Frankly My Dear…

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Many people have commented on David Coleman’s infamous statement at a 4/28/11 Common Core conference in NY:

“As you grow up in this world, you realize people really don’t give a sh#@ about what you feel or what you think.”

Coleman’s dismissal and disapproval of personal reflections is also apparent in the Common Core teacher training video; “Preparing for Close Reading with Students” as evidenced by the following exchange at 16:40 in the video…

Coleman: He moves to this very philosophical treatise on just and unjust law and what does it mean. And I think for students that’s very exciting cause he, I think the question of whether to follow a law is pretty interesting to them. What rules can they break, what rules can’t they break?

Gerson: And who’s rules are they?

King: But again, that’s one of those challenges right, because kids are gonna want to take that off into a conversation about rules and rule breaking…

Gerson: This uniform is an unjust law

King: Right, right…exactly, exactly. Again I think the discipline that you’re calling for is so important to stick with the text, stick with King’s argument, and try to avoid going too quickly to the easy connections…”

The speakers in the video clearly advocate a “discipline” of thought in the classroom so that children are initially denied the opportunity to make sense of difficult text by drawing upon their own life experiences and understandings.

This is such an important point because earlier in the video (1:30) Commissioner King draws parallels and makes connections between the challenges of the Civil Rights Movement and the “hard work” of implementing the Common Core in our classrooms.

Why should students be denied the same opportunity to “break away” from the text and broaden their class discussions by making comparisons to personally relevant and timely issues?

For example, how does the breaking of unjust laws during the Civil Rights Movement compare to opting out of state tests in 2013-14?

Even more perplexing is the assertion by the speakers (8:50) that young readers don’t need to fully grasp or understand a text, and there is an inherent benefit to students from simply being exposed to and struggling with complex informational text.

Coleman: The first question is for kids as readers, how much can they draw from the text itself, you always want to ask yourself, how can they make do…I think we as readers often decide what can I skip. In other words, I don’t fully get this, but I get it enough to keep moving. I think it’s Ok to say that because you can’t read complicated things without choosing, there are some references that you don’t quite get, that you are not going to follow up on.

Gerson: That’s something that good readers do on a very regular basis anyway, organically, without making conscious decisions. I don’t need to know that right now, I’m gonna move on…”

These cognitively privileged people do not understand or care that many of our slow learning, at-risk, and learning disabled middle school students are not developmentally ready and experienced enough independent readers to make such critical judgment calls when it comes to complex informational text.

Coleman and crew also fail to grasp that students’ thoughts and feelings matter a great deal. Successful teachers at any grade level are genuinely interested in their students’ lives and the classroom is a safe and welcoming environment where each person’s thoughts and feelings are highly valued and respected.

Trust is an essential ingredient of good teaching and it will flourish in the classroom when the teacher takes time to learn about the individual needs and interests of each student.

Establishing meaningful and positive relationships with every student is not something that can be carefully scripted, scheduled, mass produced, or pre-packaged in a Common Core aligned curriculum module

Education is not something that is bestowed upon students but born out of an imperfect “conversation” and unscripted interactions between adults and children in classrooms everyday.

A far more effective and useful Common Core training video would document teachers in various classroom situations and settings who are fully engaged and connecting with their students rather than the text.

Learning unfolds in a safe environment that rewards and values curiosity, innovation, imagination, and risk-taking. A properly designed and implemented education program will nurture student confidence rather than fear, and cultivate hope rather than despair.

The CCSS close reading strategy demands that all students independently “dive into” and master complex informational text and teachers are discouraged from answering student questions or introducing and reviewing prior knowledge with them.

This unproven approach directly contradicts Bloom’s Taxonomy which has clearly demonstrated that students will first acquire knowledge before they can progress to comprehension and understanding

 In the directions for the Common Core exemplar, “A Close Reading of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address” it states,

“The idea here is to plunge students into an independent encounter with this short text… Some students may be frustrated, but all students need practice in doing their best to stay with something they do not initially understand. This close reading approach forces students to rely exclusively on the text instead of privileging background knowledge, and levels the playing field for all students as they seek to comprehend Lincoln’s address…The aim is not to have them ask questions but do what they can on their own.”

This callous “sink or swim” approach to reading instruction may benefit our highly skilled readers, but what about those students who will be discouraged and may become even less confident readers due to repeated “near drowning” experiences?

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More importantly, is this approach likely to instill a love and appreciation of reading for enjoyment, and help start all of our students on a journey down the path to becoming lifelong readers?

From an educator’s perspective, the importance of text is not simply how well students can comprehend a reading passage, but how the ideas, ideals, and values expressed in the text are internalized and then implemented by students in real life situations.

Another way of looking at this issue is to simply ask, what would Martin Luther King, Jr. want our students to do?

Spend two weeks deconstructing and dissecting the nuance and subtlety of his words and how well he supported his claims, or two weeks applying and teaching his principles in our schools and local communities?

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21 thoughts on “Frankly My Dear…

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