Education 2.0

“Welcome to the Machine”

( No Child Left Behind )



 Weapons of Mass Instruction

By Johnathan Chase 4/25/12




What does education often do?

It makes a straight-cut ditch of a free, meandering brook."


~ Henry David Thoreau





Working with middle and high school students at a rural K-12 school for more than two decades, it has been my experience that a lack of character development (perseverance, ambition, responsibility, self-confidence, self-discipline, patience, initiative, integrity, empathy, leadership…) has directly contributed to declining student achievement and performance in the classroom and on the job.


While mastery of content and literacy skills are important for career and college readiness, these performance standards are too often trumped or canceled out when a student or employee lacks a work ethic and has not developed a personal code of conduct.


Should the current SAT cheating scandal be attributed to a lack of skills on the part of students, or an absence of values? Conduct a Google search for the terms "Secret Service" and "GSA employees" for more details on this topic.


Character education is not just good practice, effective July, 2012 it will be mandated in NY State by the Dignity for All Students Act



“The Dignity Act also amended Section 801-a of New York State Education Law regarding instruction in civility, citizenship, and character education by expanding the concepts of tolerance, respect for others and dignity…”



Now, more than ever, students need activities and lessons focused on character education and media literacy. In addition to schools and the home, many students learn behaviors and develop values from the media they consume. With the proliferation of smartphones, WiFi, and 4G, increasing numbers of students are “connected” 24/7 to on demand television programs, games, music, and videos. Educators and parents would be wise not to underestimate the influence and impact of this media on student performance in the classroom.

Every parent and educator should wonder how do Jersey Shore, Real World, Jackass, Punked, American Pie, Grand Theft Auto, Modern Warfare, Assassin’s Creed, and Teen Mom impact student behavior and attitudes… and what curriculum and programs are being offered in schools to confront and challenge these negative influences?

Is it possible that the Cosby Show, The Waltons, Eight is Enough, Happy Days, the Brady Bunch, All in the Family, One Day at a Time, the Electric Company and Zoom not only entertained a generation of students but also helped to educate them?

The proliferation of gadgets and gizmos in the 21st century may also be a contributing factor to the poor reading and writing skills of young people. In school, students are encouraged to read carefully and intentionally while paying close attention to punctuation, a critical component for understanding what you read.

Periods, commas, question marks etc. give structure to prose helping to organize ideas and provide emphasis and deeper meaning to text on the page. When students read they must look for these visual cues, remembering to pause and stop as indicated.

Unfortunately many students do not practice and follow the conventions and standards of good writing after school hours when it comes to composing countless emails, text messages, and Facebook posts which often lack structure and read more like a stream of consciousness.




My awareness and understanding of career readiness and the importance of character education is also informed by my work as a summer youth employment counselor and the findings of a 1995 / 2002 NY State Employer Survey regarding the top 10 most desired job skills including; courtesy, responsibility, cooperation, hygiene, and honesty.


One of the underlying premises of CCSS appears to be that students who cannot read and write on an advanced college level are destined to be unsuccessful in life. Not everyone can be an advanced reader, no matter how hard they try. Do proponents of CCSS really believe that the 15 to 20% (NICHD) of our population with language-based disabilities are doomed to failure in life?


I guess Thomas Edison, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, Winston Churchill, Cher, Henry Ford, Henry Winkler, Erin Brockovich, Tom Cruise, Pablo Picasso, Magic Johnson, Anderson Cooper, Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Steve Jobs and other dyslexics were fortunate CCSS wasn’t around when they were in school or some of these successful leaders, role models, and visionaries might still be serving time in AIS class trying to pass a tier two vocabulary word quiz rather than testing a new theory, creating a new work of art, or discovering new principles that actually generated brand new vocabulary words.


These individuals and many others like them did not allow limited reading and literacy skills or a low score on a standardized test to define them and curtail their goals and achievements in life. Instead, they relied upon their own unique gifts, talents, personality, and learning strategies to overcome obstacles and compensate for any academic deficiencies.


The current craze and obsession with measuring student growth and teacher performance combined with a corporate mindset and for profit business model, culminated last week in 8th grade students and teachers trying to make sense of a ridiculous reading passage, “The Hare and the Pineapple” on the New York State ELA exam.



“Friday (4/20) the New York education department said they were throwing out the section of the test and it would not count toward student scores.


The moral? Maybe standardized tests should have no sleeves?



This one size fits all approach to education makes no sense academically or economically except for the plethora of Common Core test designers, specialists, consultants, associates, sales reps, product managers and others with "skin in the game" who are clearly motivated by money, not mastery of content. Wonder how many teachers could have been hired with the $32 million NYSED paid Pearson Education to create these “weapons of mass instruction”?


The heck with art, film, literature, poetry, music, sports, vocational, trade, and alternative education programs...force feeding complex informational texts 70% of the time is the key to success in college and careers for all students... why not 38%, 55%, or 61.25% ?


We expect our students to question the accuracy and reliability of any data they may collect from resources. We encourage them to consider the source of information and look for any possible bias or conflict of interest. This same degree of scrutiny and skepticism should be applied vigorously to the data and claims of the CCSS sales team.


Is it possible that this alleged epidemic of students who can’t follow directions and the outbreak of poor reading skills on college campuses nationwide could actually be dependent on situation or circumstance, indicating a lack of will on the part of some young people rather than an absence of skill?


That might help to explain how some students seem to struggle with readings in the classroom but are still able to read a NYS driver’s manual, pass the written test, complete a college application and essay, properly complete a FAFSA application, obtain additional loans/scholarships while still finding time to master the informational text explaining how to operate their iPhones, Notebooks, Kindles, iPads, iPods and Blu-Ray players.


While CCSS advocates may decry the plight of college students who can’t follow directions, many students actually enjoy the challenge and mystery of a puzzle and will refrain from reading the instructions for a newly purchased electronic device as they prefer to learn through discovery, experimentation, play, and trial and error.

Rather than focusing our efforts on teaching students how to learn we should be creating rigorous learning activities and experiences that capture students’ interest and stimulates their own desire to learn, also known as “flow”.

According to Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, students achieve flow when they find a challenge or task so enjoyable they will pursue it as a reward in itself. When a person experiences flow they want to do more of an activity leading to advanced skill development and mastery of the task. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi further explains in, ”Thoughts About Education” 



…Yet it seems increasingly clear that the chief impediments to learning are not cognitive in nature. It is not that students cannot learn, it is that they do not wish to…



Of the two main forms of motivation -- extrinsic and intrinsic -- I focus primarily on the second kind. Although both are needed to induce people to invest energy in learning, intrinsic motivation, which is operative when we learn something primarily because we find the task enjoyable and not because it is useful, is a more effective and more satisfying way to learn…


When people enjoy whatever they are doing, they report some characteristic experiential states that distinguish the enjoyable moment from the rest of life. The same dimensions are reported in the context of enjoying chess, climbing mountains, playing with babies, reading a book, or writing a poem…When all the characteristics are present, we call this state of consciousness a flow experience, because many of the respondents reported that when what they were doing was especially enjoyable it felt like being carried away by a current, like being in a flow.


A teacher who understands the conditions that make people want to learn -- want to read, to write, and do sums -- is in a position to turn these activities into flow experiences. When the experience becomes intrinsically rewarding, students' motivation is engaged, and they are on their way to a lifetime of self-propelled acquisition of knowledge…




Back in 2011, David T. Conley warned in his essay, “Building on the Common Core” about the potential for misuse and misapplication of these assessments…


“Implemented correctly, the common standards and assessments can vault education over the barrier of low-level test preparation and toward the goal of world-class learning outcomes for all students. Implemented poorly, however, the standards and assessments could result in accountability on steroids, stifling meaningful school improvement nationwide.”


The dynamic interaction between a teacher and student is unpredictable, spontaneous, and an imperfect alliance that cannot be mass produced or scripted through prepackaged lessons and units. There are some things of value in life, like the powerful relationship between a teacher and student, that are not easily quantified and measured.


A teacher may wear many “hats” during the day; educator, counselor, mentor, role model, referee, parent, advisor, and friend. It is fanciful to suggest that a single score on a standardized test is somehow going to assess the overall effectiveness and quality of a teacher or even begin to measure the impact a teacher has had on his or her students and how that will be manifested and revealed in their future achievements and accomplishments.


Working with teenagers for more than two decades, the most important lesson I have learned is to be persistent, patient, and above all, never give up on a student as the fruits of my labor are not always immediate and very often will become apparent over time.


Perhaps the 4.5 hours set aside during the school day last week to administer the New York State ELA exam might have been better spent by students if they volunteered to be a student leader in a classroom, served as a peer mentor, tutored another student, or were on a field trip visiting a business, college, or museum.


Above all, instruction and assessment should be student-centered not Pearson and Grow Network/McGraw-Hill centered. Education should be about preparing future artists, caregivers, citizens, leaders, problem solvers, decision makers, innovators, teachers, and volunteers....not test takers. Learning is more about discovering what you don’t know than it is about applying and recalling what you do know.


The efficacy and validity of any assessment program depends upon the quality and integrity of the data it produces. Assessments should measure multiple performance indicators and be administered over an extended period of time to assure that accurate, comprehensive, and meaningful data is collected.


There are a myriad of factors that can negatively impact student performance on any given day including; carelessness, anxiety, sleep deprivation, hunger, stress, apathy, depression, fear, illness, anger, etc…


Attempting to determine a student’s overall level of achievement for an entire school year (180 days) by measuring his or her performance during a very narrow and limited period of time (3 to 4 hours) will most certainly produce inaccurate data whenever the student’s performance is hindered by extraneous factors. Important to note that numerous students stop working or “shut down” well before the 3 or 4 hour time limit, so their performance is actually being measured over an even smaller percentage of time.


Unfortunately, scores on a standardized test do not differentiate between students who answered a question wrong because they lack the requisite knowledge and skills, and those students who are sufficiently skilled but suffered from diminished performance the day of the test. 


Therein lies a critical flaw and weakness of standardized assessments…while the results may identify specific questions a student failed to answer correctly, they do not provide a definitive reason or explanation as to why this occurred?


Project-based learning, performance assessments, presentations, student portfolios and other forms of authentic assessment provide a more reliable, robust, and comprehensive means of documenting student achievement because they assess student performance over an extended period of time.


Most importantly, an extended task generates valuable data regarding student character development. The finished project provides evidence of planning and preparation as well as how carefully the student followed directions. Projects and presentations help students to develop essential college and career skills including; time management, public speaking, problem solving, creativity, decision making, endurance, initiative, collaboration, communication, patience, persistence, resourcefulness, risk-taking, and self-reliance.


The problem with the CCSS does not originate with the standards themselves, but with the contrived and carefully scripted rollout, implementation, and assessment process now “playing” at a school near you.


Unfortunately the impact and importance of the most vigorous and vibrant qualities of the Common Core… constructivism, media literacy, technology integration, project based learning, and performance assessment, are deliberately being de-emphasized and devalued because these standards don’t easily adapt or conform to the boilerplate format of a standardized test.


The unhealthy alliance between the proponents of the Common Core State Standards and advocates of standardized testing does not serve the best interest of students and should cause people to consider whether high stakes testing has more to do with maintaining the bottom line at companies like Pearson and McGraw-Hill than advancing the career and college readiness of students.





"Rigor Redefined" and other research based writings by Tony Wagner offer great insights into career readiness and the expectations of employers...



"...He’s an engineer by training and the head of a technical business, so when I asked him about the skills he looks for when he hires young people, I was taken aback by his answer.


“First and foremost, I look for someone who asks good questions,” Parker responded. “We can teach them the technical stuff, but we can’t teach them how to ask good questions—how to think.”


“What other skills are you looking for?” I asked, expecting that he’d jump quickly to content expertise.


“I want people who can engage in good discussion—who can look me in the eye and have a give and take. All of our work is done in teams. You have to know how to work well with others. But you also have to know how to engage customers—to find out what their needs are. If you can’t engage others, then you won’t learn what you need to know.”



A bachelor’s degree is not a requirement for every occupation in the 21st century. Advising and encouraging all our students to attend college and accumulate a considerable amount of debt, with no guarantee of future employment, is both thoughtless and irresponsible.   


The headline of this 4/23/12 AP article says it all "1 in 2 new graduates are jobless or underemployed"...



"According to government projections released last month, only three of the 30 occupations with the largest projected number of job openings by 2020 will require a bachelor's degree or higher to fill the position — teachers, college professors and accountants. Most job openings are in professions such as retail sales, fast food and truck driving, jobs which aren't easily replaced by computers…


…Any job gains are going mostly to workers at the top and bottom of the wage scale, at the expense of middle-income jobs commonly held by bachelor's degree holders. By some studies, up to 95 percent of positions lost during the economic recovery occurred in middle-income occupations such as bank tellers, the type of job not expected to return in a more high-tech age."



Schools should be in the business of creating diverse and stimulating learning environments and experiences where a child's athletic, artistic and creative talents are free to flourish and thrive. Education should always be focused on helping each student to discover his or her unique gifts and abilities while providing numerous opportunities for students to pursue their passions.


With the new testing regime, the whole school experience has been diminished and transformed into a forced march toward a "state designated performance level." Under this system students are actually learning more about what they can’t do, than what they can do.


“The Mechanically Challenged Generation” 8/29/11, reported that the effects of a narrowing school curriculum and a reduction in student programs has already begun to impact career readiness.



“…Shop classes are all but a memory in most schools—a result of liability fears, budget cuts and an obsession with academics. Still, even in vocational high schools where shop classes endure, a skills decline is evident. One auto shop teacher says he’s teaching his Grade 12 students what, 10 years ago, he taught Grade Nines.


…Occupational therapist Stacy Kramer, clinical director at Toronto’s Hand Skills for Children, offers one explanation for what’s happening. It begins with babies who don’t get put on the ground as much, which means less crawling, less hand development.


…That leads to difficulty developing skills that require a more intricate coordination between the hand and brain, like holding a pencil or using scissors, which kindergarten teachers complain more students can’t do. ‘We see 13-year-olds who can’t do up buttons or tie laces,’ she says. ‘Parents just avoid it by buying Velcro and T-shirts.’

…So what happens if that all-important hand-brain conversation gets shortchanged at a young age? Can it be reintroduced later, or does that aptitude dissipate?

…We only have these uncomfortable clues, such as young people who can’t visualize how to best wield a hammer. Or teens who, despite years of unscrewing bottle tops and jars, can’t intuitively apply the righty-tighty, lefty-loosey rule of thumb.

Predictably, this is affecting other industries that depend on a mechanically inclined workforce. After NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab noticed its new engineers couldn’t do practical problem solving the way its retirees could, it stopped hiring those who didn’t have mechanical hobbies in their youth.”






Matthew B. Crawford’s 2006 essay, Shop Class as Soulcraft” discusses the importance of vocational education programs along with the inherent value and rewards of manual competence. Crawford’s essay may lead readers to consider the possibility that readiness for career and college might be mutually exclusive endeavors for some students, and our noble efforts to prepare every student for the academic rigors of higher education could be negatively impacting the career readiness of those students who wish to obtain employment in the manual trades. In 2009 the essay was expanded into a book; “Shop Class as Soulcraft: An Inquiry into the Value of Work”. This excerpt from the book jacket explains…




On both economic and psychological grounds, Crawford questions the educational imperative of turning everyone into a “knowledge worker,” based on a misguided separation of thinking from doing, the work of the hand from that of the mind. Crawford shows us how such a partition, which began a century ago with the assembly line, degrades work for those on both sides of the divide.


But Crawford offers good news as well: the manual trades are very different from the assembly line, and from dumbed-down white collar work as well. They require careful thinking and are punctuated by moments of genuine pleasure. Based on his own experience as an electrician and mechanic, Crawford makes a case for the intrinsic satisfactions and cognitive challenges of manual work. The work of builders and mechanics is secure; it cannot be outsourced, and it cannot be made obsolete. Such work ties us to the local communities in which we live, and instills the pride that comes from doing work that is genuinely useful. A wholly original debut, ‘Shop Class as Soulcraft’ offers a passionate call for self-reliance and a moving reflection on how we can live concretely in an ever more abstract world.




If education leaders and proponents of the CCSS want to be taken seriously regarding their campaign to improve career and college readiness for all students … perhaps they should consider if accounting, athletics, business law, character education, civics, community service, culinary art, foreign language, geography, health, history, home economics, humanities, keyboarding, media literacy, psychology, sociology, speech and debate, sports management, trade and vocational skills and visual and performing arts, are being adequately addressed in our schools today, or have they been left behind in a race to the top?




"You can get all A's and still flunk life."


~ Walker Percy




Johnathan Chase is a 7th and 12th grade social studies teacher at Edmeston Central School and also works as a summer youth employment counselor with at-risk youth.


He is also founder and president of the Musicians United For Songs In The Classroom Inc. (M.U.S.I.C.) and creator of Learning from Lyrics art and technology integration curriculum.


For more information