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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

What Do We Selectively Abandon?

By Peter DeWitt — November 01, 2012 4 min read
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“The Common Core State Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers. With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy.Common Core State Standards (CCSS) Mission Statement

Teach.com recently posted a story entitled Cursive Writing Being Phased Out in Some Schools. They said, “that this change is partially due to the implementation of the common core standards, which does not require teaching cursive handwriting but instead emphasizes more technology-oriented learning. It will be ultimately up to individual districts to decide whether they will continue teaching cursive writing or ditch what may become an obsolete skill.”

Just like with any subject, handwriting is met with mixed feelings with many teachers. Some love to teach it because it is one of those areas schools have always been known for and it is an important part of who we are. People comment on one another’s handwriting and there are experts who can tell a lot about someone based on their handwriting. For those of us who are left handed, we often hear that we write upside down.

However, this story leads to a discussion that is much larger than handwriting, although handwriting is extremely important to some people. This story leads to a discussion about what we need to selectively abandon as we move forward in education. What are the most important subjects and topics we can teach to students? What are the ones that should be left behind?

Education is changing. In some cases it is changing for the better when we look at engaging students with technology and cooperative learning. In other cases it is changing for the worse because of absurd accountability and high stakes testing. Those things teachers, students and administrators control will lead to more prepared students and more innovative teaching practices. With all of these changes teachers simply do not have the time to continue teaching everything they have always taught.

To Abandon or Not Abandon...That is the Question
Over the past couple of years since the CCSS came our way educators have had discussions about what they can teach and what they have to give up. The biggest shifts came in Math and ELA and those teachers who long had a passion for certain topics found that they had to stop teaching them because they were no longer a grade level expectation.

What made all of this a little more complicated is that the CCSS are a base of what teachers need to teach and what students need to learn. They do not dictate, although some believe they do, exactly how subjects and topics need to be taught each year and if teachers have time they can still teach topics beyond what the CCSS ask. CCSS state, “The standards were developed in collaboration with teachers, school administrators, and experts, to provide a clear and consistent framework to prepare our children for college and the workforce.”

For schools that have been in the curriculum mapping process for the past five or six years the question of selectively abandoning certain topics have come up over and over again. This happens because every teacher is known for specializing in something. Teachers have things that they have loved to teach and have built upon it year after year. Former students return remembering those topics and how the teachers taught them.

Those same teachers are finding that the topics they are known for might not fit into their present teaching situations and they find that a little sad. That level of control over what they chose to teach is somewhat gone. As much as those teachers have the reputation for being great teachers, they are finding those topics they love the most are no longer relevant to their grade level expectations, which can leave educators feeling a little empty.

In the End
To some teachers cursive writing is as important as learning a foreign language. To those of us left handers who actually have good handwriting it is a way to prove that we do not all write upside down. To other educators the idea of not teaching cursive writing is a welcomed idea that will provide them more freedom to teach other subjects they love more. Ultimately, this is about so much more than cursive writing. This is about teachers giving up topics that they have long valued.

The optimist in me feels as though some of these shifts will lead to new topics to explore and love. As much as we feel angst now where the CCSS are concerned we may find more passion for them in the future as we become more familiar and think of new ways to teach outside the framework box provided to us. Whatever comes to us also provides us with a new opportunity to learn and we should never selectively abandon our own learning.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground 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.