Teaching Johnny to think

Virginia has its own standards of learning so it’s really hard to compare how we match up with everyone else in the United States and around the world.

But even by Virginia’s standards of learning (the SOLs), reading scores are down.  Every fourth child reportedly failed to pass the grade-level reading test, and the statistical results were worse among elementary and middle school students.  About 3 out of 10 students didn’t pass the state math exam either.  If you lack reading skills, and are challenged by math, how are you able to think very well?

Some may say it’s an improvement that we have state-wide standards.  But it’s not acceptable that we have a balkanized set of conflicting and variable nationwide standards.

We compete in an ever shrinking world.  Our internet preeminence is up against stiff competition from Chinese tech companies Alibaba, Tencent and Baidu, and Alibaba’s US IPO was described recently as “a wake-up call for U.S. tech.”  It should also be a “wake-up call” for educators, parents and students.

Our standard of living depends on our ability to export goods and services, and really to out-think our competitors.

We need a standard by which we can agree what Johnny knows about “the three Rs,” to be able to compare him with everyone else, and to devise an educational strategy to redress whatever lack of proficiency Johnny may suffer in Reading or Math. 

Closing schools that “fail to perform” is no answer.  Rather it suggests an anorexic imagination blind to better alternatives.

Bill and Melinda Gates funded an effort by elected and state education officials from both political parties in 2010 to create “common core standards” so that from the first grade to the high school senior class every student would acquire the same skills and knowledge in reading and math, no matter where they lived.  They found that what students were reading was not complex enough to prepare them for college.  Our students were falling short.  They discovered math had 50 different standards; and they set one set of standards so that students could adapt as college students and employees must.  Their effort attracted the support of 45 States and DC but not Virginia.

By the way, the standards don’t dictate what to teach; but they do prescribe what students need to know.  Participation was (and remains) voluntary.

Virginia resisted the core reading standards, calculated to help Johnny deal with the complexity of a college text, and, in the case of 2nd grade students, objected the reading might be beyond their instructional reading levels.

The Core proposed that our children “preview” what’s read, understand the purpose of the reading, relate experiences to what they read, ask and answer who, what, when, where, why and how questions, identify characters and events, retell stories and events, using a beginning, middle and an end, identify the main idea or theme, and read and re-read familiar stories, poems and passages with fluency, accuracy and meaningful expression.  In other words, think hard and well.

Virginia rejected these standards because, they said, they did not follow a “logical instructional progression.”  Really?

Many of our students are learning how to think despite having to study to tests dictated by the dominant SOLs.

If it didn’t matter if Johnny could think, and we didn’t all depend as a community and nation on Johnny being able to think, it might not matter.

We’re not going to turn this ship easy, to reconsider more sensible and uniform education standards, but we should plot a course now to do better.

After all, the best way to get Johnny to think is, first, to show him that we know how to think ourselves.

2 thoughts on “Teaching Johnny to think

  1. christymo1

    Great post! Unfortunately, Johnny doesn’t know how to think for himself, so it may very well be a lost cause. Remember last year when he looked to his priest for guidance (i.e., in making anti-Semetic jokes) to R2D2 repeat what he’d just learned (err, heard)? Then he blamed this priest (instead of taking responsibility for his own actions) for “causing” him to make such statements.

  2. Pariahdog

    The John Whitbeck Good Friday joke was simply in bad taste. Johnny Whitbeck indeed does know how to think for himself and his job is to convince as many people as possible in VA’s 10th CD to think the same. We’ll see how well he did his job come election day.

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