
  4. Demonstrating innovative thinking and ingenuity
  5. Conducting research to explore one’s own questions
  6. Collaborating with diverse thinkers
  7. Thinking critically
  8. Constructing new knowledge
  9. Acquiring technology skills
  10. Demonstrating effective oral and written communication
  11. Learning from one’s own failures

These are the standards with the power to make students into learners and thinkers. These are the standards worth insisting upon.  These are the standards that will transform the world.

Trump Changes What We Now Must Teach

In April 2015, I began writing about the sorry state of education in the United States if schools adopted the Common Core Standards because those standards would terribly debase how students learn to read and write. Once the standardized tests (SBAC, PARCC, and SAT) were linked to the standards, the fix was in even though it is well-documented that a school district’s scores on those tests depend on one thing only: the income of the parents of the test-takers. What has actually happened is that affluent school districts in which administrators are confident that the income levels of the parents will insure good test scores ignore the shoddy Common Core standards and give their students quality experiences as readers and writers. However, districts with parents of low income or living in poverty concentrate on those standards because administrators worry about low test scores and try to hedge their bets. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer.

Now in November 2018, there is an added worry about what all students everywhere are learning about language because of Donald Trump. Max Boot explains that worry in the following piece he wrote for The Washington Post.

 

America will need years to clean up the toxins Trump has released


President Trump speaks at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, on Oct. 9. (Nati Harnik/AP)

 

Donald Trump won’t be president for life. In a little more than two or (heaven help us) six years, he will be gone. But his baleful legacy will live on. He is turning U.S. politics into a Superfund site and the Republican Party into the leading intellectual polluter in America. It could take a generation to clean up the toxins he has released. Trump is a racist, xenophobe and conspiracy-monger, and his party increasingly reflects all of those mental deformities.

Trump suggests that Florida’s efforts to count ballots after Election Day — a standard practice — are part of a Democratic plot to steal the election. “An honest vote count is no longer possible-ballots massively infected,” he tweeted. “Must go with Election Night!” There is no evidence — none — of any fraud. When asked for proof, Trump replied, “I don’t know. You tell me.”

But his conspiracy-mongering is echoed by governor and Senate candidate Rick Scott (R), who vows “I will not sit idly by while unethical liberals try to steal this election,” and by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who claims, “Incompetent law breaking election officials lead to chance for lawyers to steal an election.” I worked on Rubio’s 2016 presidential campaign, so I am saddened to see “Little Marco” turning into his tormentor’s mini-me.

But that is the Trump effect: He is pushing otherwise sane Republicans down conspiratorial rabbit holes. It is big news when Republican Martha McSally in Arizona is willing to graciously concede her Senate race without claiming she was the victim of fraud. What used to be routine is now extraordinary.

McSally is, after all, a member of the same party as Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). He tweeted a video of a man handing currency to women and girls under the caption: “BREAKING: Footage in Honduras giving cash 2 women & children 2 join the caravan & storm the US border @ election time. Soros? US-backed NGOs? Time to investigate the source!” Trump retweeted the video, writing: “Can you believe this, and what Democrats are allowing to be done to our Country?” It turned out the footage was from Guatemala, not Honduras, and it showed local merchants contributing money to the refugee caravan. There was no connection to George Soros, but that hasn’t stopped Trump, Gaetz & Co. from trafficking in this anti-Semitic conspiracy theory.

Trump also hasn’t been shy about insulting the intelligence of African Americans. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), one of the longest-serving members of the House, is an “extraordinarily low I.Q. person.” CNN anchor Don Lemon is “the dumbest man on television” and makes LeBron James “look smart, which isn’t easy to do.” CNN reporter Abby Phillip, a Harvard University graduate, asks“a lot of stupid questions.” Stacey Abrams, a Yale Law School graduate and former minority leader of the Georgia House of Representatives, is “not qualified” to be governor of Georgia. Trump insults lots of people, including whites such as CNN’s Jim Acosta (“a rude, terrible person”), but his barbs about intelligence are primarily aimed at minorities.

Latin American immigrants are another favorite Trump target. In the midterm campaign, he released a commercial trying to make a cop-killer the symbol of a supposed invading army of illegal immigrants. The ad was so racist and dishonest that not even Fox News , his favorite network, would air it.

Such blatant bigotry from the president encourages blatant bigotry among his followers. Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) refers to Mexican immigrants as “dirt,” Florida gubernatorial candidate Ron DeSantis warns voters not to “monkey this up” by electing his African American opponent, and Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.), who represents a state with a long history of lynching, jokes about being in the front row for a “public hanging.”

Trent Lott, a former senator from Mississippi, had to resign as Senate majority leader after “joking” that if only the Dixiecrat Strom Thurmond had been elected president in 1948, “we wouldn’t have had all these problems.” But that was in 2002, when the GOP still had some standards. Today, Trump has given the haters permission to come into the open. Little wonder that the FBI reportsthat hate crimes were up 17 percent last year and anti-Semitic hate crimes up 37 percent. After Trump pronounced himself a “nationalist,” the founder of the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website gleefully exclaimed: “He is /ourguy/. He is pushing the edges of the limits.”

Trump is not just pushing the limits — he is erasing them. He is normalizing bigotry and conspiracy-mongering in ways that would have seemed unimaginable only a few years ago. After he is gone, and perhaps even before, it will be imperative to rebuild the guardrails of our culture. We cannot eliminate bigotry, but we can reduce its prevalence and make its public expression unacceptable. The anti-tobacco campaign publicizing the dangers of smoking offers a model of the kind of public-education effort that will be necessary to clean up Trump’s toxic residue. Because if history teaches anything, it is that hate-mongering kills just as surely as smoking does.

 

We educators now have an added responsibility. Not only must we, despite the Common Core, teach students to be readers and writers, we must, despite the language students hear from their President, teach students how important it is both for their personal integrity and for the survival of our democracy to use language accurately and respectfully.

 

Throwing Away What Students Need Most

Many years ago when I was six weeks into my first year as a teacher, I went to my department head with an idea. I had become aware that the 8th grade social studies classes were studying the Holocaust and thought that we 8th grade English teachers could parallel that with a study of semantics. My department head encouraged me to research my idea. So I read S.I. Hayakawa for the first time and fell in love with the power of his thinking. I became excited about the possibilities for having students explore the relationship between language and thought in their English classes and see the connections they could make to their study of the Holocaust in their social studies classes. What resulted was a shared collaboration between the two departments that enriched the education of 8th graders.

Years later in another district when I was the  English curriculum leader, a teacher came to me with the unconventional idea to have the first book in a sophomore honors level American literature class be the most difficult book in the entire course instead of beginning the course, as was the usual practice, with short stories, poems, or simpler novels. She had the idea that, by introducing students to that most challenging text, it would invite them into deep philosophical thinking and introduce them to many of the seminal ideas in the American experience in the first weeks of the course. She thought it would raise the bar for the students and enrich all of their subsequent reading experiences. I encouraged her to try it. What resulted is a curriculum that has, over the years, transformed thousands of adolescents into brand new intellectual thinkers and awakened them as deeply engaged scholars.

At another time when I was a curriculum leader, a teacher of AP Literature and Composition said she would like to try a different way of grading in order to challenge her students to grow as much possible. She said that, instead of averaging a student’s grades from the quarter, each student’s  final grade would be what that student had become by the end of the quarter. So a student with grades on her writing assignments of D, D+,C+, C-, C+, B-, C, B+, A-, A- would not receive a final quarter grade of the average of those grades but would receive a writing grade of an A- because the student had become an A- writer. What resulted was a teacher setting very high standards for achievement and giving students opportunities to reach those standards without penalizing them for their early shortcomings.

And at yet another time, a teacher came to me and wanted to teach an alternate book to one that was in the curriculum. He wanted to replace The Scarlet Letter with The Grapes of Wrath. I asked him to explain to me: 1) how the students could be challenged to develop the same skills as questioners, collaborators, responders to literature, and writers as they did with the book already in the curriculum, and 2) how students would explore the same seminal ideas about the American experience with his suggested book as they did with the one already chosen for the curriculum. He reported back in detail how he would do both. What resulted was a new book for teachers to choose for their classes and an alternate reading experience for students.

Each of these stories is about a teacher with a passion for teaching and with the opportunity to use his or her mind to bring that passion into the classroom. The days of those opportunities are over in most public schools.

Peter Greene points out  why this has happened. He says it’s due to the Common Core. He explains that, although the Common Core failed to accomplish its goal of a uniform education across the nation because “the Core was revealed as both political kryptonite and amateur-hour educational junk”, the Core has won one victory. The Common Core has “swept away the notion that actual teachers and administrators are experts in education. Instead, the standards-based school district now assumes that nobody in the school system actually knows what should be taught, and that the most they can be trusted with is to “unpack” the standards and create a checklist-certified list of education activities that will meet the standards’ demands”.  He also writes that many university schools of education are preparing prospective teachers for that same kind of diminished role.

Peter Greene laments that the one victory that Common Core can claim is the “defeat of professional educators, the clampdown on teacher autonomy”.

Intelligent and motivated public school teachers will not last in the teaching profession if they are not encouraged to use their minds but rather are charged to simply implement the content of the Common Core, a content which serves only the makers of multiple choice tests, and to practice the totally outmoded and unsuccessful pedagogy prescribed by the non-educators who wrote the Common Core.

Who then wins if those with the best minds and the deepest passion for teaching leave the profession or are not even motivated to enter it?

No one.

No: Kindergarten As The New First Grade

At the September open house, the principal greeted the anxious parents of the new kindergarteners and began his remarks with this proud announcement:

“Kindergarten is the new first grade!”

The principal then went on to explain that, due to kindergarten being the new first grade, homework will be instituted, recess reduced, and a list of tutors for after-school help provided.

What a deal. A faster education. Moving along, the last grade in elementary school can be middle school, and the last grade of middle school can be high school, and senior year in high school can be college. Why not?

I will tell you why not. It’s not good for the kids.  Students in kindergarten through grade 12 learn best when we recognize where they are in their cognitive, psychological, and social development and, with that knowledge, help them to grow as learners and thinkers instead of setting arbitrary standards that they must meet even if their minds and bodies aren’t ready.

What if their pediatrician told these parents that  “toddler” would now be the new “baby” and, at the sixth month check-up, she would test a six-month old baby for how progressed that baby was at walking and talking like a toddler? The parents would know right away that is ridiculous. At six months, babies don’t have legs strong enough to walk and brains mature enough to form their own words. Children develop at a certain pace, and saying that six months is the time for walking and talking doesn’t make it happen. So too with kindergartners; a five year-old is not a six or seven year-old. It is damaging to students to insist that they meet standards for reading, writing, and math for which they are not developmentally ready. Plus, they miss out on all the learning experiences that could fire them up and engage their minds.

Only someone totally unfamiliar with six-month olds would set standards for walking and talking for them. So too with making kindergarten the new first grade. The Common Core standards for kindergarten were written by those with absolutely no experience either working with children that age or having any knowledge about children that age. The standards were written by people whose business it is to create standardized tests to measure discrete skills. They didn’t know that the job of a kindergarten teacher, and indeed every K-12 teacher, is to help kids fall in love with learning and to give them the tools at each stage of their development to be avid, engaged learners.

Parents should rise up and say:

“No thank you.  We want kindergarten to be kindergarten.”

And what would that look like? Nancy Carlsson-Paige, an expert in early childhood education, answers that question by describing schools in a neighboring country in which kindergarten is kindergarten.  

It is not just in kindergarten that developing students as learners and thinkers should be the focus rather than the focus being on the mastery of arbitrary standards. As with the writing of the kindergarten standards, not one English teacher, college English professor, or researcher about reading and writing wrote the Common Core English Language Arts Standards, which can govern all of literacy education K-12 if we let them.

All grades need what Nancy Carlsson-Paige advocates for kindergarten: helping students to grow as learners and thinkers instead of acquirers of information, requiring students to construct their own knowledge by questioning, collaborating, and imagining, and assessing students by asking them to demonstrate they have learned how to learn in the ways that they have been taught that year instead of by taking standardized tests.

If we discard the Common Core and replace that misbegotten venture with developing students as learners and thinkers, principals of all schools – elementary, middle, and high school – can all have the same message at Open House. They all can say:

“We know who your children are and how they learn best. This year, we are going to do all we can to motivate them to fall in love with learning, give them new skills as learners and thinkers, and help them to grow beyond your wildest dreams. Prepare to be delighted.”

 

 

 

 

Giving Kids A Toolkit For Their Future

We are hearing the same thing from so many people in the know. Tom Friedman, who writes in Thank You For Being Late about how work will change in the future due to advanced technology and increased use of artificial intelligence, says it.  Tony Wagner, Harvard professor and author of The Global Achievement Gap in which he identifies the skills students need to survive in that future world of work, says it. The September 27, 2017 issue of Ed Week, which talks about how K-12 education needs to change, says it. They all loudly and clearly proclaim the same thing:  The education we now provide will not serve our students in the future because the needs of the future are not the needs of the past, and schools are currently meeting the demands of the past.

So what is a teacher to do? What is a school district to do? What are parents to do?

It would be great for us as a society to engage in a deep conversation about the nature of learning and how to assess that learning. I am ready for that conversation and know other educators who also long for it. In the meantime, here are three practical suggestions that teachers and school districts can implement immediately:

  1. Teach students to question.
  2.  Teach students to write essays that explore questions of importance to them.
  3.  Teach students to write essays about how their thinking evolved  and changed.

These suggestions make real the Tony Wagner Seven Survival Skills for the future: critical thinking and problem solving, collaboration, agility and adaptability, initiative, effective oral and written communication, accessing and analyzing information, and, most of all, curiosity and imagination. The also help students to succeed in the rapidly changing world Friedman describes.  Most of all, students do what Ed Week points out is  necessary for their future – develop as learners and thinkers.

Teaching Students to Question 

To prepare young people for their future, learning can no longer be about a teacher talking and students listening, not about one person giving information and the other person receiving it. We have computers for that.

I remember taking my three-year old grandson to a space museum and realizing that he didn’t know the word astronaut. When we went home, I wanted to show him what an astronaut is by showing him a video of astronauts returning from a space flight. So I searched for a video on my laptop. I couldn’t immediately find what I wanted so I was frustrated. My little grandson said, “You have to be patient, Grandma. It will come.” At three, he knew that information is available with a click.

In my first years as a teacher, I had file folders full of information about the differing ways the character of Hamlet had been interpreted over the ages, the symbolism in The Scarlet Letter, biographical information about Arthur Miller, and so much more. I told my students to prepare for their final exams by reviewing the notes I had given them because my notes contained what was important for them to remember. All the essays I assigned asked the students to prove something they already knew. Never again.

I learned that telling students what to think and teaching only one kind of writing had to change if I were to develop students who who can think critically and creatively.

Preparing students for the future, I have found, begins with students asking questions to which they don’t have answers but would like to have those answers. Teachers and students then collaborate with one another as they discuss their questions. The questions differ. Some of the students have questions about facts, about what happened in the story. Some have questions about interpreting characters or events. Some have questions about ideas that the story brings up about love, social justice, or the relationship between an individual and society – life’s big questions. All questions are welcome. The teacher helps students to ask increasingly complex questions that are multi-layered and lead to even more questions. Discussing the questions offers more ideas than any student could ever have on his or own and broadens and deepens each student’s individual thinking.

Asking good questions about the facts or data about what happened, questions about interpreting what happened, and philosophical questions that come to mind because of what happened is not only for English classes. Asking questions is at the heart of learning science, math, history, art, and technology. Questions are intrinsic to all academic disciplines and apply to all kinds of work. Tony Wagner wrote that, instead of having the right answers, “the most important skill in the New World of work, learning, and citizenship – the rigor that matters most – is the ability to ask the right questions.”

Learning to question doesn’t just happen. Due to years in school, their years as being answerers, students need to be untaught to be answerers and taught to be questioners.

Essay Writing

Students also need to be untaught that there is one kind of thinking and one kind of essay writing. No doubt about it: It’s important to be able to write an essay that supports a thesis and presents a coherent argument. Deductive, logical thinking is a valued kind of thinking, and the proving of a position is a valued kind of writing. But deductive reasoning is a kind of thinking, not the only way to think, and thesis-based essays are a kind of essay, but not the essay itself. The world of the future demands other kinds of thinking and other kinds of essays.

Teaching Students To Explore Questions Of Importance To Them

One of those other kinds of essays is an essay in which students explore a question rather than prove a point or make an argument. The writer engages in open-ended and speculative thinking and explores a question from several perspectives, considering various possibilities and using pertinent evidence. The writer doesn’t try to convince the readers of anything but rather shares her thinking about her question with them. The writer might determine an answer to her question by the end of essay or might not. She may, instead, pose deeper and more penetrating questions at the end of the essay. For sure, though, the writer lets the readers know where the inquiry has taken her. These essays provide seeds of creativity and are incubators of innovation. The writers are thinking of what could be rather than defending what is.

Teaching Students To Write About How They Came To Know What They Know

Another kind of essay is one in which the writer tells the story of the development of his thinking about a concept or idea. It gives the chronology of the writer’s thinking – where his thinking began, what he read and learned in class discussions, and how his thinking evolved.  At the end of this essay, the readers know where the writer is in his thinking and how the writer got there. It is story about how the writer came to know what he knows. Friedman, Wagner, and Ed Week all say that learning to learn is essential for the workplace of the future. Writing about the development of their own thinking makes it likely that students will leave school knowing that they do know how to learn, do know how to develop their thinking, and can do it again….and again….and again.

Toolkits For All

All of this may seem way beyond many students. But it’s not. I have worked in schools that are called high performing and in ones that are termed “failing” and  have seen the students in both thrive when asked to question and to think and write in these ways. The students are ready. The future can’t be pushed back. The time to teach students to question, to think creatively and innovatively, and to see themselves as learners is now.

The Common Core State Standards do not ask students to think in these ways; those standards do not give students the learning and thinking skills needed for the future.  Also, no standardized test in our country assesses questioning, collaborating, creative thinking, or learning-to-learn skills. Every minute of class time given to preparing students for those tests takes students away from what they really need to learn.

The future is just about here. It’s time to give students what they need. Invite them to question, to explore possibilities, to imagine solutions, to grow and change as thinkers, and to fall in love with learning. Then sit back and watch where they take us.

The Role Of The Artist in Trump-time

The result of the 2016 Presidential election silenced me. Listening to Meryl Streep’s speech when she accepted a lifetime achievement award at the Golden Globes Award gave me back my voice.

Since November 9, 2016, I have questioned the point of writing about public education anymore. Why should I continue to criticize the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts when what I find harmful in them for students is now being normalized by the President-elect? How could  I continue to criticize standards that limit the amount of literature students read when we have a President-elect who boasts of the fact that he doesn’t read?  How could I criticize standards that recognize only predetermined right answers instead of critical or creative thinking  when we have a President-elect who says he has all the answers and doesn’t need dialogue with others to explore possibilities or revise his thinking? How could I continue to advocate for excellent public schools for all children as the bedrock of a democracy when that President-elect nominates for U.S. Secretary of Education someone who wants to destroy public education?  It all seemed futile.

Then I heard what Meryl Streep said about artists and journalists and knew that it applied to educators as well.  You can listen to her speech here:   https://video.search.yahoo.com/search/video?fr=tightropetb&p=video+of+meryl+streep+speech+at+golden+globes+on+january+9%2C+2016#id=59&vid=c81a5c9dd5861ac45c2c81b50d1964b9&. Or you can read it below.

I love you all, but you’ll have to forgive me. I’ve lost my voice in screaming and lamentation this weekend, and I have lost my mind sometime earlier this year. So I have to read. Thank you, Hollywood Foreign Press, just to pick up on what Hugh Laurie said. You and all of us in this room really belong to the most vilified segments in American society right now. Think about it: Hollywood, foreigners and the press.

But who are we? And what is Hollywood anyway? It’s just a bunch of people from other places. I was born and raised and educated in the public schools of New Jersey. Viola was born in a sharecropper’s cabin in South Carolina, came up in Central Falls, Rhode Island. Sarah Paulson was born in Florida, raised by a single mom in Brooklyn. Sarah Jessica Parker was one of seven or eight kids from Ohio. Amy Adams was born in Vicenza, Veneto, Italy. And Natalie Portman was born in Jerusalem. Where are their birth certificates? And the beautiful Ruth Negga was born in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, raised in — no — in Ireland, I do believe, and she’s here nominated for playing a small-town girl from Virginia. Ryan Gosling, like all the nicest people, is Canadian. And Dev Patel was born in Kenya, raised in London, is here for playing an Indian raised in Tasmania. So Hollywood is crawling with outsiders and foreigners, and if we kick them all out, you’ll have nothing to watch but football and mixed martial arts, which are not the arts.

They gave me three seconds to say this. So an actor’s only job is to enter the lives of people who are different from us and let you feel what that feels like, and there were many, many, many powerful performances this year that did exactly that, breathtaking, compassionate work. But there was one performance this year that stunned me. It sank its hook in my heart not because it was good. It was — there was nothing good about it, but it was effective, and it did its job. It made its intended audience laugh and show their teeth. It was that moment when the person asking to sit in the most respected seat in our country imitated a disabled reporter, someone he outranked in privilege, power, and the capacity to fight back. It kind of broke my heart, and I saw it, and I still can’t get it out of my head because it wasn’t in a movie. It was real life. And this instinct to humiliate when it’s modeled by someone in the public platform by someone powerful, it filters down into everybody’s life because it kind of gives permission for other people to do the same thing.

Disrespect invites disrespect. Violence insights violence. When the powerful use their position to bully others, we all lose.

This brings me to the press. We need the principled press to hold power to account –  to call them on the carpet for every outrage.

That’s why our founders enshrined the press and its freedom in our Constitution. So I only ask the famously well-heeled Hollywood Foreign Press and all of us in our community to join me in supporting the Committee to Protect Journalists because we are going to need them going forward and they’ll need us to safeguard the truth.

One more thing. Once when I was standing around on the set one day, whining about something, you know, we were going to work through supper or the long hours or whatever, Tommy Lee Jones said to me, “Isn’t it such a privilege, Meryl, just to be an actor?” Yeah, it is, and we have to remind each other of the privilege and the responsibility of the act of empathy. We should all be very proud of the work Hollywood honors here tonight. As my friend, the dear departed Princess Leia said to me once, “Take your broken heart. Make it into art.” 

And that is what I will do. I will stop being defeated. I will end my two-month silence. I will let my broken heart energize my art as a teacher and as a  teacher of teachers.

I will go back to speaking my truth. I know what good education is and will advocate for it. I know what the art of teaching entails. I am passionate about children having the best possible education because I know first-hand how education that privileges diversity, independent thinking, and social responsibility can transform lives. I will not stop because of the disrespect, violence, and bullying that now surround us. I will not stop empathizing with the children in this country who so need us educators – especially now.

I will ask of myself what Meryl Streep asked of journalists: How can I hold power accountable and safeguard the truth. The truth I want to safeguard is that the purpose of public education is to build the minds and hearts of all students by developing their potential as engaged learners and increasingly independent thinkers in every way imaginable. To do that, I must go back to opposing the Common Core Standards, designed by entrepreneurs and testing company personnel instead of educators. I must also go back to opposing the evaluation of students by standardized tests because that kind of assessment reduces learning for all students, especially those who need engagement and stimulation the most. I must go back to opposing charter schools because they take  money away from the vast majority of children without notable results, and they encourage segregation. As Meryl Streep urged journalists, I must hold precious my responsibility to play a part in taking this democracy to its highest ground.

Meryl Streep is right. The oligarch-in-chief and the oligarchs with whom he has surrounded himself have incredible power and have the privilege of wealth. But we educators, like the actors and journalists, have our art. We can teach. We can speak the truth about kids, about learning, about diversity, about excellence.  With that art and with one another we can fight back.

Let’s get busy.

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