On this, the harried last day of school before winter vacation, this winter solstice day of much darkness, and sadly the one week anniversary of the unspeakable event in Newtown, Connecticut, I would like to share with you, at least virtually, the laughter of children.
In the library today, instead of a lesson or a story, the fourth-grade children asked if we could play the game “Telephone”. Given that there were only twelve students present, not only did I agree readily, but I joined in myself. We were a floppy circle of bodies, decked out in green and red and glitter. A joyful vision, but it wasn’t until the silly, mixed-up misunderstandings began that I was reminded of the power of mirth. Giggles, chuckles, tee-hees and titterings filled the room. Faces bloomed with smiles. A happy energy spread throughout the group.
Thank you, children, for reminding me what this season really is all about. May you all have the most festive of winter holidays, whatever and wherever and however you celebrate!
Last week, a yoga class and a hike serendipitously provided the inspiration for pondering about my teaching philosophy. This week, the synchronicity of a blog post and a discussion at a School Council meeting was the catalyst.
Over at Education Rethink, John Spencer is known for posting provocative stuff. In his December 3rd post titled “The Pros and Cons of Common Core Reading” he leads with a quote, “Common Core is about being college and career ready. What about being ready for life?” What about being a citizen of the world? A caretaker of the environment? A creator or promoter of the arts? And what about our students’ passions that may not lead to a career but will bring fullness to their lives? What about their curiosity that can’t be satisfied within the standardized frameworks?
In 1993, as part of Education Reform Act in Massachusetts, the state mandated that schools must create School Councils as part of site-based administration to assist principals in managing the increased authority at the school level. Each school council comprises the principal and members of the teaching staff, parent community and a representative from the community at large. The charge of the council is to identify needs, review the budget, and prepare a school improvement plan. It was at one such meeting that a conversation about literacy initiatives, technology and budget segued to a discussion about the Common Core and standardized testing. Mary Ryan, our interim principal, shared some thoughts that helped crystallize my thinking about the road we are traveling in 2012 with our newest package of reforms. Commenting on the Common Core itself, she reflected that it provides consistency in curriculum and establishes the same objectives across the district (and by extension the state and country). It does not, however, mean that every teacher is teaching the same thing at the same time in the same way. “It is not cookie-cutter education. It is up to the teachers to add the meat to the bones of the skeleton to make it their own.” As for the insidious encroachment (my words, not hers) of standardized testing, she opined, “We are becoming more and more driven by data and assessments and losing sight of the whole child.” She went on to explain that most educators take a holistic, humanistic approach to instruction and she fears we will lose that with more and more emphasis on THE TESTS.
Like John and Mary, I am not advocating for a rejection of the Common Core. I agree that it provides a solid basis upon which we will build a rigorous curriculum. I do, however, recognize its limitations. And that’s where school libraries and librarians come in. We can feed those passions with books about guinea pig care and dirt-biking and origami and birdwatching. We can satisfy that curiosity with materials about Bigfoot, the Titanic, robots and Ralph Waldo Emerson. We can use literature to go beyond the walls of our school, the confines of our towns and cities, the borders of our states and the boundaries of our country. We can provide teachers with the materials they need (both electronic and print) to flesh out that curriculum and make it their own.
Our students (or at least most of them) wake up every morning ready for life. My aim as an educator and a librarian is to keep that zest alive.