Probably the two most asked questions in classrooms across the nation are “Will this be on the test?” and “What is the answer to number “x”?” How often have we all, either through frustration, time constraints, or just plain “end-of-the-week-weariness,” caved into the pleading and met their request? After all, each of us wants our students to succeed. We know absolutely that without the answers, they will surely fail. So, we rationalize, “If I give the answer now, they’ll understand and get it for themselves ‘next time.’” And, what happens “next time”? Pretty much, we can expect the same pattern, “Will this be on the test?”, “What is the answer…?” How do we break the cycle? What if we allowed our students to create their own “right answer”? Where in the world would we be then? Could our standards-base, goals-and-objectives-directed, test-oriented educational system survive the pedagogical tsunami? I think, “Yes.” I also think it is exactly what our standards-based, goals-and-objectives-directed, test-oriented school curricula are asking us to accomplish.
Forty-five states, four territories, the District of Columbia and the Department of Defense Educational System have adopted the Common Core State Standards (CCSS). The authors of that document clearly state that the CCSS, “… set requirements for literacy,” and “… lay out a vision of what it means to be a literate person in the twenty-first century.” (Intro. to CCSS, p. 3) They further list the characteristics of a literate individual. Among those are the ability to, “… demonstrate independence, … respond to varying demands of audience, task, purpose and discipline, … comprehend as well as critique, … and value evidence.” (Intro. to CCSS, p. 7) At no time in any location in the published CCSS documents do the words, “answer the question correctly” appear. In fact, the CCSS direct us towards developing independence and the ability to respond effectively to a variety of conditions. It all sounds pretty “loosey-goosey” until comprehension and the value of evidence appear. These final elements anchor every legitimate answer in analysis, synthesis, and decision-making. To put it another way, comprehension and evidence requirements remove “The aliens did it” ‘ from the list of possible answers. Regardless of our chosen discipline, the CCSS work toward the same end.
Everyone from the Secretary of Education to the Superintendent, principal, Department Head and “helicopter parents” want students to succeed. Because we live in the technologically oriented, twenty-first century, success is measured in a series of tests that require students to demonstrate a mastery of the necessary skills. They succeed because we have led them through practice after practice allowing them the independence to demonstrate comprehension of a wide variety of materials through the application of evidence-based decision-making
Why not just give students the answer? Because when we do, we foster dependence rather than independence, reinforce incompetence rather than comprehension, and favor hearsay over disciplined confirmation. Why not just give them the answer? Because our purpose as teachers is to eradicate ignorance and inanity, not encourage them.