Thursday, August 22, 2013

Charles M. Blow Joins NY Times Common Core Lovefest

It looks like, in the space of a week, three NY Times columnists have come out swinging in favor of the Common Core. The latest is Charles M. Blow, who I'd previously found thoughtful and worthwhile. His opening salvo informs us we are not keeping up with other countries, yet our lower test scores align precisely with our disgraceful higher poverty levels. As if that were not enough, Broad's source for this proclamation is the Broad Foundation. One wonders why he doesn't just go to the Walmart family, with his particular standard for objective sources.

It's ironic that Common Core is supposed to teach our children to think critically, and its prominent proponents appear incapable of doing so. Blow's second source, right out of the gate, is Amanda Ripley, who he describes as a journalist. One of Ripley's journalistic specialties is ad hominem attacks against real-live education expert Diane Ravitch, accused by Ripley of living in an "alternate universe."

Blow then explains it is endorsed by the Obama administration, and he's apparently unaware or uninterested that this administration has endorsed demonstrably nonsensical things like merit pay, which has worked nowhere, ever, value-added evaluations, which have worked nowhere ever, higher class sizes, which have worked nowhere, ever, and Hurricane Katrina, which Arne Duncan declared the best thing to happen to education in New Orleans, despite the abysmal results after it was privatized. One might say this administration was more or less in the bag for billionaires like Broad, Gates, and the Walmart family.

Then comes the unkindest cut of all, though this one is by no means Blow's fault. Common Core is also supported by the American Federation of Teachers. This certainly gives street cred to this reformy screed. One would thing that a group that ostensibly represents teachers would demand evidence that a group of standards were effective, but one would be mistaken. We've allowed this corporate scheme to be foisted upon our children for reasons that elude me utterly, and shame on us for doing so.

We're also led to believe it's a good thing because 45 states have accepted it. And yet, with all that apparent acceptance, an Edweek article suggests two out of three Americans know nothing about Common Core. While that's certainly a poor showing for an alleged democracy, it appears nationally prominent columnists who write about it don't know all that much about it either, so perhaps the majority of Americans, getting their information from sources like the NY Times, are doing the best they can with the information they have.

Blow finally says something that makes sense in this column:

We have drifted away from the fundamentals of what makes a great teacher: the ability to light a fire in a child, to develop in him or her a level of intellectual curiosity, the grit to persevere and the capacity to expand. Great teachers help to activate a small thing that breeds great minds: thirst.

And yet, Blow's very next statement suggests Common Core will do that. A fundamental misconception here is that testing our kids to death will somehow make them love to read. And yet, reformy folks like Obama, Bloomberg, Rahm, and even Reformy John King send their kids to private schools with reasonable class sizes. They don't send their kids to places that will treat their kids the way they want ours treated. They don't set their kids up for failure the way ours were, via Common Core.

In fact, kids who love to read can plod through the nonsense set forth in Common Core. They can read anything, no matter how dry or tedious, if there is some worthwhile task attached to it. But the notion we can get kids to love reading via forcing arbitrary percentages of non-fiction on them is ridiculous. In fact, the notion that there is value in writing that is difficult to comprehend is in itself questionable. I've read enough poorly-written textbooks to personally attest to that.

One of my favorite quotes is from Pete Seeger:

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

Seeger was referring to the songwriting skills of Woody Guthrie, most famous for the classic This Land is Your Land. Even as NY Times columnists rewrite Woody's ballad:

This land is Broad's land,
This land is Gates' land,
Walmart education,
For the kids of the nation...

It just doesn't have the same ring to it. This is especially true when Gates deems such nonsense unsuitable for his own kids. And any way you slice it, Common Core, established nowhere to prove anything whatsoever, is something less than classic, something distinctly less than genius.

Ignoring the massive poverty that afflicts this country, poverty that is exacerbated by the very businesses of the reformy foundations that presume to know how to educate our children, is not particularly genius either.

What a disgrace that people promoted by the NY Times are too incurious to examine the other side of this issue.
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