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“What magical trick makes us intelligent?”


My wife and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary last week by taking a trip to Boston.  We went through all the neighborhoods, ate some awesome homemade pasta….ate some more great homemade pasta, ate some great canolis, and had a few more great canolis.  I love how in a couple days you can walk through some pretty distinct neighborhoods like Little Italy, Chinatown, and Beacon Hill. One day we walked through a section of Cambridge (ok, not officially Boston) and went to the MIT Museum.  There was an exhibit on artificial intelligence and the piece that a visitor first passes is below…

Inside the display there is a quote:

It is from Marvin Minsky and the complete quote from his book reads:

“What magical trick makes us intelligent? The trick is that there is no trick. The power of intelligence stems from our vast diversity, not from any single, perfect principle.Our species has evolved many effective although imperfect methods, and each of us individually develops more on our own. Eventually, very few of our actions and decisions come to depend on any single mechanism. Instead, they emerge from conflicts and negotiations among societies of processes that constantly challenge one another.”

After reading it my wife commented that it is a great quote to apply to the common core state standards.

It is.

There were some amazing things at the MIT museum.  None of them created by some who spent 12 years of school being standardized.

I wonder what innovations will be placed into the museum 50 years from now.  What will the students who spend 12 years being standardized in the name of common core produce? Kids who will learn the same exact thing as their peers across the country, take the same tests, use the same sources, read the same books, produce the same products in class, are taught the same way to write, who perform to the same rubric, and sit in classrooms with teachers who cannot do something that another class in the district is not doing, who are taught by teachers who are told that they must put away their “best” units and activities and only follow state and district activities that can be easily measured, and who are taught by teachers who are told that they must follow the directions given to them by someone not in their classroom who has never met their kids using standards that come with the warning, “Do not color outside of the lines.” From a ccss powerpoint:

As I walked around Boston I saw a great city with a great history, some of it heroic, and some of it very messy and ugly. From a notebook in a restaurant:

I began to think about how it will possible that the problems of the future will be solved by our standardized students.  What happens after years of standardization when the kids of today have to fix a problem and they all only have the same tool?  What happens when they have to live in harmony and they all can only sing the same note?

I know the process that is underway to standardize my class is crushing my creative spirit. I have been marginalized. Teachers are made to believe that they are not proper professionals if they are not on the ccss bandwagon…and shamed.  Shame kills innovation and creativity. The creativity that is necessary to create a classroom that will contribute to the world. One of the last things I read in the museum:

As we were walking back to our hotel back into Boston across the Longfellow Bridge, you get a glimpse of Boston that contrast the old and the new.  You can see the houses that are hundreds of years old in the Beacon Hill neighborhood with the backdrop of the modern high rises in the background.

Walking back in you get a spirit of anything is possible.  I wondered what the patriots of the American Revolution would have sparked a new country if their education had been standardized?  Would the people who led Boston through the bus riots been able to do so if their education had been standardized?  Heck…would I even have bothered to visit the North End and try all that great pasta and cannolis if the chefs and bakers had been standardized?  Society has been transformed over and over again by people who did not follow the standardized rules.  As I sat in the museum and learned about how the internet was created and how it works, I could not help think that it is the people who did not follow the rules that might be the most precious to our society.  The people who ignore the signs of what we should and should not do.  Whether it be to do something extraordinary, or whether it be to simply ignore the hype of the world and live a very simple ordinary life.  As we approached the hotel I saw a sign behind a fence in a court yard:

The signs with rules of what we cannot do should be fading.  But in an era in which we should be teaching kids that anything is possible, we are moving to the most regimented education system that I have experienced in 45 years with billboard sized signs of what we can and cannot do in a classroom.  10, 20….50 or 100 years from now MIT will be installing a new exhibit in their museum.  It will be interesting to see what it will be…

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