I wake up every day with one goal in mind: How am I going to improve myself or my future today? When I was 25, I had a quarter-life…thing. I won’t go so far as to say I was in full crisis mode but I was definitely freaking out about my future, my past choices, and the fact that I was well and truly an adult. I eventually developed a way to feel like I was in control of my life and moving forward rather than listlessly floating along the current. Now I make big lofty goals, like writing a book or losing weight, and then plan out the small steps I have to take to get there. I know this isn’t a revolutionary concept but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work. Baby steps, people.

So every day I sit down and I write. Every day I exercise. I ask myself, “Erin, is this cupcake you’re staring at longingly going to help you with your goals?” and I answer, “No, no Erin it really is not.” When find myself mindlessly watching an old Seinfeld episode for the ninth time I ask myself, “Erin, is this really the most productive use of your time?” and I answer, “No, you’re right Erin. I’ll go find something better to do.” All those little decisions add up over time.

Good job Erin, but what does this have to do with anything? Before I answer you, I get to ask a question (it’s my blog, I do what I want). What is the purpose of education? Plato, Aristotle, Roosevelt, Confucius, and hundreds of others have wondered the very same thing. Is it to create citizens? To assimilate into the culture? For personal improvement? Enlightenment? Today the typical response is, “To prepare students for college and the workforce.”

These are little people learning about the world around them, seeing things for the first time and encountering concepts that will stay with them for their entire lives. Classes and curricula are designed to guide students down the path of education, so it’s incredibly important that their formative years are well-planned and thoughtful. What if the ultimate purpose of education is to give them the knowledge they will need in order to become useful, successful members of society, are the little steps along the way accomplishing that goal?

Now, our classes and curricula are shifting to become Common Core compliant. The backbone to the Common Core standards is a study titled Ready or Not: Creating a High School Diploma that Counts. The organization behind the study, Achieve, set out to discover what skills were necessary to become successful in college and the workforce. They picked 22 careers, spoke to leaders in their industries and delivered their results. From those 22 careers and subsequent conversations the Common Core standards were created using a method called “back-mapping.” The writers started with the end result and worked backwards to create the steps it took to get there.

If you read through the report, you can see the careers they featured as case studies were machine operator, licensed nurse, actuary, manufacturing technician, events manager, and loan officer. The postsecondary classes they focused on were algebra and calculus, intro chemistry, intro microeconomics, intro English survey, intro philosophy, and intro English.

The result is that students; from the age of five, will be educated with 22 specific goals in mind. Where is the freedom, exploration, and creativity? Where is the individuality? We tell them the world is their oyster yet apparently to become a successful adult you must follow this path. When do we teach our students personal finance? How about health and eating good foods? What about civics? Regardless of college or career, shouldn’t they know financial responsibility and what a healthy meal looks like?

Call me an idealist, but I believe the point of education is to provide skills for living a productive life in society (social skills like sharing and that stabbing people in the eye with crayons is usually wrong), a foundation of knowledge about the world around them (how the solar system is organized up, writing their native language, fire is hot), and the passion and ability to discover more on their own. If you think that the ultimate point of education is more along these lines, you begin to see how the Common Core baby steps are leading in the wrong direction.

With all the complaints about Common Core, some of the loudest come from K-3 teachers. For most states that have adopted them, the standards at these grade levels are incredibly advanced. Shouldn’t we be supportive of every type of person, even if they are little? Some are mathematical, some are linguists, some are artistic, and some children are all of these things wrapped up into a unique little package.

When I decide to lose 20lbs and develop the steps to get there, that is a form of back-mapping. If the dozen cupcakes win their battle and magically disappear in a weekend, I’m not doomed. Even if I fall off the diet wagon for a couple weeks or months, I can still pick myself up and lose those 20lbs. If a student falls off the Common Core wagon, what then? The wagon carries on without them and for the rest of their educational career they will struggle to keep up. Once they’re on that path, that’s it.We must acknowledge the alpha and the omega equally because society does not only consist of doctors and lawyers. The purpose of every step along the way needs to be questioned.

It’s no wonder students are so confused after graduation. Our system tells them, “You can be whatever you want to be!” as long as what you want to be is either an actuary, or a loan officer, or a registered nurse…