Not long ago I had a conversation with one of my fellow grad students (who just happened to be young enough to be my grandchild) about my dislike for Common Core. He made the observation that resistance to the CCSS was mostly an age thing. In his eyes if you were a more experienced teacher (read: old) you were against the standards and if you were a bright, young little to no experience teacher you absolutely loved them. This guy could not understand how I could be so stupid, stubborn, and pig-headed (his exact words) as to not see how these standards were going to change teaching, education and probably the entire world!
Fortunately, we had a very wise and experienced professor leading the class discussion and she challenged my colleague to explain why the Common Core standards were so great. We all listened politely to a long explanation and defense that included all of the best of the education-speak of the day; rigor, critical thinking, scope and sequence, and no more status quo! It occurred to me at the end of his speech that he had not taught in a classroom yet so I am not sure he really knew what the “status quo” was, but he was surely against it.
Next came my turn to defend my views. I explained that I didn’t object to the Common Core standards, and in fact the standards really did not affect my classroom because I teach Art and there have been wonderful state and national standards around since the late 80s. I really could not defend my dislike for any particular standard or even the whole group. But what I truly dislike, no I would say hate, is the way the Common Core standards are used. To make my point I had to discuss a little bit of my experience with teaching in Indiana off and on over the past 30 years. As an Art teacher I have been riffed often. I teach an unnecessary subject in the eyes of an administrator that has to make budget cuts, so I can say that I have taught in five different school systems in my 25+ years of teaching. The first time I was riffed in the late 70s everything was all about the “Back to Basics” movement. We could only spend time on Math and Language Arts, everything else was unnecessary. In the early 80s there was the push for vocational programs. If you could not prove that your subject would result in your students walking out the door of the school and immediately landing a job then your subject was unnecessary. The next thing was any subject that wasn’t going to be a part of the high-stakes graduation exit exam was a complete waste of time and of course unnecessary. It has always been the same thing; Math, Language Arts anything else is not needed. Forget about educating the whole child, we had to get back to basics; there were skills to learn and tests to take. No time for those unnecessary subjects.
Now here we are again with another assault on the curriculum. Narrowing it down to only the most noble of subjects and ridding ourselves of the waste, the unnecessary subjects like science, art, music. I continued the defense of my position on Common Core by explaining that it may be OK to think the standards are fine, great, useable, and the best thing ever created. I am sure that there are young or inexperienced teachers that find them great, but I don’t think those young and inexperienced teachers have had the opportunity to see how these standards will be used as a weapon against public education. Just like the “Back to Basics” or vocational movements of earlier years, the Common Core is a tool make public education so awful with high-stakes testing that the public will scream for the privatizers to rescue their children from grips of educational hell. Standards are not going to save or destroy education, but the way they are used will surely put an end to our cherished public school system.
Teachers, the unions, and even administrators have fought back against the forces that have constantly tried to narrow the curriculum and dismantle our public education system, but this one seems to be a little fiercer. There is big money behind this movement and their weapon of choice this time is the Common Core standards. So to the defenders of CCSS I can understand if you like them, but please look at why many of us don’t like how they are used against teachers and students.