I am certain John Owens can respond to the recent critical letter faulting his opposition to the imposition of the new core curriculum in New York State schools. I support Owens’ position. The writer assumes Owens opposes excellence because he describes the psychological factors present in every learning environment. Intelligence, and the willingness to apply it are individual endowments. They need the proper atmosphere. A teacher’s job is to provide those conditions favorable to learning. Owens’ insight in this regard is commendable. Excellence cannot be imposed, least of all by bureaucratic fiat nor corporate competition.
In order to achieve the learning atmosphere in the classroom, we must alter our design, in both time and content. For example, some students should be permitted to graduate high school in two years, others should remain for six. The intervening time being subject to individual commitment and accomplishment. Some students should be permitted to leave and resume schooling without penalty. Curriculum should encourage talent. It needs flexibility. Education is a vehicle of opportunity for all. Our laws guarantee it, our curriculum does not. Testing is not an evil. Excess testing is. When it is overused it blunts motivation, stunts academic development and curiosity. The need to know is reduced to its bare essentials of what is on the test. The test should serve learning. Learning should not serve the test. Testing is also necessary since admission to education involves opportunity. Evaluations are not only advantageous, but necessary.
Comparisons to European and Asian models do not serve us well. Most educational systems in the world are restrictive. Conflict is stopped at the classroom door by a priori policies which limit access to education for all sorts of discriminatory reasons. A by-product of these admission requirements is the conservation of resources.
Finally, a quality classroom is a difficult achievement. Many students are neither ready nor willing to seize the opportunity that education provides. Their resistance creates a special challenge for every teacher. Learning is a lifetime activity. Foreclosure is not an option, neither is test-driven selectivity. Management of these dichotomous objectives is a difficult task. A quality classroom managed by an excellent teacher provides the observer with some of the best theater he will ever witness. Let us work together to improve the script.
William T. Plunkett, Ed.D.