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Friday, April 2, 2010

Wrong National Standards, Governor Wise, and Casino Management

I saw this statement from Governor Wise, who is the head of the Alliance for Education. He is a nice guy who I like, but he is very much in favor of national standards:

Gov Wise: “Zip codes are no way to educate America’s future workforce.”

I found this statement so odd that I wrote to the man who sent it out who responded with:

wouldn’t you agree that current standards in far too many states are too low to prepare students to succeed after high school?

What a weird take on the problem. The standards are absurd and students know that. States differ on how effectively they force kids to attend schools that they hate. And, while we are at it, zip codes are indeed a way to manage education.

How do we find out what there is to be in life? School should tell us but it does not. I have come to realize that this is a serious issue in our society. We teach people literature and mathematics and then throw them out into the world figuring they will know what to do when they get there independent of that fact that knowledge of literature and mathematics is almost certainly not going it be helpful. We also fail to ask what we want of our students.

I realized this in a deep way one day when I went to the Santa Fe Indian School in New Mexico. I was trying to get the legislature to give me money for building an on line school which is part of my larger effort to build many new kinds of curricula for high school students.

I went to the Indian School as part of the kind of politicking one does when one wants a bill to be passed. But once there I had a realization. Telling these people that we could build a technology oriented curriculum was not going to be all that exciting for them. I imagined myself to be an Indian in Santa Fe and I figured that I wouldn’t want my kid on going off to MIT never to return.

Of course, that is exactly what happens in the segment of society I live in. My children were sent to college and were not expected to return. I am not sure where they would have retuned to since I was always moving around myself. But, in hindsight, I am not thrilled that my kids do not live near me and I imagine, if I were an Indian I would be very concerned that they stay around so that my culture does not die.

So I asked them questions about curricula that were meant to get them to think about what their kids could learn that would help their culture survive.

Their answer was: Casino Management. This both surprised me, and then, in retrospect, didn’t surprise me at all. Of course that is what they need their children to learn to be good at doing.

We never got to build that curriculum courtesy of Governor Richardson who simply had lied to me about his forthcoming approval of the bill. But it did make me understand something about what is wrong with the national standards movement (apart from its canonization of the 1892 curriculum.)

People really are different in different places and have different educational needs. In Wichita they have an airplane manufacturing industry and no one to teach students how to work in it. In parts of the country there are hotels in the middle of nowhere that can't find anyone nearby who might know how to manage one.

Education needs to be local at just the time when the country is trying to make it into one size fits all.

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