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Why Common Core Isn't the Answer

Subject-based education is not what we need, according to this educator.

Photo Credit: Gary Woodard via


As far as I know, no one has asked the general public’s opinion about the Common Core State Standards for school subjects. My guess would be that if polled, most people—including most educators—would say they just make good sense.

But not everyone is a fan. Few oppose standards, but a significant number oppose the Common Core State Standards. Those on the political right don’t like the fact that—notwithstanding the word “State” in the title—it was really the feds who helped to railroad the standards into place.

Resisters on the political left cite a range of reasons for opposing the standards—that they were shoved into place without research or pilot programs, that they’re a setup for national testing, that the real winners are manufacturers of tests and teaching materials because they can crank out the same stuff for everybody—just to begin a considerably longer list.

Three cheers for those on the political right. Three more for those on the left. May the chaos in Washington and state capitols over education policy help the public realize that, in matters educational, the leaders of business and industry and the politicians who listen to them are blind bulls in china shops.

I began pointing out problems with subject-matter standards beginning with a

1966 article in an education journal, the Phi Delta Kappan, and have been at it ever since. (On my website, I summarize a few of the problems.) Here, however, I want to focus on just one problem which, unless it’s addressed, could ultimately be fatal to the education system.

I’ll start by affirming what I believe most thoughtful educators take for granted: The main aim of schooling is to model or explain reality better. As you read, don’t lose sight of that. The aim of schooling isn’t to teach math, science, language arts, and other school subjects better, but to expand our understanding of reality.

When I use the word “reality,” I’m being concrete and specific. What I can see out of the window directly in front of me is a slice of it. I live on the west bank of the Indian River Lagoon on Florida’s east coast. Not really a river, the lagoon is a body of brackish water that stretches fifty or so miles north and about twice that to the south. Off the end of my dock it’s about two miles wide.

This bit of reality costs me money, and continues to do so, but its moods are a source of pleasure, its sunrises are often spectacular, and its easy access by boat to some local restaurants, the Atlantic Ocean and the rest of the world, are all pluses. I have, then, reasons to try to understand this particular bit of reality. (Be patient. I’m getting to the point.)

Thirty years ago, when I started building my house, I could often almost walk across the river stepping from clam boat to clam boat. The only clam boats I see now are on trailers in back yards.

Buoys marking underwater crab traps used to dot the river. The traps are gone because most of the crabs are gone.

There was a time when the fish in the Lagoon were so plentiful I’ve had dinner-sized mullet jump into my boat. That no longer happens.

Sea grasses used to cover much of the lagoon’s sandy bottom. Now, the stretch of grassless sand that says the lagoon is sick extends for perhaps a quarter of a mile beyond my dock and keeps expanding. All else being equal, my property is losing value.