Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

December 16, 2013

CONFER: Common Core devalues creativity

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — Editor’s Note: This is the fourth article in an eight-part series exploring Common Core.

“If you want your children to be intelligent, read them fairy tales. If you want them to be more intelligent, read them more fairy tales.”

That quote is courtesy of one of the greatest minds of all time, Albert Einstein. He understood what helped to develop his incomparable intellect and could do the same for future generations: early and frequent exposure to fictional works.

This is something that language arts teachers (more popularly known as English teachers) have known and practiced for years. By focusing on the readers’ ability to understand and interpret in their own way a masterpiece of literature or poetry, and also affording them the chance to write their own masterpieces, teachers could encourage and hone creative thinking, the single most important tool for personal and professional success.

That is atypical of most schooling. Science, math, and history classes take what is known or proven and ask that students master facts and processes. There is little if any room for exploration or personal interpretation. That is the nature of the beast within those subjects.

English classrooms were always the place in schools where higher-order thinking skills could be fostered. But, those days appear numbered. Because of Common Core, the English Language Arts (ELA) curriculum is devolving and English is becoming yet another class where facts are to be regurgitated and expression is stymied.

The claimed goal of Common Core is to make students workforce-ready so, to that end, the developers at Achieve Inc. decided to emphasize nonfiction. Novels and short fiction that once dominated the routine have been diminished in their volume, with newspaper articles, dry text and even boring owner’s manuals taking over. If you thought Moby Dick’s pithiness was a test of your focus as a student, imagine your child’s disdain for manuals.

Common Core’s original plan was to divide the eighth-grade curriculum along the lines of 55 percent nonfiction and 45 percent fiction. That isn’t what is being enforced. Nor is it what students and teachers alike are being graded on. Last year’s Grade 8 ELA test was 79 percent nonfiction and 21 percent fiction, a far cry from what was sold to the schools.

I shudder to think what employers Achieve Inc. consulted before proceeding in this manner. As a businessman, I want people working with me, inside my company and outside of it, who can think on their feet, think creatively, react positively to the circumstances before them, and thoughtfully ponder how to make their lives easier and their customers’ experience better.

With creativity stifled in their formative years, they will be unable to perform as well as one would hope in the workplace.

As a parent, I can’t help but wonder how Common Core will help my daughter at all when the time comes. I spend much time thinking about how my wife and I will be investing considerably more effort into her intellectual development to overcome what Common Core doesn’t give her.

What it could give her can be pretty scary.

Consider an assignment given to third-grade students at various school districts across the United States. After reading the following text, students were asked to complete an exercise in which the solutions can only be provided by making logical inferences and explaining how they got their answers:

“Ruby sat on the bed she shared with her husband holding a hairclip. There was something mysterious and powerful about the cheaply manufactured neon clip that she was fondling in her newly suspicious palms. She didn’t recognize the hairclip. It was too big to be their daughter’s, and Ruby was sure that it wasn’t hers. She hadn’t had friends over in weeks but here was this hairclip, little and green with a few long black hair strands caught in it. Ruby ran her fingers through her own blonde hair. She had just been vacuuming when she noticed this small, bright green object under the bed. Now their life would never be the same. She would wait here until Mike returned home.”

Let that sink in. Third graders were given a story about entirely adult content (infidelity) that is beyond their realm of maturity and understanding. Most of them have no idea what’s going on here (and any parent worth their salt would not want them to) and any student who does is likely experiencing a painfully dramatic and emotionally damaging home life.

This is the present and future of education in America under the Common Core regime. How is any of it supposed to make our nation smarter and stronger?  

Bob Confer is a Gasport resident and vice president of Confer Plastics Inc. in North Tonawanda. Email him at bobconfer@juno.com.