The Ignorati are coming — out of the wood work. On the heels of the infamous Coca-Cola “America the Beautiful” kerfuffle, which brought all the racists (“#Speak American?” …really???) out of their musty coffins, Bill Nye chose to debate a self-proclaimed “Creationist” who maintains the Earth is only 6,000 years old.
These knee-jerkers have learned very well the lessons of our current, fixed-mindset culture. They think small, possibly because large thoughts scare them. They see limits and scarcity everywhere, even though we have limitless possibilities and abundance if we only change the filter we are using to see the universe.
To me, this is the direct result of our hard-nosed, “feet-to-the-fire” insistence on holding teachers “accountable” for student learning by tying their evaluations and even their income to the chimera of test scores as a measure of “teacher performance.” What results in the classroom is a fear-based strategy of teaching directly to the tests, even when the tests are badly (or even maliciously) designed.
What I have seen in practice, from Ohio to Texas to Virginia to California (and increasingly in all 36 states I have visited as a teaching artist), is teachers who have to face a fundamental question every single day: “Do I teach what students need to learn, or do I teach them to pass the test?”
There are an incredible number of Ignorati who are willing to believe that success on a standardized test means children have “learned,” and that teachers have much if anything to do with how their students score on such tests.
The testing pathway for 3rd graders in Texas, for instance, requires them to study and learn measurement before they investigate geometry! Excuse me? What are they measuring, if not geometric shapes? How can you have a grasp of measurement before you understand geometry? What group of university idiots designed that sequence?
The problem with the system of curriculum and testing in Texas (and for much of the nation as a result) is that textbook manufacturers also create the tests, so they have a captive market of millions, with no checks or balances. They can do whatever they want. It is cheaper for other states to just buy the same books and tests than to have their own designed, so what goes in Texas goes for millions more children across the country.
And what goes in Texas is culturally and developmentally inappropriate curriculum that seems designed to separate the “high achievers” (read: white children from privileged backgrounds) from the “low achievers” (read: kids of color who are going to jail or the ghettos and poor barrios). Add in the prison-preparatory nature of schools these days, and you have a perfect recipe for continued stratification of society. Not to mention a whole new generation of Ignorati.
The Common Core State Standards, while not perfect, have done what none of the previous-generation curriculum standards could do: they emphasize higher-level thinking skills. They ask students to read not only for information but with a critical eye, searching texts for supporting details and summarizing them for their main ideas. This, of course, is very frightening to the Tea Party folks as well as to the skinheads, the survivalists, and the creationists. What if people stop believing they know what they are talking about? What if they start thinking for themselves?
If the average person starts being able to tell truth from lies, assertion from evidence, and logic from bombast, the policies the oligarchy has been putting into place may crumble. The country might become a true democracy. That scares the wealthy Ignorati to no end, and they are doing all they can to stifle true learning.
When half the US Congress is now millionaires, all of them more interested in winning re-election than in crafting legislation that will help real people, we cannot depend on lawmakers to right these wrongs. We must stand up and demand better. There are real, live, high-performing teachers out there, leading their students out of ignorance, and we need to give them the facilities and tools they need, and get the heck out of their way.