In this day and age, it is hard to be an optimist, particularly if you are, like me, a member of the bait-and-switch generation. But all would-be optimists know that it is important to see opportunity in what is otherwise a catastrophe. I submit that our ill-conceived and poorly thought-out decision to reject the Common Core is just such an instance.
We are now facing a colossal loss of education money, which anyone who bothered to read the regulations surrounding the Common Core could have seen was absolutely guaranteed to happen. As has been typical of our state politics in the Fallin Era, we were content simply to reject the Common Core because it had the misfortune to be born of The Great Pariah, President Obama, and we saw no reason to think it out any further than that.
We will now lose control over about $30 million of education funding because the academic standards we have to fall back on do not meet Race to the Top’s college- and career-ready requirements. The state is in the process of developing new standards seeking to meet those requirements to regain control over the funding our schools so desperately need. Of course, the opponents of Common Core have been singularly unhelpful in that process, being content to provide just enough rope to hang the education system without worrying over what we were going to do with the body once the show was over.
In the vein of optimism, this edu-catastrophe presents us with an opportunity to seriously rethink why and how we educate our children. Recent researcher at Yale has confirmed what we all understand from recent experience: giving people more information on politically charged subjects does little more than reinforce their politics. We reject or misconstrue evidence that contradicts our politics, and overlook serious flaws in information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs. This problem has only gotten worse as we have gerrymandered and sorted ourselves into political and media tribes. The dream of a nation organized around enlightened, rational discourse centered on empirical evidence is quickly fading, and it is fading because we as citizens lack the intellectual integrity to make it function. But, because we are now forced into the business of overhauling our education system, we are in a position to do something about it.
For decades, we have understood education to be about preparing people to enter the workforce or to get to college. Year after year, this has resulted in an increasing emphasis upon STEM education at the expense of arts and literature, music and social studies. In short, in our intense drive to prepare our children for careers, we have been losing the education that will prepare them to be citizens. We teach students rote scientific and mathematical methodologies designed by politicians and industry lobbyists. Meanwhile, we pay little attention to preparing students for the critical reflection that empowers citizens to recognize their own bias, and to engage in civil discourse. The results have been as devastating as they have been foreseeable: political dysfunction, public incivility, and the erosion of civil society. We have it in our power to fight this, and now is the time to do it.
This debate over education presents us with an opportunity to rethink the purposes behind our education system. Should our primary goal in education be to prepare our children for the workforce, or should it be to prepare them to be active and engaged citizens?
Christiaan Mitchell is a lawyer who holds master’s degrees in philosophy and education. He lives in Bartlesville.