Sunday afternoon I sat around a large table with five adults while our high school seniors snapped photos while waiting for the super bus that would whisk them off to senior prom. The six of us began getting acquainted while we enjoyed an expansive view of the Pacific Ocean from the patio at Trump National in Southern California. We spoke about our kids, travels, and eventually our work.
Seems there are few places I socialize lately that I’m not asked my thoughts on the Common Core standards. (I know, great conversation topic, right?) I often wind up feeling like I’m defending the standards. I don’t understand why people think the standards are a bad thing. I actually think they’re well thought out, convey high expectations of teaching and learning, and have a coherent flow from kindergarten through high school. But, everyone is different. Change is hard.
I definitely understand the concern parents feel as they send their children off to school. I know the difficulty of placing our child, the most precious part of our lives, into a system we worry isn’t good enough. As I talk with people, it seems there is a lot of misinformation.
Upon learning I, too, am an educator, one of the men at the table, a middle school science teacher, said he is frustrated over Common Core. He said he has been teaching for twenty-plus years, and that his teaching is good. He expressed frustration at being asked to change up his lessons and approach. “Why?” he asked, “should I have to do all of this work to change everything when what I am doing is working?”
Another of the fathers, a marine biology professor expressed his frustration. “It’s reached all the way up to the college level,” he reported. “They’re asking us to do all kinds of things. Now I’m having to write learning objectives and rewrite all my course description.” Clearly both men felt undervalued, put out by unrealistic, unimportant requests of their administrators and coaches who are charged with “implementing the Common Core”. Having recently been one of those coaches, and currently a sitting administrator, all eyes were on me.
I asked a simple question.
“How do you think the world has changed in the last twenty years?”
“I mean, think about technology. We didn’t even own personal computers, or cell phones twenty years ago.” I asserted.
A conversation ensued around the table about the changes across our now high school seniors’ lives.
So many changes.
After some back and forth, some discussion of the many changes we have seen as we’ve watched our children grow up, I asked if they’d seen any of the Did You Know videos. If you haven’t seen them, I encourage you to watch one now. Here’s one from 2014. Its music is kind of disturbing, but its messages are even more so. Here’s another, updated for 2015 with a slightly different slant.
Go ahead, watch. They’re not too long. This will still be here when you’re done.
I didn’t have the option of showing the videos then and there, and none of the parents at the table had seen them. I tried to tell them about some of the many advances. And some of the men were science educators so of course they were aware of much of the advances in genetics, and other areas of the sciences. I mentioned population growth, changes in the way we work, and the one fact that always sticks out to me in those videos.
This is the crux of the matter. This is they WHY of Common Core. If information is growing, and what we know to be true is developing exponentially, how can we possibly teach the way we have for the past twenty years? How will that help our kids be ready for productive lives in the world they will inhabit? Can we do better?
The parents and I talked about these issues and soon our kids’ bus arrived and we left our afternoon visiting to see them off. These kids are at the end of their compulsory schooling. And soon they’ll be leaving for college. We still want what every parent wants – for our children to be educated in relevant ways that will prepare them for rich, full lives. As educators I believe we have the responsibility to learn everything we can about how to teach in ways that lift our students to whatever their next steps are and to do so in ways that fully support rich learning for each student in our care. Is that what Common Core sets out for our schools? What do you think?