What the Common Core backlash says about us

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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There are many legitimate reasons to oppose the Common Core, but the illegitimate ones are the most compelling.

This makes sense. It is probably easier to get folks riled up about the government indoctrinating our children than it is to raise concerns about federalism and the proper role of the federal government.

But it’s not as though this were a binary choice. Those are merely two of the many reasons this issue has become politically toxic for Republicans.

Recently RedState’s Erick Erickson astutely flagged yet another reason:

Beyond the emotional arguments, the philosophical arguments, and the crazy arguments — there are a lot of crazy arguments against common core — there is a very practical argument the common core supporters have no answer for.


Moms cannot help their children with math homework. Reporters who are single and common core supporters without kids may not be able to relate here or identify with this, but that’s why this is such a sleeper issue. Moms cannot help their kids with math homework and that’s creating most of the rage against common core.

Erickson says this goes “beyond the emotional arguments,” but I would suggest this is, in fact, very emotional — which doesn’t mean it’s irrational, or even impractical.

Change, of course, can be good or bad, but — either way — incumbents almost always fear it (and, in this case,  we the parents, are among the incumbents). Think of it this way: If you are a mom or a dad who has invested a dozen years in a public education, learning the old way of doing math, you’re hardly an impartial observer. You have a vested interest in stasis.

In politics, emotion almost always trumps logic, and it’s easy to understand how this issue taps into all sorts of fears and insecurities. (“What good is a better way of doing math if I can’t help my kids with their homework?”)

So, putting the Common Core baggage aside, it’s worth asking a larger question: What if there really are better ways to teach our kids? Would we cast them aside because they make us uncomfortable — because they’re different from the way we were raised?

To me, at least (granted, my chosen line of work implies I’m not a numbers guy), the number line method of subtracting (as advocated in the Common Core) feels more intuitive and meaningful than the traditional standard algorithm.

And when it comes to multiplication, I have to agree with this: “[M]ost students see math as a series of steps or even tricks — line up the numbers, write a zero on the second line — without a rationale…”

We shouldn’t pursue change for the sake of pursing change. But being innovative and entrepreneurial often means casting aside conventions and traditions, which, in some cases, were arbitrary to begin with. So if you want to kill the Common Core, go ahead. Just be sure you’re doing it for the right reasons — not just the emotional ones.

Matt K. Lewis