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Are Kids Too Coddled? – Frank Bruni gets it right in the NY Times today

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When we hear concerns about whether the Common Core is “age appropriate,” are we really hearing resistance to setting higher expectations for our kids?  Frank Bruni talks about that in today’s New York Times:

The Common Core, a laudable set of guidelines that emphasize analytical thinking over rote memorization, has been adopted in more than 40 states. In instances its implementation has been flawed, and its accompanying emphasis on testing certainly warrants debate.

What’s not warranted is the welling hysteria: from right-wing alarmists, who hallucinate a federal takeover of education and the indoctrination of a next generation of government-loving liberals; from left-wing paranoiacs, who imagine some conspiracy to ultimately privatize education and create a new frontier of profits for money-mad plutocrats.

Then there’s the outcry, equally reflective of the times, from adults who assert that kids aren’t enjoying school as much; feel a level of stress that they shouldn’t have to; are being judged too narrowly; and doubt their own mettle.

Aren’t aspects of school supposed to be relatively mirthless? Isn’t stress an acceptable byproduct of reaching higher and digging deeper? Aren’t certain fixed judgments inevitable? And isn’t mettle established through hard work?

Apparently not, to judge from some reactions to the Common Core in New York, which has been holding hearings on the guidelines.

One father said that while his 8-year-old son was “not the most book-smart kid,” he was nonetheless “extremely bright.” With the new instruction, however, too many kids were “being made to feel dumb.” There was “no room for imagination or play,” the father groused. “All the kids are stressed out.”

A SOCIAL WORKER testified that she’d been receiving calls and referrals regarding elementary-school students on the psychological skids. “They said they felt ‘stupid’ and school was ‘too hard,’ ” she related. “They were throwing tantrums, begging to stay home and upset even to the point of vomiting.” Additional cases included insomnia, suicidal thoughts and self-mutilation, she said, and she wondered aloud if this could all be attributed to the Common Core.

A teacher on Long Island did more than wonder, speaking out at a forum two weeks ago about what she called the Common Core Syndrome, a darkly blooming anxiety among students that’s “directly related to work that they do in the classroom.”

“If that’s not child abuse, I don’t know what is,” she thundered, to wild applause. Then she endorsed the idea of parents’ exempting kids from Common Core-related tests. “The mommies in New York,” she concluded, “don’t abuse their children.”


via Are Kids Too Coddled? – NYTimes.


  1. wgersen says:

    Hm-m-m… I respectfully disagree. The problem with the common core is NOT the core itself… it’s the way it has been implemented to date:

    • Bill Duncan says:

      Well, Wayne, I agree with your comment but not your post. It’s not about what the NYT gets and doesn’t get. I have no interest in defending Arne Duncan, but take Bruni’s column on its face. He’s saying that the Common Core moves us away from propping up kids self-esteem and sets higher expectations.

      There are many things we should do to improve the way we reach kids at risk – from state supported pre-K to full day Kindergarten and much more – but I assume you don’t agree with Anthony Cody’s error #10 in which he charges the Common Core with not addressing poverty.

      Amanda Ripley makes the point in The Smartest Kids in the World that we do low income kids a disservice by setting low expectations for them. I agree. The Common Core sets the higher expectations. It’s up to us to help kids reach them.

      And it’s hard to make the case that our suburban schools are high pressure after reading her comparison to other countries.

      And I don’t get the connection between “coddling” and “the test.” Sure, tests should be fair to kids. But this one has no stakes for kids. Assuming you agree that some annual test is needed, then I should think that the NH version should be seen as a good one. While people like to say it’s “unknown,” it really isn’t. Just look at the web site. Take the test. And in NH, it has no state mandated accountability role for teachers or schools. It’s only real use is for school improvement. The “pressure” we here about in NY, is New York’s doing.

      As you say, there’s more to education than the standards themselves, but we should be able to strive for high engagement and high expectations.

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