A Mother’s Call for Help

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My husband and I have been in Paris for the last three weeks, overdosing on art, food and, of course, delicious wine. The problems at home in the schools seemed so far away. How relaxing it has been to spend my time contemplating Gericault’s The Raft of the Medusa and Renoir’s Dance at Le Moulin de la Galette rather than the sickness of high stakes testing or the anxieties caused by an obsession with the Common Core Learning Standards.

However life, real life, has found a way of creeping in to remind me of the educational problems back home. My history as a long time early childhood educator and my present work as a consultant working with early childhood teachers, demands that I help to find a way of confronting the misguided edicts that are polluting our public schools.

Yesterday I received an email from my niece, my sister’s daughter. Joey is the mother of three wonderful, active and inquisitive children. They live in a suburban town in New Jersey. I don’t often hear from Joey and so, when I received her message, I knew at once that this must be something important. Joey and her husband Rob are very involved with their family. They enroll the children in sports programs and dance classes. Joey began reading to them when they were infants. She’s never been a political activist but when I read her note to me I realized that she is about to embark on a major struggle in support of what she knows is best for her children.

Here’s Joey’s note to me:

I would like some advice.
I am not happy with the Common Core. Actually, most parents here are not. I kept telling them, “we can keep complaining to each other, or we can do something”.
I am not 100% sure what to do. I thought start small by getting as many of these parents together and having them speak at the next PTA meeting. Unfortunately, our principal is not one who cares about the students as much as he cares about pleasing those above him.

Robert and Michael are doing well, but does a 3rd – grader need to know about checks and balances? Does a 5th grader need to start being prepped for the SAT test by learning Greek and Latin and getting rid of a second language to push this?
And I fear for Lauren’s education. She is only into one month of kindergarten, and cries that there are no toys. She comes home with work sheets galore.
I ran from NY because I watched my son’s (then in 1st and 3rd grade) come home flushed from sitting in their seat all day working and working. Or how they would come home, after having no recess only having to do more work and not get time to play.

Now, living here, recess has been cut 5 minutes, what will next year bring?

My sons have no time to finish their lunch, because I guess eating is no longer important.

There was nothing sent home over the summer to bridge them into this new curriculum, the teachers are frustrated with their district deadlines, and the kids are stressed. I fear a generation of antidepressants and suicides.

Okay, having said all of that… Where do I begin?
Thanks for reading my rant:) and if you can give me any advice, I would greatly appreciate it.

Thank you,
Joey

I made a plan to speak with Joey when I get back from my vacation on October 22nd. That doesn’t give me much time to come up with a practical solution or advice for action! I’ve sent her a link to the Alliance for Childhood so that she can read about an organization that is advocating to bring play back into the curriculum .I also sent her a link to the New Jersey Common Core Standards so that she can familiarize herself with the standards that teachers must now use to guide their planning and instruction.

I know of principals in New York City who are working diligently to satisfy their higher-ups while also being careful to insure that teachers follow a developmentally appropriate curriculum in their classrooms. These leaders, however, are few and far-between. There seems to be a McCarthy-like
fear that is permeating the system, intimidating administrators, terrorizing teachers, creating stressed-out children and, from what I gather from Joey’s note, frustrating and confusing parents.

I’m reaching out to all of the educators, parents, grandparents and friends of children who read this blog. Do you have suggestions for how I can respond and support Joey and the other parents in her school? What can parents and teachers do to be sure that their children attend public schools where learning is fun, exciting, and explorative? Is it possible for parents, teachers, administrators and other educational leaders to find a common ground where they can dialogue on the role that the Common Core Standards plays in our present educational environment?

5 thoughts on “A Mother’s Call for Help

  1. Tomasen

    Oh Renee…
    These troubles clearly jump the puddle and go straight to your ears. I was secretly hoping you would enjoy your ENTIRE time there without a whisper of CCSS!! That said, how amazing that she reached out to you. She knows you are inherently an agent of change.
    Ultimately, is there any way that she can gather others who are experiencing the same things? I really think the one missing link in all of this debate are the parents. Parents united are strong. Nobody wants the parents to be unhappy.
    That is where I would begin. What was that woman’s name at the panel when we were at Barnard who had 8 children and started a very powerful parents group? Maybe she is someone she could also reach out to.
    My heart aches for these kids.
    Enjoy the rest of your time my friend…it all goes so quickly!
    Love,
    t

    Reply
  2. Simon Dinnerstein

    Dear Joey:
    I was very moved to read your question to Renee. You are a very concerned and caring mother. The dirty little secret here is
    that many of the administrators of the common core, in New York or Washington wouldn’t think of sending their kids to such rigid schools . Their children go to schools where the kids have time to play, think and be curious and enjoy education.
    Warmest regards,
    Simon

    Reply
  3. Christina Paladino

    HI, my name is Christina, I am a friend of your niece Joey’s. I too have 3 children, my oldest is 20 and my youngest is 5. My oldest son Dominick who is now a junior at Quinnipiac University, on the Dean’s list each semester, did not grow up in the “Core Curriculum” and has been a successful student all while enjoying school lunch, recess, gym, art, music, second language, etc. He enjoyed elementary school, he was able to truly be a child not a “stressed out test score” I remember his 1st day of kindergarten like it was yesterday, the saying “time flies” is an understatement. I want my 5 and 10 year old to enjoy being and learning as a 5 and 10 year old should, not years ahead of where they should be. I want my younger children to truly enjoy the fun and adventures of being a child, and enjoying school without feeling the high pressure of meeting these core curriculum standards!
    Thank you for your passion & concern for the well being of our children!!!

    Christina Paladino

    Reply
    1. Renee Post author

      Hello Christina

      Your note is such a good example of how inappropriate the common core curriculum (and it wasn’t supposed to be a curriculum in the first place) and all of this high stakes testing can be. I taught kindergarten for many years. My students went on to be successful in school and life and that was without CCLS. My last years of teaching, I “looped” with my class (took my kindergarten children to first grade). It was fascinating to work with the same group for two years. My kindergarten children had lots of time to play and explore as did my first graders. They all did very well. They were good readers and writers and loved mathematics.They enjoyed learning!

      All of the educators that I know feel quite strongly that nothing will change unless parents get vocal and active. It’s the parents who vote and, to the decision-makers, that’s what counts. I’m so glad that Joey and her friends are banding together to stop this madness. This is a group that might possibly be helpful https://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Committee-to-Combat-Common-Core-Curriculum-in-NJ-C5-NJ/121717908022986 I’m not personally connected to them but I have a feeling that they might give you some ideas. Check it out and let me know what you think.

      I really do feel for you and your children. I’ll do all that I can at my end to advocate for developmentally appropriate education for children.

      With best wishes,
      Renee

      Reply
  4. Jeff A Johnson

    A few suggestions for her:
    –Opt out of the high stakes testing. In most states parents can choose not to have their children participate in such testing: http://www.fairtest.org/get-involved/opting-out
    –The same with the homework: http://alfiekohn.org/teaching/hwletter.html
    –Ask (politely) to see the Reliability and Validity testing for all standardized testing and all the research the teacher/school have that supports their homework and teaching practices.
    –Consider homeschooling, unschooling, or a private school setting where the learning is child-led and play based if at all possible.
    –Read Alfie Kohn, Peter Gray, and John Taylor Gatto.

    Reply

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