Enticements from the Common Core

Like many states in the US, our district has adopted the common core.

I know, I know–conservatives rise up and howl at these words. How can we join in lockstep to teach our students all the same things, stuff that is probably liberal and heretical?

Actually, the common core is great stuff. I’ve read many of the lessons in Language Arts and Math, and they are really wonderful. These lessons were written by a compendium of master teachers–and it shows. If there’s any problem at all with it, it’s that teaching the common core demands great teaching, including cross-curricular cooperation in a school’s faculty.

And even more, the math curriculum insists on (gasp!) understanding, so students don’t end up in an unfortunate situation like this one:

My husband teaches Introduction to Music at a local college. As part of his lecture on sound, he reminds students of the old wives’ tale (not actually true), that you can tell how far away a storm is by counting the seconds between a thunder crash and a lightning flash. Five seconds is supposedly one mile. So, he says, if the thunder is heard from Salt Lake City (120 miles away) and we see the lightning here in our little town of Price (not that it could really happen), how long would it take to get here?

None of them can do it. I promise, none of them can do it.

These are college kids, usually freshmen and sophomores. These are students who have taken advanced math in high school and who are probably taking college algebra right then.

Every semester, none of them can figure out how to structure the problem and do the math. None of them. They can’t even think about how to do it. Why not? It’s because typical math curricula don’t teach kids how to think. Hopefully the common core will help with that.

I am tempted in quite another direction with the common core. As a long-ardent advocate of arts-based instruction, and as the art teacher at a junior high in the mornings, I see great possibilities for using arts strategies to teach the core subjects. Even though we are burdened with the anxieties of high-stakes testing (never mind that President Obama has said that NCLB is to be banished; we’re still saddled with the tests), Common Core strategies can beckon us to even further humanize the curriculum and finally have a way to improve our instruction.

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