It’s been eight years since the Common Core State Standards were unveiled and states began adopting them for use in their evaluation programs.  The firestorm of controversy which initially greeted their introduction into American education from both sides of the political aisle seems to have died down somewhat and presently the Common Core appears to have been accepted as a part of the landscape in most of the nation, even as a handful of states that have not adopted it have established similar sets of academic standards. Thus, the efforts of politicians, corporate executives, and educational bureaucrats over the past three decades have borne fruit.  But I would like to suggest that there is a great deal about the CCSS initiative that is rotten to the core.  Here are 12 reasons I believe the Common Core is bad for America’s schools.

  1. It homogenizes learning.  By adopting a uniform set of standards, states are essentially establishing a ”one-size-fits-all” approach to learning.  Any educator worth her salt knows that students learn in different ways and that education needs to fit the needs of the student, not the reverse.  It was Ralph Waldo Emerson who once wrote about ”a foolish consistency, [which is] the hobgoblin of little minds.”  The Common Core is all about foolish consistency and runs a super-freeway through all the little hills and dales of student individuality.
  2. It represents a top-down approach to education reform.  While supporters proclaim that the Common Core is a set of standards, not a national curriculum, seasoned educators know otherwise.  Peter W. Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars writes that ‘’[the Common Core] is, in fact, very much a curriculum. The sneakiness in this case is . . . aimed at getting around legal barriers that prohibit federal efforts to establish curricula, but the sneakiness is also aimed at diverting teachers and the public from the truth . . . The Common Core standards are finely detailed, grade-by-grade specifications for what should be taught, how it should be taught and when it should be taught.’’  Top-down governance is most dramatically associated with the colossal failures of the Soviet and Red Chinese economies in the 20th century. On a far smaller scale we can see the same thing reflected in this government legislated top-down approach to how we educate our children (see Lawrence Baine’s article ”Stalinizing American Education,” published originally in the Teachers College Record in 2011)..
  3. It focuses too much attention on skills (when it should be focused on content):  Education is supposed to be about passing down a nation’s culture to the new generation.  Ultimately, education should be about introducing learners to the amazing world around them.  What does one make of, thus, a standard like the following: ”Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explain how they support the main idea.” (ELA Literacy, RI 3.2).  What does this have to do with the solar system, the lives of cells, George Washington, or the Grapes of  Wrath?  The Common Core draws teachers away from the good stuff, the learning material that is intrinsically interesting and worthwhile to impart to young minds, and instead puts the emphasis on artificial learning skills.
  4. It encourages the fragmentation of the learning process.  Children are best taught initially via ”wholes” not ”parts.”  Students need to understand the why and wherefore of a topic before delving into the intricate structure of a learning topic.  The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead wrote in his book ”The Aims of Education” that students must first learn something through the stage of ”romance” where topics are made fascinating, so that they can then move on to the next stage of ”precision.”  The Common Core skips this essential first stage of learning and takes the learning process itself and slices it into hundreds of tiny fragments that in and of themselves have little to entice young minds.
  5. It represents a heavily ”elitist” approach to learning.  The architect of the Common Core, David Coleman, was a Yale graduate, a Rhodes Scholar, and a student in classical philosophy at Cambridge University.  He has effectively imported his elitist training by imposing such so-called innovations as ”close reading” on the English/Language Arts Standards.  Close reading is essentially a distillation of a school of literary criticism called the New Criticism, a method popular at Yale University in the 1950’s.  It places a primacy on sticking to the text of a book and not giving credence to an author’s background, the historical period in which it was written, or the personal ideas and feelings of students.  Why Coleman’s personal prejudices and preferences should serve to drive the education of millions of students is an unanswered question.
  6. It is biased in favor of non-fiction reading as opposed to fictional texts.  Again, because of Coleman’s own biases, there is an emphasis in the Common Core on ”informational texts” rather than reading and/or writing good fiction.  This emphasis undermines the imagination of the student.  Referring to students’ writing from personal experience, Coleman has famously stated: ”no one gives a shit what you think or feel” effectively negating the importance of the subjective self, a particularly devastating bias that hits hardest during the teen years when students are busy building a sense of identity and need learning experiences that fuel that project.
  7. It fails to provide flexibility for students in special education.  With its plethora of skills and standards, the Common Core doesn’t make provision for the fact that many students experience a level of difficulty with literacy and numeracy that makes it all but impossible for many of them to meet grade-level standards.  While the Common Core officials have distributed circulars specifying that certain accommodations can be made in the way that standards are taught (including the use of Universal Design for Learning tools), little leeway is given for the actual taking of the tests.  In New York state, according to one report, only 7 percent of New York City students with disabilities scored “proficient” or better in English and 12 percent in math.  The problem here is not just with students with special needs, but represents a failure of flexibility for all students.
  8. It encourages teachers to teach to the test.  Increasingly, teachers are being held accountable for the test results of their students.  In many cases, teachers are being evaluated partially on the basis of their students’ performance on standardized tests, which focus on Common Core skills.  With their salaries and jobs on the line, many teachers play it safe by drilling students during instruction time on items that are likely to be found on the final tests.  This test preparation takes vital time away from real learning and teaching, and sends a message to students that knowledge is important only in so far as it increases the chances of doing well on a test.
  9. It puts pressure on teachers to teach in developmentally inappropriate ways, especially during the early years.  By focusing on grade-level skills that are highly academic in nature, the Common Core puts pressure on teachers at the early childhood and primary levels to teach using paper-and-pencil methods rather than using the rich exploratory experiential learning approaches that are developmentally appropriate for children from preschool to third grade.  This failure to address developmental needs can have serious consequences for children’s social, emotional, creative, and cognitive functioning.
  10. It discriminates against students in low socio-economic areas of the country.  The inequities that exist in this country with regard to people of color and other minority groups (including students speaking another language), mean that these students won’t receive the same quality teaching, use the same learning-rich resources, or have access to the same standards-based learning experiences as kids from rich suburban areas of the country.  The Common Core State Standards establishes a high bar for America’s students, but it doesn’t provide teachers and schools with the financial support necessary to help millions of students achieve at that level.
  11. Very few experienced teachers who’ve taught in the trenches were consulted in establishing these standards.  The Common Core has emerged as a result of the efforts of primarily non-educators (politicians and corporate executives) or educators who are out of touch with American schoolchildren’s real needs.  The educational ”summits” that led to a standard-based curriculum often included no educators at all.  As noted above, the architect of the Common Core was a Rhodes Scholar who never taught schoolkids, and Jason Zimba, the architect of the math section of the Common Core is likewise a Rhodes Scholar with no experience teaching elementary school students.
  12. It encourages a bureaucratic attitude toward learning and teaching.  With a Dewey Decimal System-like approach to learning (e.g. ’ELA.W.11.12.3b – Use narrative techniques such as dialogue, pacing, description, reflection, and multiple plot lines to develop experiences, events, and/or characters,’’) the Common Core appeals mostly to bureaucrats who are less interested in facilitating rich learning experiences in the classroom, and more interested in tracking compliance of students using this Byzantine set of codes as a Procrustean bed within which to confine the bright spark of genius that is every student’s birthright.

Interested in the ideas discussed in this article?  Then order Thomas Armstrong’s new book:  If Einstein Ran the Schools:  Revitalizing U.S. Education

Visit my website at:  www.institute4learning.com.

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I am the author of 16 books including my latest: The Myth of the ADHD Child: 101 Ways to Improve Your Child's Behavior and Attention Span Without Drugs, Labels, or Coercion (Tarcher-Perigee). http://amzn.to/2ewwfbp.
40 Responses
  1. Michael Toso

    REALLY???? Sounds like someone forgot to read the standards.
    1 Homogenizes learning
    Teachers have always adapted to learners using “ONE SIZE FITS ALL” textbooks.
    2 top-down approach
    Common Core ONLY requires the OLD methods with alternatives to avoid “one size fits all”
    3 “Determine the main idea of a text” How more detailed can you get when LOCALS decide actual texts.
    4 “It encourages the fragmentation of the learning process.”
    Teachers choose texts & textbooks only have room for pieces, not whole texts.
    5 ”elitist” approach to learning
    Evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the
    same historical event or issue by assessing the
    authors’ claims, reasoning, and evidence.
    6 bias to informational texts.
    Informational texts include texts for other subjects.
    7 special ed
    people forget grade level is maturity, NOT AGE.
    8 teach to the test
    ESSA requires testing for ALL states even without Common Core.
    9 inappropriate
    CC says “teachers know what works & decide how to teach.”
    10 discriminates against low income areas.
    Want to blame textbooks for different local budgets too??
    States tried to fix by using state income tax instead of local real estate taxes.
    11 few experienced teaches consulted.
    Public including many teachers were asked to provide input. Same was done in OK. Anyone ask Jeremy Kilpatrick who was on the validation committee “Regents Professor of Mathematics Education at the University of Georgia”
    12 Bureaucratic attitiude
    dewey decimal system helps track standards for providers. The CCSS language is for the teachers & publishers who create learning environment curriculum.

  2. Michael Toso

    Why focus on rejecting Common Core instead of how to improve the system with a meaningful improvement process? Repeal has meant states becoming independent with minor improvements.
    Standards help improve curriculum while allowing local variation. HOWEVER, state standards limit choices by state lines.
    Wiser for states, individuals or any orgs to form groups to share ideas, efforts & cost of improvements at any level.
    Should allow anyone to pick from ANY choices anywhere like before 1990s & state standards.

  3. Rick Bobrick

    A very complete and accurate list.

    Ask any middle or high school teacher who now works with the Common Core generation of students how well this baseless experiment has worked. Especially those teachers who work with students that rely on the public schools for almost all of the learning that takes place in their lives. The adoption of failed methodologies while ignoring cognitive learning theory and brain science has, to put it mildly, backfired. To put it properly, Common Core state standards and their companion tests have been an abject FAILURE, inflicting harm on a generation of young people who deserved much better.

  4. Susan

    This is a very helpful article. It explains why that generation cannot engage in critical and creative thinking, why they have a herd mentality with no consideration of the consequences, why agreeing to disagree is beyond their comprehension — even why they can’t even make change at a retail counter.

  5. I remember when common core was introduce and it bade things more challenging to the point were my parents sent me on vacation early so i repeat the grade.

  6. Madeline Foerster

    Fantastic points. I think most educators would agree with all of this. You might want to also consider how common core greatly disadvantages students with special needs.

  7. Dana Bell

    Doctor Armstrong, I am in the MAT program for Education. I was wondering if you plan on publishing on this topic? I plan on bringing your article to class next week. I would love to have a comment directly from you to share, since you seem very responsive. Why hasn’t common core been reversed if not proven to be effective at this point in time? Also, should the whole system be thrown out, or should we make modifications? – Bell

  8. I find this very disturbing! I can’t say enough negative things about this! I have tried to be positive and just can’t get there. I completely disagree with common core methods. There is not enough information when needed to solve a problem or there is no proper reasoning behind the question that is being asked. I work in the school system part-time. This is just an absurd mind game. This does nothing but cause frustration and puts a label on the child. Yes, they do want teachers to teach to the test. This is a huge problem! Children are not retaining any of the material that is covered by this method. I am not sure what needs to happen but this needs to stop immediately! I wish that I could do something about it. It isn’t very wise to be working on a 17 page math packet for 7th grade at 1:00 am in the morning. This is practice for the assessment. How beneficial is it? Not very beneficial when you and your child are both in tears because it is beyond complex. Pretty sad that a college student couldn’t help tutor my son when he was in 3rd grade because he was afraid he wasn’t showing him the proper way to work the problem. I wouldn’t use the word proper for this nonsense. I hope and pray something gets done about this situation. I find this to be mentally unstable and nothing but a shame to society. Ask a child! The adults who have no children shouldn’t even be commenting on how great it is. I think a Mercedes S Class looks and drives amazing but I don’t know exactly how good of a car it is because I don’t own one. See my point! Not comparing a child to a car. I am just simply trying to say that if you haven’t worked with something like this before you shouldn’t comment. Being able to do and teach are 2 different things. This method also will make anyone think that they have Attention Deficit Disorder. This is being diagnosed to freely. Also, to much time spent on video games isn’t helping matters. There is a connection between the 2. Common core is a video game gone bad!!

  9. sorry about the delay in getting back to you – I’ve just finished writing a book that is critical of the common core and other state standards – actually, more and more states are opting out of the common core in favor of their own state’s standards (which I’m not sure are any better and could be worse) – frankly I think the whole system should be thrown out and we should base our schools on the developing of curiosity, creativity, imagination, wonder, playfulness, tolerance, care for nature, and other important values.

  10. Scott

    Hello. Read your article above. Massive validation, thanks. I
    work in special ed (resource room) in NJ, and see the utter frustration of the teachers, and myself. One math book, in particular, raises everyone’s blood pressure. I’ll be interested in exploring your site further for other articles. Much success.

  11. Matthew Richter

    Do you know where i can find the full context that the ralph waldo emerson quote was used

  12. Matthew Richter

    Do you know where i can find the full context that the ralph waldo emerson quote was used( i need a reply asap my argument paper is due in a few days

  13. Chuck Tudor

    One of the commenters referred to Common Core as an experiment. This reminded me of an experiment in the 1960s called New Math. Whatever this method was supposed to do, it turned out to be nothing but a disaster, at least for me. My parents, who were reasonably good at math couldn’t help me and the teachers were in over their heads. Learning math from elementary through high school was a miserable experience. In college I figured out that I needed to unlearn the methods that I struggled with and was then able to do reasonably well with the mathematics required for computer science and business. I hope this won’t be the case for today’s students.

    I’m not an educator and I couldn’t begin to explain why New Math didn’t work, but I understand that I’m far from being the only kid that didn’t get it. Experiments should be left in laboratories and not used when educating our kids.

  14. Michael

    Why do ppl forget Common Core is NOT teaching methodologies, testing, data collection etc.
    Do the commenting teachers NOT want some say in how to teach??

  15. nate

    I just did some common core math with my daughter. The way they are teaching big multiplications seem absurd. If there are multiple methods of getting the right answer than let it be. Shoot i don’t even care if they show there work except to check if there not cheating. But the way there teaching math seems made up and does not provide any logic in the matter. I m still just learning the absurdities, but it is really upsetting and i am sure i am going to come across many more as my daughter grows up. Hopefully something changes, because I think we can all agree that education is taking a slide in America.

  16. Cheryl Tuttle

    Thank you for a great article. I agree with this list, especially # 3,4 6, and 7, but I am not an Educator, I am a Phd. I have a child with learning disabilities, and in 3rd grade. His Special Ed teacher is great, helping him but I think she would agree with this list as well. Hope he can pass 3rd grade standards. If he was in my 3rd grade that I had so many years ago, he would be just fine. I did not have algebra in 3rd grade, but here I sit with a Phd. I did not read well in 2nd grade but here I sit with a Phd and an excellent writer myself. My child is having significant difficulties with the material in his class and it scares me to death fearing he will flunk out and then we will be dealing with significant self esteem issues.

  17. Thanks for your response to my blog post. You use the term ”learning disabilities” but isn’t this just the school’s way of trying to explain why what they have to offer your child isn’t what he really needs? I suspect that he’s an atypical (not disabled) learner in terms of traditional education (just like you were). I hope he hangs in there until he can succeed in life on his own terms!

  18. Concerned for the future of our children.

    I have a 12 year old son with a great love for learning. He is in love with reading, science, and was on his way to loving math as well. We recently moved to public schools. He had attended private schools (Catholic) since age 3. My wife and I are nurses and I am also an engineer. He is doing very well in all his classes except math due to the over complicated methods of common core math. He struggles with just keeping all of the numbers it takes to do even the most simple equations. Common core is making him feel like he is not smart enough for advanced classes, even though he has been a straight A student in a very academically advanced school since first grade. Common core is a mistake, and I agree it should be removed immediately.
    I also agree that educating our children to pass a standardized test is ignorant. No test can actually measure the intelligence of a child, and we are robbing our children of the fun and excitement of learning, not just what will prepare them for life. But what will give them a chance at a full life and allow them to grow as individuals and find their own ideas and unique thoughts. I hope this madness ends soon.

  19. Thank you for sharing the story of your son. One phrase that stuck with me: ‘was on his way to loving math.” It’s almost criminal that there’s no provision in the math Common Core for loving learning and that that objective should be met before any of the others are. MDs have a motto ”do no harm.” I think educators need that also. Thanks again!

  20. What planet am I on?

    “Do no harm” is what I have been saying too. I am a star of the public school system- straights a’s basically my entire life. My husband and I are both engineers w/ graduate degrees. Loved school and it was mostly easy for me- except even back in 1988, I recall having to stay after to school and retake the Reading Comprehension tests several times and still couldn’t get it right, despite being GATE and the top student. So this crap has only grown like a fungus since then.

    My son is now in first grade and it’s a disaster. Kindergarten was total trauma for him and nothing but full-court press for assessments and pushing all of the ADHD buzzwords at us to coerce diagnosis and medication. The combination of zero-empathy authoritative discipline combined with the meatgrinder curriculum makes for one anxious little boy. My son is a late March baby and was a near-miss at birth- so while he has met every milestone on time, he has always had a 6-9 month lag to the “herd.” There is no tolerance for this tho.

    If I knew 10% of what Kindergarten is today I absolutely would have red shirted him. Basically if you don’t have an abnormally mature child, especially for a boy, putting them in Kindergarten at age 5 is a mistake. Even our school psychologist said he held his own son back- yet continues to judge mine.

  21. Jess Anderson

    I agree with what you say, but that last little jab at educators in your last comment about us doing no harm hurts. I did not design Common Core. I do not agree with it. I voice that opinion to my administrators. All of the choices to adopt or not adopt CCSS is way above the teachers. We just get left with the burden and the blame. We don’t go into teaching intending harm. I do my level best with each child to make sure they are not harmed by CCSS crap. I am a special education teacher. An even higher burden is on the shoulders of the special education teachers because we see how the CCSSs hurt children. The change needs to happen well above us and then the government needs to put a consortium of everyday teachers in charge of determining educational directions in the United States. The “do no harm” needs to be directed at lawmakers.

  22. When kindergartens first became academic, there was a big outcry. Now, however, it seems that everything normalized around it, and those who complain are voices in the wilderness. Preschool is the new battleground. I saw an article the other day about getting preschools ready for math. When will it end?

  23. I’m sorry for that last jab, it was not intended to focus on teachers per se, but on all educators (administrators etc.) who are in a position to do something to change the tide of developmentally inappropriate learning in our schools. Each one of us is in a position to do something tangible – I think it’s passing the buck to expect the ”higher-ups” to make it all right. My sense is that even if they tried to make it right, the higher-ups (politicians, CEOS, educational bureaucrats) would screw it up all over again. I won’t hold my breath for Common Core to go away. We need to be guerilla educators making real change happen in diverse and skillful ways.

  24. Aine

    The main issue with Common Core is that it has confused everyone and seems to add unnecessary pressure on kids. I may sound redundant here but with Common Core I don’t see this change as aiding in preparing kids for college. The thing is that learning should happen sort of in steps which are part of a cohesive whole and not fragmented. So, you learn the basics of math and then when you get to college you build on that learning. Now at college, it’s time to deepen your knowledge and it’s a more gradual transition, kids feel less tension and can enjoy learning. It seems almost like common core is turning the elementary and high school into a college style learning and kids aren’t ready for that yet their minds need to be developed first. Harvard appreciates individuals and not robots so it feels like common core is trying to “rev” up the learning so every kid can go to harvard but harvard isn’t right for every kid. By the time they get to college they will be so confused and burnt out that it could affect their decisions and learning styles, along with their self esteem. Plus, when they get out into the world and start looking for jobs… here’s what happens when you push them all into science and technology there will not be enough jobs for them all and that market gets saturated, so it needs to be broader and about helping the kids become individuals and themselves (starting from pre-school) so that they can make good decisions on their own and survive in the world. They can choose if they want to go into science and tech without it being imposed on them. Too much pressure on young kids is making them highly anxious and I will say anxiety affects your ability to think properly so they won’t absorb the information anyway, some kids are an exception to this and will always thrive under the pressure but they won’t be healthy. I’m not on board with advanced pre-schooling either, this is about the kids and kids are not trophies to show off for the parents or a corporate pawn. Can we stop competing and start honoring our children for who they are, stop imposing and encourage them. Stop rushing them and enjoy the little things which will become part of the bigger picture. Without the small steps taken first, (the foundation) you can’t get to the next part and things collapse. When did learning become so political? It’s disgusting and it’s ruining the children.

    Even the early childhood program to train teachers has shifted, there are classes on how to teach to the diverse classroom and this takes away from the psychology courses that can help teachers help kids better. Teachers, I feel on their own already know how to accept differences and “cultural diversity,” they don’t need a college course on it. Maybe a seminar but not a course as part of a curriculum. UGH, it’s a mess. I Studied this before common core and i see a huge difference, in fact I still use what I learned in every day life and have helped many people in my life with these skills. We may homeschool our daughter if common core is sticking around, it’s ridiculous.

    One last thing, they don’t all have autism and adhd. Kids are supposed to have a lot of energy because they are just kids, you do not need to suppress this but help them deal with how to pay attention without sitting them in front of screen for hours, guide them, pay attention to their needs. Autism is being reported earlier but development happens at different rates for each child so this is all part of the perfectionist, competitive, my child is the best culture. Children aren’t perfect and you see how anxious the parents are becoming now, they immediately think something is wrong with their kid if they aren’t doing XYZ by 2 months. I could be wrong about all this but I don’t see kids as happy as they should be, I see stressed out, confused, and anxious kids with hyper competitive parents Please someone fix this.

  25. Thresa

    Thank you so much for this, and I only wish we could somehow get this out there much more!!! I am a special education teacher for 7th and 8th graders as well as a parent of 3 middle school boys in the state of IL, and I can’t stand the education philosophy of our district!! I thought is was just our district, but maybe it is out there more than I thought??? All I know is that we are teaching to the test, and I feel like our students are graduating high school more dumb than those before them – I mean students can’t even read an analog clock – they don’t know what that is!!!!
    I saw my grandpa’s test when he graduated 8th grade back in the early 1900’s, and I can’t answer those questions… we’re stupid nowadays.
    I feel helpless ’cause I don’t believe in our education system, but I believe in my kids and my students. What do I do? I truly believe that our government (not Trump though) wants us to be dumb because then they have more control over the citizens. As a teacher, I have major conflicts right now – I LOVE teaching but I can’t stand being forced to do what the gov’t deems appropriate, which is BS!!!!
    Please help!!!!

  26. Arts are being defunded; everything is focused on STEM now (I believe the A in STEAM was a bone that was thrown to people like me). Education now is all about training for the workforce. I am currently enrolled in a BA English program, with a concentration in Creative Writing, and taking a Literacy for Emergent Learning course as an elective. The wording in my textbook has been curious with regards to children’s fiction vs. nonfiction, as there is an emphasis on “high-quality nonfiction” but not on fiction being of high-quality. Interestingly, there is little focus on test-taking (all of which are open book) and much more emphasis on critical thinking (which seems, per your article, to be the enemy of Common Core), with activities as keeping a journal, writing essays, and participating in group projects. As my daughter is autistic, the portion about children with special needs was particularly disheartening.

  27. Thank you for your message. STEAM is a way out for those who are defunding the arts (e.g. ”see, we’re doing art!”) whereas the arts become heavily diluted in a science-based tech-based curriculum (or as you point out, they disappear entirely).

  28. Thank you for sharing your experience of the ”dumbing down of America.” The only thing that puzzles me is why you exempt President Trump from this phenomenon, since he is a central part of the government.

  29. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. We’re definitely not letting kids be kids anymore, but rather making them fit into some image of what we want them to be. This ”disappearance of childhood” is a great national tragedy.

  30. Herbert Lubitz

    Common Core is the first step in the dumbing down of the new Generations. They can’t allow the children to grow up and have the answers. Take Trump, for instance, he was taught from a good education strategy and has solved problems that the other Presidents refused to do. They want wars and to be able to quantify their obese spending packages, they don’t want people to know how to stop the government from being a dictatorship, they want people to smart enough to run the machines and dumb enough not to know how to fix that machine.

  31. Thanks for your note about the dumbing down of America (John Taylor Gatto wrote a book called ”Dumbing Us Down” – an education book that received quite a lot of attention a few years back). I do disagree with you about Trump. I think he’s doing more to threaten the establishment of a dictatorship than past presidents. In his bold efforts to cut through the bullshit, he’s endangering the U.S. Constitution.

  32. Jaden Ro

    The common core is just thrash. It does not help me with many things. I failed Ela, even though I get good grades on it. I got to “real” e\Ela helped me. Thanks for this wonderful list. It helped me, and it had good reasonings. This could change the world. You are the person that might change the world. So maybe a petition will do it?

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