Education Secretary Arne Duncan outraged parents this week as he categorized opponents to the Common Core standards as irrational and uninformed “suburban white moms.” But many parents and educators of every color, in cities and small towns across the nation have spoken out against the Common Core over the past year and voices of opposition have risen sharply since the new standards began to be implemented in school districts around the country this fall.
After reading homework assignments aligned with the Common Core and seeing the effect the lessons and techniques have had on their children, thousands of parents have determined that these new and untested standards are not in the best interest of their kids. And they are fighting back.
They are contacting teachers and administrators, speaking out at school board meetings, and writing their legislators in an effort to push back the Common Core. Many are even opting their kids out of standardized tests and organizing protest days to get the attention of lawmakers. And the opposition just might work in the long run, but what about today?
Parents are angry, but kids are hurting
Shortly after Duncan’s remarks were published, a friend invited me to join a brand new Facebook group, Moms Against Duncan, which went from nonexistent to over 3,000 members in just a couple of days, but then quickly devolved into a battle between liberals and conservatives as it continued to grow. I joined the group, even though my children are not in the public school system, because I still care deeply about what happens to education in this country and I don’t think that the nationalized standards, along with the heavy focus on standardized tests, are good things. I left again shortly thereafter.
But what struck me the most in my first visit to the group was the number of parents and grandparents who were posting about how the Common Core was affecting their kids. I’d been reading stories of students’ homework time expanding to hours each night, their math assignments becoming virtually incomprehensible and their reading matter drastically changed. But I was shocked by how many parents were saying that their little kids were crying every day, begging not to go to school, convinced they were suddenly stupid. Their children, as young as kindergartners, were suffering from headaches, stomach pains, bowel issues and other manifestations of stress just since the semester began.
Children shouldn’t be miserable every day
I’m not so naïve as to think that kids should be happy and carefree every moment of their lives. We have our own tough days as homeschoolers, and more than once, a new math concept has left one or more of my kids, and sometimes me, in frustrated tears as I worked to help them understand. But learning should be an exciting, fun and engaging process on the whole. Misery should not be a child’s norm.
That is why I don’t think parents should be fighting the Common Core from the inside; at least not if it is negatively impacting their children in the here and now. Kids only have one chance to grow up. They only have one chance to embrace learning and love education. Children who are driven to the point of illness by the high pressure drilling and testing they are experiencing in the classroom are not getting the opportunity to become happy, lifelong learners. Their spirits are being poisoned.
You wouldn’t keep poisoning yourself, why do it to your kids?
Think of your favorite restaurant. Imagine eating there every evening, enjoying some of your favorite foods and the company of good friends. Now, imagine that your favorite restaurant started serving spoiled, rotten food that made you sick every time you ate it. Would you keep eating there while you fought to bring back the good food and service you loved, even though the rotten food was poisoning you and making you ill? Or would you get out, eat someplace else, and fight from the outside where you were safe?
This is what I am saying. If you believe that your children’s school, under the Common Core, is hurting them, making them physically ill and breaking them down emotionally, why would you leave them there while you fight? There are other options, and although it may take sacrifices you haven’t thought of making before, your children’s health and well-being has to be your top priority.
Homeschooling as an alternative to the Common Core
Some in the homeschooling community have been chastised by fellow opponents to the Common Core, because our kids are no longer in the public school system and, as they put it, not everyone has the luxury to homeschool. But that idea is far from accurate. As the leader of a thriving homeschool group in rural Oklahoma, I don’t know any homeschooling families who have not made significant sacrifices in order to provide an alternative education for our children.
As a homeschooling family, we do without many of the luxuries we might enjoy if I were working full time and providing a second income. But in exchange, we reap the benefits of happy children who love to learn. My kids never have to do hours of homework at night after a full day in the classroom just to keep up with the schedule. They are never forced to move on to a new concept without fully mastering the one before it. And if a lesson makes them cry a few frustrated tears, they get a hug, we take a deep breath and we work together to help them learn in a way that makes sense to them.
Opting out does not mean giving up
I admire the teachers, parents and grandparents who are fighting against the Common Core around the country. I respect that they are standing up against unproven standards and methods, excessive testing and worrisome data mining. And even though my kids aren’t in public school, as a taxpayer and member of the community, I am standing up, too.
But I don’t like seeing the posts about kids suffering at school while this battle wears on. This should be our fight; the grown-ups, not the kids. If your kids or grandkids are being hurt by the Common Core, they deserve a better alternative. Opting them out of public school does not mean that you are giving up on making the schools better. It just means you are putting your children first, and taking care of their needs as your number one priority.
You can still fight, maybe even harder, from the outside.
More by Tavia:
Why Public School Parents Should Be Friends with Homeschoolers
Homeschooling Saved Our Lunch
What to do when your bullied child desperately wants out of public school