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Save The Postcards And Remote-Control Bears

A girl named Kate at the Cascade Christian School in Puyallup, Wash., sent this letter:

“Each member of our class is working on a project called the ‘Parade of States.’  We are responsible for gathering as much information as we can from a number of sources.

I have chosen New York for my state. If any of your readers or staff would help me out by sending pictures, postcards, a used license plate, facts, product, etc., from your state, it would be greatly appreciated.”

Hold on, Kate! Don’t you and your parents know about the Common Core? Shouldn’t you, your class and your teacher be doing something more “academically rigorous” than collecting license plates and postcards?

After all, if Kate’s scores on the State of Washington Common Core exams don’t rise year after year, there will be hell to pay. It will show that her school is bad, her teacher is bad, and that her peers in China, Korea and Finland are far smarter.

Oh, wait. Kate goes to a private school, and private schools aren’t required to follow the Common Core curriculum, with its battery of battering “assessments.”

As you may know, New York State is in the midst of its clumsy, ham-fisted implementation of the Common Core. Supposedly more “rigorous” than what was until recently taught in our public schools, the Common Core really is about narrowing the material kids study. Promoters say it’s “deeper.” Maybe so, but I bet it won’t be long before America discovers that its kids don’t know much about much at all. According to Common Core boosters, facts are so old school. Our kids might have math and writing skills, but basic knowledge of history, civics, science and literature? Those won’t be tested on the Common Core assessments. So how much emphasis do you think they’ll get?

What a shame. In fact, projects like the one Kate and her classmates have undertaken are likely to be early casualties. Unless textbook publishers and testing companies can make a buck on it, there seems to be little incentive for our legislators and bureaucrats to embrace it. Plus, do you think elementary school students in Shanghai are rustling up memorabilia from Guangdong province? Whatever other countries do — or don’t do — now seems to be the yardstick for U.S. schools.

Yet I see a lot of educational value in Kate’s project. When my daughter was in fifth grade, she did a project on Montana. Not only did my family learn everything about The Treasure State (birthplace of Evel Knievel), but she also got the mayor of Helena on the phone for some local insight.

When a sixth-grade project led to a diorama of the Arctic tundra, she converted a tiny, remote-control car into a polar bear that zipped around the cotton-ball-covered cardboard and scared the bejeezus out of the clay seals.

I don’t buy the notion that unless we gauge the success of American education with spreadsheets full of standardized-test scores we will become a second-rate nation. The truth is quite the opposite. Encouraging and facilitating the spunk of Kate and my mayor-calling child should be a huge part of education. So should the kind of creative problem-solving exemplified by the battery-powered bear.

The future of America, from Long Island to Puyallup, Wash., and beyond, depends not on a narrow curriculum that bureaucrats label “rigorous,” nor on performance on multiple-choice tests. Rather, the fortunes of our children, grandchildren and generations to come will be built on chutzpah and creativity.

If you’d like to help Kate with her project, drop off the material or mail it to me at Anton Community Newspapers, 132 East Second St., Mineola, NY 11501. I’ll send it to Puyallup.

John Owens is editor in chief of Anton Community Newspapers. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it