Common Core has become a hot issue among conservative legislators lately. With midterm elections approaching, the new national education standards have been in the crosshairs of many Republicans seeking office. While these politicians are certainly correct that the Common Core standards are problematic, they miss a much larger point about the American education system’s woes.
Though approaches may differ, the importance of education is a generally agreed-upon priority in Western society. Knowledge allows us to build better lives, communities, and institutions. In fact, the word “liberty” contains the Latin root liber, which means “free” and is also the Latin word for “book.” Language ties the concept of knowledge and books, as in library, with that of human freedom, liberty. The classical tradition of education emphasizes that knowledge and freedom as inextricably linked. It’s the tradition Western society was built upon.
Today, education policy is a battleground of political interests. While unions and politicians spar over whose mandates become law and how best to force results out of a broken system, the performance of students has stagnated. Reading, writing, and arithmetic scores have failed to show even marginal gains despite billions in additional funding and added layers of bureaucracy.
Perhaps that’s the problem. We live in a constantly progressing world. Technology is changing at exponential rates. The entirety of human knowledge is accessible for anyone in the palm of their hands. Private enterprise has brought us a world where access to information is practically limitless. It is a reality that was unimaginable 30 years ago. Yet our education models are resistant to change. With few exceptions, we are still teaching children the way we did 50 years ago when the access to information was extremely limited. We expect them to sit in a desk for half their waking day, to have pieces of information dictated to them, and to absorb complex topics that have been broken down into textbook-friendly formats.
Many children have anxiety or depression stemming from their dislike of school. I was one of them. My stomach would knot up over the thought of having to sit at the desk and watch the clock tick. One of the first questions I asked my first grade teacher was, “What time do we go home?” I had had enough of school by age six. Yet, children who don’t adjust to this regiment are labeled flawed, hyperactive, or troubled. The answer is too often to medicate them or send them to a stricter school.
Perhaps it is too much to hope that parents could take a more active role in directing and encouraging their children to pursue knowledge on their own. But in the age we live in, it seems hindering to force all schools to follow similar methods and models. Allowing schools the freedom to experiment with different models, styles, methods, and structures may produce disparities in results in the short term, but the long term results will be beneficial to society. We should allow schools to be more experimental, and then we as a society can see what works better. We must stop accepting the notion that children will hate and resist education simply because they do not like the traditional schooling model.
Stagnation is failure in the societal pursuit of educational progress. If a fourth grader today knows nothing more than a fourth grader knew twenty years ago, we are failing. Information is more accessible and technology is more affordable. We should be accelerating learning. It’s time to realize the current model has outlived its usefulness. We cannot progress if we do not change it, and pouring more money or adding more mandates to an already broken system will not fix it.
Perhaps we are slow to let go of the old model because we have been taught to believe education has to be painful. Perhaps we continue to support it because it is the system we all lived through. But, we must face the truth which is that it isn’t working.
The federalization of education has been a massive failure. We cannot continue to dump unlimited sums of money into a system that is not producing results. If we wish to see schools seek out new, progressive ways to educate we must decentralize the process by eliminating the Department of Education and adopting school choice policies on the state level. Competition will drive innovation, just as it has in every other sector of the economy. It is simply not enough to oppose Common Core, which is simply a product of a bad system. We have to oppose the system itself.