He wasn’t tall but he was fit and wore the beard of a man in charge of his own schedule. His shop opened last year and he doubled its inventory since, adding furniture like a stool with inlaid walnuts, another with legs of horn, and collectibles like the Adirondack Stone Pig, a ceramic filled with hot water to warm cold feet.
A customer found a worn first baseman’s glove.
“You used to teach English, right?” the customer asked.
“Yes, six years,” the man said.
“Well. I’m glad to see you’re still enriching the community.” He paid and left.
Off Main Street near the new carousel, the store was freshly painted with a flag outside, a warm welcome for customers. My son slapped the ball on a plastic game, my teen checked out cigar boxes, and I looked over the antique cast iron banks once given by banks to new account holders.
I asked the owner if he missed teaching students and he told me he was still involved with his son and coaching. He missed some things about the job, but he was happy with the store.
“May I ask why you left?”
“My school. Well, it was following along with the rest of the state, you know.”
I didn’t know, though I had an idea.
“Oh? I’m not from New York. Connecticut,” I said. “So I’m not sure.”
He looked at me with no expression, like he was considering what to say. Business owners are apolitical with customers, careful not to offend and thoughtful of differing opinions.
“It’s Common Core.”
“Oh, I see.” I asked him if the language arts curriculum was spelled out for him, books chosen, lessons, and the rest.
With a steady gaze and measured voice, he said, “Scripted out, actually.”
There’s the word of choice from an English teacher on the state of Common Core in New York, from someone who’s had to teach in the Orwellian world of today’s classroom.
Common Core State Standards aren’t just “standards.” Ask the teachers who teach it. They are more than that. They mean method and dictation and SCRIPTING what and how a lesson is taught.
I told him about Connecticut’s new testing, the Smarter Balanced Assessment to ensure alignment with Common Core. My eleven year old tested for over 10 hours (unlimited time meant she continued beyond scheduled time, taking up class time) as guinea pig for the new assessments which take twice as long as the standardized test for law school (LSAT 3 hours) and much longer than the test for medical school (MCAT 5 hours)!
We continued our conversation and talked about books. I told him I just finished a couple books set in New Orleans, that I loved Confederacy of Dunces. He laughed and mentioned the author and details about the protagonist Ignatius Reilly. He is reading Wizard of Oz to his young son and Nelson DeMille for himself; I noticed a paperback by the author on the shelf behind the register.
A few patrons came in and asked questions which he answered politely. Articulate, knowledgeable, and friendly, this entrepreneur possesses skills enough to succeed, if the market will bear another antique store.
We left the store and I thought about the visit the next few days. I picked up a copy of Nelson DeMille’s book Quest set during the Ethiopian Civil War. DeMille is a former U.S. Army officer and Vietnam veteran who writes historical thrillers, a masterful storyteller. He’s an excellent writer and I’m learning about history in that part of the world. The owner is still teaching; in this case the student is me.
I like the man and I wish him well, but his story is a disturbing one for the education system. Federal educational overreach and the loss of good teachers are the unintended consequences of Common Core.
I’ve been thinking about the teacher’s decision, his store, and the Stone Pig designed for “cold feet.” The ceramic jug provides warmth for the extremities and symbolizes the remedy for another problem, a new profession for a disillusioned teacher.
Cold feet summarizes a growing attitude about the state of education today, fearfulness and a loss of confidence.
* Excerpt from TheFreeDictionary
Fearfulness or timidity preventing the completion of a course of action.
Loss or lack of courage or confidence
** Smarter Balanced Consortium table on testing times for grades 3 to 11 in English and mathematics.