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Gainesville crowd debates Common Core's merits
English professor says educators played key role in devising controversial standards
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An English professor told a Gainesville audience Tuesday night that educators, including herself, were heavily involved in the development of Common Core standards but they also were “passionate” about their work.

“Part of the reason we believe in what we’re doing is because these standards are an opportunity for us ... in a lot of different ways,” said Jennifer Wunder, who spoke for nearly an hour during a public hearing at Gainesville High School.

She likened the standards to bowling pins and “there’s a lot of ways to get that (bowling) ball down that lane.”

“What we’re trying to do is give our teachers the ability to help our students get those balls down those lanes in the ways that work best,” said Wunder, who teaches at Georgia Gwinnett College in Lawrenceville. “For those students and teachers, we’re trying to say, ‘Knock those pins down. How you get the ball down the lane matters less.’”

Wunder spoke as part of a meeting sponsored by Kevin Boyd, member of the state Board of Education for the 9th District, on the Common Core Georgia Performance Standards in mathematics and English/language arts and the “performance and problems of public education,” according to a news release from the state Department of Education.

The board’s representative in each of Georgia’s 14 congressional districts have held public meetings. Boyd’s meeting and another held Tuesday night in Thomasville wrapped up the series.

About 85 people attended Boyd’s session at the Pam Ware Performing Arts Center and, from the outset, there was clearly some opposition to Common Core in the theater. One woman was handing out literature stating “Stop the national Common Core power grab.”

The standards initiative, which has both staunch opponents and supporters, are a set of standards that, according to the Common Core State Standards Initiative, “outline what a student should know and be able to do at the end of each grade.”

The standards “were created to ensure that all students graduate from high school with the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in college, career, and life, regardless of where they live,” states the initiative’s website.

“What we’re looking at with these new standards is the depth of knowledge, a mastery rather than a skim, a surface,” Wunder said.

She also talked about students learning in different ways.

“If diagramming sentences works for half your students, hallelujah,” Wunder said. “Let them diagram sentences. ... It works fabulously well for some students, but for other students, it’s confusing. That’s all right. Not every student needs to learn how to diagram sentences.”

That didn’t sit well with Dr. Garry Hamilton, an orthodontist from Hartwell.

“Back in the dark ages, I had a teacher who loved to diagram sentences and she made me diagram sentences,” he said.

“About a week ago, I was looking at something in the Georgia Constitution and I was trying to figure out exactly the meaning. And I did it by going to diagramming the sentence in my mind. So when you’re telling me that (skill) is not important in teaching kids, you just turned my switch off.”

Joe Stapp, whose son attends Dawson County Middle School, told Wunder at one point during her talk that he objected to the use of pop culture books, such as “The Hunger Games,” as his son’s “main source of literature.”

The Common Core does not “tell you texts like that,” Wunder said. “You need to talk to your schools, your (school) board ... if they’re reading ‘The Hunger Games.’ If you don’t like it, tell your school. Keep fighting. I would.”

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