In planning for the upcoming school year, I made the mistake of reading some of the documentation behind Common Core. Imagine being motivated to the pursuit of goodness by this:
“One of the key requirements of the Common Core State Standards for Reading is that all students must be able to comprehend texts of steadily increasing complexity as they progress through school. … The first part of this section makes a research-based case for why the complexity of what students read matters. In brief, while reading demands in college, workforce training programs, and life in general have held steady or increased over the last half century, K–12 texts have actually declined in sophistication, and relatively little attention has been paid to students’ ability to read complex texts independently.”
Read through the rest of the document, if you have the stomach. See if you can find even one idea that makes you want to jump up and grab your Frost or Eliot or Blake. All you will find is that, according to Common Core proponents, the main purpose of education is to prepare for college and get a job. To that end, you will find a heavy emphasis on fact-filled non-fiction books, predominantly in the sixth through 12th grades, while kindergarten through fifth-graders are allowed half of their literature to be fiction.
“Bill Gates just wants to create minions to work at Microsoft,” a friend said over coffee last week. Reading such drivel makes me agree.
If our goal is to create corporate minions, we are right on track. But if we want to make humans, we’re about to careen off a cliff. A recent article in Forbes, aptly titled “It’s Urgent to Put the Liberal Arts Back at the Center of Education,” says:
“Nobody stops to ask what education is for, because the answer is implicitly accepted by all: an education is for getting a job. It is, in other words, for being a cog in the giant machine of post-industrial capitalism.”
Is that all we want for our kids, jobs and cogs? William Logan, author of Guilty Knowledge, Guilty Pleasure: The Dirty Art of Poetry, suggests instead we teach poetry, having children read Shakespeare, Milton, and Pope by fifth grade. “A child taught to parse a sentence by Dickinson would have no trouble understanding Donald H. Rumsfeld’s known knowns and unknown unknowns,” he wryly writes.
Ruth Sawyer, storyteller extraordinaire, offers perhaps the best rebuttal to Common Core I’ve yet heard:
“It’s easy for all of us—whether we be storytellers, librarians, teachers, or parents—to meet the needs of the ordinary reader: the boy who says he wants a book about baseball, building radios, space exploration; or a girl who asks for a book about Mexico, about shells. But what of those children who are reaching for more? We so rarely know, from what we can read of childhood as it runs so swiftly by us, of those who are needing to have us guide them toward creating beauty, music, poems, cathedrals, pictures. Here are children reaching for the stars. Let us never forget them—let us reach with them.”