This post is about reasoning and intuition with students and bears, and what we have lost by focusing on Common Core State Standards and not the students themselves. There are interesting similarities. Let me start with bears.
I just returned from visiting Glacier National Park. Glacier is full of bears—both grizzlies and black bears. So, before hiking I listened carefully to rangers discuss bears. Rangers in national parks are fascinating people. They design their programs for children and adults. If you go to any national park, please listen to advice rangers give about how to deal with the animals at that specific park—including bears.
The first thing you want to do is respect such magnificent animals, of course, and understand as much as you can about them and their behavior. Below I provide a link to what to do about bears while one hikes in Glacier.
One ranger talked about using intuition if you run into a bear. First, you try to avoid bears and rangers will explain how to do this. But if you accidently meet one, and you understand bear behavior, you might be able to keep your cool and figure out what needs to be done in a split second.
With good reasoning the intuition sets in.
For example, if you run into a momma black bear, you don’t want to act ferocious, or act bigger than she is to scare her if she has cubs. She would likely get defensive. If a black bear is alone, you might act differently. Backing away slowly from most bears might do the trick. Bears usually want nothing to do with you.
This got me to thinking about the importance of using reasoning and intuition when you are a teacher.
The more teachers understand how to teach—the developmental age of the student and appropriate learning for the age group—the more they can reason how to address student needs. They can rely on their intuition to gently push the student to learn on their own or provide more assistance.
With a student who has atypical needs—is developmentally behind or ahead—teachers reason and intuitively adjust how and what to teach. They should also, with parent approval, be able to control the goal, or standard. This is what we call an Individual Educational Plan (IEP).
Teachers might change goals continuously, or tweak a goal to take the student in a different direction. Or they might adapt the information in a unique way.
Common Core enthusiasts like to say you can vary what you do to teach a standard, but in the end, it boils down to standards. Reasoning and intuition about the students flies out the window, even though in the real teaching process, new insight might be achieved through teacher reasoning and intuition. I have always believed that teachers should be researchers when it comes to instruction.
With Common Core, teachers do nothing more than channel the standards into their teaching to align with what will be on the PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests—not to mention the ACT and SAT. And since the tests measure what is taught, like all standards, you can guess what the teacher’s focus will be, especially if their job depends on it!
This explains why publishers are having a field day making Common Core aligned classroom materials, and why career teachers are being replaced with fast-track trained novices who know about collecting data, and following the script, perhaps, but little about the children themselves.
It’s all about the standards.
Micromanaging everything a student does, without using professional reasoning and intuition about their needs, means many mistakes will be made teaching. It also closes off future learning and ideas about teaching too.
You could say we have come further with our understanding of bears than students.
We have learned, for example, how dangerous it is to feed bears because any kind of food is addicting and bears will become aggressive, expecting people to give them food—no longer willing to forage for food on their own in the wilderness.
With students, if teachers control their classes to focus on the unproven goals of Common Core, never reasoning or using intuition to move toward a new approach or to create a distinctive, individualized end, instruction becomes stagnant. Students will be force-fed information, learning to rely on getting the same answers but not the deep understanding Common Core enthusiasts boast.
Certainly, using good reasoning and intuition confronting a bear might fail. Hiking in bear territory is always risky business. Bears are wild and sometimes unpredictable, so rangers recommend carrying bear spray.
You can also do everything right as a teacher and the student might still need a different method that the teacher missed. But with Common Core, goals are narrowed, and when students wind up not learning the standard, failing the tests that come with Common Core, there are no safety nets—no place else to go. This puts many students on one dead end road.
If students can’t reach the standard, for whatever reason, and do badly on the tests, then what?
The idea that Common Core will make all students college ready is a lie. It’s just like the old days when people fed bears cookies and chips and thought they did something sweet. It turned out bad in the end.
Now they have a saying in the national parks, “a fed bear is a dead bear!” And indeed, bears displaced from their natural food sourcing, who become addicted to the same food humans eat, and will stop at nothing to get it, must be euthanized.
I hope this isn’t too philosophical. I am thankful that, although I saw quite a few bears, I was in a car and not hiking on the beautiful trails when I saw them.
This is a picture of a grizzly I took from afar in the car. When we first passed this bear it looked up with an adoring face and grass hanging out of its mouth. Then it turned its rear end to me and kept eating. That is how it should be.
And teachers should be allowed to teach through reasoning and intuition for that is how students will learn best.
Have a safe summer!