Education Secretary Arne Duncan – who upset a few people with his “white suburban moms” remark on Friday – has back-peddled and apologized for his “clumsy” phrasing.
To recap, the backdrop of the conversation was the controversial “Common Core” curriculum. On Friday, Duncan said it was “fascinating” that opposition to the Common Core standards was coming from, “white suburban moms who – all of a sudden – their child isn’t as brilliant as they thought they were, and their school isn’t quite as good as they thought they were.”
When pressed on the issue Monday, White House mouthpiece Jay Carney said, “If his point was that we need to be honest with kids and parents about whether we’re providing the skills they need to succeed, I think we can all agree on that.
Some very predictable actors decide to make hay of this, claiming that Duncan was playing the race card. You know, exactly what part of “white suburban moms” don’t you understand? What would your side have said if a Republican education secretary said, “black inner-city moms?”
Well, fast forward a few hours to Arne Duncan’s retraction, which is immediately going to be framed as a “non apology.” On the Department of Education website, Duncan posted the following:
We have a tendency in our fast-moving world to focus on controversial-sounding soundbites, instead of the complex policy debates that underlie them. Unfortunately, I recently played into that dynamic. A few days ago, in a discussion with state education chiefs, I used some clumsy phrasing that I regret – particularly because it distracted from an important conversation about how to better prepare all of America’s students for success.
Opponents of the administration aren’t going to be satisfied. They want to believe that Duncan was being a racist so they can use it for political purposes. Another example of faux outrage from people looking for any reason to be outraged if it makes a political opponent look bad.
Amazing how good white folks are at imitating the people they call race baiters, like Al Sharpton.
The reality check is this: Sorry, your child is not a snowflake, and the testing data shows it. Now that doesn’t mean we should treat our kids like mass-produced widgets or cogs in some attempt to achieve an egalitarian result.
However, from the educator standpoint –and that’s really the only thing worthy of discussion here, not stupid political point-scoring– here’s the deal: Common Core may not be perfect, but it does something crucial: It packages curriculum in a manner that emphasizes more problem-solving and abstract concept usage that teaches kids how to think, not what. This can be a concern for parents (and educators) used to rote memorization, but they’re going to have to change with the times.
Just because you can do an algorithm doesn’t mean you can understand the deep reasoning behind what’s going on. You can trace an algorithm in the debugger, and do the operations by hand, and mimic the computer. That doesn’t mean you understand what, why, or how the algorithm works, or even the reason you’re executing the algorithm in the first place.
The map is not the territory. The process is not knowledge. Execution is not cognition.
This is a huge but necessary paradigm shift. As a society, we’ve surpassed an age where information could be labeled as “scarce,” a huge leap forward from the time when information had to be sought out and synthesized in isolation from changes, developments and a whole community of people interested in its content. The next big task is to teach children to use this mountain of information in applicable ways, not simply to show that they “know” it, because that can easily be faked or memorized but remain unused in real life. Application and adaption are the two main keys to being well-educated, and forcing kids to memorize instead of training them to see patterns and synthesize new data or insight from collected information will be what gets us back on track to being one of the most innovative and adaptable cultures on Earth.
Spend 10 minutes watching the accompanying video. It’s a good primer for how our education system came to be, how it served its purpose in the last century and why it can no longer do so in the new one.