Reading & Reacting: TN Student Speaks Out About Common Core, Teacher Evaluations, and Educational Data

Image: Ethan Young TN Student

Ethan Young, a student from TN, speaks to the Knox County School Board, November 6, 2013, about the Common Core and more. Image courtesy of YouTube video of speech.

I came upon this video, courtesy of Karen Labonte (@klbz), this weekend and was instantly arrested by this young man’s intelligence, articulateness, and courage. It is not everyday that a high school senior suits up to speak in front of the county school board with the kind of passion and conviction that Ethan Young did last week.

It is a remarkable speech that every educator, parent, and politician view. In five minutes, this Farragut High School senior explains the duplicitous history of the Common Core development, the associated propaganda, and the political, legal end-run using Race to Top funding to entice state adoption. None of this information is new or remarkable. What is remarkable is that it is spoken with such authority by a high school student, exceptional though he clearly must be.

Between applause and voices of support, Mr. Young fires one salvo after another in defense of his teachers and all teachers, for he “love[s] them like my family. I respect them entirely.” What teacher wouldn’t be overwhelemed to hear something like that from one of their students?

Yet where Young really starts to hit his stride is when he takes on standards based education and one of the underlying justifications for it.

Standards based education is ruining the way we teach and learn. Yes, I’ve already been told by legislators and administrators, Ethan, that’s just the way things work. But why? I’m going to answer that question: It’s bureaucratic convenience. It works with nuclear reactors. It works with business models. Why can’t it work with students?…I mean why don’t we manufacture robots instead of students? They last longer and they always do what they are told, but education is unlike every other bureaucratic institution in our government. The task of teaching is never quantifiable.

Then he makes his grandest point of all emphatically with even more panache, repeating it to hammer it home, and building toward a powerful finish.

If everything I learned in high school was a measurable objective: I haven’t learned anything.

I’d like to repeat that. If everything I learned in high school was a measurable objective: I haven’t learned anything.

Creativity, appreciation, inquisitiveness, these are impossible to scale but they are the purpose of education, why our teachers teach, why I choose to learn. And today we find ourselves in a nation that produces workers. Everything is college and career preparation.

Somewhere our founding fathers are turning in their graves, turning and screaming and trying to say to us is that we teach to free minds. We teach to inspire. We teach to equip. The careers will come naturally…We need change, but not Common Core, high stakes evaluations, or more robots.

Cue the robust applause, which is exactly what happened at the conclusion of this young man’s speech.

The real question is that if an eighteen year-old student can see and testify to the breadth and depth of the problems in education, why can’t elected officials, be they in government or teacher unions?

Sadly, I think it is a bit more than bureaucratic convenience. There simply are too many forces with too much to gain by using education as a political punching bag.

The wolves in sheep’s clothing continue to line up at the gate, all in the name of changing education for the better of students. Yet here is one remarkably enlightened student who sees through the charade and wants a different kind of change.

Image: iPad

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