Saturday, May 17, 2014

The Common Core and my Fraternity

I'm a proud, life-long alumni member of my fraternity, Sigma Chi. I didn't go to college with the intention of joining a fraternity; I watched Animal House too many times to think I would fit in. But when I went through the process, I came across a group of guys that I got along with, and seemed generally interested in things I also enjoyed. Choosing to become a pledge, and going through initiation proved to be one of the best decisions of my life in that it opened me up to learning about myself, but also about working with a diverse and changing group of people.

Sigma Chi is based on a set of principles: Friendship, Justice, and Learning. And, based on those basic principles, a diverse group of men can put aside differences of opinion to work together to accomplish greatness. The basic standard that we live by and find members by is called The Jordan Standard. It highlights the following qualities that we are reminded to be:

*men of good character 
*students of fair ability
*set with ambitious purposes
*having congenial dispositions
*possessed of good morals
*having a high sense of honor
*having a deep sense of personal responsibility 

Pretty straight forward, right? How we accomplish these traits are not laid out or broken down into great detail. It doesn't bullet out that "men of good character" must open doors for old ladies. Or that "having a congenial disposition" will be demonstrated each March during the chapter's open mic night. Or that by the time we are juniors "having a high sense of honor" will be shown by 6 specific sub categories. We are given broad ideas that we can interpret for ourselves and for our chapter. 

I witnessed this open interpretation of the standards when I attended the Sigma Chi Leadership Training Workshop when I was an undergrad. Members from most of the chapter across the US and Canada came together to exchange ideas and talk Sigma Chi. It was eye opening for me to see how different we all were. How our chapter location and university culture could lead to such different views on things. But, we all shared the same value structure and we all worked with the same pride in the organization. The same drive to be great. It was remarkable to see such difference in approach and perspective driven by our common belief and standards. 

When I came back to my chapter I looked around and realized how different my own chapter brothers and I were as well. I was reminded of this recently, when a fraternity brother of mine posted a message on facebook. He was calling out a person based on the ideals that we share as members of this fraternity in a way that I didn't agree with. And in most of his posts I disagree with him and some of his worldly views. Yet, these differences, while upsetting at times, bring a perspective to me that I never considered. It opens me up to understanding a vastly different look at the world. His intentions and goals are the same as mine, but his interpretation on how to use our common ideals are so different. Neither way is better. They are just different, because we have been left to take these broader standards and interpret them as we see fit. 

It is here that the DOE can take some notes. There is nothing wrong with setting a Common Core set of educational standards for our kids. We should all be striving for educational excellence in our schools. Laying out what that means in a broad way can be so helpful, especially in a school like mine that is 60% military families that are coming and going frequently. But to lay down such specifics on what each of these standards mean almost all the way down to the how it should be done starts to take away the respect of differences. I have yet to teach the same kid twice. In fact, the students I have today are not the same version of the kid that started my class in August. The life I grew up in back home in Illinois, is not at all comparable to the community that my own kids are growing up in here in Fairbanks. Yet, the common core in all of its specifics takes none of that into consideration. 

As an educator I strive to understand, appreciate, and nourish the differences in all of my students. I recognize that my kiddos will all learn differently, and I broaden my teaching to reach as many as I can. But when I look at the specifics of each of the standards that I need to reach for next year, I see where this Common Core missed the mark. Where the potential to show respect to the schools and districts is missed, because we have been over looked in our ability to teach to the strengths of our students. 

I've spoken out supporting aspects of the Common Core (click here). But in general, I think the DOE overreached with this. An opportunity was missed because the passion for what we teachers do each day wasn't felt by those creating these standards. The love for what I do daily wasn't present in the room when the Common Core was sent out to us all. It would have been similar to a university president and board of regents choosing the founding ideals and standards for Sigma Chi. They wouldn't have had a genuine stake in the creation of the fraternity, so the passion for creating what we would represent and accomplish wouldn't fit. It would be disjointed and nearly 160 years later the fraternity wouldn't exist. Much like I'm sure the Common Core will not exist as we see it today even 10 years from now. So, I'll continue to do what I do everyday, which is to teach my students the best way I can. And to strive to reach whatever standards are laid in front of me understanding that I'll interpret those standards for me and my students. If that means some don't do as well on the "TEST" as they should, then so be it. Because as long as my students leave my classroom driven to be something, and then following that drive to accomplish further greatness later... I did my job, and those standards didn't have any part of that. I did. The teacher. You can call it the Runkle in me.