Re: The Common Core
by Jim Palombo
I just recently made a drive from central Mexico to upstate New York – most likely the last time a trip of this nature will happen for me. In any event, there were plenty of stops and starts along the way and certainly no shortage of thoughts that occurred as the miles passed. In short, one can’t help but fall into a reflective state as places and faces go by.
The day following my arrival in New York, I was reading the Sunday New York Times and was struck by a piece titled, “Common Core, Through the Eyes of a 9 Year Old,” by Javier Hernandez. It was an excellent review of the new curriculum effort for secondary students, one primarily aimed at increasing their critical thinking skills through a modified series of math, English and social studies courses. As an educator myself, I could readily attest to the need for such an effort. Unfortunately, what seemed to be happening more than anything else was a significant amount of frustration and anxiety among the students, teachers and parents involved, particularly in regards to the amount of testing occurring that was meant to measure both the students’ progress and the Core design itself. In brief, and despite the fact that the problem of improving our future citizens’ thinking skills demands a great deal of “work in progress” patience, it seems the initiative is already receiving a failing grade.
Now you might be wondering what my cross-countries’ drive has to do with the reading of this article? Well, the connection is that in reading the article, and still in somewhat of a haze from my mini-odyssey, I started to visualize the Common Core effort in terms of a vehicle, one being driven by “thinking tools” through the chaotic countryside that is American education. Of course along the way, and much like my trip, there would be a myriad of experiences in the offing. In this instance, one would encounter teachers and administrators at both secondary and post-secondary levels, some of whom are well-versed in critical thinking but many who are not. And there would also be the parents, some who are well-versed in critical thinking, but many who are not. And then there would be the overall “general public,” who show no hesitancy in offering opinions at a moment’s notice, yet who also fall into the same “many who are not” category in terms of critical thinking. And finally, there would be the numerous educational and governmental agencies, most of which seem to be suffering from their own gap in clear thinking while continually trying to justify the significance of their existence. In essence, then, this imaginary trip by the Common Core vehicle would be uncovering a slew of “thinking related” shortcomings that reached well beyond the substance of what was actually at focus – shortcomings that coincidentally could well be tied to the frustration, anxiety and impatience being exhibited.
With this image in mind, I began to consider other like journeys, i.e., if similar “vehicles of thought” were driven along other institutional highways, like down the roads of our justice system, or social service processes, or the government, or the military, or the media. They would surely encounter much the same result: people/agencies being upset based on their own shortcomings; people/agencies feeling attacked by something new they really aren’t sure about/comfortable with – in essence people/agencies struggling with doing something (or not doing it) that would make them “think.” In other words, and as the Common Core initiative is doing with the educational process, the systems would be being exposed in more ways than anticipated.
Although I found these parallel thoughts intriguing, I may not have chosen to write about them in an article. However, the next day there happened to be a related piece in the Albany Times-Union, titled “Returning to the beginning for Common Core” by Fred Lebrun. Mr. Lebrun’s focus was on re-examining the pitfalls of the Core effort, especially the rush to put the program into effect in New York. It seemed, especially for the public, that what was occurring in the State provided validation for the assumption that the entire initiative was ill-fated and poorly planned.
The article was well written but, a bit like the New York Times’ piece, it didn’t seem to go far enough in terms of referencing how deep the problems at hand might run, or that a particular “work in progress” patience would be required, or as important, how we might have gotten into the situation in the first place, i.e., what were the motivating factors that fueled our distraction from things like critical thinking and reinforcing our citizenship skills? And this brought me back to again considering not only the Common Core “drive” but also the essence of what the other “vehicles of thinking” trips might uncover.
So the two articles gave rise to this article whose point is that in considering the Common Core initiative, one must be aware that there is simply more to consider. In this light the Common Core experience can be seen as bringing to the surface how change, particularly when addressing deep-rooted issues, should always be considered a long term effort, one that will be riddled with hurdles and one that will be painstakingly intensive and time-consuming. After all, it took us a long time to get where we are today.
And we must keep in mind that the educational arena is not our only area of concern. Despite many well-intentioned efforts most of our social infrastructure (including the public, non-profit and private sectors) is decaying, sagging under the weight of bloated bureaucracies, bloated egos and bloated paychecks, the inconsistencies of policies and procedures, the effects of under or misdirected worker education, and under served clients. And, as with Common Core, we must be willing to absorb the re-tooling tasks, taking special care in not throwing out the baby with the bathwater, especially as it may not be clear as to the substance of either.
As a “last but not least” thought, there remains another important consideration. It appears that with all the problems on our collective table, problems that most of us elders have been part of creating (and continue to perpetuate) we tend at many turns to try to hold the least responsible party responsible for the difficulties we are now facing – the children. In other words it appears that we like to point to them while saying that it’s their turn to take on the concerns of the world. And this is usually done without the requisite acknowledgement of the mess that we have put them in. This of course makes little sense to them, and it also opens the door for them to ask us directly, if by nothing more than intuition, what exactly we have been doing in terms of addressing our own lack of critical thinking skills – the lack of which is much more a part of what’s on our country’s problem-table than are the tests now sitting in front of them.
**The article following Mr. Hernandez’s piece in the New York Times deserves attention. It is titled “Graduates Cautioned: Don’t Shut Out Opposing Views” by Richard Perez-Pena and it highlights several commencement speeches made at the graduations from several of our country’s post-secondary institutions. In short, the speeches all seem to underscore the notion that “thinking,” both on emotional and intelligence levels, is a point of particular importance, something that seems to have gotten lost along our collective way. Comments suggest the need for tolerance of ideas, openness, not being afraid to fail in thinking or in action, in taking a stand and even getting in trouble – all within the context of reaching toward purposes larger than individual gain. So, as with the Common Core initiative, and consistent with what the young college graduates are now facing, the suggestion seems to be that “more” will be required to contend, given what the world has now become. And, hopefully for the better, and hopefully with our legitimate help, they will be up to the task of thinking through what this “more” will actually be. And this certainly spells a special kind of fuel for the “vehicles of thinking” that will need to hit the road on the daunting effort’s behalf.
About the author:
Jim Palombo is politics editor of Ragazine.CC. You can read more about him in About Us.
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