Finding Common Ground on Common Core

In his song, In This Love Together, Michael Bernard Beckwith urges us to:

See with the eye behind the eye
Hear with the ear behind the ear
Feel with the heart behind the heart
So we can
See the invisible
Hear the inaudible
Do the impossible.

We live in interesting times where cynics  would have us believe that people are separate from each other and that we must identify ourselves as “us” vs. “them.” Frequently this division translates into the perception that in order for our views to be right, the other side’s must be wrong. Nowhere in education is this more evident than the swirling controversy surrounding the adoption and implementation of the Common Core State Standards.

What if it weren’t true that one side must be right and the other side must be wrong? What if there was a place where both sides could be right? What then?

I would suggest that this is absolutely possible, and that there is a third position, one where everyone is seen, heard, and understood. This is a place where everyone is right. Through discovering and embracing this third way, we can finally move beyond the status quo and engage in real transformation of our education system on behalf of all students and their future.

Over the last several days I listened to many hours of panel discussions, legislative testimony, and hallway conversations from both supporters and detractors of all things having to do with the Common Core State Standards. At first glance, you might believe that this is an either/or proposition; that you either support CCSS or you don’t. But what was most striking to me about these interactions was that everyone, regardless of what “side” of the issue they aligned with, had a lot more in common than not. 

As I thought about Michael Bernard Beckwith’s song and  the stories from both sides that resonated with me,

Here is what I saw with the “eye behind the eye:”

  • Parents and community members who love their children and want what is best for them.
  • Teachers who have had the love of teaching sucked out of them by over-testing and being held accountable for things over which they have little or no control.

Here is what I heard with the “ear behind the ear:”

  • Frustration that school experiences have been narrowed to the point where there are few, if any, opportunities to engage students in music, art, and physical education since those subjects are not tested.
  • A desire to do what is best for students and advocate for more support and resources like time, materials, and technology.

Here is what I felt with the “heart behind the heart:”

  • The pain of one mother whose child became sick over high stakes testing and another whose child has an individualized education plan yet does not receive individual treatment because of the over-emphasis on accountability.
  • A desire to prepare kids to be successful adults by engaging them in authentic learning experiences where they can apply their learning in a real-world context.

When the Common Core debate is framed this way, there is no right or wrong; there is no “us” vs. “them.” There are only parents, teachers, and community members who want our kids to be happy, healthy, and well prepared for what life has to offer them.

I, for one, am ready to become a warrior for the human spirit and work towards solutions based on common ground around the Common Core. Anyone interested in joining me in doing the “impossible”?

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  • Shannoncdebaca

    Love this post???win win!


    I was working with some parents and mediating a conflict last week for a friend who leads the school. Your post came at just the right time! Everyone wants the same thing, better schools. The challenge is to lost the politics and select the best way to improve them. Trusting caring professional teachers is a great start. I think the first step is, like you laid out, find our. Mormon ground. From there the task becomes more of a collaboration and less of a conflict.

    I know I am oversimplifying here as some of the groups have conflicting needs but we have focused on the needs too the exclusion if the real goal. Kids and their needs get lost in the shuffle. Glad to hear your strong voice in the wilderness of all this talking sanity and grace.


    • LoriNazareno

      We all want the same things!

      Thanks Shannon!

      I find that starting with identifying common ground helps to put everyone at ease rather quickly. Sometimes we have to work to find that common ground, but it is always there…always! It is absolutely true that, when it comes down to it, we all want the same things; to feel safe heard and loved.

  • KatePeretz

    Important message!

    I completely agree with what you are saying. I read an interesting (and quite brave) post on a facebook page recently that echoed your thoughts exactly. The page is a constant outpouring of angst and frustration and is often directed full force at the common core. The strong soul speaking was putting out there the thought, “How will things get better if we can’t even listen to each other?” An open mind is the best place to begin any conversation…a willingness to listen a perfect first step down a difficult road. 

    • LoriNazareno

      Great Question!

      Indeed, how WILL things get better if we don’t listen to each other? So, often we don’t really listen to hear, we listen to formulate our response. I find when I listen, really listen I hear more ways that we are alike than we are different.

      Great question and advice about listening being the first step.

  • JessicaCuthbertson

    Mind, Hearts, Ears, Eyes….

    As always you strike a perfect chord between a “call to action” for all of us who care about student learning and advocating for the profession, and remind us of the common ground we share, regardless of our ideas on how we (collectively or as individuals) work to support/transform schools and schooling.

    I saw, heard, and felt many of the same things as part of the conversations on the Hill last week and I’m still thinking about the imaginary (and too often real) boundaries and barriers between schools and communities. 

    I will absolutely join you in the “impossible” — yes, I want to be a warrior for the human spirit!

    • LoriNazareno

      Warriors unite!!

      So glad to have you as part of my tribe my friend! Or shall I say to be a part of yours?

      You know it broke my heart last week to see folks so upset and believing that we had to be on opposite sides, especially when in reality we were saying the same things. I am saddened by the notion that many thing we must always be in an either/or world when the both/and world has all the solutions. So – how do we bring folks together around the things that matter the most, our kids? We MUST figure this out lest they continue to pay the price.

  • Jozette

    Right on!

    Lori your point is excellent. We have seen time and again that operating from drastic ends of the continuum gets absolutely nothing done. This common ground middle-of-the-road approach is exactly what is needed in order for all of our students to be served in the manner that they deserve. Brava!

    • LoriNazareno



      Thanks for your comments and you are absolutely right – when we stay rooted in extremes it only serves to maintain the status quo. We MUST come together to find solutions that honor everyone’s perspectives. And this approach is far overdue!

  • KristenSluiter

    What are we for?

    So nicely framed, Lori! Given that I was out of the country when all the Common Core implementation started in my state and haven’t returned to the classroom, my view from the “outside” has really been interesting. I keep up with a certain group on FB that is admantly anti-Common Core and it is certainly interesting to read comments/ideas. That said, when I’ve spoken up and challenged folks to define what they are for, I’ve been booed out of the room. 

    It’s fine to be against something that hurts students but our strength also lies in our ability as teacher-leaders to define what we want/how we see beyond Common Core or any standards that are determental to our students. Isn’t that just good teaching/what we want our students to be able to do? Problem solve?

    I am absolutely heartened to see teachers in Seattle and Chicago respectively starting to stand up against more standardized testing and I’m left to wonder if the problem is Common Core or if it’s over-testing. 

    Thank you for creating this discussion!

    • LoriNazareno

      I always enjoy asking people

      I always enjoy asking people who are complaining and/or clearly defining what they are against, to tell me what they are FOR. It’s interesting to see the question roll around in thier head and, frequently struggle, to explain what actaully do want. This is true in education and in life in general. 

      I believe that you are correct in that a lot of teh push back around CCSS is that folks are tired of over-testing, useless tests, lost isntructional time because of tests and the ways in which test scores are being used. These are all valid points that should be explored so that we can create a balanced assessment system that gives teachers and parents information about how their kids are doing and how to adjust instruction to meet their needs and gives information about schools and the system.

      When push comes to shove, we have had standards for a LONG time and the CCSS is a new set of standards that define what it means to be college and career ready. They are the next step in the evoltion of standards and should be expected as we move forward in redesigning the public education system. They key to how students and teacher experience the standards is in the support, implementation and assessment of progress towards those (or any other) standards. 

      I am anxious to have a real and honest dialogue about what the challenges and possiblities are in our system so that we can get to solutions that make a difference for our kids. And I suspect that I am not alone….