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the best essay i’ve ever read about Common Core


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.


  1. My world is right side up again! I couldn’t believe my sister was trumpeting the Common Core. Your response to NY Times article is spot on. This IS about what it means to be an American, which is why Common Core, State Standards, or District Standards, they are all the same to me. They are created to ensure that our kids, my kids, embody the values of being a citizen of this nation. But, I see myself, as a citizen of a different nation, shaped by a different narrative, and it is my hope that my children with embrace being “strangers and aliens on the earth.” B

    1. my tweet was vague and provocative on purpose…i wanted you to click through and read the essay. your response made me re-read and tease out just what it was that caught my eye.

      so what books are you reading with your boys to help them know themselves as citizens of that better kingdom?

  2. I loved your response, Kort! And, I liked your brother’s comment, too.

    In light of the Common Core Curriculum, isn’t it interesting that the most watched TED talk is “How Schools Kill Creativity”?

    There is so much that I would like to say on this topic, but I don’t want to take over your comment box! (Perhaps I will write a new Homeschool Reflections post.this week : ) I will just briefly say that real education is learning the things you need to live *your* one and only unique life. I didn’t read Tolstoy until I was forty-five, does that mean I wasn’t properly educated? (I graduated summa cum laude from one of the top 50 universities in the country.) I wonder if Bill Gates knows the difference between a gusset heel and a short row heel or how to make them? What young people need most is time, trust, and the commitment of adults who will help them in their learning journey. Have you seen the French film “Etre et Avoir” (To Be and To Have)?

    1. Susan, you can take over my comment box any time! but i’d love to hear more at your place too : ) it’s a powerful thought that education is for life, for each individual life. i have seen To Be and To Have. it was the last film i saw before we went to live in the jungle. i think about the turtle from that class so often! Paul, if you haven’t seen it, it’s very worthwhile.

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