I just finished reading Ken Robinson’s The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything. Robinson is a great story-teller, with his own story being quite remarkable. However, as I have said before, he isn’t deep or penetrating enough for me, but that isn’t the point of this post.
In his closing thoughts on page 250, Robinson briefly touches on alternative means of assessment in education. He uses restaurants for his comparative metaphor, particularly the difference between standardized chain restaurants and high-end restaurants evaluated by the Michelin guide. The guide he writes, “establishes specific criteria for excellence, but they do not say how the particular restaurants should meet these criteria…The guides simply establish criteria, and it is up to every restaurant to meet them in whatever way they see best.”
Now, one could argue that many of the new standards are seen to be Michelin guides, I think the Common Core Standards supporters would. They are wrong. And here’s why:
They [restaurants] are then judged not to some impersonal standard, but by the assessments of experts who know what they are looking for and what a great restaurant is actually like. (Robinson, 2009. p. 250)
Many of us don’t know what a great student or learner or beautiful developing human being is like. We are conditioned to look for external marks such as wealth or achievement (awards, medals, grades) in order to identify excellence. However true excellence is a quality that integrates an entire person, it is not only outward deeds but also inward attitudes. And those outward deeds are often ones that we are conditioned not to value–caring for the vulnerable, innovation for greater good (as compared to the greater profit), maintaining integrity and gracefully dealing with conflict–these are true accomplishments of human character. Inward attitudes include: compassion, orientation towards hope and growth, and an ability to learn from even difficult situations. Lastly, learning is not merely an ability to put together the lincoln logs of our standards-based curriculum, but rather the ability to penetrate experiences and concepts for deeper patterns, the ability to cultivate ever greater awareness of one’s self, the world beyond one’s own skin, and one’s effects on that world.
Current offers of standards do not exemplify this. They simply are a linear series of concepts, ideas, knowledge. They say nothing about the character of a student, how s/he approaches learning, helping others, caring for him self and the world around her.
Current standards are still rooted in the banking system of education, where every student is thought of as a receptacle and schools’ jobs are to fill them up. Now instead of saying it must be this very specific garbage students are filled with, now we’ll only say that the garbage must contain these particular traits.
I believe it is our challenge to come to recognize what beautiful humanity looks like and exalt it rather than test scores or even beautiful presentations, projects, or portfolios. I am most interested in the character of the student and I am pretty sure that the fate of the planet is too.