School means so much to so many, though the primary focus ought to be education. Through the years, educators’ responsibilities have spilled over from the traditional reading, writing and arithmetic to being the primary disciplinarian, medical provider, nutritionist, bouncer, counselor, protector, advocate and social worker for students. Though educators already had their hands full just educating kids, their jobs have expanded to take on roles typically accomplished in the home by parents, at church or even within the neighborhood and community.
Educators of today have overflowing plates of responsibilities expanded a little more as they tackle learning and adapting their teaching methods to Kansas’ new Common Core Standards. The Common Core veers away from rote memorization of facts and data to perform well on a standardized test, instead teaching kids how to be creative problem solvers. In this new environment, proficiency in one area, such as reading, might not ensure success in the big picture of creative problem solving and critical thinking skills.
Critical thinking skills aren’t just something to be cultivated in schools; rather it is a mind set that can and should be nurtured at home so it becomes a habit and innate to each individual. In an era of being able to search online for whatever fact is needed, critical thinking skills will become imperative not only at school, but in the workplace and society as a whole. In some school districts, such as Ottawa, teachers will have more time set aside each week for in-service training to get educators proficient in Common Core and how to apply it in their own classrooms. Like anything new, success and failure will occur — sometime simultaneously — and with each a new understanding of how to accept and embrace the new ways will be strengthened.
It will take time for educators and students to adapt, so it makes sense for parents to develop their own daily “homework” assignments for their kids to rely less on others to tell them the answers and more on their own initiative and self-reliance to seek out and find answers. Perhaps they will come to better understand how good or bad decisions yield consequences accordingly.
Rather than having teachers focusing on everything from dress code adherence, dealing with bullies, drugs and sex, good nutrition, socialization skills, self-esteem growth, respect for peers and good sportsmanship, perhaps those responsibilities can go back into the home where they belong so educators can hone in on teaching good problem-solving techniques and critical thinking skills. Those ought to be common core principles for everyone, and if students, parents, educators and the community all are working toward those goals, we can’t help but have a better populace.
— Jeanny Sharp,