Monday, March 24, 2014

What if Classical Education is Best Practice?

So, my district's high school and middle school staffs were getting a training on the Common Core the other day.  One feature, I guess you'd say, of the new standards is that they are "combed back" (that's the language everyone uses) from college to Kindergarten.  This way we can be sure that we're taking all the necessary steps for college readiness, starting right away.

Our trainer says to us, "The Common Core standards are combed down from college level, instead of built upwards as in No Child Left Behind.  Common Core starts with what it takes to be college ready, then they pull that down all the way to Kindergarten....That's best practice."

My head throbbed, ricocheting as it was between rage and depression.  "That's best practice."  Who in the world said so?  Based on what?  Not on any "research" or evidence or data, as everything else in the education world must be.  It is, of course, based on philosophical assumptions.  And the consultants who plump for it, of course, pronounce it best practice, because, well, they're expert in it, and that's why the district hired them.

The philosophical assumption part is the most important.  No test results or any other kind of "data" are available with which to evaluate the effectiveness of either the program (standards) or the testing process.  Further, with an emphasis on a set of standards and a demanding test (I've seen is indeed much more difficult than Washington's current MSP), but without specific curriculum for and by which the standards writers can be held accountable, schools and teachers are on the line to produce success on a set of standards that are based on an intellectual premise, and one that is far from obviously best practice, because it's not clear there is such a thing.

Common Core's assumptions and the program based on those assumptions fly in the face of a pedagogic philosophy called classical education.  Turns out, the arrangement of fact memorizing, argumentative reasoning, and logical explaining that make up the classical trivium may be better suited to the trajectory of a child's brain development.  (See Brain Rules and NurtureShock, to name two.)

Classical education--like every other pedagogy and institutional arrangement--has its strengths and weaknesses.  My point is not that classical education is the answer, but it has as much to say for it as Common Core's combed down skills does.

So let's stop thinking we trump everything and everybody else when we play the "best practice" card....It's more a joker than an ace.


Pamela Kranz said...

Well stated! I'm guessing you started writing this post as soon as the presenter said, "This is best practice!"
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Andrew Milton said...

Yes, just about then.