Since the last time I spoke on the Common Core State Standards, people have started to stockpile arguments for or against them. Everything from “suck it up, life is tough” to “kids need recess, and a recess from CCSS” have been put to the fore, with the occasional #corespiracy coming from libertarians and people who hate anything Barack Obama brings as a solution, and I mean anything. I’ll hear nonsense like “The CCSS is like what happened to the Tuskegee Airmen” or “I don’t know why I don’t like the CCSS, but I’m just doing God’s work” and laugh because of the privilege this assumes. I’m also not willing to negotiate with Teabaggers over any sort of protest, even if I find even a strand of agreement with them.
Hence, my lens, my bias, is towards those who otherwise don’t get to speak, who actually want a solution that makes sense for all students, not just the students we treat like lab rats for our little experiments.
For example, I see lots of people use the term “developmentally inappropriate,” which Dan Willingham breaks down rather well here. Then I got to thinking about why I first supported Common Core, too. Sometimes, “developmentally appropriate” sounds like code language for “These kids can’t do this work.” Thus, you could have a situation where some teachers are doing multiplication tables with certain students as an in-depth activity in the eight grade, or never exposing certain students to Baldwin or Shakespeare in high school because “they just won’t appreciate it.” In my head, I find myself snickering, saying “How do you know?”
On the other end, a columnist like Frank Bruni will call our children “coddled” by adults who want everyone to win and never or fight for anything. From my purview, it negates the 1.4 million homeless children in our school system, and the privilege of knowing that, for some children, when they lose, they have enough safety nets that it doesn’t really feel like failure. In one neighborhood, when a child fails, they get tutoring and their parents have the means / influence to speak up as one of their last resorts in case their child doesn’t get a good grade. In another, when a child fails, they’re seen as just another victim of their environment, not worth saving, with tiers of bureaucracy meant to temper down influence, especially if they don’t look like they have anything to say.
I want the best possible education for my students. I want higher expectations, rigorous and thoughtful discussions in classes, and a baseline curriculum that grants access to all students to jobs, learning, and freedom via knowledge. My argument will always be that you can’t make history without having known it. However, learning for proficiency is not the enemy of learning for learning’s sake. Friend Steve Lazar once told me he wants to teach a student something first and foremost because it’s damn good, then because it matches some pre-ordained objective.
Our current CCSS obsession proffers arguments that sound like we’re reading off pamphlets, less like we genuinely have read the standards and the accompanying documents. If you’re going to make a good argument, make it. Please. If you’re for or against the exorbitant amount of testing, accountability measures, and wayward curriculum this comes with, say that. If you’re just trying to make it work because you’re in the classroom and you feel like you can’t do anything about it, that’s fine too. The average teacher feels this, and not enough of the people making these arguments take this into account.
As colleague Michael Doyle has said, “Searching for “the middle” is pointless–search for truth and let it fall where it will.” Let’s have a disagreement, but make it make sense for the people on the ground. Otherwise, you might be coddled into your corner, too.