12/06/2013 09:48 am ET Updated Feb 05, 2014

Here's What Is Wrong With the Common Core

It's almost laughable to see the same people who used to tell us -- directly and by implication -- that our only meaningful goal (as teachers) was preparing our students to perform successfully on annual standardized tests through the "mastery" of "standards"-- now telling us that we have to teach our students to think for themselves and access knowledge, work collaboratively to be innovative and creative thinkers.

Don't get me wrong. It is great to finally have education policy that isn't repulsive. It is reassuring to know that the people in suits are finally in accord with the objectives effective teachers have always had -- and to no longer have to pursue those objectives subversively.

It's about time.

And why has it taken the education-industrial complex so long to figure this out? That is sort of a rhetorical question, though I'd love to hear one of the standards-test-prep champions explain it.

But I'm willing to put all that behind us -- and do my own private mourning for all the minds wasted on the now failed fad. You know, move ahead, move on, and embrace the future with our new-found collective wisdom.

Only there is a bigger problem. There is a problem that could easily derail this whole Common Core enterprise. And this problem is so obvious it shouldn't have to be pointed out. But it does.

How do we teach creativity, innovation, collaboration, and intellectual empowerment to our students in a system that is oppressive, repressive, based on mistrust and fear?

I think I understand why so many schools are this way. I know what kind of destruction and mayhem children and young adults are capable of. I've seen what can happen in a school that lacks adequate structure and external discipline. But I've also seen how responsible and insightful and conscientious our students can be -- even those with a "discipline record" -- if we trust and respect them and set limits that are constructive and not reductive.

But how do we do that? How can we act responsibly when we are responsible for the lives and safety of students -- not to mention our legal obligation to prevent lawsuits against the schools for which we work -- unless we are cautious and conservative and controlling of our students? How can we trust our students with any real power in the schools?

I'm not mocking this tendency toward repressiveness in schools. These are reasonable questions to ask. But we're supposed to be intelligent, educated people. We're supposed to lead and inspire the children we're entrusted to educate (and by "we" I mean teachers, administrators, and the elected officials who oversee what we do). And if we're now asking students to be critical thinkers, enthusiastic collaborators, and fearless innovators, shouldn't we lead the way and set the example?

So how bout we start by thinking critically about the oppressive conditions of so many of our schools and enthusiastically collaborate with our students to fearlessly innovate ways to transform schools to reflect the values of the new Common Core.

Because if we don't make schools less oppressive, if we don't empower students in and out of the classroom, then the Common Core is worse than a fad. It's a fraud.