Friday, November 01, 2013

Common Core Geniuses and Our Children

Today at Perdido Street School, we see one of the most absurd conceivable uses of Common Core Curriculum--rating classic books by  grade level. Reality-Based Educator quotes another fine publication:

Here’s a pop quiz: according to the measurements used in the new Common Core Standards, which of these books would be complex enough for a ninth grader?

a. Huckleberry Finn
b. To Kill a Mockingbird
c. Jane Eyre
d. Sports Illustrated for Kids' Awesome Athletes!
The only correct answer is “d,” since all the others have a “Lexile” score so low that they are deemed most appropriate for fourth, fifth, or sixth graders. This idea might seem ridiculous, but it’s based on a metric that is transforming the way American schools teach reading.

It's almost inconceivable anyone would dream to rate books this way, but in 2013, in the United States of America, Bill Gates thinks it's a good idea. Therefore Arne Duncan and Reformy John King also think it's a good idea, and unless you're a "special interest," like a teacher or parent, you should too. I'm not trained in Common Core and am therefore an ignorant galoot who doesn't appreciate anything, but I'm a pretty avid reader. There's a quote that I heard as a child that has stayed with me for a long time:

Any damn fool can get complicated. It takes a genius to attain simplicity.
~Woody Guthrie

To me, this means if you can communicate with a large group of people you're doing a better job than you are if only few people understand, or care to understand you. There's a reason people still sing This Land Is Your Land decades after Woody's death, and that reason has nothing to do with the amount of large words Woody chose to insert. There's a reason people will still read To Kill a Mockingbird years after the silly sports book has been forgotten.

But alas, to the geniuses who invented Common Core, the qualities that make a work classic are of no consequence whatsoever. The important thing is to use as many unfamiliar, archaic and difficult words as possible. Because to them, the more tedious crap a kid can manage to slog through, the better a student it makes the kid. I've had multiple parents of young children tell me this year, the first of Common Core around here, their kids who used to love to read now cry at night and fake being sick in the morning to avoid school. That's a shame.

It's our job to inspire children, to make them love life, to make them appreciate what we have to offer so they themselves can offer something someday. Common Core doesn't understand that. A favorite book series of mine is The Number One Ladies' Detective Agency. It uses simple language, and manages to convey wisdom and humor while doing so. I've been able to teach it to ESL students, who loved it.

If you can trick kids into loving reading, they'll be more likely to read on their own, and to excel even when they need to slog through the tedious crap we all have to encournter. I went to college and had my fair share of professors who made me purchase books of awful essays just because they happened to have written one. I did what I had to do, got through the coursework, and sold or tossed the unmemorable volumes.

But that was only because I grew up in a house full of novels and mystery books. I read whatever my parents left lying around, and it was almost invariably more interesting that whatever my teachers prescribed. Kids without this advantage need teachers who will give them high-interest reading, not arbitrary crap deemed to be their level simply because it contains a lot of words.

It's tragic that ignorant, unimaginative non-educators are now dictating what our children will do in school. Is this really making them college-ready? More likely it's making them Walmart-Associate ready, or why would Gates, Walton, and Broad be ponying up for this crap?

They don't use it on their kids.

Why in the hell are we tolerating their experiments with ours?
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