We need a K-12 education system that teaches children how to understand and, later, to critically analyze what they read, how to present their own ideas and back them up, how to set up basic math problems and understand why they work.
Recognizing that different geographic areas and different student populations require different approaches, how to achieve these goals is best left to educators at the local level. But surely no one could disagree with the overall concept.
Oh wait. They could if it meant actually agreeing with something coming from the Obama administration. Except in this case, it didn’t, although some conservatives would have you believe otherwise.
Some elements of this “subversive” Common Core plan came from George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program, but it was largely the result of efforts by former Arizona governor and then chair of the National Governors Association Janet Napolitano in 2008.
The original task force consisted of state government officials, educators, education experts and corporate leaders. They devised a set of English language arts and mathematical standards under which children would be taught not only to read but to critically evaluate content, to understand the writers’ intent, to question, to present their own ideas orally and in writing, to relate to numbers in logical ways and work through the hows and whys of a problem rather than just memorizing steps toward the solution (http://www.corestandards.org/).
However, after initial widespread approval, support has eroded. There are legitimate concerns, including lack of smaller-scale field testing and possible adverse effects on impoverished school districts. Some academics fear a loss of emphasis on quality works of fiction and poetry, history and science curricula, and the fine arts, although I’ve see nothing in the standards to justify that. Some educators have other deep concerns. All are worth discussing.
Of less value are irrational arguments from uninformed opponents who see the standards as a states’ rights violation, intrusion by the government into our education systems or even an attempt to “brainwash” our children and instill “liberal” ideologies. These fears have been widely exploited by conservatives for their own political gains. But beyond that, the politicians never tell us precisely what aspects of the Common Core they find suspect and why, and they conveniently ignore the fact that the feds had little or nothing to do with it beyond endorsing it.
These arguments have no place in a rational debate. Instead, let’s try to understand the importance of critical thinking and problem solving in K-12 education and debate whether Common Core standards can succeed in teaching these skills.
Finally, before rushing to your computers to trash the Common Core and this column, please at least read the standards and decide for yourselves whether they make sense. Don’t take some pundit’s or politician’s word for it. Ironically, that’s the sort of critical thinking the standards are designed to teach.
Leigh Washburn is chairwoman of the Iron County Democratic Party.