The Common Core and an Uncommon Bookstore

Parents are figuring it out. States are begging to delay implementation. Radio talk shows are screaming with people who “had no idea” and now that they are finding out the truth about Common Core, they are rightfully terrified. As a writer and writing and literature teacher, the reality that classic literature is being all but stripped from the curriculum of American education makes me breathe a sigh of relief that I teach in two institutions who applaud teaching the classics as a method of honing critical thinking and the development of ideas. Our own government, with the help of Bill and Melinda Gates, doesn’t agree.  So they came like a thief in the night to our states offering them more Title 1 money if they quickly adopted Common Core. Most could not resist the temptation and the line that higher uniform standards will certainly result in higher quality, more competitive students. They came to South Carolina when their state legislature wasn’t even in session, so there would be no chance for review and debate. Although they adopted it, they are now reconsidering. Governor Nikki Haley’s said:

“While I understand and agree with looking outside South Carolina for ideas to improve educational outcomes, I firmly believe that our government and our people should retain as much local control over programs as possible.”

All this brings us to A Book Above, the new bookstore in Elmhurst, IL. The brainchild of single mom Carolyn Carillo, who needed to make a living for her children. Not many of us would turn to selling books if we were in dire circumstances, but like Nikki Haley, Ms. Carillo is a brave woman. On a recent frostbitten Saturday afternoon, I led a fiction workshop for a table full of hungry, creative minds ages 8 – 13 seated in the upper level of her store. We were surrounded by great books. Through the Socratic Method we brainstormed our way through the Five Elements of Fiction using a black and white illustration of a house blasting off into the sky on a dark, wintry evening. Every child contributed to our roundtable and at the end of the hour each one had the outline of their own short story and plenty to smile about.  All this happened because Carolyn had the wherewithal and belief that children on a cold, Saturday afternoon would venture out with their parents and grandparents to a new bookstore to learn how to write.

A Book Above, the schools where I teach as well as the brave states of Texas, Virginia, Alaska, and Nebraska all know that good education comes locally, by those who have a passion to educate the students closest to them. Programs that are developed by the people who sit day after day doing the work and seeing the lightbulb go off when the concept takes root. These are the people who know what works and what doesn’t and the farther away it drifts from the hearts of the people and their educators, the more maligned and misinformed it becomes.

So if you are looking for an alternative to Common Core being crammed down the throats of your children and you share in the desire to protect their hearts, check out The Greenhouse at  or Home School University at  and the new bookstore, A Book Above at 136 Vallette Street in Elmhurst IL, just behind Elijah’s Coffeehouse. In all these places, the classics are being upheld as a mantle for the development of critical thinking, engaging ideas and hearts. We are busy creating and teaching curriculum that molds these young servant leaders into the stewards of America’s future –without Title 1 money.

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