— Paul Garrison (@Aztecpaulg) March 24, 2014
so, the essay opens with a visit to San Diego. and i read the article on the day after returning from San Diego myself. true, i wasn’t attending a publishers conference and no one was drinking mojitos. but there were bloody marys and screwdrivers and plenty of Ballast Point IPA. so from the beginning, Jennifer Finney Boylan had me hooked.
let’s be clear: i think Common Core is a rotten idea, one heralded by the captains of industry for their own gain, at the expense of children. further, it will undermine the autonomy, independence, and creativity of teachers. no, Bill Gates, multiplication is not different in Alabama and New York. but Alabama and New York are different places, and that difference has meaning. the people who live there are not interchangable parts, they are not just cogs in your giant machine.
what i liked about the essay is that it opened up another layer of unrest in the debate, one that’s hidden, one that we don’t speak of. what does it mean to be American? what stories and values and skills do we want to pass on to our children? what does it mean to live a good life? these are worthwhile questions, ones that don’t have easy or obvious answers. there is often a level of fear or mistrust present in our answers. presumably, we do want our children to embrace our values. after all, we embraced them first. but it’s a complicated thing to try and tease out satisfying answers in the context of educating our children.
the two kinds of parents that Finney Boylan offers are surely simplifications. i find myself on both sides–wanting to pass along my values and shield my children from certain aspects of the wider culture while still exposing them to truths that have the power to bring “wisdom and insight that might surpass” mine. Finney Boylan offers this straightforward suggestion:
Maybe what we need is a common core for families, in which mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, all read the same book, and sit down at the table to talk about it.
reading together creates a common culture. of course, i’m interested in this on the most basic, familial level. when we read the same stories, we hold a set of metaphors and images in common. we can use this common ground to talk about other things, to find a way through our differences. and this is a gift. a gift that comes wrapped in story: at the table, cuddled under blankets on the couch, outside on the play structure, at night in bed by the light of a candle. sharing stories is a free, or nearly free, pleasure that yields such rich benefits, the likes of which Bill Gates seems unable to see.