From the Daily Censored
We’re being Steamrolled into one-size-fits-all
by Susan Ohanian
We’d do well to heed 19th-century abolitionist Henry Ward Beecher warning to gardeners against being “made wild by pompous catalogue.” These days, Common Core State Standards (CCSS) hucksters pitch a pomposity more noxious than giant hogweed. We should name the CCSS for what it is “a dangerous distraction from the real needs of children. No matter how many hundreds of millions the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation pours into developing, promoting, and enforcing the CCSS, no matter how many desperate governors sign on to collect blood money from Arne Duncan’s flimflam supporting Gates’ obsession, no matter how many curriculum border patrol agents police school hallways to make sure all 15-year-olds are reading Death in August on schedule, the poverty rate of children attending most urban and many rural schools exceeds. . . .
Here’s a central problem: despite all the money and policing that goes into this, the poverty rate of children attending most urban and many rural schools exceeds 50 percent — and that remains the elephant in the room. The fact that so many of our children live in poverty, not teacher incompetence or a dearth of rigorous texts, is what should concern us. If the Standardistos weren’t so intent on downgrading the very idea that fiction teaches important lessons, they might heed Alice Walker’s observation: The most important question in the world is, “Why is the child crying?”
Back during a different education crisis, I received an emergency credential to teach English in a New York City high school larger than my hometown. When one of my students refused to read the assigned text, I panicked and ran to my department chair. He gave me the best pedagogical advice I ever received: “Then find a book he will read.”
Later, when I taught 8th grade, 15-year-old Keith was astounded to read his first book ever. “I read it, Miz O. I really read it. Honest. Listen, I’ll read it again.” Keith’s reading of Hop on Pop is one of the triumphs of my career. Funny thing: My principal hadn’t understood my determination to subscribe to the Dr. Seuss book club. And today’s CCSS fundamentalists would term Keith’s experience as my failure to supply the “substantial supports and accommodations” to give him “access to rigorous academic content” such as Little Women, “Paul Revere’s Ride,” and Travels with Charley.
As ever dutiful teachers across the country provide scaffolding to force feed rigorous books chosen by committees outsourced from Achieve, Inc., millions of children will never want to read another book. Look up the definition of rigor.
Billed as the CCSS architect, David Coleman delivered a teaching guide to the pompous and sterile pedagogy underlying CCSS when he spoke at the New York State Department of Education in April 2011, proclaiming, “[A]s you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a sh*t about what you feel or what you think.” Certainly, nobody writing the CCSS gave a fig about what teachers thought, and now the model lessons designed to turn English classrooms into boot camps for the global economy are spreading faster than ragweed. Coleman heralds the CCSS emphasis on nonfiction, insisting that readers gain “world knowledge” through nonfiction, which he calls “informational text,” as though fiction doesn’t provide readers with plenty of critical information. Skeptics might doubt that replacing Brown Bear, Brown Bear with a Wikipedia entry on Ursus arctos will fix our balance of trade — but the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco’s Web site is listed as a CCSS exemplary text.
Although I find it easy to mock the CCSS exemplary texts, don’t misunderstand: If the CCSS listed all my favorite books, I’d still denounce it. Different readers need different books, and teachers discover children’s needs through close encounters, not by committee fiat. Education policy makers should read Arnold Lobel’s lovely little fable “Crocodile in the Bedroom.” A crocodile who loved the neat and tidy rows of the flowers on the bedroom wallpaper was coaxed outside into the garden by his wife. The crocodile couldn’t stand the “terrible tangle” and retreated to his bed, admiring the neat and tidy wallpaper. There, “he turned a very pale and sickly shade of green.” With David Coleman as their spokesman out on the stump, the National Governors Association, the Council of Chief State School Officers, and the U. S. Department of Education –acting in concert with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, — prescribe a very pale, sickly shade of green future for our deliciously messy classrooms. Certainly, Lobel’s moral — without a doubt, there is such a thing as too much order — is critical here. Letting corporate school reformers steamroll our schools into a neat and tidy standardized one-size-fits-all product puts our children in great peril.