Well, needless to say, things did not go exactly as I had envisioned. The first sign was the presence of the leader of the state Anti-Common Core movement. This person took over the presentation almost immediately and then my problems began. The presentation was a well organized, well constructed, and well delivered. Unfortunately, it was also a completely unfounded and patently untrue critique of the Common Core State Standards. By the end of the presentation I was extremely upset and agitated, which is unusual for me. My objection rose not from the fact of their opposition to the standards, but rather from the polished, assured delivery of complete untruths. Now, I am not accusing anyone of lying. The presenter and candidate might even believe what was said, but the fact of the matter is that nearly all of the information given was incorrect, misinterpreted, or untrue. I left the meeting very disturbed by the thought that this information is being given to many people in my state and that (even presuming positive intentions) it might have a drastically negative effect on legislation and community perception of education.
Later that week as I began my summer reading list, I came across a quote attributed to John F. Kennedy when he spoke at Yale University in 1962.
"As every past generation has had to disenthrall itself from an inheritance of truisms and stereotypes, so in our own time we must move on from the reassuring repetition of stale phrases to a new, difficult, but essential confrontation with reality. For the great enemy of truth is very often not the lie-- deliberate, contrived, and dishonest-- but the myth-- persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic . . . Mythology distracts us everywhere."
This quote struck me immediately and has consumed my thoughts since. Coupled with my experience at the education town hall meeting, it started me thinking about the nature of the Common Core Mythology (I choose the term myself). The growth and organization of the opposition movement over the past several years has brought with it a persistent, pervasive, and to some people, persuasive mythos (Thank you, President Kennedy, for those wonderful words). This mythology is built upon the fears and tacit acceptance of those who believe public education to be fundamentally flawed. It is, at its core, a misinformation campaign that relies on the fears and apathy of its victims to thrive. To those with political agendas it is a call to arms to gather support from parents afraid that their children are being destroyed or brainwashed, from disillusioned educational professionals (not just teachers, but anyone in the educational family), and from those who adamantly oppose change in any form. I believe that those of us who understand the standards and are not afraid of them have a duty to the truth about these standards and our children. All of this has led me to ask several questions.
1. What is the "Common Core Mythology?"
2. What stereotypes and truisms (both true and false) have arisen with these standards?
3. What are the reassuring stale phrases of the Common Core Mythology?
4. How can we come to our "essential confrontation with reality" about education and the Common Core Mythology?
The first two questions are best answered together. Because the Common Core Mythology is really all of the misinformation, lies (well, half-truths at the very least), and misunderstandings surrounding the standards. It is the rehashing of old feuds and stereotypes from other eras of education reform. Here are some statements I've heard consistently. All of them are, at least in part, untrue.
"Common Core is a national curriculum."
"Common Core is federally mandated."
"Common Core tells teachers what to do every day and doesn't let them be professionals."
"Common Core mandates tests that are too hard for our students."
"Common Core is brainwashing our kids with "fuzzy math," liberal ideals, and morally objectionable material."
"Common Core requires homework that I can't even do, and I have an advanced math degree."
"Multiplication proficiency is defined differently."
Whatever the turn of phrase opponents use, it always seems to be based in one side of a dichotomy that most people don't think about: intent versus implementation. I've seen many different examples come through social media (particularly the "I can't help my son/daughter with Common Core homework."), and while I don't doubt that the assignments and issues being discussed are very real and concrete, they come from teachers who have the best of intentions. Maybe this is an integral part of the Common Core Mythology as well. That the standards will be implemented with equal effectiveness in all schools. This is obviously untrue, as any set of standards is subject to interpretation and any implementation plan can go awry because of the scale involved. I am not saying that these things are okay. I am saying that they can and will happen, and perhaps everyone should presume positive intent before casting harsh judgments. By "presume positive intent," I mean that teachers charged with implementing these standards in schools do not get up in the morning planning on destroying the lives and education of children. That should be taken into account before casting aspersions on someone's work. Perhaps a civil, reasonable conversation should be used in lieu of a stream of vitriol and bile spewed up all over Facebook and Twitter feeds.
The role of the federal government is most certainly part of the mythos, as evidenced by the first few statements above. This is the area at the heart of most opposition positions. However, I must be very clear on this point: these standards were purely voluntary. With that being said, yes the federal government did step in and incentivize the process with Race to the Top funding. While some may disagree about the appropriateness of this move, I do not believe any can deny the extent to which it enhanced the effectiveness of the Common Core State Standards Initiative. Within a few weeks nearly every state in the union had signed on to the project. Even the most notable exception, Texas, when viewed closely, has a set of standards very much like the Common Core. Indiana, after backing out very recently, adopted a very similar position in their new standards. Even the Fordham Institute rated these standards quite highly in both Mathematics and English Language Arts.
As I read this piece over once more, I realize that I, sadly, do not have an answer to my fourth and final question. But perhaps that's just as well. Perhaps this discussion is the beginning of that confrontation with reality. There is much more to say. Many more debates to be had in this fertile arena. From here I send the discussion your way as I look forward to your thoughts concerning the Common Core Mythology. I've begun to describe the rise and attempted to begin the fall. Where do you stand?