I read an excellent article today by Janine DeFao, associate editor at Bay Area Parent, about the imminent transition to Common Core Standards in our schools. Common Core Standards is basically a list of what students should be proficient in at each grade level as regards English and Mathematics. Someone got the message that our kids spend a decade and a half in the halls of learning, only to graduate without being able to read a book all the way through and do simple math calculations without electronic aids.
I scanned through some of the changes that will be initiated and was excited to see that critical thinking skills rather than fact regurgitation will be the focus. But how do we weave this revolutionary change into the fabric of our public schools? I began my search for the "core methodology" with which this new model would be achieved.
Unfortunately, on further research I found that underlying the individual elements of the curriculum is the premise that the way to speed a child's development is by giving them materials that are "challenging" and the way to broaden a developing mind's awareness is to introduce it to higher concepts that are beyond the current level of understanding in the hopes that this will motivate.
My first thought is that this idea was probably invented by a sadistic child 'expert' who wanted to pass along his or her educational trauma to the masses.
To illustrate, let me ask you this: on being forced to read Charles Dickens at an early age, what was your take-away message? Choice Number 1: "Wow, there are tons of really unfamiliar words that I don't know the meaning of, nor do I ever hear any adult around me using them... And I'm really frustrated because it's hard to know what's going on... But, you know, I think I will read some more Dickens on my spring break because this experience makes me really excited about reading books! Choice Number 2: "I am really frustrated, reading is difficult and dull."
On the reverse side, think back to your favorite stories as a young person. You can probably recall vivid pictures in your mind of the characters and story lines. Were these stories the "challenging" ones or were they so much at your level that you had no attention on the act of reading itself, thus all of your attention was riveted on the content? And when those stories became too easy, did you stop reading alltogether or did you naturally move up to the next level and seek out more mature material?
I wonder who invented the "frustration" method of teaching. It has plenty of great euphemisms like "challenging" and "broad exposure" but in the end, it suppresses a student's natural curiosity and excitement and forces well-meaning educators to try and compensate by revamping our whole system.
Why not just use common sense and teach the three 'R's the way human beings have been taught to do things since the beginning of time: step by step, gradually gaining competency one level at a time? it may not be fancy and it may not get the big grants and the government stamp of approval but it sure works.