By March 27, 2016 Uncategorized 3 Comments

We all have opinions.

Some of us have no inhibitions sharing them with total strangers on the internet and via social media. Suffice it to say, I spend far more time discussing and debating education issues here and on various social media sites than can possibly be healthy.

Having opinions is a worthwhile trait. It indicates a progressive nature – one which signifies that we are improving to be better, better educated, more knowledgeable people.

An opinion is a preference for or judgment of something. My favorite color is blue. I think shrimp tastes awful. Big Bang Theory is the best television show. These are all opinions. They may be unique to me alone or massively shared across the general population but they all have one thing in common; they cannot be verified outside of the fact that I believe them.

When we opine on a topic, we are articulating what we consider to be an important point of view—because it’s ours—and trust that anyone listening or reading will think to themselves, “This person is brilliant and I need to change my thinking on this topic.”

I would like to believe that the majority of opinions I share on my blog are accurate, based on solid research, and will occasionally cause someone to reconsider their viewpoint on a topic.

At the same time, I have learned to be open to the fact that I often may be wrong. For that reason, I don’t mind when others post comments providing an alternate point of view.

Okay, I sometimes mind a little, but usually not if the other person presents their position with solid evidence and in a respectful manner.  I am always seeking to learn.

One can form an opinion in a bubble, and for the first couple of decades of our lives we all do. However, eventually we all venture out into the world and find that what we thought was an informed opinion was actually just a tiny thought based on little data and our personal feelings and natural biases.

Therefore, many, many, many of our opinions will turn out to be uninformed or just flat-out wrong. I can all come up with many examples when my opinion changed as a result of research or being introduced to a fresh perspective.

With the ability to do our own fact-checking literally at our fingertips, the practice of forming opinions in a bubble is unsound and destructive. The problem arises from people whose opinions are actually misconceptions.

For example, if you believe vaccines cause autism you are expressing something factually wrong, not an opinion. The fact that you may still believe that vaccines cause autism does not move your misconception into the realm of valid opinion. Nor does the fact that many others share this opinion give it any more validity.

That brings me to my main point.

A challenge that public schools deal with constantly is that nearly every citizen has an opinion of how schools could be run more effectively. This is because nearly everyone has attended public school and therefore possesses a unique point of reference based on their individual experiences with teachers and schools.

In Oklahoma, the most recent clash of opinions is over the issue of whether lawmakers should approve our new Oklahoma Academic Standards, or OAS, or force a delay in the implementation.

Rick Cobb and Claudia Swisher have written extensively on this topic over the past week. I encourage you to read their outstanding analyses. These are two professional educators who have spent a large portion of their careers in curriculum and instruction and who have earned the right to share an opinion we should actually consider.

As have the hundreds of Oklahoma educators and specialists who have dedicated the last two years creating these new math and language arts standards.

However, as Rick reported, we now have a small, vocal constituency who has come out against approval of the new standards. This group includes Jenni White of ROPE and several state lawmakers, including Representative Dan Fisher.

While they all have a right to an opinion on the new standards, one would think they should actually read the standards before making disingenuous statements about their overall quality or connection to CCSS.

Rep. Fisher appeared Friday on Glenn Beck’s national radio program. In this 12 minute clip, Fisher falsely opines about the new math and ELA standards. He says that we’re bringing Common Core back.

He’s wrong.

All sets of academic standards will obviously have some common themes and parallel structures. There are only so many ways to communicate mathematics standards, for example.

However, the fact that human beings share many DNA sequences also found in rats does not mean we all like cheese. Likewise, finding common language in both sets of standards does not support a conclusion our new standards are related to CCSS in any way.

E.B. Wright once said, “Prejudice is a great time-saver. You can form opinions without getting the facts.”

I agree with Rick that it is time to trust the teachers who wrote the standards and who will use them to teach our children.  We have much bigger problems to address in our state and it is time to move on.

Some final thoughts…

I think we all have to be careful of simply parroting opinions that we read or hear from others especially in the age of Internet. We all need to take the time to do our own research and formulate our own understanding based on our unique context and life experiences.

Like many of you, I am bothered by the extent of closed or limited thinking that takes place in our culture today. Exhibit 1: the current spectacle we refer to as the Presidential Primary process.

Finally, as much as you are entitled to them, don’t hold on to your opinions too tightly. Opinions have a way of being infused with our dignity – it makes us think that if we change our opinion, then we’re flimsy or weak, when in fact it is a very natural process.

It’s called learning.

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