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Need well-rounded learners

  • Published Wednesday, Sep. 18, 2013, at 12 a.m.

With the recent flap over a public school having the audacity to post information about one of the major religions other than Christianity now past (Aug. 20 Eagle), I am reminded about a far more important concern.

As I spend time in elementary schools as a teacher intern supervisor, I have been alarmed by the slow but steady erosion of time allowed for both the science and the social studies curricula. Teachers have become required to schedule greater blocks of time for the language arts, especially reading, and mathematics.

The rationale for this is clear. These are the areas of the larger curriculum that are being assessed, the test results used as indicators of a school’s success with its instruction – in other words, teachers’ competencies.

Though I do not quarrel with holding teachers accountable for skillful instruction, I have a serious concern about the focus on “academic achievement” that is limited to only reading and math. The evaluation criteria derived from these subjects feature cognitive development that may produce what one might identify as the “intellectual half-child,” with stunted growth in critical thinking, problem solving, values development and, most important, citizenship knowledge and skills.

As a teacher educator who prepared pre-service elementary classroom teachers for competent social studies and science instruction, I would ask this question: Does our culture need better readers and numbers manipulators more than it needs analytical thinkers and outstanding citizens? Of course these are not mutually exclusive entities, as effective readers can learn these skills while studying materials from science and social studies curricula. The problem may rest with the assessment process. The tests feature only the reading and math competencies and not the critical-thinking processes, nor do they highlight important citizenship qualities.

Fortunately, the Common Core standards for science and social studies emphasize the relative importance of these subjects as vehicles for producing thoughtful, clear-thinking and participatory citizens. Now, if classroom teachers can be given the time and permission to pursue these standards, while preparing their students to read and manipulate numbers skillfully, we will end up with a well-rounded learner.



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