Whenever I can, I sit at the teacher lunch tables, talking to our members, listening for their concerns. I’ve been especially interested lately to listen to their comments about the effects of the Common Core Standards and the tests aligned with them on their own children. The following piece by Special education teacher Debbie Riviezzo grew out of such an encounter. It offers the insights of an experienced educator/parent.
When I originally proposed writing this article, I planned on calling it “How Common Core is Ruining My Relationship with My Daughter.” I had told Morty a tale of how I had gotten upset with my daughter while helping her with her Common Core ELA homework on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. We read excerpts from the UDHR together, and looked at the definitions of key words the teachers had provided. However, my daughter kept going back to the idea that the UDHR was about “helping the starving children.” I finally snapped at her, saying “Aren’t you paying attention? That was only one thing that was discussed. The rest of the documents have nothing to do with that.” My husband finally intervened, telling me to relax, and my daughter to just do her best and finish her homework.
It wasn’t until the next day at work that it occurred to me why I reacted the way I did – because I am a high school teacher, and I was responding to the material, which was at what I consider to be a high school level. So what was the problem with the situation? My daughter is nine years old and in fifth grade. Of course she thinks it’s all about helping starving children! That is how I imagine most kids her age would relate to the material. When this realization dawned on me, I will admit that I sat at my desk and cried. That night, I went home and hugged my daughter. After apologizing profusely, I gave her permission to tell me to stop when I get “too high school” with her.
So why not stick with my original title? I think it is because Common Core, especially the way it is currently being implemented in many places, is doing damage on a much larger level. We have all heard the stories of kids crying because of excessive testing – but what about stories of elementary school children taking hours to do their homework? What about the way in which instruction in basic skills is being shoved aside to make way for modules that are being forced upon students and teachers alike? My daughter will only be in fifth grade once, and what I am seeing is any chance she has to love reading being systematically destroyed by this insistence on using materials that can in no way be considered on grade level. I hear stories of children in first grade crying because their math homework is asking them to write sentences about their problem solving process when they haven’t even been taught how to write a sentence yet!
I believe it is incumbent upon us, as educators, to use our collective voice and knowledge to help bring attention to the issues that are arising due to the current implementation of Common Core. For those of us who are parents whose children are still in school, we have an even greater reason to fight this fight. Reach out to members of your community who may not be as knowledgeable and educate them! (We are teachers after all!) When I spoke out at a Board Meeting in my town after the Superintendent of Schools explained to the community that she and the Board are “agents of the state,” I decided to incorporate a lesson of my own. Referring to the unit on the UDHR, I asked the Board to consider another ideal – civil disobedience. If we do not insist upon having a say in what our children learn, and how they learn it, then the State will continue down its current path, no matter how misguided it may be. I urge all of you to use your knowledge and voice to help bring about change before it is too late, before an entire generation grows up fearing school, disliking reading, and losing their love of learning.