Essay Contest: No improvement, just giving up freedoms

David Cox submitted this essay for our contest. He is a public school teacher and former state representative and helped educate me in the very early days of my activism in Alpine school district 10 years ago. Here is his essay.

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“I have not yet heard one salient reason for moving from what we already have to Common Core Standards, except to be the same as everyone else. How pathetic. There’s no improvement, just a giving up of our freedom and responsibility for our children.

When I was first hired, what one taught was decided by the texts that teachers and the principal decided upon.

So I had a great deal of say. It was school based, though the state had recommendations of what, and at what grade level, but recommendations were all they were.

Some time after Nation at Risk, 1983, it became the vogue thing for districts to write up “standards.” That came about to counter what so many teachers were being taught by constructivist professors (as one of mine at BYU did) that, “If you want to cover the text…(wait for it) use a dish towel.” You were to teach what they, the students, wanted to learn. It was “democratic” learning (student driven). In other words “just teach whatever!” The standards movement came about to stop constructivism, because the Back-to-Basics movement wasn’t able to, since it was directed at teachers and not the professors, who were the source. Alpine SD used teachers, I was one of many, who wrote these and lesson plans to go with them in the old ACE (Alpine Curriculum for Excellence). It actually was very good –and specific.

Then the State Board of Education decided they had to get into the act and State Standards were created through USOE. These were much inferior to the ACE. At first we were able to “align” the standards together, which I worked on using Career Ladder monies. Finally they were shoved down our throats and we had to give up the ACE for these inferior state standards, which were quite non-specific.

Now we are having National Standards crammed down our throats, which will be backed up with tests that will end up dictating even the methods used to teach. Why? (Here’s the irony.) Because they are being created by professors who are as constructivist in philosophy as the original standards movement was created to get rid of! And these “standards” (inferior to many states’ previous standards and heavily influenced by the aforementioned philosophy) are being required in order to get federal dollars and wavers from NCLB. How can any district back out?

And as these become entrenched in a few years the politically correct police from Washington will start telling us EXACTLY what we can and can’t teach (history will be added, think of how that will be slanted) and how, and it will be things we in Utah will disagree with strongly depending on the administration in power. What’s worse, there will be no other choice. Already charter schools are being required next year to teach it, and even private schools will be required to become accredited, of which the first requirement will be to adopt the national curriculum. The next step, as has happened in Sweden this past year, even home schooling will be abolished. Do you see why I’m terrified?

I’ve watched it happen from day one and followed it very closely. I’ve seen all the changes, and it isn’t better. Back then, you couldn’t guarantee perfect teaching, but many teachers did a very good job.

As it is going, teachers will be little more than robots, constricted in everything they do.

This will almost prohibit great teaching.

The real irony is that conservatives tried to forcibly get rid of the faulty constructivist teaching by using government power with the standards and accountability movement. And after getting the force of government in place, liberals turned it around and took control and are in the process of completely implementing their agenda. If they had truly understood human agency and the real conservative philosophy, they would never have tried to use government to “guarantee” correct philosophy, because if you give government enough power to control it, it will end up controlling you.

As a retired teacher, former legislator, and grandparent, I am strongly opposed to the Common Core for three main reasons.

1. I want standards, not standardization. Standardization forces everyone to come down to a common level, the lowest common denominator. Locally adopted or created standards build the intellects and support of and from the local parents and teachers. Nationally imposed “standards” bring avoidance and lack of responsibility along with agendas I oppose, such as #2.

2. The philosophy of those who created Common Core is constructivism. They believe the student must construct their own set of knowledge (discovery learning). This is the philosophy that gave us “Whole Language” instead of reading, English, and spelling. It gave us “Investigations Math” instead of real math. It dumbed-down history and geography into “Social Studies.” The Common Core itself is dumbing-down Algebra, geometry, trigonometry, and calculus into Math 1 and 2, etc.

3. Finally, though the standards themselves were not directly created by the national government, they are being imposed by incentives. The real nationalizing threat comes from the tests that ARE nationally created and which drive the implementation of the standards. I want our schools to listen to the parents, not to Washington politicians and educrats.

The real answer to improvement will only come when we give both freedom and responsibility to the local community. That is the story of America, the story Europeans didn’t (and still don’t) believe, that, given freedom to either succeed or fail, the common man will usually do what is necessary to succeed. Nationally imposed education will not do this, neither will vouchers, which would only, with the funding, pass on the government interference that is hampering the public schools to private schools. To solve this we need to create new, community-sized school districts. Doing this will bring the community together on behalf of their own children. The adults will grow in the process of local decision-making and control of education, and that will then raise the children.

Only by creating new smaller districts will we return liberty and responsibility to the local parents and teachers. Only then will true accountability be accomplished. Only then will true educational quality and efficiency be possible to achieve. It truly takes a community to educate a child. We cannot lift the children without lifting the adults too.

That cannot be accomplished by nationally created and imposed standards.

It takes governing from the local level to lift and build the people. That is what the United States are all about.”

-by David Cox

2 thoughts on “Essay Contest: No improvement, just giving up freedoms”

  1. Thanks for this wonderful article – Oak for choosing it to be printed here, and David for enlightening me about why I took classes from state leaders from the Utah State office of Education. I remember them talking to us about what standards WERE and we were compiling a list of what ALL the educators thought were good goals for students. The teacher was someone who USED to teach at BYU, and I loved this man a lot. (His daughter married Donny Osmond, and they were delightful people.) He was a state rep in the office of the USOE, and I loved him both as a teacher at BYU and also as a teacher in the State Office. I thought it was cool that they were asking teachers for the standards we all agreed were good for students.

    Specifially, these were MUSIC goals in our various areas such as BAND, ORCHESTRA, CHOIR, etc. I thought it was cool to have direction in my teaching, as I was 4 years into the profession, wanted to have success, and on my OWN cared about a high standard. Now these standards had to be used in higher music classes in the Junior and Middle Schools, as they cut the programs DURING school in elementary. As a poorly paid BEFORE SCHOOL orchestra teacher, I haven’t heard any more about these standards. I guess they took all the beginning goals and launch them in junior high now!

    This state teacher showed us his collection of teacher-written goals (later that became standards). I remember them coming out in print much more VAGUE than we all wished them to be. We had to HOPE the goal that was written vaguely matched our lesson plans we NEEDED to create for THIS particular group of students. It gets REALLY hard to assess your class needs in any subject, then go find a goal to match that need. The further we remove TEACHERS from the decision of what should be taught on a daily basis, the more we water down success in our schools. I had to quit 2 years early. My final analysis: I work through inspiration. I know in my heart when I have been successful with children, and I could no longer choose lessons by my inspirations. I had guidelines from some distant “scholar” telling me what would work best in my classrooms. I can’t work that way – not in music, not in special education where it is SO critical to follow your heart! What my heart would tell me was influenced by my interactions and assessment each day of my students. I considered this the MAIN reason I wanted to be at teacher. I’m good at assessing what is needed, relating to students, building their lives. It felt like I was a PUPPET in public schools. I didn’t have ANY say-so any more when I left in 2012. It was too frustrating to come to work with ideas and plans, and have them vetoed by someone else’s standards. I was working with PEOPLE..CHILDREN, not statistics. Pretty much if you can’t find a “standard” in print for what you WANT to do with the children that day, you can’t do it.

    Well – the districts have become stronger in “checking up” on teachers, and burdening them with proving that they are good teachers by following the guidelines of what (???somebody) has decided is a “good” teacher.

    I stopped doing orchestra for many years in the public schools. I did my own off and on (moving gave me “off” years). I always wrote a grant for the money to run my own children’s orchestras outside the schools. I can’t tell you the difference in QUALITY that I was able to achieve by gathering my private students into once a week classes to practice music reading. They were MILES better than my school orchestras. I could start them earlier (around 3, actually!) and if they could read they could come to orchestra. I could take them all through the summer, taught them patriotic songs, played at outdoor 4th of July venues, for big companies who donated and helped us build the grant money to $6000 a year when I “retired” after 30 years on my own, creating a program I was not allowed to do in pubic school. That’s what I was CAPABLE of. I didn’t take ANY of the grant money – I was paid by my private students monthly and this was MY PROGRAM. I shared ALL of what I learned in college with them. No constraints – they ear-trained, they studied intervals, they understand basic composition, what a triad is, and pass PUBLIC SCHOOL AP classes in music! They were all first chair players in the public school orchestras, which I encouraged them to do. This year, as I returned to do ONE SCHOOL orchestra program to help our daughter out of work, I knew the drill – I wouldn’t make as much as I spent on doing a good program. Enough to help my daughter a bit, but per hour? Never mind thinking I got pay….got gas money, anyway.

    I’ve built a great reputation teaching from home, building orchestras through community school programs and using grant money readily available through the arts council, and COUNTY government grants. Yet – I can’t come even CLOSE to this kind of excellence in the school programs. Why is this? I can’t prop my door open for students to come in early. I can’t teach privately in the rooms for money (I do it for free, though), I can’t get involved bringing a student to school who needs a ride, but at least I can take home the STRING BASS for my student who has proven really successful. I am fully retiring and have a lot of time to think back as I plan a retirement move with my husband. I won’t be back because I have already spent a lifetime doing things in an excellent way. How I WISH I could have given back to our PUBLIC SCHOOLS instead of having to go another route. I’d love to be on a school board, but now I hear the governor has to appoint the people to be considered? We have to CHANGE what stops us from excellence in education. Testing is not even getting at any part of this. It’s impossible to test CREATIVITY. You just have to let it flow – in children and in teachers. Both are PEOPLE. People don’t function well with overbearing rules. I see kids not wanting to try anymore. Can you blame them? RULES KILL…they start choking good people and just continue to be ignored by bad people. Not just in education but in society as a whole. I’m not saying we don’t need them, but it gets to the point of absurdity sometimes, and kills the good we have to share. It comes down to government BACKING OFF here, and letting people (children!) be people again. We are created to be marvelous assets to one another. How much data does it take to measure the good, worth, and accomplishments of ANY human being? I see students in school like ME – just good people needing to be set free. Let’s FREE them to become happy, productive human beings. Keep the federal government FAR away from them. Keep parents close, teachers closer to parents and not distanced from them through school officials. Go back – to our successful one on one relationships to build our children. This move is just SUCH a mistake – nobody will want to be in our public schools pretty soon. A lot are already going to charter and private schools and we are killing the whole system with absurdities. Common Core is one of them. Let each school team up their teachers and decide what their common goals and objectives should be for excellence. SCHOOL BY SCHOOL. Teachers are OVER prepared. We waste a lot of our talents and time doing stuff other people think we should do. We need our time back on PLANS for the day. Focusing on our STUDENTS. You would see SUCH a great improvement without federal money or interventions. This is what I did INSTEAD of making a career of public school. I find it sad I had to stay outside the system to feel rewarded as a teacher, and use my training effectively. I returned as a Special Education teacher for (on and off again…) about 10 years. Each year I tried to understand why all the controls and assessments on teachers, and once again, could not have stayed another year in this CHOKING system. I could not take it any more. I marvel of the teachers still at it, and wonder what will be their story?

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