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?