Education in the United States right now is quickly becoming a joke. Some would say it already has been, considering that the U.S. lags far behind in math, science, and other benchmark scores compared to other developed (and even less developed) countries. Yet, the controversial Common Core standards have ushered in a new era of unprecedented dumbfounding educational "standards" that are doing little but ensuring that future generations of kids will be dumber than the ones that came before.
If this seems jarring, consider the evidence at hand. Perhaps the biggest dumber of Common Core has been the emphasis on "21st century learning", a movement that is not, as it turns out, academically rooted, but strongly pushed by tech giants like Microsoft, Google, and Apple. After all, they're the ones that benefit when schools buy into "1:1 device programs", not the students using them. Test scores everywhere are declining following the institution of 1-to-1 technology rollouts, and it's not secret why.
Yet, declining test scores aren't the only thing to be worried about. Declining literary is becoming a serious issue. By this, I don't mean being well-read, I mean being prepared to handle the world — some might call this being "street smart". Schools used to do a remarkably good job at this. For much of the mid to late-20th century, in fact, schools churned out remkarbly well-rounded students who were at least somewhat equipped to handle the real world.
Not so anymore! To begin with, it's much harder to fail in school today than it used to be, while on the flipside, it's no harder to fail in life than it used to be. Second chances, retakes, and grade inflation goes away after high school, so why are we deluding youth into thinking otherwise?
But the problem is starting much earlier than high school now. Common Core now considers being adept at keyboarding more important than the skill (and art) of cursive — or longhand — handwriting. Many students grow up today unable to decipher cursive, to them, a (seemingly) foreign language. Kids are equipped to send emojis to each other from a young age; yet, they are all but unable to sign their own name at the grocery store. How can we consider this acceptable?
Cursive is important for more than just nostalgia's sake. Until recently, it was used extensively in all written communications, and though many works are digitized today, comprehending the contents of primary sources, reproductions, or even letters from grandma could quickly become a chore if cursive writing is not taught. Doing so is not difficult — I had less than one year of cursive instruction and regularly received Bs and Cs in my practice — yet, it must have sunk in over time, for today I use it almost exclusively and find it much easier and faster than printing. Writing things out by hand will continue to be important in spite of technological advances (and ensures better learning) and so we owe it to students to equip them with a basic skill that will help them succeed in more ways than one.
The Common Core standards here are notoriously backwards. Don't get me wrong — technological literacy is very important in today's technologically connected world. But it's much safer to assume that kids, being genreally surrounded by technology at all times, will end up being technologically literate regardless of how much technological literacy is pushed in schools. For instance, I taught myself to type and can reach about 100 w.p.m. now (give or take a few). Cursive handwriting, on the other hand, is just not going to be learned if it's not taught. Somehow, this basic logic is something that isn't evident to the incompetent people who drafted the Common Core standards.
Another item that only recently came to my attention (and was quite jarring) was that — apparently — many children are having difficult telling time nowadays! Of course, by this I mean reading an analog clock, not a digital clock. Consider this alarming statement from one news article:
Teachers now are installing digital clocks in exam rooms because their children reportedly have a tough time reading analog clocks. It results in them not knowing how much time they have left to finish exams.
Imagine that! Kids sitting down to take an exam but not even being able to tell the time? Forgive me if this sounds harsh, but if a kid has a difficult time doing something as simple as reading a clock, then he should not be taking said exam! What good is it to know calculus if you can't tell time?
Much as cursive handwriting predating keyboarding, analog clocks certainly predate digital ones, but that doesn't mean in any way that it's any less important. Granted that digital clocks are often much more prevalent in our lives today, undoubtedly kids may be more familiar with them, but that doesn't give them the excuse to be any less familiar with how to read a regular, standard clockface. Some of the blame lies on them, for dismissing analog clocks as old-fashioned (just like pencils, I suppose?). At least on this matter, Common Core hasn't dropped the ball completely — being able to read a clock is still in the "standards". But on our current trajectory, who knows where our education system will end up?
Today, some schools are phasing analog clocks out in favor of digital ones, which makes even less sense. Analog clocks can be read from afar and make perfect sense in an educational setting. Even on a digital clock that includes a second count, getting a "sense of time" is far more difficult, and they will certainly be much harder to read from afar unless backlit, bright, and large — a major expense that we could certainly do without in an energy-conscious world.