NSTA’s Uncritical & Authoritarian Position on the Next Generation Science Standards

The National Science Teachers Association released a position statement on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). 

The NSTA statement is  uncritical and authoritarian.  It granted outright compliance with the NGSS, even though there is a groundswell questioning the use of standards, the Common Core State Standards, and the Next Generation Science Standards.  Should we endorse one set of performance goals for all K-12 students in English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science?

Although the position statement includes citations from the literature of science education, of the 17 references, 11 were National Research Council publications.  There were no citations from the major peer-reviewed research publications of the science education community (such as the Journal of Research in Science Teaching, the journal Science Education, and Journal of Science Teacher Education).  This is not a dismissal of the NRC publications, but I wonder why the peer-reviewed research was ignored in the development of the position statement.

There are many years of research on the efficacy of the standards movement, and one wonders why the authors of the NSTA statement did not consult the research on standards.

In my opinion, the 3,769 word document is a reworked version of the information that you can find on Achieve’s Next Generation Science Standards website.  The NSTA statement is divided into several sections including: Introduction, Conceptual shifts in the NGSS, Implementation of the NGSS, Declarations, Historical Background and References.  But these divisions are merely statements of compliance to the dictates of the Next Generation Science Standards documents found on the Achieve website.

Are the Science Standards brick walls for teachers and students?
Are the Science Standards brick walls for teachers and students?

For example, the introduction tells us that all students should have access to a high-quality science education that teaches the skills needed to get into college or get a job (College and Career Readiness).  This is the refrain that we have used for more than half a century to rationalize why science should be included in the curriculum.

The shortage of “trained” workers for the science and technology fields will reach the hundreds of thousands, maybe the millions in the near future, and we must make sure that we more graduates in STEM related fields if we are meet the shortfall.  At least that is what governments, some corporations and foundations claim.

Yet, there is statistical data that refutes the shortfall claim.  I won’t go into details here, instead you might want to read Robert N. Charette’s article, The STEM Crisis is a Myth. 

As Charette reminds us, the U.S. has had perpetual STEM anxiety, especially starting during the Cold War.  He reminds us, however of this.

What’s perhaps most perplexing about the claim of a STEM worker shortage is that many studies have directly contradicted it, including reports from Duke University, the Rochester Institute of Technology, the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, and the Rand Corp. A 2004 Rand study, for example, stated that there was no evidence “that such shortages have existed at least since 1990, nor that they are on the horizon.”

The march to standardize and uniform the curriculum is a dangerous movement in a democratic society, and especially in one that is so diverse in cultures, languages, and geography as America.  How can we really think that one set of statements of science goals can be valid for all learners, all schools, and all teachers?

The common standards movement, of which the NGSS is a part,  rests in part on the opinion that state standards are inferior and inconsistent, and the need to increase student achievement, especially in science and mathematics, to stay competitive in the global economic environment. It’s had to argue with this. However, it is not true.  America is one of the most competitive countries in the world, indeed, number 4 in the world.

The drive to develop the common standards has also been “adopted” by the U.S. Department of Education, and in its Race to the Top Fund ($4.5 billion), states that did not adopt the common standards lost 70 points on the 500 point scale for doing so.

Why do these organizations want to develop a single set of standards, and will they be any better than the standards that exist in the 50 states today?  The fact is state departments of education around the country have in one sense been coerced into accepting the common core standards to apply for very large Federal grants, and the assumption that a national set of standards will be superior to standards developed at the state or local level.

There are very weak arguments, not based on sound research, used to convince us that one set of science standards developed by an elite group of scientists will change the course of science education.

Common Core Knowledge

For the past two decades there has been a drive to create a common set of standards in math and science (and English Language Arts).  The enterprise is well-funded, and supported not only by theU.S. Department of Education, but by corporate and philanthropic America to the extent that the initiative is pushing ahead at an urgent speed.

The drive to set up common standards is part of “rightest” movement that Dr. Kristen L. Buras (2009) describes in detail in her book Rightist Multiculturalism: Core Lessons on Neoconservative School Reform.  She hones in on a fundamental question about curriculum, and that is “What knowledge is of most worth?.”  But Dr. Buras has us consider the question from another frame, and that is “Whose knowledge is of most worth?”

As Buras suggests, curriculum development in a democratic society must be:

the result of long-term democratic and substantive discussions, and it must also be grounded in an honest and searching appraisal of the structures of inequalities in this society. A “core” cannot be imposed from the outside and legitimately claim to be based on the “knowledge of all of us.

The word “core” is as it relates to knowledge is used in the two major standards’ reform efforts in the past decade: The Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language Arts, and in the Next Generation Science Standards.  In the NGSS, the content of science is referred to as Disciplinary Core Ideas.  As Michael Apple points out in the Introduction to Buras’ book, “What counts as “core knowledge” has all too often been someone’s core, not everyone’s core (Apple, 2000).

The “core” knowledge outlined in the mathematics, English language arts, and science standards has been spelled out by committees of experts largely from colleges and universities, and with very little initial comments by teachers and curriculum specialists.  The deliberations have primarily involved impersonal online reading sessions and the completion of online multiple choice evaluation surveys.  Face-to-face deliberations have been held, but behind closed doors, with little to no public record. The process to develop and “adopt” the CCSS and NGSS has not been deliberate, and has not been critically assessed by the education community.

Neoconservative Reform

The neoconservative reform movement’s goal is to create core knowledge in math, English language arts, and science, and expect that every American student be tested on the same content.  Buras thinks of this as inculcation.  She writes,

We might think here of Hirsch’s promise that the inculcation of common knowledge represents the new civil rights frontier, as formerly culturally illiterate students are given access to “literate” culture and thus the cultural capital needed to ascend the ladder of mobility and ultimately participate as “equals” in the marketplace of America.

In doing so, Core urges us, pushes us, to think about culture and democracy in specific ways—ways that tend to reinforce patterns of cultural disrespect and pressures to assimilate—and to overlook other understandings. We are being schooled to avoid the radical lanes, left and right, of the American civil rights highway, and to join the wider lane of moderation, which, we are told, promises peace and happiness. (Buras, Kristen L. (2009-01-21). Rightist Multiculturalism: Core Lessons on Neoconservative School Reform (Critical Social Thought) (p. 144). Taylor & Francis. Kindle Edition)

The core knowledge and the common standards movement is a mix of neoconservative and neoliberal advocates, who appeal to populist sensibilities of authoritarian and traditional family and religious orthodoxy.  As Michael Apple and Kristen Buras tell, the neoconservatives defend historically dominant cultural traditions and national cohesion.  Neoconservatives advocate political individualism and free markets.  For education this means, such as, core knowledge claims and standards-based reform.

Neoliberals, according to Apple and Buras, proclaim the free market and privatization (of schools, for example) at the cost of the public sector.  This of course has opened to the doors to school choice, vouchers, and charter schools.  (See Apple, M.,Editor’s Introduction to Neoconservative Multiculturalism by Buras, K., 2009.)

The standards movement is a neoconservative and neoliberal imperative that has engulfed nearly all state departments of education, and the U.S. Department of Education.  It’s well-funded, and politically secured with Republican and Democratic talking heads.

There is some glimmer of hope.  Last year, the Chicago teacher’s union went on strike and challenged the political apparatus of Chicago.  Educators, including superintendents, in Texas have gone on record as opposing standards-based high-stakes tests.  And most recently, Teachers at Garfield High School in Seattle announced their refusal to administer the standardized test, Measure of Academic Progress (MAP). The Chicago and Seattle cases are grassroots, bottom-up and determined opposition to the top-down and dominant neoconservative take-over of American schooling.  And during the past six months, some states have bowed out of Core and Next Generation Science Standards adoptions.

Critical Silence

It’s imperative for professional organizations,  university professors and colleges of education to raise questions about educational reform, and join with their K-12 colleagues to oppose and overturn the neoconservative infusion of standard and basic education for a democratic nation.  The National Council of Teachers of English have written a resolution opposing high-stakes tests, and groups of professors of education in Georgia and Chicago have written letters opposing the use of high-stakes tests in the context of standards-based reform.

In science education, we have been relatively silent, especially in raising concerns about the Next Generation Science Standards. The NSTA Position Statement on the NGSS raised no questions, and did not question the authoritarian nature of the standards movement, especially when we are engulfed by the testing mania that has had resulted in unintended consequences.

What is your position on the Next Generation Science Standards?  What are your thoughts about the NSTA position.



The Learning Pond: The “Eco” in Educational Ecosystems: Words Matter

Latest Story: Reblogged from Grant Lichtman’s Blog, The Learning Pond

Grant Lichtman is Senior Fellow of The Martin Institute for Teaching Excellence, a growing national organization focused on transforming education through professional development for teachers and administrators.  For almost 15 years, Grant has been involved in education as a trustee, chief of finance and operations, teacher, parent, and volunteer at Francis Parker School in San Diego, one of the largest independent schools in the United States.  Grant is the author of “The Falconer: What We Wish We Had Learned in School” based on his seminar in strategic and creational thinking. In 2012 he completed a 10,000-mile trip around the country visiting 64 schools to learn about how they are innovating to meet the needs of the 21st Century.  His manuscript of this journey will be published next year by Jossey-Bass.  He blogs at The Learning Pond.

On the Art of Teaching Science blog, I’ve used the word ecosystem in many posts, and I was especially happy to read this post by Grant.  In my work with the Global Thinking Project, ecosystem was an integral concept in the development of the GTP curriculum, and the way in which people worked together across different cultures.  In our work on the GTP in Russia, I was introduced by Russian ecologists to the work of  Vladimir Ivanovich Vernadsky, who wrote the groundbreaking book, The Biosphere.  Grant’s thinking reminds me of Vernadsky.  Grant helps us understand how the word “ecosystem” should be used to understand that we are in the system of education, not external to it.  And for me, it becomes a crucial aspect of educational reform.    Here is Grant Lichtman’s blog post: The “Eco” in Educational Ecosystems: Words Matter.

The “Eco” in Educational Ecosystems: Words Matter by Grant Lichtman

Words matter. The first time I saw the word “ecosystem” used to describe a process of learning more attuned to the future needs of our students was by Thomas and Seeley-Brown in A New Culture of Learning”.  It resonated with me; they described the teacher as a farmer who sets out the boundary fences of inquiry for her students and allows them to evolve as learners within those fences.

imgresI see the word “ecosystem” used freely now, perhaps too freely to describe maker spaces, incubators, design labs, digital collaborations, professional learning networks, and more. Just because one uses the term, does it mean that the system has any “eco” in it at all?

I used to be a geologist and studied one of the largest, most complex ecosystems on the planet: the oceans.  As I have studied learning systems I have found profound similarities between the major characteristics of natural ecosystems and much of what educators see as a transformed vision of learning. These characteristics are very different from those that define the currently dominant education system that was designed by human social engineers over the last 150 years.  In my upcoming book I offer what I believe is the first rigorous definition of the difference between these two systems.  Here are a few highlights.

All engineered systems, of which the dominant assembly line model of education is one, are designed to be controlled, predictable, scalable, repeatable, measurable  and contained within relatively rigid boundaries.  For the most part we measure the success of our schools by how well they achieve these design parameters.

Natural ecosystems are characterized by a very different set of factors that determine their success or failure.  These include adaptability, permeability, diversity, connectedness, resilience, and the distribution and recycling of resources, all within generally elastic boundaries, and all without design or external control (except, perhaps, God).

Good systems borrow from each other, and well-designed social systems are not bereft of elements of a well-functioning natural ecosystem.  But there is anenormously important difference…and I think this is where the loose use of “ecosystem” in education goes awry.

Humans do not design ecosystems; they exist within them. In my view ,great learning does not “act like an ecosystem”.  It “is” an ecosystem. There is a big difference.  Good maker spaces, incubators, design labs, digital collaborations, and professional learning networks…pretty much all that we think of as “education”… are designed by people. They may borrow elements of process from naturally occurring ecosystems, which is good.  But they are not the ecosystem itself.

Why split this hair?

Because the most important element of a natural ecosystem, the function that no engineered system yet developed has been able to copy, is also the outcome we most want for our students.  Ecosystems are self-evolvingthey don’t need designers to make them better; they get better, more well adapted to changing external conditions all on their own.  We, the people in the ecosystem can help or hinder that process, but we are in the process, not the determiners of the process.

Of all the things we say we want for our students in order for them to be successful and happy living in a rapidly changing world, the one that is most important is that they become self-evolving learners.  They will only learn how to do that if they spend time in a self-evolving learning ecosystem.  And that is why the word, and what it really means, is important. If what we call an ecosystem is not capable of evolving without “us” as external designers, we are just using a cool term in ways that mislead.

How to Make Sense out of Educational Reform

P.L. Thomas explains that to understand U.S. educational reform, foundational differences among the various groups or camps of reform need to be clarified.  And, in a post he wrote this week, he has provided a map that we can use to help us understand educational reform.

He states that all reform is driven by ideology.  He says:

and thus, those ideologies color what evidence is highlighted, how that evidence is interpreted, and what role evidence plays in claims public education has failed and arguments about which policies are needed for reform.

Education Reform Boxes and Categories

Dr. Thomas classifies reform into two categories, mainstream reform, and radical reform.  Mainstream reform has been the dominant agent of change in U.S. education, with two “overlapping” reform divisions including technocratic and bureaucratic reformers.   Thomas then creates two other divisions grouped as radical reforms, including libertarian and critical reformers.  These reforms have been historically on the sidelines, but libertarians (who I’ve always considered as conservatives in disguise) have benefited from the movement to privatize education by both the bureaucratic and technocratic reformers.

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Figure 1. Educational Reform Chart, according to P.L. Thomas. Education Reform based on P.J. Thomas . Education Reform Guide Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com


Reform as a Continuum

Thomas envisions the four categories at the bottom of Figure 1 as a continuum, moving from the left to the right as shown in Figure 2.  I think it is important to note that Thomas suggest that those that claim that public education is failing do so with the full knowledge of their ideological foundation.  For example, if the organization Achieve claims that American science education is failing, it needs to acknowledge its bureaucratic and technocratic philosophy is driving its public statements.

For those of us in science education, since 1957, the refrain has been: American science education is inferior to other nations, and that if science (and mathematics) is not upgraded, then the nation faces a reality of being at risk (A Nation at Risk, 1983).  In the most recent rendition, even the prestigious National Research Council, which received funding from the Carnegie Institute, agreed with the authors of the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), that K-12 science education is taught as a set of disjointed and isolated facts.

This can be debated. Most science teaching is organized around major topics, concepts or ideas. They are typically not taught in a disjointed fashion as the authors of the new standards claim. Look at any science textbook, and you will find that chapters are organized as unified units of content.  But it was in the best interest of the dominant élite to make the claim that science (and mathematics) is contributing to America’s loss of competitive edge, that American students are lagging in achievement of students in other countries, and that the future workforce will be unable compete in the global marketplace.  Standards in science or math are typically written and promoted by élite groups or committees of professionals, e.g. mathematic professors, linguists, or scientists.  It’s not surprising that it was an élite group of scientists who wrote the science framework upon which the Next Generation Science Standards are based.  But, this is not a new idea.

And don’t be fooled into thinking that the NGSS were written by classroom teachers.  The framework was established by the élite committees appointed by the National Research Council.  The science that makes its way into texts and that show up in standards are written by those who have the capital, and they typically go out of their way to defend it.  Look carefully at the NGSS, and you find that the approach and the nature of the content, K-12, has not changed from the previous set of science standards which were published in 1996.

Figure 2. Ideological/Political Scale from Left to Right by P.L. Thomas
Figure 2. Ideological/Political Scale from Left to Right by P.L. Thomas. Education Reform Guide. Retrieved November 17, 2013, from http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com

From Ideology to Reform Examples

In the framework presented here based on P.L. Thomas’ analysis of reform, the bureaucratic and technocratic ideologies of reform dominate the American education reform scene.  There is overlap in these dominant ideologies, and billions of dollars have been invested and provided by private corporations, and the U.S. Department of Education.  For example, $4.5 billion was awarded to 11 states and the District of Columbia to implement the federal Race to the Top (RT3) program.

The RT3 is the embodiment of the mainstream educational reform because of its bureaucratic and technocratic ideologies.  Since 2008, the Bill and Melinda Gates foundation has invested more than $2 billion in educational reform, most of it to support the RT3’s program of college and career readiness.  Follow this link to see a chart showing how the Gates Foundation spent it money on education.  College and career readiness are the code words for standards-based and high stakes testing.

In Dr. Thomas’ continuum scale, the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards are examples of educational reform initiatives that overlap the bureaucratic and technocratic categories.  These two sets of standards support the ideology that claims that American schools must make sure that students achieve at high levels of mastery, and that teachers implement a curriculum based on a common set of standards written by elites in the fields of mathematics, science and English/language arts.  If you read the literature on the Achieve website you will find its ideology spelled out in statements such as these ( (Next Generation Science Standards.  The Need for Science Standards. Retrieved November 17, 2013. http://www.nextgenscience.org):

    • When we think science education, we tend to think preparation for careers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, which are wellsprings of innovation in our economy.
    • In 2012, 54% of high school graduates did not meet the college readiness benchmark levels in mathematics, and 69% of graduates failed to meet the readiness benchmark levels in science
    • U.S. system of science and mathematics education is performing far below par and, if left unattended, will leave millions of young Americans unprepared to succeed in a global economy.
    • To be competitive in the 21st century, American students must have the knowledge and skills to succeed in college and in the knowledge-based economy. Today, students are no longer just competing with their peers from other states but with students from across the globe.
    • Many feel it is necessary for American students to be held to the same academic expectations as students in other countries. The successes of other nations can provide potential guidance for decision-making in the United States.

These statements provide some of the rationale for reform initiates that fundamentally focus on raising standards and increasing student achievement.  Educational reform can be evaluated using “big” data systems that are based on high-stakes testing.  Failures are highlighted quite easily by these reformers because they make unscientific statements about what constitutes success.

In Table 1, I’ve organized Dr. Thomas’ analysis into a chart identifying the sector and ideology of his reform categories.  I’ve added another column that includes a few examples of the categories.  These are my interpretations, and any criticism of my choices should be directed to me, not to Dr. Thomas.

Please note that many of the examples shown in the bureaucratic and technocratic sectors overlap, e.g Common Core, Next Generation Science Standards.  I’ve also included a few historical events (Sputnik Hysteria), organizations (Achieve), and people (Paulo Freire) to provide additional examples of reform.

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Table 1. Ideologies and Examples of Education Reform based on P.J. Thomas . Education Reform Guide Retrieved November 15, 2013, from http://radicalscholarship.wordpress.com (Examples are my own interpretations).

P.L. Thomas has provided an important tool for thinking about educational reform.   As he said near the end of his article,

Regardless, then, of how accurate anyone believes this guide is, I would maintain that step one is to acknowledge that “educational reformer” is insufficient alone as an identifier and that ideology drives all claims of educational failure and calls for reform.

What reforms, events and people would you add to the examples posted in Table 1?

What Sort of Teacher Preparation Programs Does the Gates Foundation Support?

Did you know that between 2008 and 2013, The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided more than $37 million in funding for teacher preparation projects?

What sort of teacher preparation programs does the Gates Foundation support?

Only 8% of these funds were awarded to university teacher education programs. Ninety-two percent of the grant money was awarded to corporations including The New Teacher Project (TNTP) and Teach for America (TFA).  Michelle Rhee, a former Teach for America cadet, and former Chancellor of the D.C. schools founded and ran The New Teacher Project.   Teach for America was founded by Wendy Kopp in 1989.  Rhee has two years of teaching experience, while Kopp has no teaching experience.

So, organizations whose heads have very little practical teaching experience are likely to receive funding from the Gates Foundation, while universities with qualified and experienced educators are not likely to receive much in funding.

As you see in Figure 1, ten institutions received funding for teacher preparation from Gates.  Only four are universities. There were 20 funded grants, most of them going to two organizations, TFA and TNTP.  In each of these programs, teachers are trained during a 5-week summer term, and then assigned to a school somewhere in the country.   Under these circumstances, school districts have a pipeline of new, but uncertified and inexperienced teachers to hire, often in challenging teaching environments.

The university grants are very small in comparison to the TFA and TNTP.  The largest of the university grants was awarded to the University of Central Florida to support its TeachLivE program, a simulation for teacher development.  According to the TeachLivE website, “it provides pre-service and in-service teachers the opportunity to learn new skills and to craft their practice without placing “real” students at risk during the learning process.”

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This graph is based on data from the Gates Foundation that appeared in the Education Week article, “Follow the Money: Gates Giving for Its Teacher Agenda“, November 5, 2013.

The Gates Foundation, which is the largest private foundation on Earth, believes that teachers can be trained in a summer camp type of environment, and immediately be placed in schools to teach.  Because many of the persons that are recruited by programs such as Teach for America sign up for only two years, in the long run, this approach to teacher preparation is not sustainable.  Suggesting that uncertified and in the long run, part-time teachers is a way to staff schools with effective teachers is unfortunate.

Screen Shot 2013-11-14 at 7.52.23 PMTeacher education makes a difference in the quality and effectiveness of professional teachers. Clinically based, and constructivist oriented teacher education program are more effective than a summer program in which pedagogy is crammed into a five-week program.  I know this first-hand because I was involved in two summer teacher education programs at Georgia State University from 1987 – 1992 (The Alternative Certification Program and the AFT Educational Research and Dissemination Program-TRIPS) Although our programs involved mentor teachers, who also received training, the programs did not compare in effectiveness to the program that emerged from our experiences.  Out of our experiences in these two programs, we developed the TEEMS program, a master’s level, full-time, clinically based program for mathematics and science teachers.

In a Journal of Teacher Education article entitled How Teacher Education Matters, Linda Darling-Hammond reviewed the literature on teacher education programs and has this to say:

Despite longstanding criticisms of teacher education, the weight ofsubstantial evidence indicates that teachers who have had more preparation for teaching are more confident and successful with students than those who have had little or none. Recent evidence also indicates that reforms of teacher education creating more tightly integrated programs with extended clinical preparationinterwoven with coursework on learning and teaching produce teachers who are both more effective and more likely to enter and stay in teaching. An important contribution of teacher education is its development of teachers’abilities to examine teaching from the perspective of learners who bring diverse experiences and frames of reference to the classroom.

Post Script

In teacher preparation there are various pathways to becoming a teacher, including teacher education programs, alternative programs, or no program.  Based on a large study of 3000 beginning teachers in New York City regarding their views on their preparation for teaching, their beliefs and practice, and their plans to remain in teaching (Darling-Hammond, Chung, and Frelow), the researchers found that:

  • teachers who were prepared in teacher education programs felt significantly better prepared across most dimensions of teaching than those who entered teaching through alternative programs or without preparation.
  • the extent to which teachers felt well prepared when they entered teaching was significantly correlated with their sense of teaching efficacy, their sense of responsibility for student learning, and their plans to remain in teaching.
  • These are significant finding in the context of the drive to place non-certified and non-prepared teachers into classrooms that typically are more demanding and require more knowledge about learning and student development than these individuals can deliver.  The knowledge base on teaching is enormous, and to think that we can prepare teachers in 5 – 8 week institutes only devalues what we know about preparing teachers for practice.

What do you think about effort of the Gates Foundation to influence the way teachers are prepared?

Why Standards-Based Teaching is a Hopeless Way to Educate Youth

Why is Standards-Based Teaching a Hopeless Way to Educate Youth?  That is the question to be explored in this post.  At the end of this post is a YouTube video of a high school student’s speech in which he provides research evidence that the Common Core State Standands (CCSS) is a contrivance of educational testing executives who were funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and that educators did not play a role in the final draft of the CCSS.  And he shows that these standards are nothing more than goals that support an industrial model of education.

He explains, better than I can here, why basing education on these standards is harmful to the education of his peers.

But before you view the video, here are some words for thought.

We start with Shakespeare.  You all remember reading the opening phrase of a soliloquy in William Shakespeare’s play Hamlet.

To be, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles…”

Or as the American journalist and author Hunter S. Thompson puts it, the question is whether to float with the tide or to swim for a goal.  In a book recently published in the U.K., Letters of Note: Correspondence Deserving of a Wider Audience, one of Thompson’s letters appears (written when he was 20) to a friend.  In this letter he writes about what it means to find your purpose.

Maria Popova, in her blog Brain Pickings provides extensive quotes from and her own discussion of Thompson’s letter.  Here is a key idea, especially since I want to relate this to our obsession with telling students what goals they must follow and meet in K-12 schooling, and not only that, but when to meet the goal, and at what level.  Thompson probably wouldn’t be an admirer of the Common Core State Standards.

Hunter, in his letter to a friend, says:

To give advice to a man who asks what to do with his life implies something very close to egomania. To presume to point a man to the right and ultimate goal — to point with a trembling finger in the RIGHT direction is something only a fool would take upon himself. (Quoted from Maria Popova. “20-Year Old Hunter S. Thompon’s Superb Advice on How to Find your Purpose and Live a Meaningful Life.” Brain Pickings. November 2013. Web. November 13, 2013).

Floating or Swimming, Which is it?

In American classrooms, the question is whether to follow (float along) other people’s goals–that is, adjust our time in schools to a set of standards-based goals we had no part in choosing, or swim meaningfully making choices along the way that draws you closer to a way of life that you choose and you enjoy.

There are two views of school implicit in this thesis: float or swim.


The standards-based accountability system of schooling treats students as androids who come to school to mechanically learn to follow a path established by adults, many of whom have no idea what it is like in a 3rd, 8th, or 12th grade classroom.  Nor do these adults have any idea about the aspirations, creativity, and inventiveness of students in these grades.  Yet, these policy makers have established a system of education that is a meticulous set of performance statements that all students should learn in mathematics, English language arts (The Common Core State Standards), and science (The Next Generation Science Standards).

Screen Shot 2013-11-13 at 8.15.08 PMAs a result of the Race to the Top, policy makers have funneled the performance standards into what is known as College and Career Readiness.  According to Achieve (Achieve. “College and Career Readiness.” Achieve 2013, Web. 13 November 2013) being college and career-ready means students have the knowledge and skills in English and mathematics to qualify for success in entry-level, credit-bearing postsecondary coursework with out the need for remediation”, or to get a job (career readiness).

Now, mind you, the students have no say in what knowledge and skills others claim they need.  Apparently, the others have a crystal ball, and are able to look into the future and tell the rest of us what knowledge and skills will be needed for success.   And to make it even worse, teachers have very little independence in interpreting the standards because their students will be tested using high-stakes examinations based on the standards. As ethical educators, they protect their students as much as they can by preparing them for the testing wars.

Have you ever examined the lists of performance standards in the CCSS or the NGSS?  Which ones of the vast list of goals will be tested?  To what extent is the test related to the real curriculum implemented by teachers?


Schooling should help open minds, not close them. Requiring students to learn content that may or may not be important to them is not based on science, its mere opinion.  More than that, much of the pedagogy that is used directs students to master content in preparation for a test.

The goals that have been devised by committees of experts are not what schooling should be about.  We should be teaching mathematics, English, and science because it nurtures the student’s imagination, not because it might help get a job, or reach someone else’s goals.

Hunter Thompson talks about goals, and says this:

In short, he has not dedicated his life to reaching a pre-defined goal, but he has rather chosen a way of life he KNOWS he will enjoy. The goal is absolutely secondary: it is thefunctioning toward the goal which is important. And it seems almost ridiculous to say that a man MUST function in a pattern of his own choosing; for to let another man define your own goals is to give up one of the most meaningful aspects of life — the definitive act of will which makes a man an individual.  (Quoted from Maria Popova. “20-Year Old Hunter S. Thompon’s Superb Advice on How to Find your Purpose and Live a Meaningful Life.” Brain Pickings. November 2013. Web. November 13, 2013).

A High School Student Speaks Out Against Standards-Based Education

Diane Ravitch posted a link to a speech made by Ethan Young, a Tennessee high school student at the Knox County School Board regular meeting.  In his speech, Mr. Young lets the school board know what is in the best interests of student learning. Here is his speech.

What do you think?  How can we begin to change education to show Hunter Thompson’s views of goals, and Ethan Young’s view of school?