Common Core is A-OK (and Morris Jeff is even better)
You get worked up about crazy things as a parent. There have been huge parental debates at meetings at Ruby’s school, Morris Jeff Community School, about the color of shoes and socks, the official timepiece for determining if a student is tardy and the proper places to park one’s vehicle. Carpool lane etiquette is crucial. Shirt logos need to be analyzed. And last year, some of the sorority girls who volunteered at our Halloween night needed to be wearing more substantial costumes. (This year, they will just wear jeans and T-shirts.)
Don’t get me wrong: I can get as fired up over khaki socks as the next parent, but in general, I am beyond thankful that Ruby is at school where she is. The heated discussions we have are few and far between, and everyone is really pretty reasonable, parents and administrators both.
I can’t say the same for some of the criticisms of Common Core I’ve been hearing lately. Although I am leery of too much drilling and testing, I don’t think Common Core is a liberal plot to encourage all of our daughters to get abortions, nor do I think it’s a sneaky attempt to gain access to our personal data. I think it’s an attempt to boost students’ knowledge and skill sets. I don’t think it’s perfect, but I think it’s OK.
In fact, I have seen Ruby’s math knowledge deepen this year as she had to work on a series of number bonds to make up the sum of 10. “Oh, I get it!” she said triumphantly after finishing yet another worksheet. “It goes up one and down one. So 9 + 1. And then 8 + 2. Eight is one less than nine, but then that one goes over to the two because two is one more than one!” I don’t know that she got there because of Common Core, but I do know that math wasn’t taught this way last year. Is the connection she made because she is a year older or because Common Core is trying to teach in a different way? Who knows? Her reading has also accelerated at such a rapid pace that I can no longer send her father a text about her without going into another room so she can’t read over my shoulder. Again, I can’t give Common Core credit for this, but it certainly isn’t holding her back.
I care about my daughters’ educations very much. I value knowledge; I love to think things through and see every angle; I like to fancy myself both intelligent and intellectual. And I have bought my kids educational toys and books galore and shelled out the cash for various lessons. So it’s not like I don’t have a stake in Common Core. I want it to work. I believe it can.
But when it comes down to what I want Ruby to get out of school, reading and writing and math is just part of it. More than that, I want her to learn to love learning, to learn how to get along with people, to learn her role in the world, to learn that the world is diverse and wonderful, to learn how to think for herself and make her own decisions. Not all schools can do that; in fact, many fail miserably. Many schools that might have well-behaved students or students who score well on standardized tests are simply not preparing their students to be citizens of the world. And although I am not advocating treating kids like they are all precious special snowflakes (sometimes you really do need to just sit down and shut up, kids), it is very important to me that schools respect children as people. Morris Jeff Community School, in all of these regards, is just such a perfect fit for Ruby.
Case in point: On Monday, I emailed Ruby’s teacher.
Ruby is worried about picture day tomorrow because she says that last year, the people taking the photo were very aggressive about asking her to “tooth smile.” She says she doesn’t like to “tooth smile” and thinks it looks unnatural. I told her it was OK with me if she just smiled however she wanted, but she is concerned that if she doesn’t comply, she will get on red. So I told her I would write you an email asking you not to punish her for not “tooth smiling” as long as she is polite about declining the request. I hope this is not the most ridiculous note you’ve ever received.
Very best wishes,
She wrote me back right away and said she understood and thanked me for letting her know. That right there was great. All I could’ve expected from her teacher, really.
But Ruby reported back to me after picture day that the photographers had insisted that she “tooth smile,” and she (uncharacteristically) “just went with it.” When she got back to class, Ms. Byrne was thoughtful enough to ask how it had gone – and then she took Ruby back and asked them to retake the picture with a normal smile.
I was so touched I thanked her personally and then emailed the principal:
I can’t tell you how much it means to me that she took Ruby’s concerns and my email expressing said concerns so seriously. It is absolutely important to me that Ruby learns the basics at school — and she is excelling. But I feel like probably many schools would be up to teaching her how to read and add. The reason I am so thankful every day that she is at Morris Jeff is that NOT many schools would be so full of teachers and staff who treat the kids and parents with so much kindness, understanding, and genuine respect. The fact that Ruby got to see that her mom and her teacher are a team who will stick up for her and advocate for her — instead of laughing off her concerns or dismissing them as silly — makes my heart happy.
This respect for children is a hallmark of Morris Jeff, and I think this, as much as anything, will be invaluable to our students in the future because it will give them a sense of self-worth and self-respect that will inform everything they do.
I meant every word of it, too. Every time I start to talk about Ruby’s school, I sound like a cult member or something because I am just that happy with it. I love the administration. Ruby has had absolutely fantastic teachers all three years she’s been there – that can’t just be a fluke. The other parents are some of my best friends. The other kids are just so darn smart and funny and friendly. The school has a sort of weird early-checkout policy that kind of annoys me on occasion, and it is admittedly pretty rigid on shoe/sock choices, but other than that, I wouldn’t change anything about it.
I might not be all that passionate about Common Core (pro or con), but I couldn’t be more passionate about Morris Jeff.
(Morris Jeff, the only International Baccalaureate elementary school in the state, will be holding an open house for interested prospective parents and students on Nov. 7. Next year, the school will have pre-K up to Grade 6, with plans to eventually go up to Grade 8. If you’d like to find out more, stop by the open house or email me for details.)