Tuesday, July 29, 2014

One True Path

In the midst of celebrating Coleman's awesomeness at Aspen, the architect of Common Core explained that he would keep aligning the world to the core

so that we are clearly showing kids and teachers that there's a path to college that extends from Kindergarten through twelfth grade.

This is one of the fundamental articles of faith for reformsters-- there is One True Path to a good life, to happy, healthy, productive adulthood. This idea-- along with its corollary (all happy, healthy, productive adult lives look pretty much the same)-- is so patently, observably false that I resist writing about it because I feel as if I'm using a slice of the internet to argue that grass is usually green. But as long as these guys keep saying it, we have to keep pointing out that it's wrong.

You've seen this cartoon

It's a pretty good representation except that even it shows the arrow coming out at the same place in the end, which is not necessarily the case.

Everybody knows a story like this-- I know a guy who went to college for music straight out of high school, only he turned out not to enjoy that so much, so he went to work as a grocery bagger and an ambulance driver. He eventually went back to school again, and now he's running the largest manufacturing business in my region. For good measure, we can also note that he was engaged a few times, none of which worked out, and is now married to a wonderful woman with whom he raised two exceptional children. 

Now, you tell me-- exactly how would a program of high stakes testing in his primary grades have "helped" him?

The notion that there is One True Path underpins many of the other dumb notions of reforminess. For instance, if there's just One True Path, then it's easy to just set up checkpoints along that path because everyone on the path will have to move past those checkpoints. This leads to a slavish defense of the checkpoints. "Hey, you!! Kid crawling through the underbrush! You can't blaze your own trail! You've got to come past this checkpoint." Before you know it, we're not really concerned about whether the student is headed for a successful life or not-- we just want to make sure he goes past the One True Path checkpoint.

Reformsters make mouth noises about personalization and individualization, but they don't mean that every student might take a different path. They mean that each individual student might be at a different point on the One True Path, or that some students walk down the One True Path faster than others. This is not really individualization. This is not about finding the right path for the student; it's about making the student adapt to the One True Path (and stick to the One True Schedule for walking down it).

If we believe in the One True Path, we see nothing ridiculous about claiming that we can tell whether you're on it when you're five years old. Hey, there's only one path. You're either on it or you're not, and as soon as you're old enough to take a test, we can find out if you're in place (Okay, fetus-- kick once for "A" and twice for "B"). Of course we can tell you whether your toddler is college  bound or not.

How is it that it has become a radical (or reactionary-- take your pick) position to argue that individual human beings are different, that they follow different paths, pursue different goals, achieve different things, find their happiness and success in different ways, and do it all in their own time. How did that become a controversial point of view?

One size does not fit all. All courtships follow a different path and all marriages grow and succeed (or not) in their own way. Children grow and achieve developmental milestones in their own way. People talk in their own ways. Not every person you ever kiss will kiss you the same way. This is all completely normal and in keeping with the design and function of human beings. 

In fact, learning to grow and become fully human, fully one's own self, is all about finding your own path, your own transportation, your own destination, and while it's nice to have a plan or a sense of direction, it's wise not to become to attached to the plan. All of human history, both large scale and small, tells us that this is what it means to be human-- there is no One True Path.


  1. I was going to say that for a "grass is green" argument, this is excellent, but really, this is just excellent period.

    Peter, if you haven't watched "The Lego Movie" yet, you should. It's amazing how much it speaks to this; you're not the only one who has seen the need (and there is a need unfortunately) to argue that the grass is green.

  2. So true! People are not robots. These people have no clue.

  3. I love your writing and your thinking. "One True Path" nails it!

  4. They have drunk the kool-aid!!!!