Teaching Profession Opinion

Implementing the Common Core and Mr. Potato Head

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — March 19, 2013 2 min read
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By 1964, the toy called Mr. Potato Head, no longer required a potato. A plastic head was provided along with the eyes, nose, mouth and ears. There were holes in the head in which the pieces fit. What did this do to the children? Well, if shoved, a nose could fit in the hole in which the eye belonged, but essentially there are only 5 places facial parts can fit. No longer could a child imagine, be questioned, and explain. No longer did the child’s imagination determine the face. The standard location of facial parts became non-negotiable.

In this same decade the public sentiment about our students’ lack of preparedness in science and math soared and schools responded by focusing on math, science and technology. Have we improved? Will the Common Core improve our students’ ability to be college and career ready? Parenting and values have changed, television, Internet, cell phones, all influence our students. We are expected to get children college and career ready, and are held accountable for the fact that they have been determined not to be, when the world they are living in has changed and shares the burden of the responsibility with us. This is not intended to be a criticism of change, but a comment on the speed with which we are being asked to implement such a large and dynamic transition in teaching and learning. It is also a reminder that we alone are not entirely responsible for the reported weaknesses in the system.

Mr. Potato Head of 1964 represents the changed world. There is no question that we need to change those of our practices that worked well for the last century but not for this one. How can the Common Core be implemented successfully when the implementation of the Common Core (at least right now) leaves such limited time for professional learning, so teachers can make changes in how they think and plan for discovery, creativity, reflection, and fun. Too many are like good soldiers, forcing it into classrooms and crossing their fingers that they are preparing students for the Common Core assessment.

This makes as little sense as the change to Mr. Potato Head. We may have saved a potato from the hands of children, but with unintended consequences: the loss of fun, wonder, creativity and more. Teachers may begin to know how to teach using the Common Core, but they are exhausted, frightened, and some, leaving the profession. Principals can barely deal with issues of morale, their own and that of their teachers. They, themselves, are trying to wrap their heads around the Common Core while dealing with all the other issues and needs swirling around them daily. If the potato with all its potential for creativity and learning, itself, is gone, what might the unintended consequences of this implementation agenda be?

A tweet we received this week: “Legos were awesome as a kid because you got to make something completely up to your imagination. Our lessons need to be more like that!” A 21st Century use of Legos can be found in the use of SCRATCH, developed by Mitchel Resnick, LEGO Papert Professor of Learning Research, Director of the Okawa Center, and Director of the Lifelong Kindergarten group at the MIT Media Lab.

This is an update of the original post. The correct date of the change made to Mr. Potato Head is 1964. The original post indicated it was 1960.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.