Raymond Gerson teaches at Austin Community College.

Will Common Core Produce Students Who Become Common?

By Raymond Gerson

Words can become like seeds for self-fulfilling prophecies because of the power of expectation. So let’s take a look at the words “Common Core.”

One definition for the word “common” is “of no special quality.” In other words “ordinary.” According to Roget’s Thesaurus some synonyms for the word “common” are “commonplace, everyday, ordinary, humdrum, standard, mediocre, run-of-the-mill and a dime a dozen”. Some of the antonyms are “exceptional, uncommon, extraordinary, original, excellent, noble, noteworthy, valuable and rare”. At your “core” or essence and foundation which of these would you prefer to be?

Are the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) a one size fits all approach that will produce commonplace students and commonness? Shouldn’t the purpose of education be to develop the whole person and to awaken the unique potential within individuals? Isn’t standardization the antithesis of individualization?

Einstein said, “I believe in standardizing automobiles. I do not believe in standardizing human beings.” He also said, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Most of Einstein’s greatest discoveries came from the use of his imagination.

Is a highly standardized approach to education working anywhere? Has it ever worked to try and standardize human beings? If we study highly standardized approaches to education in Chile, Sweden, China or in other countries it has not helped students to develop their imaginations, creativity and wholeness as human beings. In China leaders are now trying to change their educational system because it produced excellent test takers who could not think out of the box. In the U.S. we seem to be moving in the direction that China is trying to move away from.

Why do we not learn anything from systems that have failed? Why do we not learn from successful models like the one in Finland or from models like the one used by Montessori schools? Montessori schools have a one hundred year old model which not only improves test scores, but develops socialization, emotional intelligence and character. Maria Montessori said, “Our care of the child should be governed not by the desire to make him learn things, but by the endeavor always to keep within him that light which is called intelligence.”

The natural inclination of human beings is to grow and evolve. This growth needs nurturing, not force and harshly enforced standards. Positive influences are essential for the development of children’s brains and character. Supportive environments for children are important for lifelong physical and mental health. Brutal high stakes testing and prodding them to learn out of fear of failure will turn them off of learning and education. They will associate learning with lots of pain and emotional upset. Learning for children should involve a lot of play and be enjoyable. The fields of Neuro-Science and Child Development have revealed to us what is needed for human beings to develop into fully functioning human beings. Are CCSS and the accompanying testing aligned with what scientific studies tell us about child development? Are standardization and harsh learning methods the answer? In the wrong environment a flower will die and in the wrong learning environment or soil a child’s spirit will be broken. Children are not rats in a lab who need to be trained to run on treadmills or move through a maze. We can use behavior modification and train them this way, but what kind of adults and human beings will they become? Will they be able to think for themselves and function well in society? Will they develop good character qualities? It is unlikely. Gandhi said, “Education which does not mould character is wholly worthless.” And Martin Luther King put it this way, “Intelligence plus character-that is the goal of true education.”

The purpose of education is to draw out the best from our students. It should be about more than just making good grades on bubble tests and making money after graduation. It should develop a love for lifelong learning. Students need to be prepared to handle problems they will encounter, to live purposeful lives and to learn the value of making a positive contribution to others and society. Mr. Rodgers, who had a great love for and understanding of children said, “We human beings all want to know that we’re acceptable, that our being alive somehow makes a difference in the lives of others.”

Where is the kindness in making kids feel like failures, crushing their hopes and love of learning and destroying their intrinsic motivation to learn and turning them off of education?

Common Core has had little or no field testing. It has come primarily from top down leaders with little input from teachers in the field. Why aren’t the teachers and educational administrators across the nation consulted about what children need? Our schools have thousands upon thousands of wonderful teachers who care about students and know how to teach them. We have seen many examples lately where these dedicated teachers put their very lives on the line to try and save children from harm. Is anyone listening to these teachers who spend endless hours working for the benefit of their students?

Most of the people who are influencing these educational policies have their children in private schools that have nothing like Common Core, high stakes testing, hours of test prep drills, large classes, lack of support services and little time for teachers to actually teach students and collaborate with each other. And yet these leaders say these policies are great for other people’s kids. This kind of hypocrisy is systemic in our society and is prevalent in politics, business and other fields. There are leaders in every field who do not operate under the same rules and conditions that they want for the rest of us. Many people in our society are becoming fed up and sick of these dual sets of standards.

Those who are pushing high stakes testing, Common Core and other forms of standardization on our schools say that most schools in the U.S are failing. This is their mantra. Diane Ravitch, in her latest book Reign of Error, produces evidence to show that these claims are false except where there is poverty and segregation. There is a high correlation between low test scores and poverty. Otherwise more students are graduating from high school, less are dropping out and scores on international tests are good.

Scientists are warning us that there are several major problems including global warming which could lead to the eventual extinction of humanity and other species. Many young people who are the future are seeking solutions to this dilemma. According to Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism, “the last and best hope for an endangered humanity is a world-wide, grassroots revolution of love-in-action.” This is the type of non-violent protest that was witnessed when Gandhi freed India from British rule.

Maria Montessori said, “Within each child lies the fate of the future.” As adults, parents and educators we have a responsibility to help our young people to develop into well functioning human beings. They are the ones who can create a better world if we give them the right start.

Students, educators and parents are beginning to resist and speak out against educational policies that they believe are unfair and unproductive. This is their right as citizens. They do not want to see standardized human beings who become common to the core.

It is my feeling and prediction that the CCSS and accompanying testing will be the eventual tipping point for a non-violent revolt by a massive number of students, educators and parents. This is why CCSS is either doomed to fail or will have to be significantly changed based on input from educators and parents. And those leading the charge for this revolt will most likely be lots of angry mamas.


1. Einstein, Albert. Saturday Evening Post interview. 10/26/1929.
2. Gandhi, Mahatma. Inspiring Thoughts of Mahatma Gandhi: Gandhi in Daily Life. Compiled by Anil Dutta Mishra and Ravi Gupta. Ashok Kumar Mittal. 2008.
3. Harvey, Andrew.The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism. Hay House. September 2009.
4. King, Martin Luther. The Purpose of Education. Morehouse College Student paper. The Maroon Tiger. 1947.
5. Montessori, Maria. The Absorbent Mind. Wilder Publications. March 2009.
6. Ravitch, Diane. Reign of Error: The Hoax of the Privatization Movement and the Danger to America’s Public Schools. Knoph. September 2013.
7. Rodgers, Fred. The World According to Mr. Rodgers: Important Things to Remember. Hyperion. October 2003.

Copyright 2013. Raymond Gerson

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Raymond Gerson is an adjunct professor of college transition/success and career exploration/planning courses for Austin Community College.