Beyond Common Sense

My parents were elementary school teachers in the 60’s and 70’s. So was my Aunt, my sister for a time and I married a woman who became one later in her life. My youngest daughter did it for three years and checked out. I have a life long history with public education. I feel like the background of so many conversations that are still rumbling around in my head and somehow part of my psyche recall discussions during meals about the trials and victories in and because of public education.

My public school education was great, for the most part and even that of my own children, good as well. They may think differently, but I think they received a very good education. We live in a very small town, with a rural population and many commuters. So, in this sense, we are very unlike the suburban or urban districts that house and seek to educate most of the young people in the U.S.

The urban districts in America are in crisis. Financially, educationally and institutionally. In any way you want to measure them, they are facing problems that could leave an entire generation without the ability to read, reason and understand basic math.

There is a lot to say about this, but I want to share some very personal and specific practices that defy common sense. Or at least any sense I have.

Consider an urban district, one of the poorest in the U.S., with a population that is 90% Hispanic, 8% black and 2% white and other races. In the middle school grades in language arts, teachers are prohibited by their administration from:

  • Teaching anything that is not specifically on the PSSA tests.
  • This includes grammar and the basics of sentence structure.
  • Only discussions about reading strategies were allowed, nothing about the actually story, plot and literary content was allowed.
  • No time for reading was included in the planning.
  • No required discussions, book reports or presentations.
  • After the PSSA tests were completed, some of this was allowed.
  • Use of dictionaries is prohibited. Why, you might ask? The answer was, “the kids should be able to figure it out from the context and anyway, there are very questions on ‘the test’ about this.

You may be thinking I’m making this up, but this is the official direction in an urban district in Pennsylvania, where I live. It defies common sense, does it not? The only way to read is the learn the basics of the language, which includes grammar and sentence structure and then lots of reading, discussion and use of language.

To me this is like thinking that anyone could learn to be excellent at sports without conditioning, basic drills for the sport, inspiration and lots of repeating the skills. To think that a person can learn to read without completing the basics is beyond common sense.


5 thoughts on “Beyond Common Sense

  1. beyond Common sense lies Wisdom. Why is it that our educational institutions have stopped teaching “Wisdom” last 100 years has seen this change. Common sense how far is it beyond till we enter realm of Wisdom. Wisdom does not teach you how to earn and it is not a job making scroll. My son has written a great piece on Wisdom. As student of Logic and Understanding I would urge all to read the Pearl of Wisdom at :

    1. The best definition of wisdom that I have is “the ability to make reasoned decisions that are good good for the individual and good for others.” Wisdom is a product of character or another way of stating this is that character is built upon the accumulation of wise decisions.

      1. My late son’s favourite word was WISDOM and he said on Wisdom — Wisdom is my most favourite word and to spend life seeking reverence for it is of loss none but being lost to a life most sublime. It is mostly overgrowing troubled tooth for all human beings ever since, but, surfaced only in the best philosophical mind” But i agree there is no one meaning to keep keep your finger on it.

  2. I agree, Rob. Problem #1 is students (children) who are not prepared by their parents (or parent) with respect for others, relationship skills, study skills, and good habits. This issue is generally a much bigger problem in urban districts, where parenting is often lacking.

    Problem #2 is that the parents or guardians expect that the teachers will somehow do all of that for them, and transform their child.

    Problem #3 is that teachers have been robbed of the ability to discipline, or to be creative in the education process.

    1. Yes, and yet what most people think is that teachers are over-paid, that merit pay will somehow fix everything and that unfunded programs, most of which are needed like special education requirements are not their problem.

      The best are not going into teaching. Most leave withing five years. It is a sad state of affairs.

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