Marines.Together We Served

Wednesday, October 09, 2013

Common Core

              Well, school is back in session throughout the United States. So I was curious when the story broke about a parent, Robert Small, who seemingly got out of line at a Common Core meeting in Maryland where he had to be physically removed because of his vocal criticism of this new teaching/testing method called Common Core Standards.

Going to school in the 50s and 60s our system of education seemed challenging enough to me. But then again, I was coming at this education thing from a rather biased perspective. My early ventures into academia were, shall we say, not exactly ideal. I started school in Connecticut where I was born. A couple of years later, after my mother remarried, we moved to New Jersey where my step father, “Pop,” was employed as a corporate manager. Two years after that we moved to New York. I was now nine-years-old.

Now, all this moving around may sound interesting, even exciting, but it played hob on my academic pursuits! Here’s an example. In New Jersey at that time (mid-50s) you started to learn your Times Tables in 4th Grade. I was coming to the end of my 3rd Grade year when we moved to New York. I would finish out my 3rd Grade year in a school there. No problem, or so I thought. I walked into a class taught by Mrs. Bean, a woman of advanced years, who still stands out as my favorite teacher of all time. Why? Because she sized up my problem immediately and did something about it. You see, kids in the New York school system began learning their Times Tables in 3rd Grade. By crossing the state line from New Jersey to New York I was one academic year behind in mathematics just that quick. In the two months that remained of school, I was like a deer caught in the headlights. Each day Mrs. Bean would give the class their work assignment, after which she would take me off to the side and work with me on my Times Tables. Bless her!

Now add to this the fact that I was what constantly evaluated by my teachers with written comments on my report card that said such things as, “Charles has potential,” or “He needs to learn to concentrate,” and so on. For me, I just remember sitting at my desk, gazing out on the baseball diamond, desperately wishing to be free from the confines of the classroom so I could play baseball with my friends.

I managed to get through grades 4, 5 and 6 before we moved yet again. Only this time we moved to Paris, France in the summer of 1960. Pop was in on a business venture with several other American businessmen. So I found myself being enrolled in a bilingual school. Initially, an attempt was made to get me in the American School in Paris, but the waiting list for 7th Grade was as long as my arm. The alternative was the bilingual school. By definition, bilingual meant that every class was taught in French, and all the teachers spoke English. I was in shock! I didn’t speak French! And they don’t play baseball. And football to them is what we call soccer. Argh!

I remember sitting with my parents and the administrator discussing the classes I would take. French, of course. English? Yes, but it was taught by a teacher from England (Trucks are lorries, and car hoods are bonnets), but I felt I could at least manage in that class. I was required to take another language class as well. Spanish or German? I reluctantly chose German. My teacher was Mrs. Wolfe. The administrator then suggested I take Latin. At this point I’m near panic. I looked at my parents with desperate, pleading eyes: “Help me!” Oh, another of those classes you take later on back in the States? Algebra. Stateside we would take that in 9th Grade. In the bilingual school in Paris you take Algebra in 7th Grade – taught in French of course. Oh boy!

I survived the school year with the aid of a neighbor, Madame Hanoka, a Jewish lady who spoke seven languages and was infinitely patient in working with me every afternoon when I arrived home from school. (The Hanoka’s story of escaping from sword-wielding Muslims in Egypt in 1948 is worth an article all its own.)

I would go on to attend yet another junior high school in Norway and then five high schools before finally graduating from Pacific Palisades High in Los Angeles in 1966.

My reason for sharing all this about my early schooling is to simply say that from what I can make out from the Common Core Standards, it is an attempt to unify the academic process so that students across the fruited plain of America would all be learning the same stuff at the same time, and the testing would be reflective of that teaching.

There may be problems with Common Core, I really don’t know. I have read a lot of articles and commentaries but can’t see anything seriously flawed in this approach. Folks from both sides of the aisle, conservative and liberal, are finding fault with this system. I would simply suggest that teachers and administrators create an environment so kids are encouraged to learn.

And may they have the likes of Mrs. Bean and Madame Hanoka to guide them in their academic pursuits!

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