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Common Core & Creativity

There was an article floating around Facebook this week about The Common Core Vs Books.  The article talks about authors, and others, whose love of books was fostered by a teacher and argues that the new common core inhibits a teacher’s ability to spend time fostering a love of reading.  With the focus on metrics, results, assessments and standard testing there is hardly time left to do anything else other than prepare for a test or take a test.

Sadly, I do believe that the author of the article is right.  I am afraid that teacher’s will no longer have the latitude in their instruction, or the time in their schedules, to pursue reading for pleasure.  Do not mistake this as a lack of desire or dedication on the part of our educators, they are being forced into a system and a curriculum that leaves them little time to actually practice their profession.  Instead their ability to prepare students for standardized testing is being used to measure their success as teachers.

As an example, my daughter’s 7th grade English class just finished reading A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park.  It’s the story of a Lost Boy of Sudan and while my daughter and I both enjoyed the book and were touched by the story, I find myself saddened that my daughter may never read Huck Finn, Romeo & Juliet, Of Mice & Men, and other great classics as part of her schooling.  If I want my daughter to be exposed to those works, I will have to expose her to them.  It is no longer the job of our school system to do so, or at least they don’t think it is.  It makes me sad…  It makes me sad because I love literature, because as I said last week, it brings me joy, and I can’t imagine my life without it.  I know it’s not the same for everyone, but if we don’t expose kids to the wonders that the written word can hold, how will they ever find them?

Now don’t get me wrong, I am not opposed to some of the premises of the common core – I think it’s great to set a common set of standards for what children across the country will learn at each grade level.  You want all 6th graders to learn state history and all 4th graders to learn long division?  I’ve got no problem with that.  Given the abject failure of our public school systems to adequately prepare our children for their futures (watch Waiting for Superman or read Whatever it Takes  – amazing works about our public school systems) I do believe that we need a way to measure student progress and teacher performance.  Is standardized testing the way?  I’m not sure that it is – at least not the way that it’s being done now…  I won’t pretend to have the answers, but I do believe that the common core doesn’t either.

But my fears of the common core are much more far-reaching than a simple lack of developing a love of reading in our children.  And yes, you read that right, I am actually AFRAID of the common core.  To be fair, maybe it is not a fear of the common core itself, but of the way that it’s being implemented.  Let me give you an example.  My daughter is in an advanced 7th grade math class and she came home crying because she got a 56 on a quiz.  Now she’s a straight A student so this was something new for her so I sat down to look it over with her to make sure she understood the concepts, make sure that she learned what she had done wrong so she would be ready for the next mathematical concepts which would inevitably build on this one.  Imagine my frustration when I realized that 95% of the problems on her quiz had mathematically correct answers!  Answers that had been derived using sound mathematical principles!  The problem?  They were not done the “right way”, the way that the common core, and the standardized testing, deems to be the “one right way”!  So… the lesson sweetie?  Just remember, you can’t divide by 8, you need to multiply by 1/8.  Why?  Because the common core says so…  Oh – and it’s just too bad if they taught you to divide by 8 when you were in 6th grade, 7th grade is the brave new world of the common core.

I see several problems with this method of education, in math or any other subject.  One – my daughter’s confidence, and the confidence of any student who is suddenly struggling with the “new right way”, is going to be shaken.  My straight-A student, who happens to have an excellent logical and mathematical mind, suddenly was coming home and telling me she was “too dumb” to be in the advanced math class.  Heartbreaking.  And untrue.  Confidence is a fragile thing for a twelve year old girl, and anything that unnecessarily undermines it is potentially dangerous and needs to be addressed.  We’ve had a long struggle this year building back up something that had been destroyed within two weeks of the common core.  And what about the kids who don’t have parents who will sit up every night trying to understand the “new right way” and then help their child understand it compared to the “wrong way”?  What will they do?  Fail in spite of their intelligence?  Decide that they are “too stupid” to continue challenging themselves academically?

And my other big fear – we all learn and understand differently.  Our brains are not all wired the same way, and that’s OK, that’s what makes us unique and what leads to wonderful discourse and disagreement and discovery.  Nothing wonderful – whether it be mathematical, scientific, technological, or artistic was ever created because someone passed a standardized test.  These things were discovered and created because of passion and creativity, because of a love of learning and understanding and a desire for expression.  Because individuals knew how to think, how to innovate, how to solve old problems in new and exciting ways.  Standardized learning and testing will not create the next DaVinci or Einstein or Edison or Franklin or Ford or Mozart or even the next Steve Jobs.  It will not increase our innovation or global competitiveness.  It may create a set of drones that know how to multiply by 1/8, but is that what our country, our world, our future needs?

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3 thoughts on “Common Core & Creativity

  1. I’m only speaking for California, but I have to disagree to some extent. I’m a secondary English teacher (and I used to teach elementary) on the committee to write the Common Core Curriculum for our district. At the high school level fiction text is still 50:50 with nonfiction text- we’re integrating at least 5 texts into our yearly curriculum, which is actually more than most teachers do right now. Right now students are being taught to take straightforward multiple choice tests- A, B, C or D? The Common Core test will have students do more than just multiple choice, but synthesize content across subject matters in a variety of ways.

    Also, common core is not dictating that teachers give up things like personal reading; classroom infrastructure should not be dictated, and routines such as outside reading, silent reading, book talks, etc… are not being outlawed. Of course this depends on how the specific district wants to implement CC, but there is nothing in the framework that says this is prohibited.

    And, honestly, I think at least half of the “love for reading” comes from the home environment- parents who have fostered a love of books since their children were tiny. Sure, some teachers and classrooms take this to a whole new level and manage to convert some kiddos, but a great deal of that is home-based.

    I had some serious issues before I spent hours upon hours in professional development and trainings the past few years. There are definitely flaws, and it’s probably going to take four or five years to see benefits, as is always the case with reform. I think thought, eventually, our students are going to be much more prepared to thrive in the real world.

    That was really long. Don’t be afraid!

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  2. Unfortunately, it’s not being implemented the same way in New York state, and certainly not in our school district. The state is providing detailed lesson plans which have to be followed and the 7th grade English class is not reading anything which I would truly consider fiction. A Long Walk to Water is technically fiction, but is based on a true story. The rest of what they are reading is non-fiction and they are so burdened by the day-to-day state requirements for the common core, they have no time for silent reading or reading for enjoyment or activities outside of the prescribed lesson plans. It’s unfortunate and has many educators frustrated since they are being told exactly what and how to teach. You are fortunate that California is choosing to use the common core as a framework and not as a recipe.

    And while a love for reading can, and certainly should be, fostered at home, that is often not the case. As the director of a public library I see all kinds of families come through our doors, the ones that are developing a love of reading in their kids and in their homes. But I am always a little saddened when the first grade class comes to visit the library and get their library cards. There are always a number of kids that are soooo excited to be there, telling me that their parents think books are “stupid” and that they don’t have any books at home and that they’ve never been to the library before. Inevitably, those are the library books that get checked out but never returned, but I’m really OK with that! The kids whose parents foster a love of reading are also the ones that will help them as they struggle with the transition to the common core. But what about all of the kids who don’t have that at home? And there are sadly a lot of kids like that…

    Creativity, passion, innovation, and curiosity are more important to future success than is the ability to perform well on standardized testing. Particularly when the teaching and testing methods allow for no originality, no differences in thought processes or methods or understanding. If we are not careful, we could lose what is unique in our kids, what makes them truly bright and interesting. If we lost that, we could lose them. And once they are lost, it is very very difficult to get them back…

    Good luck on the west coast! I hope it goes well and that we begin to look at our methods of implementation here in the east!

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