Education Opinion

Peach Cobbler, Please

By David B. Cohen — July 18, 2009 2 min read
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Last night, I finally had my peach cobbler. Ever since I arrived in Atlanta, I’ve been waiting to enjoy a good peach dessert, but without getting into all the particulars, let’s just say it took a while.

I liked it more than the kangaroo burger I ate a few weeks ago in Katoomba, Australia.

Whenever I travel, for work or pleasure, I try my hardest to sample some of the local food, music, and other culturally distinct elements of the place. In addition to the peach cobbler, I’ve had collard greens, black-eyed peas, and fried okra while in Atlanta. I tried escargot in France and a herring sandwich in Amsterdam, went to listen to country and bluegrass music in Nashville and zydeco in New Orleans. By making some effort to do these things, I return home with memories that help make the place and experience more distinct to me, which is important when you can find identical coffee shops, fast food restaurants and bookstores in metropolitan areas around the world.

Standardization - how far do we want to take this idea? To someone who only thinks casually about this issue, it might seem inconsistent that National Board Certified Teachers embrace teaching standards but have more reservations about certain learning standards - especially those we haven’t been invited to help draft, or even see before they come out. The difference is this: we embrace standards that state what we should know how to do, not standards that dictate what to do, how to do it, and when. All teachers should know how to manage a classroom, but our classrooms are too different to standardize the techniques. All teachers should know a variety of approaches to teaching core skills and concepts since not all students learn in the same way, but we don’t need standards that reduce the teacher’s initiative. All English teachers should know how to teach writing, but we don’t all need to dedicate the same amounts of time to teaching the same forms of writing in the same sequence.

Back to the food example, would anyone want national executive chef standards that go beyond skills? Every chef should know a variety of culinary techniques, but do we want to dictate which ones to use? An accomplished chef should know how to adjust a recipe based on available, fresh ingredients or based on customer feedback, but we wouldn’t dictate to the chef how to do that.

The localization of education is essential, just like the localization of cuisine, music, and other culture. If students in a fishing community in Maine have access to tide pools and boats, why should they spend the same amount of time studying dinosaurs and geology as children in Colorado? Those students will learn more about science by capitalizing on their local resources. And for students living near a Civil War battlefield, wouldn’t it make more sense to do some deeper study of the Civil War, even at the expense of some time that would have otherwise covered the War of 1812?

So, we’re not against standards that ensure quality teaching, but many of us are highly concerned about standards that inhibit quality teaching and ignore local opportunities to deepen student learning. If we’re not thinking that way, then it seems we don’t care if everyone turns out more or less the same.

The opinions expressed in Live From NBPTS are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.