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Debunking Education Memes, Part Two

If there’s one thing the Internet likes to do, it’s criticize.  “Memes” are the medium du jour, and our modern education system by no means escapes their ceaseless heckling. Sometimes these arguments are rational and based on solid reasoning; sometimes they are meant to appeal to the basest of human nature. And so, in our modern-day online obsession with outrage, we must often ask ourselves if we are actively engaging in thoughtful discussion that explores holistic truths or are we hastily processing our gut reactions through a simple self-satisfying rant? In part two of still installation, Education World looks at more of social media’s most-shared memes that critique our education system, explores both the truths and misunderstandings leading to their viral nature, and recommends ways for educators to actively disrupt their messaging in their classrooms and greater communities.

The suggestion: Common Core is ruining education.

The problem with the meme:

There are a whole variety of memes out there that have actively attacked Common Core’s methods of teaching—in particular certain strategies for teaching mathematics at the younger levels. We’re by no means going to make the claim here that Common Core is the utopia of education standards. However, there are also a lot of misunderstandings about the Core that should be addressed before we rage against a fairly well-vetted system, simply due to a less-than-savory photo of someone’s kid’s math homework for the night. We need to understand the bigger picture.

The CCSS is ratcheting up rigor. For some, this in itself feel daunting, but the truth is, the worldwide market is more competitive. This is not the job market of ten or even five years ago. Whereas in classrooms of the past, students were able to be rewarded for an easy regurgitation of what their teachers feed them, these standards ask students to think more critically about content. With this, students dive more deeply into a topic than they have in the past, spending time to understand its complexities, and, more importantly, apply this knowledge to everyday life. This sort of education takes more work, more thought, and more time. But, as the CCSS was in part reviewed by employers since its inception, this is the type of work required by the up-and-coming job market.

The CCSS also puts the ownership of the curriculum back into the hands of the teachers. They are standards—not a prescribed lesson-by-lesson curriculum. This allows the educators—those who know the students—to decide the best method of delivery in the classroom. The beauty of a set of common standards also allows for better collaboration between teachers. If something is working spectacularly at schools in the State of Connecticut, those practices can be adopted and replicated in other schools almost immediately. Teachers now have a common language with which to speak about how to most effectively meet the needs of the 21st century classroom.

All of this promotes the standards as the guidepost, and the curriculum as a living document designed to be revised and improved upon as necessary. If a strategy of learning (including those associated with the math assignment you didn’t like) does not help students meet their needs, the CCSS gives educators the flexibility to develop and work with better strategies. If your school district is not modeling this flexibility, that’s a very different conversation.

Recommendations for undermining the meme:

  • Make sure your district’s curriculum and your lesson plans have been revised to reflect what is working and not working in the classroom.
  • Communicate to both students and parents the specific steps you are taking ensure that what is happening in the classroom is meeting the needs of your students and the values of the community. Always share data to back up these decisions.
  • Have supports in place for students and families struggling with the increased rigor of the classroom.


The suggestion: Education kills creativity.

The problem with the meme:

The worry that standardized systems of education stifle the innate creativity of students is by no means new. And although Pink Floyd’s 1979 assertion that to school systems, kids are “just another brick in the wall”, might feel rebellious and edgy, it is far from the truth in terms of modern education theory. One particularly popular piece of pedagogy spreading across the academic landscape, Universal Design for Learning (UDL), is rooted in three main creative principles: multiple means of representation, multiple means of expression, and multiple means of engagement. In other words: choice. Schools across the world are figuring out new and unconventional ways for students to learn and show their learning creatively as a foundation of the classroom.

Since we have been talking about the Common Core, too, many educators have lauded the way its standards have afforded educators more time to reintroduce the fun and engaging activities that were scrapped during the No Child Left Behind testing era. The rigorous, yet general CCSS standards allow for educators to be more creative about how their students access the key skills and content in their discipline. No longer is a curriculum forced into their classrooms from a faceless ivory tower entity. A clever, thoughtful, modern educator has full freedom to engage their students however they see fit.

Now, with these caveats, it can certainly be said that a lack of funding kills creativity in the classroom. When teachers do not have the resources they need to provide choice in assignments or to prepare the authentic, hands-on, and highly-engaging lesson plans they know will nurture both the academic curiosity and innovation of their students, the creativity a community values will be more difficult to manage. Make no mistake that educators in your school district are not the ones cutting music and arts programs from the curriculum.

Recommendations for undermining the meme:

  • Provide choice whenever possible in the classroom. Choice breeds creativity.
  • Ask for input from your community wherever curricular goals have particular flexibility.
  • Make the products of your creative classroom visible. They should line the walls of your classroom and be published online.


The suggestion: We don’t have to learn things anymore because of technology.

The problem with the meme:

There’s a suggestion these days that technology is going to render the education system—and to some extent, learning—null and void. A lot of these ideas suggest that the hard drives of our devices have become an extension of our brains, and that we should no longer teach content and skills that could easily be outsourced to machines. In theory, the thinking here seems sound: we need to adapt to a new world. In this world, students have the entirety of human knowledge at their very fingertips. Why learn what is already known and can be stored in our pockets for quick retrieval on a device that can hold much more information than the processors within our cranium?

The flaw in this thinking, however, lies in the human mind’s unique ability to make connections between complex ideas as well as its capacity for improvisation. In short, our iPhones aren’t good at adapting for the unexpected, and life is filled with such variations.

As mentioned in the first installation of this series, our current education system cannot predict exactly which suite of concepts and skills you will absolutely need to be competitive in the job market, ten years down the line. However, what we can do is both teach you how you learn new things and hold on to information so that you can access it when you need it. If you don’t practice learning and internalizing new ideas (yes, maybe this includes remembering the Bill of Rights, the application of Maslow’s Hierarchy, or how to use the quadratic formula), you won’t know how to do it when your employment or general life requires it. Imagine your brain surgeon Googling concepts during an operation.

If you want more proof that our teaching jobs are not going to be outsourced to artificial intelligences any time soon, check out our article here.

Recommendations for undermining the meme:

  • Directly investigate and brainstorm the strengths and limitations of modern technology.
  • Give students tasks that differentiate between times where looking up information online is reasonable, and where quick recall from memory is more effective. They should be practicing both when tackling new challenges.
  • Bring in community members from a variety of careers to talk about how they balance technology and personal knowledge in order to be successful in the workplace.


Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher in Connecticut.