Posted ByMike Julianelle
Helping kids with homework has always been tricky, but Common Core makes it borderline impossible for today's parents.
When I get home from work, I’m pretty spent.
My days are usually filled with meetings and deadlines and fire drills and brainstorming and phone calls -- capped off by a long commute on a crowded subway. So, by the time I get home, the last thing I want to do is something mentally taxing. I want a drink, a seat and some television.
But, alas, I have kids, so before I get to do those things, I have to deal with the fruit of my loins first.
Back in the day, this process used to be pretty simple. I had one kid, so all I needed to do was spend a few hours pleading with him to eat his dinner, prying from him the smallest bit of information about his day, giving him a bath, getting him into his PJs, and reading him a bedtime story. The end.
Now, I’ve not only added another child to the family -- a happy, possibly insane 1-year-old with the mind of a pea and the motor of a Harley Davidson -- but my first kid is 6 and is fully ensconced in the first grade. And first grade brings with it a delightful new wrinkle: actual book learning. Every night, my 6-year-old sits down and attends to the very real, increasingly burdensome school-related responsibilities that his teachers charge him with every night – a.k.a. homework.
And this means that my wife and I have to sit down and attend to them, too.
Let’s keep in mind that I haven’t had any actual homework in 20 years. Thankfully, though, my kids are still young. My baby doesn’t yet have any homework (although maybe that’s why he keeps eating garbage). And my aforementioned 6-year-old is merely a first-grader, so -- despite the fact that I’m not so sure first graders should be getting homework at all -- the homework he does get is pretty basic. It'll get tougher as he matriculates, but I think I can handle first grade.
I mean, I’ve seen “Billy Madison,” like, fifty times already…if he can do it, so can I.
Unfortunately, you know what Billy Madison didn’t take into account when he was breezing through elementary school? COMMON CORE.
In Defense of Common Core (Hear Me Out)
I’m not going to lie: Common Core haunts my dreams.
Just the phrase is enough to give me anxiety. And I know I’m not alone. Parents love talking trash about Common Core, and with good reason: it’s ruining lives!
I may be exaggerating just a bit, so before anyone gets the wrong idea, let’s clear up some misconceptions that have sprung up around Common Core. As tends to happen when people have strong reactions to terrible things, a fair amount of misinformation is out there about the Common Core method, most of it unflattering. Many people aren’t big fans – SAD! – and thus some disgruntled parents are more than willing to file all manner of educational sins under the Common Core banner.
Our friends at US News and World Report put together a handy little myth-buster on their site, which makes it clear that Common Core:
A) Isn’t responsible for all the standardized testing,
B) Isn’t a federally-mandated curriculum,
C) Doesn’t only apply to math, etc.
Common Core may be the bane of your existence, but it’s not to blame for everything we hate about the American educational system.
And the thing is, I understand the madness behind the method. The techniques used in Common Core methods, especially for math, are designed to train kids to learn actual processes, rather than to simply memorize information. It’s teaching kids about the building blocks that can be applied to any manner of math problem, and once you get past the semantics, you can see the benefits. If I’d learned the “making tens” method, in which kids are taught to break numbers into chunks of ten to make problem-solving easier, I probably wouldn’t have spent my early twenties breaking out into a nervous sweat every time I had to add 18% to the bill.
Now That We've Got That out of the Way…
My main issue with Common Core is this: skills that I’ve been honing for decades are now rendered effectively obsolete by this new set of standards, thereby making my 20-plus years of schooling utterly irrelevant when it comes to helping a 6-year-old fill out his workbook.
Since we're on the subject, let's use Common Core math as an example. It seems like every math sheet my son brings home complicates what should be simple addition and subtraction equations by forcing him to manipulate bizarre cubes, make him draw a bunch of stuff and use strange terminology that I’ve never heard before (e.g., “number story,” “add-to,” “take-from,” “put-together,” “take-apart").
To me, it seems like there's way too much that goes into solving basic arithmetic the "Common Core way," to the point where these problems become more confusing than an IKEA instruction pamphlet. Half of the time I spend “helping” my son is actually being spent Googling tips and watching YouTube videos just to understand the question! (Sometimes, it gets bad enough that I consider getting math tutors involved. So far, so good, though.)
Ultimately -- and the entirety of this piece notwithstanding -- I have little to whine about. My son is actually really good at math! In fact, he's taken to the subject like someone whose father isn’t a total moron when it comes to numbers, and I couldn’t be more proud of him.
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Not only does his independence (i.e., his ability to handle his math homework almost entirely on his own) impress me, but it also allows me to avoid being drafted to help him, and therefore spares my son from the premature realization that his father doesn’t actually know everything after all -- and, in fact, knows precious little.
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If my 6-year-old figures out that I can’t even do first-grade math, it probably won’t be long before he realizes who Santa really is, before he discovers what Mommy and Daddy are really doing when we’re wrestling, and before he drops out of high school to join Scientology.
But at least he’ll be aces at tipping.