Sunday, July 28, 2013

COMMON CORE: We stereotype to simplify reality

[Gazette Editor's note: This is the last of Templeton's two part educational series.  To read the first part, click on the GEORGE TEMPLETON tab at the right.

By George Templeton
Gazette Columnist
"...the world’s important problems are our children’s more than ours.  Regardless, parents will best defend their values by looking at their own thinking and living their values." 
Common Core

Lyndon Johnson insisted, “The biggest danger to American stability is the politics of principle…  Thus it is for the sake of nothing less than stability that I consider myself a consensus man.”  The Common Core is a five year voluntary consensus, but at the last minute its opponents are trying to hijack it.  By definition, the “wrong side” has to lose for the deeply rooted “right side” to win.  There are no winners in this sort of argument.  Making the Common Core educational standard work is far more important than any imagined alternative.

Left Behind
In an increasingly complex and interdependent world that requires nimble adaptation, we have met the challenge with superficial blogs and strident tweets promoting unbalanced views.  Amateurs and the internet let information, communication, entertainment, and unfettered democracy out of Pandora’s Box.  They banished the professional expertise and vetting of journalists, scientists, publishers, reporters, newspapers, and magazines.  We traded truth and honesty for sociopathic paranoia typified by the progression of talk show reference from liberal Democrat, to Democratic Socialist, to Democratic Marxist as the 2012 election approached.

We must cope with this reality or America will be left behind.

Liberal Education
The de-industrialization of America and the need for technical training to serve specialized jobs has been challenging the American ideal of liberal education that promoted thought about justice, religion, culture, and liberty.  Anti-intellectualism regards nuanced thought as existing only for its own sake.  Traditionalists object to the alleged “brainwashing” of the public schools that supposedly “teach” Atheistic Humanism.

The Rev. Tim LaHaye claims that “Humanists are the mortal enemy of all pro-moral Americans …” But Humanism’s roots are religious, going back to Sixteenth Century  century Desiderius Erasmus, who dedicated his life to correcting translation imperfections in the Latin Vulgate Bible.  The humanities are not atheistic, though they inform a broader perspective than a single religious faith encompassing all life.

Philosophy books list Max C. Otto, who refused to sign the 1933 Humanist Manifesto, Roy Wood Sellars, and John Dewey as contemporary religious humanists. Their God was not traditional.  Otto felt that Humanism could not be proselytized but instead had to be found.  Sellars saw it as an evolutionary becoming that was not biological but included abilities and character such as faith and reason, justice and mercy, so that the spiritual came from within.  For Dewey, what mattered was not a historical absolute conceptual truth, but rather how religious experience brought about a better, deeper adjustment.

Atheistic Humanism comes from Auguste Comte (1798-1857), who founded Positivism and the science of sociology.   It lacked a recognized theology, substituted ethics for dogma, and claimed love as its principle.  Conservatives don’t like Positivism, but they cuddle up to Ayn Rand’s  Atlas Shrugged, and her libertarian Objectivism, that argues for reason, individualism, makers above takers, and a man’s own happiness as his moral imperative.

Linda Rae Hermann’s book, Winning the Culture War, describes how “revealed religion” merges Communism, “us versus them”, and salvation with her hostile delusion that secular Progressivism in our pagan schools is a Satanic, anti-God conspiracy to corrupt the pure.  She asks politicians for permission to impose her interpretations on everyone, but Jesus is not confined by ideology.

Jim Wallis, the evangelical founder of Sojourners, theologian, and author has a view differing from Linda’s.  He wrote, “We are dismayed by those who would undermine the integrity of religious conviction that does not conform to a narrow ideological agenda…  It is important to recognize what an historical aberration the Religious Right represents.  For biblical religion to be put at the service of the rich instead of the poor, the powerful instead of the oppressed, of war instead of peace, turns Christian teaching upside down. For evangelical religion to be used to fuel the engines of racial and class division, to block the progress of women, to undermine the care for the creation, to fight the banning of assault weapons, to end public legal services to those who can’t afford them, and actually encourage a public policy that abandons our poorest children runs counter to Christian Scripture, tradition and history.”

The (RRR) Radical Righteous Right wants a replacement curriculum that is not too professorial and challenging to their ideological certainty.  Answers in Genesis has their own teaching materials for history, biology, and earth science that they would like to have taught in public schools, but history and science cannot be founded on the supernatural.  By definition, the scientific method relies on the idea that material effects have natural causes.  Supernatural causes are not constrained and cannot be falsified, excluding them from scientific thinking.

Dr. Steven Novella’s DVD class, Your Deceptive Mind, in The Great Courses series, provides a scientific guide to the critical thinking skills that extremists don’t use.

More in need of diagnosis than the schools they criticize, fault-finding fanatics (FFF) invent a sensational reality.  Their egoism fuels an absurd myth that public education and Common Core (a UN takeover) will build a database containing the DNA code of all students, parents’ political party, religion, and gun ownership.

The gulag bound website imagines that DNA can reveal the future of students, their intelligence, mental, and physical health.  Supposedly, teachers won’t have to deal with classroom discipline because Common Core will make students into submissive mind-controlled subjects.  Facial expression cameras, posture analysis seats, and wireless skin conductance sensors are tools that teachers allegedly will use.  But these are educational methods, not standards.  For information about the promises and challenges of educational technology, the reader is referred to the August 2013 issue of the Scientific American.

Perception is not just seeing, hearing, feeling, smelling, and tasting.  It is a construct of the mind and thus can become a story that is a fiction.  Patterns help us to think more easily, but we can imagine things that are more inside us than in external reality.  Conversely, the seeing derived by the scientific method is more than unfounded circumstantial evidence.  The greatest benefit of the scientific method is the compensation that it brings to flawed human thinking, perception, and memory.

Faulty perception accepts a briefly stated, possibly incorrect, premise and then builds on it with logic to reach a ridiculous conclusion.  We should recognize that perception intends to avoid difficult thinking if possible, and that it relies on assumed patterns.  Such patterns can become like a rut in a dirt trail that becomes eroded by rain so that the drainage always follows the path of least resistance.  Once a feeling about reality becomes established, it is reinforced by future opinions following the same path.

Less extreme are the claimed non-political assertions of the tax exempt Heartland Institute.  Lacking discrimination, they see nothing of value in the Common Core.  Small minds find it easier to engage in destructive criticism than to make helpful suggestions because both sides of an argument can be attacked.

A policy brief, The Common Core:  A Poor Choice for States warns about lessons tainted by ideology.  It refers to the standard’s suggested lists of literature as “piles of trash”, but lacks the courage to give alternatives.  It neither appreciates nor respects teachers, claiming that the best education research comes from psychologists, political scientists, and economists because “…colleges of education are considered vast wastelands of mediocrity…”

No standard can control your school choice, write the table of contents for all books, or control college entrance exams as claimed.  But it is disingenuous to carry on about government interference, make unfounded allegations about the rigidity of  the Common Core, and then criticize the government for not publishing a procedure for states to follow to make changes they feel are necessary.  The government had nothing to do with creating, writing, approving, or mandating the Common Core standards.

We are told that standards have been scientifically proven to have absolutely no effect on student achievement.  Confusing identity with equality of opportunity, Heartland’s arguments promote parental envy, claiming that the Common Core could motivate schools to create gifted and talented programs, place students in them, and thus discriminate against minorities.

The Common Core is criticized because “it has never been tried”, forgetting that everything has a first and that it comes from the best experiences of educators.  They are experimenting with computerized learning that will personalize instruction.

We are told that a one-size-fits-all model will make students identical, discouraging creativity, and that it moves education from the pursuit of knowledge to social engineering.  But learning involves behavioral changes as well as facts.  Should education teach only facts, and leave the student to discover how to use them, thus hoping to avoid controversy?  Unfortunately, facts are not effective motivators.  Information does not change behaviors or decisions.  Those depend on beliefs, habits, and emotions.

We stereotype to simplify reality.  In the extreme, it leads to bigoted mindsets.  Educators are demonized as overpaid, elite ideologues who believe that the general public is too stupid to make informed choices.   Distrust credits the actions of others to internal motives instead of external objectives.  Even when we learn that information is false, we forget that, remembering instead the story that corresponds to our emotional reality.  Facts wane insignificant when a cleverly crafted, dramatic story appeals to blind emotion and wishful thinking.  There is a difference between how we think and what we think.  The former does not take us in a particular direction.

The standards recognize the logical fallacies, mob rule and crowd wisdom of the wild-wild web.  It is like a mirror.  A fool looking into it should not expect to find a sage looking back.  We are living in the age of misinformation that tries to undermine our sense of what is real.  We must recognize the importance of evaluating opposing opinions and analyzing the intentions of authors.

Edward De Bono in his Thinking Course states that, “Thinking is the operating skill through which intelligence acts upon experience.”  It has components of both cleverness and wisdom and can be taught.  Intelligence, knowledge, analysis, and judgment cannot substitute for the creative and constructive aspects of helpful thinking.

Critical thinking avoids preliminary emotional judgments.  It is not just looking at the pros and cons, but also requires considering the interesting points, alternatives, and possibilities.  It keeps an open mind, exploring issues outside of a prejudicial framework and prioritizes process over winning arguments.  It weighs all the factors, assigns priorities, considers others, and balances the long term consequences of actions and decisions.  It is capable of abandoning sincerely held beliefs that are ultimately destructive.  Feelings are important, but not applicable until after analytic thinking.  Certainty is secure and arrogant.  Uncertainty and alternatives are not confusion.  Confusion is the beginning of wisdom.  Extremists rebel against critical thinking because it leads to unacceptable compromise.

It isn’t just the Common Core that is hurt by flawed thought patterns.  Propaganda can mislead.

Bias is human nature but propaganda is human intent.  Propaganda has no desire to solve disputes that are ideologically useful.  It uses logical fallacies to motivate people to reach desired conclusions that may be wrong.  It stirs feelings that are involuntary and subconscious.  Learning about propaganda was acceptable when it concerned the Communist threat.  Today it is politically incorrect because it challenges popular beliefs.  Regardless, teachers must help students think about how they think.

For example, the argument to combine science, religion, church, and state, uses a straw man that misrepresents Humanism and science.  Humanism is a selfless devotion to the welfare of others that should not be so threatening.  Science and public schools are secular.  The absence of taught religion does not constitute religious teaching.  The absence of political ideology isn’t indoctrination.  Likewise, Stephen Hawking’s book, A Brief History of Time, does not teach atheism just because Stephen might be an atheist.  Educators will teach about cheating, stealing, and behavior, not about Immanuel Kant’s metaphysics of morals.  However, education must promote reflection on the ethical questions that are inherent in most subjects.  It is a logical fallacy to claim that there are only two choices, that public school fundamentalist Christianity is the better one, and that we either agree with that or are the enemy.

It was 2/09/2012 when President Obama unilaterally began the process of getting government bureaucrats out of education by issuing wavers to the 2002 No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law’s requirements.  Schools could not meet the 2014 goals, and consequences such as replacing staff and bussing students to successful schools were likely.  NCLB is still the law and some conservative states did not participate in the Common Core.  At the last minute, the House passed the Student Success Act (HR5), eliminating testing that students and teachers don’t like, thus doing away with accountability and national objective measures of progress that are necessary for individualized instruction and student mobility.

An acceptable standard is an authority that is recognized and judged to be satisfactory by those who are to use it. It takes years of transparent, objective work to create one.  Differences must be examined, discussed, and published.  When consensus cannot be achieved, the reasons for disagreement must be clearly documented.  Flexibility, cooperation, compromise, and adaptation are critical if Common Core is to be successful.

How is the Common Core different?  What are the new teaching methods and materials?  What is the implementation and expenditure plan?  What is the fallback plan if it is not funded?

The standards lack the assistance of product marketers who understand selling to the public.  Unnecessary repetition makes the standard cumbersome.  There is no point in describing subjective goals that cannot be measured in the detailed standard.  They are important and not just empty skill sets, but need to be identified with concrete examples.

Common Core has been criticized as creating mathematicians who can’t add and subtract.  Unfortunately, the way that many of us learned math failed to excite us.  We did not realize that math is a universal, international language, a way of disciplining thinking, a way of seeing, and a way of understanding.  Integrating math into other studies will help to motivate students by illustrating its relevance.  It is not just arithmetic.  When students understand why math works, they will remember how to perform its manipulations.

Simplicity makes learning boring, novelty and attention helps, but a more difficult curriculum might not be a solution.  If our students have been failing to graduate, how will Common Core fix the problem?  Motivation does not come from failure.  The standards should not ask for too much.  They are a stepping stone to success.

Those who object to “government schools” have the option of using private schools or teaching their own children, but they should remember that the world’s important problems are our children’s more than ours.  Regardless, parents will best defend their values by looking at their own thinking and living their values.

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