Monday, March 19, 2012

Riding A Bike Without Standards


I've been trying to get my daughter Evelyn on a bike for years. First with training wheels but no one likes training wheels and Evelyn is especially strong with her dislikes. Then I took the training wheels off and did the thing where I ran behind her. This worked to a certain degree but then things got hard and Evelyn decided that bike riding wasn't for her. She would stick with her scooter. Being a reasonable father this galled me and so I badgered her. You can guess how well that worked. Evelyn, like her father, is particularly stubborn and doesn't go much for taking advice from others. The bike stayed in the basement despite the fact that her big sister was riding up and down on her bike. Evelyn was fine on the scooter and that was that.

I've been having the Common Core Standards pushed on me at work. Like Evelyn with her bike, I hate them. No matter how you spin it, the standards say that each kid will learn a list of things in a certain year of school or else. The "else" is usually that the kid can't go on to the next grade or that the teacher can't go on in the profession. I get the idea behind it. The folks in charge want to raise expectations, stop having kids move up without learning things, and generally get education fixed. The problem is that all that stuff is poppycock.

Evelyn, had bike riding been on the Common Core Standards, would have failed at least one and probably two grades. She is a wonderful dancer, reads like a madwoman, and can make a scooter go faster than I would have imagined, but because she couldn't ride a bike, she would have failed. And I would have been fired as her parent because I couldn't get her up to the standards.

The thing that isn't taken into account in the standards is that Evelyn wasn't ready to ride a bike until yesterday. She was in the driveway doing whatever when a boy from across the street let her know that he was off the training wheels and riding on two wheels. That made the last tumbler click for Evelyn. She got her bike out of the basement and, while I sat in a chair giving her a word or two of advice, she rode away down the street.

Evelyn didn't need to be taught the lesson again though she was, until that moment, a failure on the standard. She simply rode away. Throughout the next hour I came out occasionally to help her get started on the uphills, but otherwise, she was fine. When she was ready to learn the lesson, she did. Simple as can be.

The Common Core Standards are like this. They sound like a great idea. They sound sensible and reasonable when you look at them on paper and imagine kids on paper. Here's a thing about schools that messes the Common Core Standards right up: schools are populated by real kids instead of the ones on paper. Real kids grow at different times even if they are in the same grade together. Real kids sometimes relate to one teacher while rejecting another. Real kids have good days and bad days.

There is hope in all of this, because alongside real kids in the schools are real professionals who know how to teach. Even now as the Common Core Standards are being rammed down a square hole, teachers are adapting and flagging the work that they do with the labels that the standards demand. The standards, like so much that these teachers have dealt with for so long, are simply another hoop to jump through. Get it over quickly and get on with the business of teaching.

My daughter Evelyn is and will be for her life the youngest person in her class. Her birthday is the cutoff date for entry and my wife and I took the chance of sending her rather than holding her back. I remember saying that we would help her with whatever she needs and make sure that her youth didn't get in her way. One way to help Evelyn is to tell her teachers that we don't give a damn about the Common Core Standards, the testing, and all the other nonsense that business people (who put their kids in private schools) seem to think is necessary.

Evelyn, now that she is ready, rides her bike up and down the street like it's nothing. She simply enjoys the feeling of riding and I doubt that she will remember tomorrow what it was like yesterday before she could ride a bike. All she will want is to ride on. And that's all I want for her.

As for me, I'll work toward real progress in education instead of the mirage and misguided foolishness of the Common Core Standards. And you can bet your ass I'll write on.