That’s just common core cents!

There are many paths to wellness and success, this week’s guest speaker, Kevin Kumashiro, pointed out. He specializes in what he calls “anti-oppressive education,” an umbrella term. To anyone who has experienced oppression in any way, he asks, “What is the story that we tell the losers to get them to continue wanting to play the game?” The educational system is a game in which we jump through hoops. During discussion I asked a very naive question, “Are there, realistically, ways to stop the new federal teacher preparation regulations?” The answer is no. However, once we frame the question differently, “Are there ways to stop the federal teacher preparation regulations with collaboration between the 1,450 departments of education and the 25,000 teacher preparation programs?” it changes. Every single school can and should be engaged in scholar activism. We are losing the scholar activism battle, game, fight, debate, however one defines it. So, he asks us in his book Bad Teacher!: How Blaming Teachers Distorts the Bigger Picture, “What are the stories that we tell the losers to get them to continue wanting to play the game?” I do not answer this question here. It is just a very powerful question.

Kumashiro’s fascination with the sociolinguistics of education drove some of his major contributions in the field. For example, he examines the day-to-day employment of the phrase “common sense” and the ways that people assume what is and is not commonsensical in school. Common sense is sometimes just what some people think at a certain point in space at a certain point in time. Speaking of staying up to date, he clued us in to this news during classtime: just last week the U.S. Department of Education released a new “Testing Action Plan,” in which fewer and “smarter” tests will be dispensed and administered. His first reaction to this news was that fewer and smarter tests are not much better. And this might be worse, as it makes it look like testing isn’t a big deal anymore. Scientifically discredited testing will still be the basis of who gets money to mandate how we all teach children. We need a wide range of instruments, measurements, assessments and whichever other words one chooses. We need complex assessments, portfolio assessments, and a wide range of different data points. Logistically this might seem unrealistic. But so are the current decision-making processes for our children’s mind control.

He reminds us that the goal of education is not to make students think like the teacher. The teacher must admit that nothing is certain. Learning and unlearning are messy, and necessarily so. As bell hooks says, the teacher can be a healer, a self-actualized individual, and find some sacred aspects to teaching. Problems arise with the tendency to split the mind, body, and spirit apart. In the only other reading for this week, we read the first chapter of hook’s book Teaching To Transgress, “Engaged Pedagogy,” where she advises, “It is often productive if professors take the risk first, linking confessional narratives to academic discussions so as to show how experience can illuminate and enhance our understanding of academic material. But most professors must practice being vulnerable in the classroom, being wholly present in mind, body, and spirit.” How can schools of education facilitate this development?

There are many layers to the Common Core and high stakes testing onion stories. Kumashiro has traced some of the origins of the current Era of Standards to the Conservative Revolution in the 80s, which originated in some ways to backlashes to the Civil Rights movement. Going back further, he notes that “testing interconnected with the eugenics movement.” To keep peeling back the layers of the onion, perhaps the most significant reason that we spend so much time and money testing is the high stakes connected to the tests. Trying to see the whole system, the Department of Education, Congress, lobbyists, test-producing corporations, parents, teachers, children, and Opt Out groups opens one’s eyes to the necessity of multi-layered approaches to combatting the many fronts in the battle against high stakes testing systems.

We are not only consumers. We are not only compartments to be filled with knowledge and compartmentalized. And marketized. He forewarns us: a student (and for that matter, nothing) is a blank slate. Everything has history. We must be careful that the stories we tell ourselves and others do not somehow reinforce the story that marketing education will fix all the problems. He sees a lot of potential in parental involvement. Parents can help teachers learn about children. This is another “common sense” scenario. At parent-teacher conferences, teachers normally explain how the student is doing and explain what the parents can do to help. Well, the parents could do some explaining too! Instead of the child simply assimilating into the cookie cutter school system, the school could adapt more flexibly to each child. There is so much potential energy in the school system. Each child is a source of one-of-a-kind energy.

Nowadays Kumashiro is recommending action at many levels. Speak with school boards, legislators, parents, lobbyists, teachers, former teachers, future teachers, the press, and social media collectively and individually. Be strategic with communication. He laments the fact that scholars have not stood up for each other and public school teachers to make significant differences. Research exists. Contradictions always seem to exist. The beginnings of public education were both “elitist” and “public.” He pointed out that the UW, with a #1 ranked School of Ed, has the leverage to change policy-making decisions. If we can learn to use the power.

Linking together some of his ideas on learning and unlearning, teaching and unteaching, he says, “At some gut levels, we don’t want to learn,” and “Learning can be a very uncomfortable process.” He points out that only 100 years ago, it was “common sense” that girls should not receive too much education because the science at the time had concluded that education causes infertility. So he asks us, “50 years from now, what will people look back at and not believe that we believed?” One possibility is a drastic reduction in lecturing.

Hopefully, less children will be thought of as “disposable kids.” If more parents involve themselves in the educational systems, less kids will be so thoughtlessly disposed of. To what extent is education a public investment? How can we help others see themselves as part of a collective?