Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Teaching Critical Thinking

At a training session a couple weeks back, one of my colleagues began complaining about Common Core Learning Standards, the New York version of CCSS. He loudly insisted the problem was that "no educators were involved in the development of CCSS. I did a doubletake, since I've personally spoken with Jason Zimba, a prominent educator and one of the lead authors of the CCSS math standards. The session facilitator told my colleague (I'll refer to him as Jimmy) he was incorrect. Jimmy wouldn't back down. "No, I'm right. It was all done by corporate interests and politicians, and there were no educators involved at any stage of the process.

Besides having met Zimba, I was also on the mailing list when NY State Education Department was considering the standards, and solicited feedback on a number of iterations of drafts. I witnessed as comments were incorporated, and as the CCSS math standards were ultimately adopted with only a few modifications at very early grade levels. So I also told Jimmy he is incorrect. "Prove it to me." he insisted. Since the session was in a computer lab, I went to one of the computers to get him some links to the CCSS documents.

Well, Jimmy refused to look at them. But he did search through his bag, and handed me a worn piece of paper which looked like an unknown generation copy of a copy with headline "Common Core FAQ." As there was no author or source information on the sheet, I asked where it had come from. "I don't know." Jimmy admitted. "But it proves that no educators were involved." I gave the paper back to him, telling him that the unsourced, unattributed copy of a copy was no more than garbage.

End of story? I wish. Today, Jimmy approached me after school. "I hope there are no hard feelings about that disagreement the other day." he offered. I had no hard feelings, and told him so. Jimmy continued, "I didn't like the way you shouted me down."

I had not shouted. I had simply pointed out he was wrong, and pointed out that what he offered as "proof" did not withstand minimal academic standards for a reasoned, cogent argument. So I told him, "It is just that I have personal knowledge of educators who have been involved in the development of Common Core, so I know that you were wrong."

"Well, that's your opinion." he said.

"No," I corrected. "That is not opinion, it is fact. You may not think Common Core is good, and that is opinion. But educators, including some very prominent and well-respected educators, were definitely involved, and that is a fact."

Jimmy walked off, apparently unhappy.