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Common Core

Am just too dumb to get it?
Or is my outdated education to blame?

Every evening it is the same: confusion, tears and eventually anarchy erupt in our household. What causes such unrest in my otherwise peaceful home? Two words: Common Core. Specifically, I am speaking of Michigan’s 2010 adoption of and our district’s now full implementation of the Common Core State Standards; standards meant to elevate our children’s math and English language art skills, to prepare them for higher education and eventually translate those valuable skills into better careers. An overhaul was needed because America’s kids weren’t competitive on the world stage, because other nations were laughing at us, because our lack of a national curriculum meant that the education of America’s children was too varied and incongruent, too inequitable and ineffective. When these new standards began showing up in the form of my children’s homework, when we found said homework undecipherable and untranslatable, when we could find no way to bridge the gap between school and home, I started to wonder. Is the Common Core going to advance my kids? Or, are we going to die trying? Okay, melodramatic perhaps, but I dare you, stop by for a visit and witness the homework spectacle for yourself. It is disturbing.

These daily meltdowns are not going away anytime soon. One overarching theme of the new standards is the application of rigor, not to be confused with severity (well this stuff is pretty darn sober, see example below) and inflexibility (kids must show work even if the work can be computed in the head—seems pretty rigid to me). In this case, rigorousness is an education distilled down to its absolute applicability in the real world and fluff has no place in instruction. Math concepts will weave their way into reading, as will science. It means our children will learn the language of algorithms instead of the language of great romantic poets or classic literature. It means informational texts containing real world facts and content will largely if not entirely replace literary texts. It means the business of teaching our children is all business and from what I have observed, it isn’t the least bit inspiring.

Not only is the new content uninspiring, it is oftentimes baffling. Case in point, these are the instructions on my son’s first grade math worksheet:

“Represent put together situations with number bonds. Count on from one embedded number or part to totals of 8 and 9 and generate all addition expressions for each total.”

I ask you, can you suck any more joy out of math? If we are attempting to inspire generations of future engineers, I fear they may fall off that career track somewhere around fourth grade, perhaps before. Speaking of engineers, they are strong proponents of the Common Core standards. They assert that the new standards are crucial for preparing future engineers who require complex math skills, skills that far too few graduates seem to possess these days. Rigorousness also requires that the development of these complex skills has to start much earlier. Kindergartners now do the work that second graders used to do. This is curriculum compression. This means my seven year old, who acts like a five-year-old, is now doing the work of a nine-year-old. No wonder our evenings are fraught with contempt and discord.

One could contend that I am not qualified to dispute the virtues or faults of the Common Core because I do not possess a PhD in education and because I clearly do not understand it (obviously). But others are qualified to object, like Dr. Terrence Moore who argues that “The traditional aims of education– to pursue truth, to find true happiness, to be good, to love the beautiful, to know the great stories of our American tradition– are not the designs of the Common Core. The Common Core is a program that kills stories in order to direct people to be preoccupied with only the functional aspects of human existence and to have almost no interest in the higher aims of life.”

I appreciate our need to produce people who can think on a higher level. I understand a great deal of responsibility for raising my kids to be deeper thinkers rests with me and their father. Yet, we relinquish control over the bulk of their education to our public school who has, along with the rest of the state and most of the country, adopted a way of thinking that bears little resemblance to the old way of thinking. While I am deeply off put by the standards, I am attempting to reconcile my ignorance by digging deeper. We fear those things we do not understand, and right now the Common Core terrifies me. Plus, it is disrupting my household.

In the meanwhile, I put my faith in our teachers and beg this:

Teachers, I know there are many things that hinder you, like the Common Core, and underfunding, and overcrowding, and insufficient support for your efforts, but the future of humanity asks you to be heroic. Educators please understand you do not have a “job”. Your cause is noble, to advance civilization by teaching the next generation to do better, to be smarter, to evolve. We need a complex tapestry of contributions from all of humanity. You are the weavers. Please, create something beautiful, and be not preoccupied solely with its utility.