Sina-cism: A true common core for education

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The recent Worcester elections saw some changes on the School Committee, notably the return [in January, when terms begin] of Donna Colorio, who has been a fierce opponent of Common Core and associated PARCC testing.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

Colorio has organized forums, raised awareness and written articles to block implementation of what she and many others see as backward steps for public education.

On Nov. 17, Massachusetts voted against PARCC, and to proceed instead with a next-generation MCAS test. Colorio and others don’t quite trust that move, arguing that the new test will contain an unhealthy dose of PARCC. Last Wednesday, their coalition announced they have the signatures to put an anti-Common Core ballot question before voters in 2016. [See this NPR report.]

These activists are right not to trust government. Many states adopted Common Core and/or PARCC uncritically and hastily, only to have second thoughts. [This from Real Clear Education summarizes matters well.]

But was Election Day 2015 in Worcester a referendum on Common Core? Will Colorio’s successes spell major changes in Worcester Public Schools? And is the Common Core/PARCC debate critical to national educational development?

Well, the election might in part have been a referendum on Common Core. Effective organizing wins local elections. But if you think that schools here or across America are going to be fundamentally affected by Common Core’s fate, forget about it.

To understand why, let’s take a medical detour.

In 1971, Dr. Lawrence Weed gave a famous and powerful speech at Atlanta’s Emory University, excoriating the then-muddled state of patient medical records. Dr. Weed is now over 90 and still a fierce critic of the medical system, but his prescriptions have had a beneficial impact.

It is toward the end of his lecture that Dr. Weed offers a timeless lesson:

“To say that to sit up in the attic carving the chessmen and writing the rules, as the university has done for 2,000 years – to say that’s more sophisticated than playing the game with those men, that’s ridiculous,” he said. “It’s unbelievably sophisticated to take those men and play the game. And you don’t need to stop making the chessmen. We don’t need to burn down the NIH or stop the research laboratories to go on to this more sophisticated state of playing …”

In the most general sense, parents of young children should rid themselves of the habit of trusting educational authorities, supposed experts and state officials. Don’t wait for a perfect law that will never arrive.

Translating Dr. Weed’s wisdom to education, to suggest that what a state board of education (or a local school board) does is more sophisticated or important than being in the classroom or home is ridiculous. What actually happens between teacher (or parent) and student will always trump whatever a theorist or curriculum calls for.

That’s not to indict the sincerity or hard work of the School Committee, but the modest gains (and some setbacks) seen in the WPS over the last decade suggest this group isn’t going to effect major changes either way, no matter how much money they spend or how many allies Donna Colorio can gather.

As for “burning down the NIH,” well, the analogy breaks down, because I think we should eliminate the federal Department of Education, along with any hint of a federal role in education, including student-loan financing. Those who disagree are welcome to read the U.S. Constitution, [Editor’s note: Hint — you won’t find the word education in there.] and then set out to amend it.

As for the Common Core debate, consider that the two sides have been battling over any number of issues for well over a decade, during which time American education has continued to churn along much as before. Massachusetts has, at least until recently, done measurably better thanks to a very strong education reform law from 1993, whose tenets should be left undisturbed.

But in the most general sense, parents of young children should rid themselves of the habit of trusting educational authorities, supposed experts and state officials. Don’t wait for a perfect law that will never arrive.

You have precisely one job as a parent, as simply stated as it is difficult to find: to place your children in a setting dedicated to free inquiry.

For young children, that means color, space, joy and movement (recess!). For older students, lots of reading from classics and primary sources, an absence of political correctness, and fearless faculty.

You may find this in your local public, public charter, private, or parochial school.  You may have to home-school your kids. But find it you must.

Curricula come and go. Education theories rise and fall. Today’s core is tomorrow’s discarded and “useless” knowledge. What has not and never will change is the value of free inquiry, deep reading, civil discussion and hard work.

More from Chris Sinacola:

Sina-cism: A run of the Mill situationon free speech and the vacuous nature of many modern campus protests

Sina-cism: I come not to bury Trumpon the spectacular rise of the presidential front-runner and the underestimated crowd that supports him

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