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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

The Common Core or the common core

I am sixty one years and I am still in the process of understanding who am I and what my role in the world is.  That is a good thing. Those who say that they have it all figured out are fooling themselves or have packed it in.  To be alive means to be learning and learning means finding out about yourself and the world you live in.  Can there be anything more relevant or meaningful?  We are all learning what it means to be human and how to relate to each other.  We should be an endless source of interest, wonder,curiosity to ourselves and others.  The research has borne this out-those who stay engaged mentally, physically and socially live longer and have a better quality of life than people who sit back thinking they have it all figured out.  This doesn't mean that someone should become self absorbed thinking about oneself all the time.  Quite the opposite, we learn about ourselves by interacting with others.  We learn about others when we are able to empathize with them and discover what we have in common and how we differ. 

It is a great experience to discover something in common with someone who initially seemed so different.  Likewise we benefit from the differences we discover in people with whom we share many commonalities.   Our social relationships shape our identity-it is through them that we reveal to ourselves who we are and that process never ends or at least should never end.  We are "works in progress" always incomplete in the process of becoming whole.  As soon as we decide that we are "finished products" we are more likely to think of other people as "finished products" and consequently we make up our minds about ourselves and them. (Our minds were not made to be made up.) 

The reseach of Carol Dweck and David Yeager exploring people's perception of themselves and others has empirically shown how essential this basic perception is to all that we do or say and to all learning.  When we view ourselves as "works in progress" can let ourselves learn without judging ourselves as lacking.  We can admit to being wrong and not condemn ourselves but rather chalk it up as part of the learning process.  When we believe that same thing about other people, it changes how we interact with them and how they in turn interact with us.  "Works in progress" makes it a lot harder to separate people into groups or categories.  It allows us to separate behavior from identity-the person from the act.

If someone like myself is still learning about who I am, what about young people?  They are in the midst of not only discovering who they are but are struggling to get the words right, to get a handle on what exactly is going on with them.  Think of great works of literature like Hamlet or The Great Gatsby and you will find at the core of these stories,  characters in the process of discovering who they are and what their role is in the world.  Works like that endure because they tap into something timeless and universal-the human experience.  We are drawn to these stories because we identify with these characters and we hope that by seeing what they do we might get a better understanding of who we are and what we should do.
What does all of this have to do with bullying prevention?  Everything.  Bullying prevention is really about how we treat one another.  It is all about social interactions and people figuring out who they are in relation to others.  When people make up their minds about someone and put a fixed label on the person, it is easier to either bully that person or ignore that person being bullied.  It is easier to distance ourselves from people who in our minds are "finished products" - not capable of changing.  This distancing allows us to cut ourselves off from the process of learning anything new about the person and discovering what we have in common with that person.    Research has shown that the biggest barrier for bystanders to intervene or report bullying is the perception of difference in others. 

I am not an expert on the Common Core standards and I have reservations about them as the solution to our problems of education.  Putting that issue aside, I suggest that perhaps a better approach would be to look at the common core without the capitals.  What is our common core?  What are we about? Who are we? How do we live in the world and relate to each other?  These are not easy questions and the thinking that they prompt makes us go deeper.  Every subject matter ultimately probes these questions albeit in different ways.  The very nature of learning should bring people together in common pursuit of these never ending questions. 

Why not truly connect students to each other in learning about each other and themselves?  Why not have them read the rich and exciting social psychology on why people do what they do?  Why not have them explore issues related to bystander behavior?  Why not learn about mindsets and fixed mindsets versus growth mindsets?  Why not explore what it means to be human?  Would students be bored? Quite the opposite - they are hungry to discover who they are.  They need to understand what is going on inside their hearts and minds and the hearts and minds of others.  Bullying prevention (how we treat each other) is all about the common core of what it means to be human.  By turning it into a program or another issue/problem on a long list, we miss a tremendous opportunity to connect students not just to the core of learning but to the core of what it means to be human.   They want us to educate them meaning to guide them in discovering who they are and what is at their core.

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