Thursday, December 27, 2007

Maine's Common Core of Learning Revisited

"Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour,
Rains from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is daily spun, but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric."

~ Edna St. Vincent Millay

It was published when this year's graduating class was born . . . 1990. Whenever I'm ready to throw up my hands in complete frustration at the present federal/state NCLB-induced technocracy, I return to this beautifully written, concise, and straightforward document which possesses so much wisdom: Maine's Common Core of Learning. To me, it gave a vision that has been decimated by the policies of the "little boxes" crowd. It was opening our schools to new possibilities rather than crippling them with added mandates and mindless paperwork.

My well-worn, dog-eared copy of this gem resides within hand's reach of my home office desk. This morning I gently took it from the shelf and have been taking in its wise message one more time.

Although there doesn't seem to be a full digital version of Maine's Common Core available on the web, here is the breakdown of learning that it promoted to give clarity and meaning:

Personal and Global Stewardship

Responsible citizenship requires awareness and a concern for oneself, others, and the environment. It involves interactions not only within the self and family, but between the self and friends, the community, the nation, and the world. It includes the knowledge and care of all dimensions of our selves as humans, an understanding of the group process, and a willingness to exercise the rights and responsibilities of citizenship. Stewardship also includes the study of current geography and foreign language and an appreciation of pluralism and human rights.


The ability of human beings to communicate through a variety of media with a high degree of specificity is one of our most remarkable achievements. In a rapidly-changing world, communications skills will become ever more essential to our students' future success.

Reasoning and Problem Solving

Knowledge is power. We must help students want to gain knowledge, show them how to get it, and encourage them to use it to reach a new understanding or to create a new product. We must help students learn to reflect on their processes of learning, regardless of their field of study.

The Human Record

The study of the human record not only includes the actions and events of the past but also the constructs of human thought and creativity as they have evolved through time. The human record includes works of literature and the arts; scientific laws and theories; and concepts of government, economic systems, philosophy, and mathematics. In fact, much of what we now think of as "subject matter" in today's curriculum belongs in this section.

Neil Postman in The End of Education (1995) speaks of the need for common narratives (stories, gods) to give meaning back to education. He claimed that our present narratives of economic utility, technology, multi-culturalism, etc. are false gods and not capable of giving meaning to education. Instead he proposed these new narratives:

"Spaceship Earth" (the notion of humans as stewards of the planet); "The Fallen Angel" (a view of history and the advancement of knowledge as a series of errors and corrections); "The American Experiment" (the story of America as a great experiment and as a center of continuous argument); "The Laws of Diversity" (the view that difference contributes to increased vitality and excellence, and, ultimately, to a sense of unity); and "The Word Weavers/The World Makers" (the understanding that the world is created through language — through definitions, questions, and metaphors).

Now while Neil Postman and Maine's Common Core don't agree exactly on the narratives, they do agree that what is missing in education is meaning that comes from making connections.

What do you think?

Science and the Story that We Need - Neil Postman
Book Review of Postman's Book
Neil Postman: A Study Guide

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