No to Common Core and corporate classrooms

Why turn 4-year-olds into Common Core clones?

After reading The Sun's editorial, "Ready for kindergarten?" (May 24), I didn't know whether to laugh or cry at the absurdity of the editorial board's take on the Common Core and their belief that more vigorous testing and even earlier intervention is the answer to student success down the road.

Is your 4-year-old performing "up to snuff"? What exactly is a 4-year-old supposed to be doing except playing and socializing with others? Who sets the standards for success these kids are supposed to meet? Is The Sun aware that Common Core is the brainchild of a small group of corporate executives like Bill Gates and certain testing/textbook companies that stand to make millions of dollars in revenue from this so-called reform? Wasn't No Child Left Behind proof enough that this rigorous, competitive and punishing approach doesn't work and actually contributes to student stress, test anxiety and drop-out rates? Common Core is like a bad re-run. When are we going to change the channel? Why is big business in control of what our children learn? Shouldn't it be the job of educators in the classroom, parents and most importantly, students, to decide what to learn, how to learn it and when to teach it?

I've pulled two of my children out of Baltimore County public high schools. My kids experienced extreme school anxiety over standardized testing, crippling homework loads and an administration that was inflexible in accommodating their needs. Both had Individualized Education Programs or IEPs and neither was able to receive what they truly needed to stay in school. The county's response to one of my children's extreme anxiety was to place him in a school for kids with behavioral problems — a lock-down school. This occurred after placing him in the delayed learning classroom at his middle school didn't work out and the school psychologist said his serious depression was perfectly normal. Ludicrous. I have to wonder how many of those kids in lock-down were actually just frustrated and unable to meet the standards of our one-size-fits-all, 19th century reward and punishment educational system.

Both of my children endured repeated counseling sessions, anti-anxiety medication and constant meetings with school officials. None of it worked and I finally woke up and realized that it wasn't my children who were broken, it's the current education system. Why do we always assume the child is the one with the problem when that child struggles or questions the necessity of what he or she is required to learn? When are we going to start listening to our children and our educators and kick big business out of the classrooms? My youngest child, when asked to make a statement at one of his IEP meetings said, "The way I see it is like this: School is like a machine. When one of the parts breaks, they add another part. When that part breaks, they add another one and on and on and on — just adding more useless junk to the machine. Eventually, you not only have something that doesn't look like a machine anymore, it doesn't work and never will." He was 16 at the time and summed up the entire problem brilliantly. Is anyone listening to the children?

The editorial states "it's far easier to pique a 4 or 5-year-old's curiosity and interest in a way that predisposes them to develop critical thinking skills and good habits of mind than it is to try to impart those same qualities to older children." Really? Maybe you could still pique the curiosity of those older kids if it hadn't been squashed out of them in earlier grades with constant, anxiety-inducing testing. And what exactly are "good habits of mind?" Are we inspiring individuality and creativity in our children or creating conformity, clones to plug into the economic matrix? It certainly seems that the editorial board feels Common Core will turn out a "well-educated workforce for future growth." More productive cogs for the machine.

More and more parents are now choosing to home school their children. And what about drop-out rates? You've got one colossal pressure-cooker here. How much more are the kids able and willing to endure before they give up and realize they'll never be heard? Here's a novel idea — once kids reach middle school, let them explore what they want to learn. Let them read all about astronomy if that's where their interest lies. Maybe it's music, higher-level math, carpentry or physics. Let them make decisions for themselves rather than try to force them into a mold they cannot fit. Let their natural curiosity have room to explore as much as they want to and get rid of the testing. Not only will they stay in school, they'll be a lot happier. My kids' anxiety immediately dissipated when I pulled them out of their schools. One received his GED at the same time his peers received their diplomas, obtaining very high scores after his principal told me he'd never pass the test. The other is preparing to take the General Educational Development test now.

Other countries have much better systems in place and Finland is one of them. Finland has no standardized, mandated tests, no ranking or comparison of students or schools (zero competition) and minimal homework. School starts at age 7 and children learn "when they're ready." Teachers call the shots, not business or politicians and pre-school programs emphasize play and socialization — period. It works incredibly well. Learning is the focus, not testing. Teachers, parents and students are happier. The U.S. has a lot to learn. Our system is not the best, not even close. Our teachers have little, if any, control over what's taught in their classrooms. Corporations are in charge. Teachers spend an overwhelming amount of time doing paperwork and test preparation and are required to follow a curriculum that more than one teacher has told me "is not what I want to teach or feel is relevant." Many find Common Core just as ineffective as NCLB and are just as frustrated as their students. Their hands are often tied by bureaucratic red tape.

More early childhood intervention to ensure our kids are "fully ready" to take their place in the workforce later on? Common Core? A big business agenda? At what point do we wake up and realize our children are under someone else's control, being groomed to someone else's standards to become what they want them to become? When are we going to let educators lead the way and give children space to grow at their own pace and in their own way? When are we going to stop allowing fear to drive the system? All we've got to show for it thus far is a boatload of stressed-out kids, teachers and parents — a train wreck in the making.

I suppose the next step will be an in utero intervention — one tug on the umbilical cord for A, two for B and three for none of the above. The crash is going to be spectacular.

Madonna DePalo, Perry Hall

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