Friday, August 23, 2013

Rock, Hammer, Common Core Curriculum: What's the Real Key?

What does a common claw hammer have to do with school reform? What does one humble tool have to do with Common Core Curriculum?

We know a student cannot complete a standardized test (and new ones are coming fast, tied to Common Core Curriculum) using a common claw hammer. A hammer is too hard to sharpen.

A hammer is but a tool. You have different kinds of hammers also. You have jack hammers for road construction, rock hammers for geologists, and the humble rock, recommended by nine out of ten satisfied Neanderthals.

A hammer is just a tool. If the hammer owner prefers he or she may let it lie idle in the bottom of the tool box. Or they might use it in some creative fashion. One can crack eggs with a hammer and stir them into pancake batter with the handle.

I don’t recommend it if you are happily married.

A hammer is what you make it. You can pound nails with it, pull them, or employ it as a doorstop. Three hammers would suffice if your hoped to build a stool. Two would be enough if you needed to settle a question of honor in a duel.

What does all of this have to do with education? Patience, please. I am busy with some stupid rhyming. A judge might use a hammer as a gavel. A convict might use it to turn big rocks into gravel. You can stop a burglar with a hammer. You can knock him out and keep an eye on him until the coppers take him to the slammer.


Seriously, this is where education experts go wrong, so often, when discussion turns to “fixing schools.”
Experts focus on the tools. They promise, for example, that computers will revolutionize the learning process. They give seminars and advise teachers to swing their hammers in some bold new fashion. Worst of all, they spend their days drawing up blueprints and arguing with one another. One lays out his pet plan and says: “Teachers should build this palatial palace.”

A second insists, “No, they should build a mighty football stadium.”

A third balks and says, “No, teachers should construct a colony on the moon.”

In the end, as always, it’s left to teachers to swing their hammers.

Here, I think, is what every teacher knows. The hammer is not the key. Neither is the blueprint. Ah, the hammerer is the key.

If you have ever spent some time at the front of any classroom you know that you will have to hoist your hammer every day and pound the academic nails. You will pound all day and there will always be more nails to pound, and bent ones to be pulled and straightened. You will hit knots in wood and nails will go shooting off in wild directions. You know that wood will split at inopportune moments and you will often whack your thumb.

You know that you must keep on pounding.

You know, also, that your students must do their own hammering. Again, the hammer is not the key. Neither is the blueprint. And the “basics” of hammering represent only a rudimentary beginning. You understand that the key is instilling in students the desire to use their hammers, often employing them in novel and unexpected ways.

The key is convincing students—if they truly desire to gain a quality education—that they, too, must hammer long and hard and do it every day.

The experts miss this point.

They miss it because they rarely teach. They sit in offices and draw up blueprints for palaces and stadiums and colonies on the moon. They never pound a single nail. Teachers don’t expect much from them at this point. They’ve seen where all their expertise has led in recent years.

At this point, most teachers and their students would be happy if the experts did nothing more than stop getting in the way.


  1. I sometimes feel like saying to the businesspeople who have all the answers to the problems in education: "You come teach my classes for a week. I'll go run your company so you can focus on the students." "Oh, I can't do that. You could never run my business properly! You have no training or experience!"
    Now let's turn that around and see if it still works, shall we? (I can't really say it now, since I've been retired since 1998. But you get the point -- even if the businessperson wouldn't.)

    1. Amen. I'm stunned by their arrogance. I've been doing research on a book about teaching and I was stunned to find, for example, that our nine U. S. Secretaries of Education combined had less teaching experience than you or I did. Seven never taught a day in their lives.

      By this kind of standard, I'm qualified to be Surgeon General because I watched "Ben Casey" as a kid. I'm a staunch liberal, for example, and voted happily for President Obama twice, but I don't think Arne Duncan, his choice for Secretary of Education, has a clue.