11/27/2013 04:55 pm ET Updated Jan 27, 2014

Common Core Is Common Sense, Not a Government Takeover

I've read just about as much as I can about Common Core. I've sat through days of staff development in which very smart people talk for a very long time. I've pored over scores of documents that attempt to capture and define Common Core. I've watched my colleagues wrestle with it, test it, and embrace it. I've observed the professionals around me champion Common Core as the first step toward recovering a lost decade of education.

I've also read just the opposite. Hashtags, tweets, blogs, and posts -- I've read them all. I've read vitriolic websites and hostile editorials. I've read angry letters, impassioned pleas, and thoughtful critiques. I've swallowed the bitterness as though it were my own just to feel the fire in my belly.

So here I am, stuck between two factions trying to outshout the other. Luckily, I teach high school debate. I'm in the business of understanding rhetoric and argumentation. So how do I resolve this debate? How do I form my own seaworthy raft of truth amidst the cacophonous and clashing waves of discord? I engage with the text, and there's your first clue.

And from the depths of partisanship and from the shrieks of peril and salvation, a consistent observation emerges like a drumbeat.

Generally speaking, I've noticed that those who support Common Core believe that it's good for kids. They argue that Common Core teaches kids to think, speak, write, and read at professional levels that prepare them for college and career opportunities. These skills aren't political, and they aren't divisive. All political parties support smarter kids, and that's what Common Core seeks to produce.

Generally speaking, I've noticed that those who oppose Common Core believe that Common Core is a powerful symbol of something more ominous: government takeover, loss of states' rights, and so on. They indict the authors as being unqualified, and they point to the lack of teacher inclusion in the design process. I've held in my hands the boilerplate letters from furious parents excusing their child from any Common Core instruction. I'm not sure how we excuse a child from reading more fluently, writing more clearly, and speaking more articulately -- but if these are the skills that these parents object to, then either they don't understand Common Core, or they are dangerously willing to sacrifice their child's own academic development for reasons of fear or political vengeance. I cannot accept either as a valid reason to excuse kids from learning basic skills.

Although I certainly understand the fear of big government, I do not believe that the fear rightfully applies to Common Core. When the government tries to take my rights away at the airport, or in my car, or in the wedding chapel, or in the delivery room, or in my bedroom, or inside my body, or in my gun cabinet, or in my email, I think some healthy fear and concern is justified. But when the government tries to take away my Oxford comma, I just can't seem to muster the same level of outrage, anger, and hostility.

I think there is great wisdom in states' rights, and I think the states are smart to calibrate the key concepts on which they all agree and to teach independently the concepts on which they do not. Such calibration is necessary for a transient society, and just as my cholesterol shouldn't fluctuate when I cross the state line, neither should my academic skills. That isn't a government takeover, it's common sense.

Currently, neither side seems to be engaging with the other. Those who like Common Core aren't interested in the big government debate and would rather focus on why it's good for kids. Those who oppose Common Core seem to say very little about whether it's good for kids and would rather focus on the big government debate. Ultimately, I am unconvinced that Common Core is a big government issue. I think it's good for kids, and until I start reading opposition to Common Core based on why it's not good for kids, it has my full support.