BY WILLIAM C. HENRY Familiar with Common Core? Don’t fret. It’s not altogether necessary that you be acquainted with all of its intricacies and implications in order to appreciate this contrarian’s point of view, but for the sake of your children and grandchildren I HIGHLY recommend that you become so ASAP. And when you do, please keep in mind that regardless of all of Common Core’s promised furtherances and rewards, this purported “earthshaking advance” in education has in large part been promoted and designed by individuals and corporations that stand to reap considerable financial gain through its implementation.
With that duly noted, the following is a description of what, to this humble antagonist, represents the true or “core” cause of most if not all of America’s “learning” problems, along with a number of irrefutably beneficial solutions — the sum total of which seems to have conveniently eluded the collective “commonality” of America’s best and brightest political and educational benefactors, panderers, and profiteers.
First, foremost, and unequivocally: Until and unless we do something to level the playing field vis a vis America’s at-home learning environments, don’t expect ANY so-called education “remedies” to work worth a tinker’s damn. Until and unless ALL of America’s K-12 kids are able to go home to some semblance of a conducive and encouraging learning environment, the ONLY rewards to be realized from the likes of a Common Core or any other education “cure-all” will be wishful thinking and longer yachts for the education “innovating” elite.
I should clarify that I’m not really concerned here with the pros or cons of an education turn-around for the upper 50%, and neither should you be. For the most part their at-home learning environments are markedly superior to the bottom half’s, and their comparative financial advantage affords them considerably easier access to outside means of overcoming learning deficiencies. In short, the likelihood of the upper half doing reasonably well or better in school and in life under the status quo is pretty much a matter of course. It’s the lower half, the ones who lack these advantages, who are truly in need of assistance — and that is precisely what’s wrong with Common Core. It does absolutely NOTHING to correct those pernicious “core” problems of an absence of quality at-home and supplemental learning environments which so inequitably affect the bottom half’s overall learning prospects.
Poverty; under-educated households; substandard living conditions; decaying neighborhoods; deteriorating schools; drugs; alcoholism; gangs; homelessness; depression and hopelessness; all of these contribute to the disparity in educational opportunity in America. Unfortunately, it’s the bottom 50% who tend to suffer 90% of the educational effects of these societal ills. So, where to start? Should we simply continue to leave it to government to attempt to right all of these wrongs (I think any reasonable person would have to agree that its well-intentioned efforts in these areas have produced mediocre results at best), or should we perhaps call on some of America’s wealthiest free-enterprising “education” philanthropists to do something truly worthwhile, something with a potentially incredible benefit to cost ratio, something that will actually facilitate the lower 50% being able to overcome these education barriers and allow them to reverse their plight themselves? Well, since I’m not at all convinced of the former’s prowess when it comes to performing do-goodery in an altogether competent, expeditious and cost-effective manner, in this instance I’m opting for the latter.
Here’s what I propose. Never mind Common Core. Never mind targeted “end use” curriculums. What I want to see are America’s wealthiest “education bestowing” philanthropists step forward with the wherewithal to establish and staff FREE “all grades” tutoring centers in poorer neighborhoods and areas throughout the country. These privately-funded centers would operate on a schedule of, say, 3:00PM to 10:00PM, 5 or 6 days a week. Attendance would be voluntary. Tutorial assistance would extend to help with homework assignments or any school subjects the teacher, parent or guardian, or student so requests. Special attention (mandatory for ALL students participating in the tutorial program) would be directed towards improving “reading” skills. Discussion of religious and partisan political subjects would be barred. The centers would be staffed by recently graduated or currently enrolled college students, and function as a paid “bridge” or supplemental source of funds for them while attending college or searching for permanent employment. I don’t claim to be any kind of logistics wunderkind, but I do know that such details as location determination and acquisition, transportation, security, etc., could be worked out. This is project that CAN be done! It’s the kind of project that would actually make a difference, a truly significant difference in the lives and futures of hundreds of thousands of America’s most overlooked and forgotten “last best hopes” for an equitable and prosperous American future.
And here are a few alternatives the education “experts” might want to consider before attempting ANY new government or corporate fixes, remedies, cure-alls or elixirs. How about FINALLY ridding the American education system of that idiotic, immeasurably wasteful relic of centuries past known as summer vacation (aka an additional two-month paid vacation for America’s teachers). Where the hell is it written that kids can’t go to school year ’round? Almost universally, America’s maximum school year consists of 180 days of instruction. Wedge roughly 52 days worth of weekends into that figure and you get a total of 232. Even if you set aside another 52 days worth of weekends, you’re still left with some 81 days of thumb twiddling and parental hair loss! It makes about as much sense as believing that America is still an agrarian society. And while I’m at it, why shouldn’t a school day consist of similar hours as an average work day? In fact, what about trying to make the school day compatible with the vast majority of parents ability to drop off and pick up their children on their way to and from work (if they so choose)? Who knows, it just might eliminate a whole lot of school buses.
Oh, and a brief aside if I may. Why does corporate America feel it’s the American taxpayers’ or foreign governments’ responsibility to fully train workers for their high tech industries? Why the hell aren’t they training them themselves? Why are they constantly badgering Congress to increase the number of skilled immigrants allowed in from the likes of China, India, Pakistan, and elsewhere? There are literally hundreds of thousands of Americans with high IQ’s and superb work ethics, many of them mature and experienced in the same or similar fields, literally begging for jobs. Why aren’t you hiring and TRAINING them? Is it simply because their remuneration might not be so bottom line benign as the “imports'”? Is it an age thing? Widget makers train people to make widgets. Fast food franchises train people to cook and serve food. Automobile makers train people to assemble cars. It’s time we were utilizing ALL of America’s talent. It would be good for the economy — and hopefully the corporate conscience.
Finally, I believe there are seven subjects that EVERY student should exit 12th grade (and, yes, I believe that if necessary we should use EVERY carrot or stick known to government OR private enterprise to see to it that EVERY American child completes EVERY grade including the 12th) with a reasonably broad knowledge and understanding of (in order of importance): 1) Reading and Writing (emphasis on the Reading part); 2) Civics; 3) Philosophy; 4) Physics; 5) Basic Mathematics (including the Business kind); 6) The Spanish Language; 7) Health and Nutrition. The first one is by far the most important. Once you’ve mastered it, you can look up the rest!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Fed up early stage septuagenarian who has actually been most of there and done most of that. Born and raised in the picturesque Pocono Mountains. Quite well educated. Very lucky to have been born into a well-schooled and somewhat prosperous family. Long divorced. One beautiful, brilliant daughter. Two far above average grandsons. Semi-retired (how does anyone manage to do it completely these days?) and fully-tired of bullshit. Uncle of the Editor-In-Chief.