This free Information Age Education Newsletter is written by Dave
Moursund and Bob Sylwester, and produced by Ken Loge. The newsletter is
one component of the Information Age Education project. See http://iae-pedia.org/
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Common Core State Standards
Part 1: Human Scale, Curiosity, and Technological Extensions
Emeritus Professor of Education
University of Oregon
This is the first of a series of articles that will discuss (1) current
understandings of our body/brain and of the technologies that drive
educational policy and practice, (2) the curricular shift from product
to process and from a seemingly simple to a more complex educational
culture, (3) the nature of some aspects of the Common Core State
Standards that seek to improve K-12 students’ understanding of
themselves and the biological/technological world we humans inhabit,
(4) the general expectations of the Common Core State Standards, (5) an
example of how educational leaders have already begun to develop useful
programs that meet Common Core State Standards, and (6) the roles that
Information and Communication Technology should play in the emerging
The Mission Statement of the Common Core State Standards Initiative is:
The Common Core State
Standards provide a consistent, clear understanding of what
[precollege] students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents
know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to
be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and
skills that our young people need for success in college and careers.
With American students fully prepared for the future, our communities
will be best positioned to compete successfully in the global economy
Human scale is the level we humans function at unaided by tools. It
includes the cultural knowledge and understandings that get passed down
through generations via play, parenting, apprenticeship, and formal
education. Unaided by tools, our human capabilities are limited. For
example, at the human scale, we can only recognize up to four objects
at a glance, and our auditory range encompasses only about ten octaves.
Many other creatures are faster and stronger than we are.
Although our body/brain is innately limited, we have immense curiosity.
We’ve always been curious about what’s beyond our human ability range.
We observed birds flying and fish swimming. We wondered about the
immense sweep of the stars and the innards of insects. We continue to
live comfortably within our human scale, but we have developed physical
exercises, education, and technologies to push at our physical scale
edges. This series of articles will focus principally on what schools
should teach students who function at a human scale—but it also
considers the roles that advanced technological developments should
play in the education of 21st century students.
Children somehow sense their developmental limitations. Toddlers wish
they could run. Preschoolers must ask their parents to read to them.
Much childhood effort is focused on play that moves them towards
observed adult capability. Young children are initially content to
simply watch older siblings play video games, but soon they feel ready
to play and want/expect a regular turn. They’re similarly willing to
let their parents drive the car—until mid-adolescence.
Adults are fascinated by virtuosos who use dedicated effort to extend
the normal human scale. The recent Olympics gathered many different
virtuosos who entertained and astounded the observers. We cheered when
someone extended a human performance range even ever so slightly.
We financially support individuals and groups who can play games or
music at a virtuoso level, who can understand complex concepts, or who
think more profound thoughts than the rest of us. We do love going
beyond the edge, even vicariously.
Unfortunately, it would require greatly extended evolutionary time to
develop the much more capable body/brain we’d need to expand our normal
biological range enough to satisfy our insatiable curiosity about what
we can’t do. We have greater cognitive capabilities than all other
animals, and we’ve used them to develop technological enhancements for
both our brain and body.
Those who are quite comfortable with their current beliefs and a
simple world aren’t very curious about alternate scientific
explanations and new technological developments. Those who are
momentarily thrilled by a new scientific/technological development tend
to quickly shift their curiosity to what the next development might be.
Both groups send their children to schools that are still largely a
paper-and-pencil-driven institution in our increasingly electronic
At some ancient point humans developed the frontal lobe capability to
technologically off-load tasks that required them to go well beyond the
normal human scale. We contained fire to create energy, and cooked food
helped to provide nourishment needed by an enlarged brain. Wheels
eventually moved people, and wires moved thoughts. We developed
reading, writing, and silicon chips to help store and process
Our brain, formerly imprisoned within a limiting skull, has thus broken free and created a technological brain
outside our skull that takes us well beyond human scale. Our
curiosity-driven technology thus gives us an edge in natural selection
(and a polluted environment for good measure).
The recent technological explosion has allowed scientists to explore
natural phenomena far beyond human scale. Most folks whose textbooks
and teachers helped them learn about unseen atoms and molecules are now
mystified by the differences between charm and bottom quarks. Higgs
Boson discoveries seem wonderful, but are still incomprehensible to
most of us. We now receive regular reports of the discovery of planets
that circle suns located many light years from earth. We marvel over
quasars, black holes, and quantum computers.
Well over one billion people across the age range are on various social
networks today. More than two billion earthlings make use of the
Internet (Phys.org, 1/26/2011). Such people must be concerned about
viruses that cause human diseases and viruses that damage computer
systems. Computers are getting smarter. Many people ask questions about
how soon (if ever) robots will develop physical and mental capabilities
that exceed those of humans (Sylwester and Moursund, 2012).
We remain biologically imbedded in our human scale even as science and
technology sprint way beyond it. This causes cultural problems. Many
people are psychologically committed to various ancient religious and
philosophical explanations of natural phenomena that have been around
so long that they’ve become part of the moral/ethical fabric of our
cultures. In the competition for allegiance, the
more-difficult-to-understand and constantly emerging scientific
explanations and technologies are at a disadvantage, but a clear
understanding of their applications is essential to a sound educational
Schools are expected to teach students current cultural knowledge, but
educators now confront the problem of a rapidly widening gap between
human scale explanations and scientific and technological
developments—science driving technology and vice versa. Scientific and
technological advances formerly occurred at a relatively slower pace
that allowed us to comfortably assimilate them. Current advances occur
with a suddenness that can become culturally confusing.
School patrons who are fearful of a runaway science and technology tend
to become even more committed to their human scale beliefs—a
cultural-curricular disconnect. We’re experiencing this in the
Creationism controversy, sexuality education, global warming, and in
the fear of what might happen to children searching an untrammeled
Internet. Those on both ends of the continuum tend to be intolerant of
the beliefs of the others about an appropriate education, and those in
the center search for accommodation. Things won’t become easier to sort
out, since escalating genetic advances, cognitive neurosciences, and
computer technology will pose a bewildering series of moral, ethical,
legal, and cultural issues that students will have to be prepared to
confront. The CCSS Initiative must deal with such challenges.
This CCSS Series
Subsequent articles in this series will focus on the issues confronting
the task of identifying core K-12 instructional issues. What do we want
all students to learn during their formal K-12 education? What kinds of
learning do we want families, the extended family, neighborhood, and
community to informally foster? What roles should a student’s parents
and other caregivers play in deciding what a child is to learn through
the combination of informal and formal education? How should it be
taught and assessed? What roles should a school, school district, city,
state, and nation play in deciding what children should learn and how
they should learn it?
As technology increases our physical and mental capabilities, how do we
preserve and foster our human scale values and interpersonal knowledge
How have answers to these questions changed over time? Why do we need
or want nationwide or statewide answers to the questions? How has the
movement toward school district, state, and national standards helped
and/or hurt our educational systems over the past hundred years or so?
Still, with all the current technological glitz, human scale remains
important. Parents want their children to accurately spell and compute
without the electronic support they themselves use. We supplement
miraculous medical technology with bedside comfort. We flock to folk
festivals. We expect our cultural heroes and political leaders to be
ordinary as well as extraordinary. More than 2,400 years ago Protagoras
“Man is the measure of all things.” (Protagoras; pre-Greek philosopher; 490–420 BC.)
CCSS (n.d.). Common Core State Standards Initiative. Retrieved 10/25/2012 from http://www.corestandards.org/the-standards.
Phys.org (1/26/2011). Number of Internet Users Worldwide Reaches Two Billion. Retrieved 10/25/2012 from http://phys.org/news/2011-01-internet-users-
Sylwester, R., & Moursund, D. (2012). Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Free download available at http://i-a-e.org/downloads/doc_download/243-creating-an-appropriate-
Robert Sylwester is an Emeritus Professor of Education at the
University of Oregon, and a regular contributor to the IAE Newsletter.
His most recent books are Creating an Appropriate 21st Century Education
(2012, Information Age Education, with David Moursund), A Child’s Brain: The Need for Nurture
(2010, Corwin Press) and The Adolescent Brain: Reaching for Autonomy
(2007, Corwin Press). He wrote a monthly column for the Internet journal Brain Connection
during its entire 2000-2009 run. See Columnists. Robert Sylwester: http://brainconnection.positscience.com/library/?main=
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