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Thursday, January 22, 2015

On the State of the Union and Getting Students' Priorities Straight

There's been a lot of big "States" lately, the State of the Union and the State of the State.  I asked my students regarding the former:

1.  Did you listen to the President?  Why or why not?
2.  Regardless, which issues would you most want the President to address?  Explain two.

In each class, I could count on one hand the students who heard the State of the Union.  Not entirely surprising, but so sad!  I'm betting not one heard Cuomo speak given it was during their school day.

Some simply forgot about the State of the Union, despite my reminder.  Some were not so much Republican or Independent as totally disinterested.  Some said it was their age.  Others thought it might be a lot of empty talk.  Many pointed to the necessity of studying for a barrage of midterm exams.  Alas, many had foreign-language tests, chemistry or physics the next day.  

I recognize the direct and immediate connection between their test grades and their academic welfare.  Yet, I wondered if education might not have its priorities wrong.  When test-taking takes precedence over listening to the President of your country, and a pretty powerful country at that, or cultivating good citizenship and an appreciation for the importance of current events, education seems misdirected.  I would argue with the high-stakes nature of more and more tests, we are more misdirected than ever.  I would argue that, had there been the ability to listen to Cuomo, students might have recognized the powerful direct and immediate connection between his words and their academic future.  Alas, many were probably taking midterms at that time.  I can vouch for a few who had chemistry.  

In respect to the second question above, many students were concerned about college, jobs and the environment.  The president, of course, addressed all these issues and many more, to varying degrees.  We discussed some of his proposals, including free community college, sick days and childcare.  Will we discuss Cuomo's plans today?  Probably not.  Alas, students have a full-period, cumulative history midterm!  Today is the multiple-choice section...

I was most interested in the subjects that the President barely touched upon or completely neglected.  To let you know the focus of my world, I wasn't so much thinking about Al Qaeda as the Common Core.  Its name was not invoked once.  If we do a close reading, silence is sometimes golden.  Of course, there may be new testing threats under different names, a re-branding of a botched high-stakes system.  If we consider Cuomo's words, and I have yet to hunt down a transcript and read it, word on the street says, "Teachers Beware!"

I am guessing in the future if I want students to listen to the President, I will have to turn it into a mandatory assignment.  If this is the case for high-school students, however, it seems we haven't quite managed to get our priorities straight.  Let me be "transparent," however, because I believe in honesty and it is also humorous!  The irony of it all is that following our limited discussion yesterday, I spent the remainder of the period reviewing with students for their midterm today!  From what I hear, the Governor, in his test-based world, must be loving that!  Alas and Egad!  

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