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The Common Core

August 26, 2013


(Editor's Note: This version reflects changes from the version that appeared in the printed newspaper on Aug. 22, 2013.)


It occurs to us that kids really don’t need to memorize facts like they used to.
 
Nouns seem to have lost their importance.
 
All you have to do to find a date, name, number, or place is click the mouse once and poof, there it is.
 
Rote memorization, the focus of school-based learning since public education began, has never looked so useless.
 
Who of us memorizes phone numbers anymore, or addresses, or even dates? Most of us no longer would even know our own family’s phone numbers if the cell phone were removed from our hands.
 
On the other hand, never has it been so important to have the skills to decipher what all those zillions of nouns available at the click of a mouse mean—and which ones are relevant and which ones can be discarded and ignored.
 
This is about critical thinking and, being journalists, we think it’s a good thing, especially in a digital world where the sheer mass of information and disinformation available in a moment’s notice can otherwise completely overwhelm.
 
That’s why we are wholehearted supporters of what educators call “Common Core.” It is a new way to approach public education, which focuses more on critical thinking, writing, and analysis across every discipline than on memorizing facts alone.
 
Common Core has been adopted by California and many other states and is expected to be rolled out next year, including Mammoth Unified and Eastern Sierra Unified districts.
 
It is a radical new way to teach and be taught, where students learn to read, write and explain things at a deeper level than now occurs—even in math and science classes.
 
There is controversy surrounding Common Core and many unanswered questions about how exactly it will be implemented and tested.
 
We’ll leave that to others to debate.
 
Yet we think the essence of the new system is an idea whose time has come. We hope Mammoth Unified—whose new Superintendent Lois Klein said this week that implementing Common Core is one of the things she is most excited about—can pull it off.
 
That is because there is a danger in asking such a thing—to think more deeply about the nouns in our lives, as it were—of students and teachers.
 
It is not going to be easy or inexpensive.
 
It will require teachers to actually read student’s essays and analyze their ability to understand the contents, rather than simply run answers through a key.
 
It will require students to push their brain matter into ever more complex patterns.
 
Most of all, it will require support for those teachers and students. 
 
In a world of budget cuts, Mammoth Unified  teachers are asked day after day to do more with less and then blamed when test scores take a dive, we have serious concerns that such support will be available.
 
We think it more likely the really hard work, that of looking at the problem as a systemic one borne of a lack of education as a serious priority for funding and creative solutions, will happen and teachers and students will get blamed for a problem that is far more massive than they can transcend alone.
 
We hope we are wrong.
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