Common Core shines light on Santa

 The Common Core should be treated by school districts as the draft of a guide for curriculum development rather than as a blueprint. During the next few years, as we try and implement the standards outlined in the draft, the need for revisions will become clear.

Common Core standards for the early years of schooling, for example, reflect a misunderstanding of the developmental level of five, six, and seven year olds. Young children live in a rich world where fantasy and reality coexist. This is why our cultural mythology rightly includes Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, and the Easter Bunny.

Yet the Common Core considers it important that first graders distinguish a work of fiction from a work of non-fiction. Why promote Santa Claus and at the same time insist that young children recognize the impossibility of magical pebbles and talking animals? Children develop in stages, and it is a waste of time to work against the natural developmental grain. Curriculum should hug a child’s developmental stage rather than act like a bulldozer, trying to rush maturity. Like elephants, humans were formed to mature slowly. The Common Core rushes early childhood.

On the other hand, the insistence of the framers of the Common Core on teaching older students to back up their conclusions with evidence is laudatory and potentially very helpful to bolstering our democracy. Adults trained to question what corporate leaders, politicians, and advertisers say could only strengthen reason-based decision-making at the polls. The Common Core reminds us that a key purpose of education is to teach students how to tackle important issues, develop informed beliefs, dream up solutions to problems, and provide hard evidence for those beliefs and inventions.

School districts should look to the Common Core for guidance but should not adopt its standards hook, line, and sinker. In fact, school systems should be wary of adopting any one system, or set of ideas, however well intentioned, without selective, critically-based custom tailoring – be it Common Core, or the currently popular works of Marzano. Wholesale, unquestioning adoption of the latest new idea leads to the ridiculous merry go round of educational style in this country that prevents deliberate, revolutionary change from ever taking place in our schools.

With age and use the Common Core will probably improve and could well prove very valuable to creating better schools. At present, however, it should be treated as a draft guide awaiting revision after extensive testing in the field. Rule-bound districts that treat it as gospel will inevitably lose the educational race, while other more sophisticated districts continue to function as they always have, relying on the wisdom of talented, experienced educators, and using new, promising programs as handy tools to be tested cautiously until they prove tried and true.

Kathreen Harrison

About Kathreen Harrison

Kathreen Harrison is a public school teacher in Maine. She has a master’s degree from Bank Street College of Education and a bachelor’s degree from Harvard College. She has worked in a variety of schools in New York and Maine in a number of capacities – French teacher, gifted and talented teacher, elementary school teacher, and curriculum coordinator for island schools. She has lived in Maine for 20 years and has a particular interest in school reform.