Friendly gesture lost on critics of academic standards

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David Polashek, Special to the Times Herald

Monday morning’s commute to work along the path around the Falls wasn’t quite like getting hit with a ton of bricks but it did confirm that things are changing. Commuting to work is a part of life for just about every worker, except for people living and working only on the family farm, and those people are just about as rare as albino whitetail deer.

Commuters who work the same schedules will notice traffic patterns. Certain times of the trip may involve seeing a vehicle day after day at almost the same spot on the daily commute. Of course this is a lot easier if the commute is along two-lane blacktop rather than on the four-lane, divided highway.

This observer has no four-lane, divided highways on the 13-mile commute to the office and while not quite like clockwork, there is a fairly consistent pattern to the timing of the morning trip. More often than not we cross paths or actually meet a few easily recognizable, distinctive vehicles going in opposite direction: buses from the Oconto Falls fleet. Those chance meetings can include three heading north on County Road B and one northbound on Fireside Road. If the run to work is a little later than usual, there is a chance that a northbound Lena bus will be met on Fireside Road.

Perhaps it is an automatic reflex, but whenever we meet one of those Oconto Falls buses, one hand goes off the steering wheel to offer a friendly wave. A similar gesture can usually be seen from behind the big, flat windshield of the bus. We are not sure if the Oconto Falls bus drivers are friendlier than most or they recognize one of my vehicles and want to make that connection. Either way, it is a nice exchange of nonverbal messages.

Getting back to Monday morning, the drive was no earlier than usual, but something was different about that exchange of waves. Even before getting to Spruce, two buses were met, and a wave was offered. Unfortunately, there was a slight feeling of emptiness. It could not be confirmed that either driver returned the wave because it was too dark to see inside the bus. Close to the intersection of Fireside Road and state Highway 22, we met a third bus. It was light enough at that spot to see a returned wave from the driver. The feeling of emptiness evaporated.

The moral of the story is that it is getting later in the year, and darkness will be the rule for much of those early commutes to work, at least until the return to standard time, and that will be only a brief return to more light on the morning commute.

Speaking of getting later in the year, the pumpkin season is getting into full swing. Based on the number of roadside stands and other indicators, it looks like a great crop. Seasonal decorating seems to be more popular in recent years, and fall decorations almost always include those yellow beauties. The process of turning a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern can be a great part of the fall routine for some families, and even some classrooms. Some people are tactile learners, that is, they learn by the sense of touch. Anyone who has taken the core out of a pumpkin knows there are few experiences that equal that sensation.

Speaking of core learning, the concept of Common Core State Standards has been in the spotlight recently. In some respects, the discussion about the Common Core is a lot like the stuff inside one of those pumpkins.

There seems to be a widespread movement nationally to push back on the standards that have driven much of the curriculum work in our district and other Wisconsin schools over the past three years.

From our perspective, the adoption of the standards has been positive. Teachers speak a common language about what is expected in student learning. Teachers collaborate on lesson planning, assessment and strategies for teaching. Expectations for student performance have ramped up. Teaching of math and literacy is part of other content areas.

Opponents suggest the Common Core is a conspiracy to push a national curriculum. They fear collection and decimation of student personal data and have a number of other issues. They argue that the standards were not put out for public comment and review before being adopted.

There are no friendly waves from the critics of the Common Core Standards. It may have something to do with the season.

David Polashek is superintendent of the Oconto Falls School District.