I have been unable to figure out whether being a journalist is a blessing or a curse.
An easy oversimplification of our job is that when we're at our best, journalists see things from both sides.
I can't tell you how often I've interviewed one side for a story and thought, "That's a great point," only to interview the other side and think the same thing. Luckily, I have always enjoyed the luxury of only having to present both sides, never having to make a judgment about which side was correct.
Recently, I received a letter from a man named Ed who said, "I have been a fan of Common Core based on what I have read previously. If this article is factual I will have to rethink my support. Perhaps this is fodder for future editorials. In any case, I would be interested in your take on this information."
In the interest of disclosure, the information that I received from Ed was from Rush Limbaugh; however, despite the predictably partisan view of Limbaugh, the document appears to be sourced and cited, even if the examples the talk-show host uses are probably the worst case examples you can find about Common Core.
Anytime we print anything about Common Core, it lights up our website. It draws comments. It gets letters. And, we are often accused of helping to implement a plot for worldwide control of our children. Readers vary on whether we're doing this as part of a concerted conspiracy or whether we in the media are just clueless dopes being duped into it.
Regardless of conspiracy, Common Core in Montana has its detractors, like in many states.
Some insist the name Common Core masquerades a sinister motive — that it is just a cover for what is a systematic spying and indoctrination aimed at training our children to be obedient to the federal government. In fairness, the idea behind Common Core is much more benevolent: In an effort to put more rigor into an education system that is falling behind, American education officials developed a "core curriculum" that would help ensure more academic rigor and consistency. Forty-five states, including Montana, have adopted it.
The Limbaugh publication, "Nailing the Left," lists a bunch of examples of poor questions taken from Common Core curriculum. The examples range from confusing to those which seem to cry out for context, like making high school students argue the Third Reich's position in a high school history class.
Having covered education previously, I skeptically want to reassure critics and conspiracy theorists that they should not be too worried about Common Core — it's the latest educational gimmick to leap America ahead in a world of fierce global competition. How quickly we've forgotten the ambitious No Child Left Behind curriculum which was supposed to reform America's lagging educational system.
I am not an expert on education. I do not have a degree in education. I have taught at the university level, but I am hardly qualified to discuss the merits of curriculum.
Here's what I do know: I got a great education through the Billings Public Schools. And yet the education that I got would hardly be adequate for the challenges that students graduating today will face. The world is a more competitive place.
One of the amazing things about covering education is that everyone seems to agree: We need tougher standards, higher expectations and that the world is more competitive. The irony is that every national program aimed at improving the standards — whether it was No Child Left Behind, implemented during a Republican administration or Common Core by a Democrat — is picked apart by critics.
What I can say — judging by the feedback that we receive — is that there are people who intensely dislike the Common Core. Still, for all the criticism, there are precious few alternatives that are suggested. The focus tends to be on the flaws of the Common Core, not the remedies.
So, I am right there with Ed. I have concerns about the Common Core. And, yet I also believe in a curriculum with higher expectations.
Most of the time in journalism, our job is to present both of these sides. Sometimes, though, in these columns, we can do more than just present two sides of an issue.
And here it goes: For those who don't like Common Core — what's your solution? How can we implement a uniform, consistent curriculum that prepares students for a world that is growing more competitive?
Saying "no" isn't a solution — especially when it's our future at stake.