educationvirtual children by Scott Warnock

“Psst – this will help you with the Common Core”

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A couple weeks ago I was in Boston at the conference of the National Council of Teachers of English. I was there to talk about MOOCs and to serve in my new role as a member of the NCTE editorial board. Among these thousands of mostly high school and grammar school English teachers, I found lots of great conversations. The Common Core hung, like smoke, over much of them.

Everywhere I roamed on that chilly weekend, I encountered the Common Core. It was there when speakers presented at panels. It found its way into the chats between educators. You’d run into it as you made your way through the exhibit hall, working through the 6,500 or so teachers, navigating around crowds at book signings — you might even have spotted Judy Blume! — and picking up some candy, pens, and other conference swag. (Hey, if it’s good enough for Homer [Simpson, that is], it’s good enough for us.)

You’d pass by a booth. They had product. The reps would tell you that their product was good, no, great. It helped students. It made teaching better. It made the lights in your classroom brighter. But sometimes they could tell they were losing you, and in the educational-conference version of “it’ll make you feel good,” they would say, “It aligns with the Common Core.”

Ah, now we’re talking.

It often had the feel of an encounter with the pusherman: It’ll make you feel good.

I might protest to those trying to sell K12 goods. I am a college teacher, I’d sputter. If they had some Shakespeare software, I’d resist further. I am a writing teacher. That didn’t stop ‘em. Nearly trembling, they would whisper, urging, “But, the Common Core….”

I went to a number of sessions to watch teachers present about their classroom work, including a well-attended session about AP courses. The teachers in these rooms had mixed reviews of the Common Core. While the general vibe was that it represented a kind of massification of education, a decontextualized approach to learning through homogenized, top-down plans, everyone also realized, like it or not, that this was the way things were going to be.

Last year, former NCTE President Keith Gilyard, while not openly condemning the Common Core, wrote, “We stand opposed to any initiative or standards that would reduce educational opportunity or equity in our schools through top-down, one-size-fits-all implementation programs.” That seems to well represent the sensible tack being taken of those who teach language arts: Rather than be reactionary, let’s just remember what we’re trying to do in the classroom as we move forward with this national standard.

I do hope the architects of the Common Core know what they are doing. Maybe it’ll bring educators together, build conversations, as it has in some places already. Maybe it’ll make the playing field fairer across disparate educational settings.

But the way it was sometimes framed up in Boston made me pause. There are many people lined up to profit off the Common Core. While I hope this national curriculum is accompanied by technological and pedagogical innovations and that these products are good, I worry that we might take a hit of a Common Core product and keep on hitting until what we’re doing isn’t recognizable as education at all.

Scott Warnock is a writer and teacher who lives in South Jersey. He is a professor of English at Drexel University, where he directs the University Writing Program. Father of three and husband of one, Scott is on two local school boards and coaches all kinds of youth sports.
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5 Responses to ““Psst – this will help you with the Common Core””

  1. It is impressive (and overdue) that all of those teachers will be working on their abs. Lord knows that I have seen a fair share of overweight educators in my day. Cheers to you Mr Warnock for maintaining that svelt wrestlers bod. You are an inspiration!

  2. I am not adequately informed on the Common Core to comment, but that’s never stopped me before…so. I have concerns; ok, that’s a lie. I am unapologetically opposed to wide-ranging, uniform decisions and policies which affect individuals in a personal way…especially when those individuals include my children. I do understand that “education” is, first and foremost, a business from pre-K straight through higher ed, but at least leaving curriculum decisions to states (if not even smaller) offers a more reasonable delusion on which to latch. I count on my children’s education to foster some version of a healthy-enough world view that I can keep my dinner time rants at 4-5 per week. In the words of Ted, “Johnny, I’m frightened.”

  3. The problem with education in the U.S. is that we are such a fiercely anti-intellectual culture that no matter how hard we try to improve the quality of education here we are still simply swimming upstream.

  4. I have encountered this ‘Common Core’ marketing ploy at conferences as well. Should all students across the country be writing about the same topics? Should all students know the same science,history or any other subject?
    Why should a student studying Earth Science in Kansas spend a significant amount of time studying oceanography. Educational and curricular decisions should be local. Not simply made by some Washington baker, who crafts a cookie cutter for the current generation.

  5. This might be off-tracki … or not … you decide.

    But I can’t help but wonder if there might be value to having some education in common across the nation, some common core shared by teachers and students throughout the United States.

    I remember, 30-some years ago, when E.D. Hirsch suggested a common core of sorts in his book, “Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know” … the basic information one needs to relate in a reasonable and informed manner with others in the United States.

    I rather like the idea.

    On the other hand, I wonder if proponents of the Common Core might actually be agents of Our Father Below, promoting that system of education in America envisioned half-a-century ago by Screwtape in his toast to Principal Slubgob of Tempters’ Training College for Young Devils.

    Shall we pray?

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