The Un-Common Core – What educators are forgetting and our kids aren’t getting

The public school system in America is undergoing an overhaul. That overhaul is called Common Core — the new curriculum structure based on “consistent academic guidelines created to help all students succeed.” Those words aren’t mine; they greet you when you go to the Common Core official website.

On the surface, it sounds reasonable to standardize, right? Consistent metrics for all. Level playing field. Better outcomes for our children, our communities and our nation.

But, I am concerned that Common Core will turn kids into robo-students, whose only aim is to meet imposed measures. Lost in the academic shuffle will be the opportunity to tap into that special ‘genius’ that resides within all individuals — and which cannot be discerned or measured through any set of standards.

Human beings — that includes kids — aren’t all the same. They aren’t “common.” They are unique beings with distinctive characteristics that define who they are and what their potential is. Children have identities, which need to be cultivated just like their ability to solve trigonometry problems, interpret literature and conduct successful science experiments.

At the center of every child is an uncommon core. If educators would ever wake up to this fact and offer personal discovery experiences, as well as academics — experiences that fostered self-awareness and, in turn, smarter decision-making — we’d be able to “measure” outcomes in terms of healthier, more well-adjusted adults, not just better test scores.

10 Comments
  • Kenneth Cooke
    Reply

    Currently, curriculums vary from state to state, even within states, punishing some while rewarding others simply because of where they live. Some children/adults explore evolution while others creationism. While quaint, this crap shoot of “what I need to know in this world” is hardly fair. Yes, without a doubt, the standardized approach of Common Core overlooks many issues like: individualism, creativity, learning speed, etc., but so does a non-common core. Imagine if every state had a different criteria for what constitutes a medical degree—doctors would not be able to practice outside of their state and, once again, patients would be punished for where they live with some getting state-of-the art healthcare and some not (sort of the way it is now).

    So, while far from ideal, Common Core does (or should) provide a shared understanding of what every child/young adult should know relative to others of their age and peer group. We all know this is NOT the current situation and may never be. But it’s a start. The bottom line is you should not be punished or rewarded simply because of where you live.

    March 25, 2014 at 7:36 pm
    • Kenneth,Thanks for weighing in here. Yes, the idea of different standards for different kids makes no sense, especially when those standards are arbitrarily based on geography.

      Separately, why not also introduce identity discovery and development standards along side of academic standards? And then, why not get the guidance counselors to use those outcomes when helping their charges pick colleges and majors, or even non-college vocations? In short, tap into kids’ inner world as well as the outer world they will all have to navigate. Larry

      March 26, 2014 at 7:51 pm
  • Jeannie Coyle
    Reply

    “Larry, Thanks for this insightful and critical plea to make room for the uncommon core. Kids need to find their identity without being too narrowly hemmed. Your thinking meshes beautifully with Sir Ken Robinson who shares great stories about people like Paul McCartney who blossomed outside the confines of traditional and common curriculum. Educators, please take note.”

    March 25, 2014 at 7:37 pm
    • Jeannie, I hear you…but most educators don’t. In my experience, the education system in the US runs on a Fortress Mentality; once you’re on the inside nothing on the outside counts. I’ve tried in vain to talk informally with guidance counselors about the value of identity discovery and development as part of the guidance process – but to no avail. They just don’t want to hear it. In short, they really don’t seem to care. Common Core or otherwise, our school systems are matched only by the Federal Government in the level of bureaucracy that fuels those systems.

      March 26, 2014 at 7:57 pm
  • Stephen Newman
    Reply

    I have been thinking about the uncommon core and quite a bit about the Common Core. The Common Core has got to go. It was adapted by the states after they were bribed by Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top to take it on and it doesn’t work. Put together by a secret team of people, paid for by Bill Gates with practically no educators present, it was concluded in record time under zero transparency with no process for refinement. The tests, the computers, software, etc., that are needed are expensive for schools to purchase and often means firing teachers of the arts, or physical education, or librarians. Also, the majority of kids fail these tests. They get sick when they take them and Third Graders have to spend three long days to get through them. Kids who used to love math now hate it. It is promoting a robotic approach to education and even the destruction of public schools as we know them. Most horribly, the results of the Common Core become of the junk science that is behind VAM, or Value Added Measurement of teachers, allowing them to be unceremoniously canned if their students show no improvement.

    I am for the Uncommon Core, a school system that is devoted to nurturing and affirming the uncommon core of each individual. We are not machines. We are humans with great diversity and it is in the greatness of this diversity where the solution to all our challenges can be found. Standards yes, common core no.

    May 4, 2014 at 7:11 pm
  • Steve Newman
    Reply

    I have been thinking about the uncommon core and quite a bit about the Common Core. The Common Core has got to go. It was adapted by the states after they were bribed by Arne Duncan’s Race to the Top to take it on and it doesn’t work. Put together by a secret team of people, paid for by Bill Gates with practically no educators present, it was concluded in record time under zero transparency with no process for refinement. The tests, the computers, software, etc., that are needed are expensive for schools to purchase and often means firing teachers of the arts, or physical education, or librarians. Also, the majority of kids fail these tests. They get sick when they take them and Third Graders have to spend three long days to get through them. Kids who used to love math now hate it. It is promoting a robotic approach to education and even the destruction of public schools as we know them. Most horribly, the results of the Common Core become of the junk science that is behind VAM, or Value Added Measurement of teachers, allowing them to be unceremoniously canned if their students show no ‘improvement’.

    I am for the Uncommon Core, a school system that is devoted to nurturing and affirming the uncommon core of each individual. We are not machines. We are humans with great diversity and it is in the greatness of this diversity where the solution to all our challenges can be found. Standards, sure, common core no.

    May 4, 2014 at 7:25 pm
  • Joanna Tobin
    Reply

    Larry thank you so much for sharing your piece with me — I will likely be passing it on to others! You are so right. Have you seen the film “Race to Nowhere”? It touches on some of the more general problems with the stresses that children are under. Add to that the craziness of the Common Core and you have a recipe for losing the possibility of students who find their passions, enjoy learning, and feel that their learning is connected to who they are as human beings and a part of their larger society. But as with so many things, this problem, and its solutions, extend beyond the discrete area of education and child development. Until parents and the society at large understand that education is about cultivating a whole human being, and success is about more than test numbers, where you get into college, and the type of job you can get, not much is likely to change, in my view. Even more to the point, so long as parents themselves are so fearful and tightly wound about whether their children can get an “edge” it is hard to see how children are going to avoid these stresses

    May 4, 2014 at 11:25 pm
  • Steve Newman
    Reply

    Larry, Joanna, everybody, thanks for this vigorous conversation. Each post and comment begets the next one wo here I am again with my thoughts of the day.

    For the child, I agree with wholeheartedly with Joanna.. For the society, we can add that education, public education especially, exists to produce good citizens; people who take part in society in a responsible way, are well informed, competent in scientific methods, committed to the values of the republic, skeptical, and literate.

    Somewhere along the way, we got the idea that the purpose education was college readiness, or international competitiveness, or ensuring employable resources. From there we go to the new drudgery of learning standardized modules from which data can be gathered to fill the giant data base in the sky (and from which we can never untether ourselves). I have a friend at Google. She tells me of the excitement that technology can bring so we can notice if people are paying attention or not, if their brains light up, if we learn this away or that way and how the delivery of ‘content’ can be adapted, accordingly.

    I wonder when we lost faith in what was the genius of American education, that it was child-centered, based on exploration, interest, freedom and creativity. When I traveled to China, Singapore, Japan and Korea ten years ago, they all wanted to be like us: children charting their own paths, innovative and uncommon. Now we want to do it their way: in fear, stressfully, in lockstep, so we can succeed in the achievement society that is making people more miserable everyday. I am so outdated that it is not funny, but my teachers in public school were just like your Montessori teachers, Joanna, and all they did was encourage each of us to be ourselves and make the most of that and to enjoy everything that life had to offer. With such an education, you may not get rich, but you would never accept a job at WalMart, either.

    May 5, 2014 at 6:06 pm

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