Back to the basics may be best

Apr 18, 2013 By Betty Starks Case

There are rewards for living many years.

One of them is the experience you gain. If you can remember it, you'll eventually find an opportunity to toss it back to younger folks who think they have a new idea because it's new to them.

Smile. This too, is learning.

Recently, I read an article about new teaching guidelines called Common Core Standards, to date accepted by 45 of our 50 states. Reports state that employers and colleges are demanding more of high school graduates than in the past, having discovered that many of today's high school graduates cannot read beyond the fifth-grade level.

With graduation fast approaching, I find that alarming. The need to read well and understand what we read is basic to all of life's challenges.

To improve our educational approach to the reading deficit, an organization of our nation's governors and corporate leaders founded "Achieve, Inc." The effort to raise academic standards and graduation requirements for grades through high school gave birth to Common Core.

I recall one long struggle of years when students learned to read by sight because someone thought they'd found a better way. Although there is still disagreement in teaching methods, research states that phonics are presently considered in the English speaking world to be the most beneficial for basic beginning literary instruction.

When most of my generation learned to read, we were taught phonics. Auditory and visual senses combined do lend strength and speed to learning. Many words cannot be identified through phonics, but many can, and it's a helpful aid when an unfamiliar word appears.

Recently, I read a newspaper article by Kaycee Eckhardt, a teacher with fine credentials, but a youthful look that tells me she may have no idea of my understanding on this matter.

"The Common Core Standards were written and adopted to meet the needs of clearer, fewer and higher standards for all," Eckhardt explains.

The article continues, "Common Core State Standards --because of how they are written, and what they are intended to be --are an opportunity that we have never seen before in this country."

Never seen before? Not in that form, perhaps. But Eckhardt was not yet born when my generation attended grade and high school. People often think life began when they did, probably a normal response.

However, we do agree on these newer standards. I've read and applaud all the materials I can find online about Common Core. To me, it sounds happily familiar: English language, arts and literacy, history/social studies, science and math.

Am I back in school again? This program sounds like a kin to the teaching methods of my youth. I've been wondering why so many of those helpful learning practices had been relegated to the past while students stumbled and struggled.

The need for change was made clear when I received legal documents with obvious clerical errors; when most store clerks dumped coins into your hand because they really couldn't count back your change; and a doctor apologized for my badly handled account when he discovered his trusted office help had no idea what she was doing.

The Common Core Standard for teaching may sound too new and untried for many, but after detailed study of several online sites, I find it most hopeful.

I'm sure the program is much more sophisticated and detailed than my own early education. Yet it rings so many bells in my brain that it seems education is reverting to the basics again, the ones that helped many of us through years of tough times and into better lives.

If it seems the small Pavillion High School of my early days could not have conducted such standards for teaching at the time, consider the results: Students who graduated there in the early 1940s went on to become military officers, pilots, engineers, teachers, accountants, musicians, writers, industry executives, successful farmers, ranchers and business people. The list goes on, an interesting study of what can happen when youth are led by conscientious, determined teachers, using standards the world could relate to. Certainly money didn't do it in those days.

By the way, the Common Core curriculum includes courses on speaking and listening.

Wouldn't that be a great beginning for us all?

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