Say what? Yes, you read it correctly — if you made it to the period. Now you know what a Common Core standard for 12th grade English reads like. When I think of the nation’s governors (practical executives) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (business people), I don’t think of this kind of language. Yet the governors initiated it, and the U.S. Chamber touts it.
Maybe the problem is the standards were jointly initiated by the governors and the Council of Chief State School Officers (that means all the nation’s state school superintendents). Probably it was the state school superintendents who contributed the gobbledy-gook language. They use it a great deal.
Oh, the chicanery of the name Common Core, not to mention its origins and implementation. “Core” implies the heart of a matter. “Common” implies widespread acceptance or practice. So far, so good.
But … is the Affordable Care Act turning out to be affordable? Has the Defense of Marriage Act resulted in the government’s defense of traditional marriage? No! And neither is CC a widely accepted idea nor does it get to the heart of the matter regarding what students should learn.
But that didn’t keep governors and state departments of education from jumping on the bandwagon. Top-down has never been so clearly demonstrated. A bandwagon has never filled so fast. Forty-six states have adopted the jargon-ridden standards, though several states have begun to have second thoughts. More on them momentarily.
We should credit the nation’s governors for trying to improve our schools. But governors are politicians. Their perspective is what invites critique. It is too narrow. Couple that with the U.S. Chamber’s perspective and you get what Dr. Diane Ravitch calls “early 20th century factory-line thinking.” Ravitch, America’s most respected education historian, opposes CC.
Simply put, CC is a list, a grade by grade level list of things students K-12 should learn, according to the governors and their 27-member writing committee composed of teacher union leaders and representatives of the testing industry. (Chicanery alert.) Incredibly, most of the standards read like the one above, frequently and confusingly referencing each other. Currently, the list holds standards for English and math only.
CC proponents are dismissing opponents as dupes of talk-radio bombast. Proponents claim CC will not lead to further federal intrusion into education; however, President Obama quickly adopted them and used his Race to the Top money as the proverbial carrot to entice states to adopt the standards. See why the bandwagon filled up so fast?
A second look at the arcane standards has led the governors of Louisiana, Indiana, Utah and Oklahoma to back away from them. Even the nation’s governors in their annual conference early this month left CC off their agenda, indicating its new hot potato status.
Opponents also dislike what CC portends. Although the standards now affect only English and math, when biological science standards are added, what views on the origins of man will the standards address? When history is added, what events and people will be included or left off?
Our governors and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have done to teaching and learning what Mark Twain’s formal study of piloting did to his love for the river. In “Life on the Mississippi,” Twain describes how his steamboat pilot training killed the beauty and the rapture he held for the river.
Nobody who has read Twain would accuse him of being a romantic. Twain was a pessimist whose pessimism grew deeper as his days grew longer. Even so, he appreciated life’s mysteries and the ebb and flow of nature. Twain didn’t object to his job training, but to the way his mentor turned an art into a science.
Today, teachers and students are having their rapture turned into regimen. Standards plus tests, plus be-all scores are not what inspired Alexander Graham Bell, Thomas Edison or Henry Ford. Those titans of commerce were moved by curiosity and the inventive spirit. There’s nothing common about that.
Common Core textbooks, lesson plans and tests are a vendor’s paradise. (Chicanery alert.) In an attempt to objectify all things, as did Mark Twain’s trainer, we have crowned uniformity and factory-line thinking.
Schools must have standards, but small groups of parents, teachers and local school administrators could sit down and produce them in a day’s time. It doesn’t take Bill Gates’ millions or fancy consultants to tell us what our children need to learn.
One of the Republican state school superintendent candidates, Mike Buck, favors CC. The other Republican, Richard Woods, opposes it. Their run-off on July 22 should tell us where voters stand on the matter.
Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher in Kennesaw.