Archive for the ‘learning’ Tag

40 Questions for Common Core Debaters   8 comments

state school board picture photo utah

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Utah radio personality Jason Williams of KVNU’s “For the People” has asked the public to submit questions for next week’s Common Core debate, which will take place at Mount Logan Middle School on January 6th, 2014, from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m. in Logan, Utah, at 875 N. 200 E.

Submit questions to: jasonthe@gmail.com or kvnuftp@gmail.com.

Legislators have already committed to attend the debate. I hope thousands of teachers, parents, grandparents, students and reporters show up.

The debaters will be Alpine School Board member Wendy Hart and mother Alyson Williams (against Common Core) versus state school board members Dave Thomas and Tami Pyfer (for Common Core). The event will be moderated by radio personality Jason Williams.

I sat down to write a few questions and ended up with 40. Some are borrowed from Professors Yong Zhao, Professor Christopher Tienken, Dr. Sandra Stotsky, Dr. Daniel Coupland and others. I hope Mr. Williams has time to ask them all.

40 COMMON CORE DEBATE QUESTIONS

1. Is Common Core constitutional? Why or why not?

2. How important is the defense of local autonomy and local control of schools, to you personally –and does Common Core affect local control in any way? Yes or no?

3. The Common Core itself calls itself a “living work” and it admits that the document will change. Does the Utah State School Board have authority over the copyrighted Common Core “document” to change the document itself? ( To clarify: this is not a question of adding 15% as the Common Core governance allows a state to add in-state, but we are asking about changing the national standards themselves.) Yes or No?

4. Can Utah voters remove from positions of power the people who hold copyright over Utah’s Common Core standards (Board of Directors of CCSSO/NGA) if we do not approve of the direction of Common Core? Yes or No?

5. Are those who hold copyright over Common Core subject to transparency (“sunshine” laws) –so that the Utah State School Board can supervise the decisions which affect and govern Utahns? Yes or No?

6. Where can I read for myself how the states-led (inter-state) amendment process will work when we want to change something in the Common Core standards, if a process exists?

7. Where can I see for myself the evidence that Common Core standards have been field tested prior to implementation, so they were proven to be of superior academic quality, if testing evidence exists?

8. Professor Christopher Tienken of Seton Hall University has called Common Core “educational malpractice.” Regardless of how you feel about Common Core, how would you recognize educational malpractice if you saw it; what would be its hallmarks?

9. Would widespread mandating of experimental, untested standards constitute educational malpractice?

10. Where can I see for myself the specific countries and specific standards to which the Common Core standards are “internationally benchmarked” if such benchmarking exists?

11. Where is the American process of representation of individuals in the Common Core education and assessments system, if it exists?

12. Where can I see for myself empirical, researched evidence (not opinion) that Common Core’s increasing informational text and decreasing classic literature will benefit children, if it exists?

13. Where can I see for myself empirical, researched evidence that Common Core’s move away from traditional math toward constructivist math will benefit our children, if it exists?

14. Many mathematicians and math experts, even including Common Core architect and advocate Jason Zimba, have pointed out that students who want to take Calculus in college will need to take more math than Common Core math courses in high school. What should the Utah State School Board do to make sure Utah students are truly prepared for STEM careers despite Common Core’s low math standards?

15. A mathematician is one who has an advanced degree in advanced mathematics; a math educator is one who has an advanced degree in educating students on any level of math. How do you feel about the fact that there was only one actual mathematician on the Common Core validation committee, Dr. James Milgram, and that he refused to sign off because he said the standards were not legitimate math for college preparation?

16. Several official documents show that there is a 15% cap on a state adding to the Core; we also from Common Core architect Jason Zimba and validation committee member James Milgram that Common Core math does not prepare students for STEM math careers; then how are Utahns to prepare for STEM careers?

17. If local Utahns break through the common core academic ceiling and add more than the allowable 15% to their local standards, how will that 15% be taught using common core aligned math and English tests and texts?

18. Although we have been told that Common Core was state-led, no citizen in this state received an invitation to discuss this, before math and English standards were decided. To make sure this does not happen again, please explain the vetting process for Utah teachers and parents, before we add upcoming national science, national social studies, and national sex ed standards.

19. Which element played a larger role in Utah’s decision to adopt Common Core: the chance to win Race to the Top grant money, or a thorough review of the Common Core academically? Please give evidence for your answer.

20. Where can I read our state’s cost analysis for implementing Common Core standards, tests and professional development costs?

21. Does the Common Core essentially discriminate against talents and interests that are not consistent with their prescribed knowledge and skills?

22. What roles does the Utah State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS)play in reporting to the federal Edfacts Exchange and to the national E.I.M.A.C./CCSSO data collection machines?

23. How do you respond to the question asked by Christopher Tienken of Seton Hall University? He said:
“This is not data-driven decision making… Yet this nation will base the future of its entire public education system, and its children, upon this lack of evidence. Where is the evidence to support the rhetoric surrounding the Common Core standards?”
24. Do you see Common Core’s emphasis on testing as potentially harming American creativity and entrepreneurial fields in which U.S. graduate have historically led the world– or do you see this emphasis on standardization and testing as simply creating more individuals who are very good at taking tests– like students in some Asian countries– without any harm being done to creativity or love of learning?

25. The Constitution assigns education to the states, not to the federal government. Also, the federal General Educational Provisons Act (GEPA) states: “No provision of any applicable program shall be construed to authorize any department, agency, officer, or employee of the United States to exercise any direction, supervision, or control over the curriculum, program of instruction, administration, or personnel of any educational institution, school, or school system …“ In light of this, please explain why our state has partnered with those who agree to micromanagement by the federal department of education such as the CCSSO.

26. Which portions of local autonomy have been traded for federally-lauded Common Core standards and tests?
27. What types of legal protections does student data have in writing that can protect us from the federal government and vendors and researchers– in light of recent changes to FERPA privacy regulations, and in light of the federally funded and federally-reporting State Longitudinal Database System (SLDS) that is partnered with the CCSSO (and PESC) under Utah’s SLDS grant agreement?

28. Why has the Utah State School Board not stood up against federally-partnered and SBAC-partnered Common Core tests to defend local control?

29. For students in the United States to be globally competitive, they must offer something different, that is, something that cannot be obtained at a lower cost in developing countries. High test scores in a few subjects can be achieved in most developing countries, so how could Common Core increase global competitiveness for U.S. students?

30. How can any test predict global competiveness or economic growth?

31. What empirical evidence do you have that high Common Core test scores could result in higher levels of innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship?

32. If countries like Estonia, Hungary, Slovenia, Vietnam, Latvia, and Poland routinely outscore the U.S. on standardized tests such as PISA, why isn’t their per capita gross domestic product or other personal economic indicators equal to those in the U.S. (World Bank, 2013)? In other words, what evidence do we have that pressuring students to focus on standardized testing will improve the U.S. economy?

33. Are you aware, that when you disaggregate the data by percentages of poverty in a school, the U.S. scores at the top of all the international PISA tests? (see Riddle, 2009) In other words, why are we pushing Common Core when our previous system of local control and freedom worked better academically than other countries’ governmentally standardized systems?

34. Companies like Boeing and GE are allowed to give their technology, utility patents, and know-how to the Chinese in return for being able to sell their products in China (Prestowitz, 2012). Can U.S. emphasis on standardized test scores create global competitiveness, really, or is it more likely that we should change the policy of allowing U.S. multinationals to give away our technological advantages, to increase our global competitiveness?

35. Are you aware that 81% of U.S. engineers are qualified to work in multinational corporations – the highest percentage in the world (Kiwana, 2012) while only 10% of Chinese engineering graduates and 25% of Indian engineers are prepared to work in multinational corporations or corporations outside of China or India (Gereffi, et al., 2006; Kiwana, 2012)?

36. Are you aware that the U.S. produces the largest numbers of utility patents (innovation patents) per year and has produced over 100,000 a year for at least the last 45 years? No other country comes close (USPTO, 2012).

37. Are you aware that adults in the U.S. rank at the top of the world in creativity, innovation, and entrepreneurship –and that those adults were educated during a time of NO state or national standards (Tienken, 2013)?

38. To what extent do you agree with this statement? “Common Core is a standardized education philosophy that transmits prescribed content via nationally aligned standards, aligned tests and aligned texts; the previous system was less organized, more loosely monitored, less unified, but spent more time on creativity, individual exploration and innovation.”

39. How do you feel about the funding of the Common Core: one unelected businessman– Bill Gates— funded the Common Core initiative, paid the PTA and the pro-Common Core think tanks (Fordham Institute, Manhattan Institute, Foundation for Educational Excellence) that advocate for it, he partnered with Pearson, the largest educational text sales company in the world to market it, that he publically calls American schools his “uniform customer base”, and that he has said that his goal is for Common Core tests, curriculum and standards to align? See Gates’ public speech here.

40. How do you feel about Secretary Arne Duncan’s stated goals for national Common Core Educational Standards and Common Data Standards? To summarize, a few of Duncan’s stated goals are:

–1) to have the federal government take more control over American schools than ever before,
–2) to make schools (not families) be the community centers, open 6-7 days a week, 12 months a year, 14 hours per day; and
–3) to partner the federal department of education with the copyrighters of the Common Core (CCSSO) for both education standards AND for data collection standards.

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THE CONTINUAL WEARYING a.k.a. THE SQUEAKY WHEEL

(More thoughts on the ongoing Common Core debate:)

If you aren’t going to attend the debate, please use these questions or your own to create more strong pushback from the Common Core disaster.

This is America! We are the people with the power to make things right when we see that they are wrong. This is not a land of centralized power, dictatorship, socialism. This is a land of liberty, where the local people self-govern. We have to wake people up to see that freedom matters– and that Common Core surely takes it away from our children.

We can use the beautiful American processes of debate, of real representation, and of constitutional balances of powers that are supposed to defend freedom and local autonomy.

If everyone who cared deeply about the damages of Common Core were to weary the school boards and governors with questions —repeatedly, weekly, persistently, patiently, unceasinglyCommon Core could not stand.

Common Core has no legs –except expensive marketing legs and lies– to stand on.

It has no academic pilot testing, no written amendment process for states to retain local control, no privacy protections for its tests’ data collection processes, no wisdom, no international benchmarking, no chance of improving “global competitiveness,” no heart, no state-led history, no commitment to local control; no hope to develop any real love of learning; no common sense.

What it does have is millions upon millions of dollars gambled on this takeover of American schools as a “uniform customer base” and many more millions spent on marketing its unsupportable talking points.

But it lacks the important stuff.

Parents (and teachers) can win back local control. We care more deeply about our children and about legitimate education than the proponents care about our children or Common Core.

We just have to be the squeaky wheel.

unrighteous judge parable

Remember the parable of Jesus from Luke 18:

“There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man:

And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary.

And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man;

Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me.”

Weary them, weary them.

We can write or call newspapers and t.v. stations.

We can politely and persistently pester our governor: 801-538-1000 or 800-705-2464 (Utah’s Governor Herbert’s number).

We can politely and persistently pester the principal and others in the school districts and especially make sure to pester state and local school board members, who are supposed to REPRESENT US, not Arne Duncan, Bill Gates, or Sir Michael Barber.

Here is the Utah State School Board’s address: board@schools.utah.gov

Here is the state superintendent’s address: martell.menlove@schools.utah.gov

Here is the governor’s education counselor’s address: ckearl@utah.gov

If you want to get 2 minutes to testify about these things at the monthly state school board meeting, contact secretary Lorraine at: Lorrain.Austin@schools.utah.gov

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Professor William Mathis and NEPC: Common Core Unlikely to Improve Learning or Close Achievement Gap   Leave a comment

In case you don’t read the whole thing, I’m starting off with a bullet point list from a recent academic article from the National Education Policy Center (NEPC) by Dr. William Mathis, entitled “Research-based Options for Education Policymaking,” available here, which among other things, gives advice for educators and policymakers, including these facts:

The nation’s “international economic competitiveness” is unlikely to be affected by  the presence or absence of national standards.

Common Core standards and assessments are unlikely to  improve learning, increase test scores, or close the achievement gap.

• As testbased  penalties have increased, the instructional attention given to non-tested areas has decreased.

Policymakers need to be aware of the significant costs in  instructional materials, training and computerized testing platforms the CCSS  requires as it is unlikely the federal or state governments will adequately cover these  costs.

For schools and districts with weak or non-existent curriculum articulation, the  CCSS may adequately serve as a basic curriculum.

• Schools must take proactive steps to  protect vital purposes of education such as maximizing individual student talents 

 

Here is the rest of the article:

RESEARCH-BASED OPTIONS FOR EDUCATION POLICYMAKING
Common Core State Standards
William Mathis, University of Colorado Boulder
October 2012

The Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have ardent supporters and strong critics.1 The actual effect of the CCSS, however, will depend much less on the standards themselves than on
how they are used. Two factors are particularly crucial. The first is whether states invest in the  necessary curricular and instructional resources and supports, and the second concerns the
nature and use of CCSS assessments developed by the two national testing consortia.

The movement toward nationwide curriculum standards began in 2009 and has been led  by the National Governors’ Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers,
accompanied by the Gates Foundation’s fiscal support. The CCSS goal is to assure a highlevel  “internationally competitive” set of standards, help teachers organize their lessons,
and assure educational continuity for mobile students.2 A claimed advantage is that an  economy of scale is created (particularly for corporations supplying professional  development, instructional materials, and standardized testing).3 Another claimed benefit  is the facilitation of comparisons among states, although such information is already  provided by the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).

Since the CCSS has not been implemented, many questions cannot be definitively  answered. Yet, there are informative lessons from related research. There is, for example,   no evidence that states within the U.S. score higher or lower on the NAEP based on the  rigor of their state standards.4   Similarly, international test data show no pronounced testscore
advantage on the basis of the presence or absence of national standards.5 Further,  the wave of high-stakes testing associated with No Child Left Behind (NCLB) has resulted  in the “dumbing down” and narrowing of the curriculum.6  Owing to the historically limited educational role of the federal government, those behind  the CCSS have taken care to avoid having the effort characterized as “national standards”  or a “national curriculum.”7 Four states (Alaska, Nebraska, Texas, and Virginia) have, as of  October of 2012, declined to participate, and Minnesota has agreed to adopt CCSS in only  one subject area. (Five currently participating states are considering legislation to slow  down implementation 8). But that refusal has come at a cost. For a state to be eligible for  federal Race to the Top or NCLB waivers, for example, it must adopt “college and career  ready standards.”9 Nevertheless, in many minds, curriculum and standards are a state
responsibility, and the CCSS represents federal over-reach.10  Since the 1994 passage of the Goals 2000 legislation, state standards have been  increasingly linked to large-scale assessments of those standards. With NCLB, high-stakes  consequences were attached to the test scores. As a predictable consequence, the  assessments have driven curriculum and instruction much more than the state standards  themselves. It is now again predictable that the nature and use of the CCSS assessments  will largely determine the impact of CCSS. Two national assessment consortia (the Smarter  Balanced Assessment Consortium and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for  College and Careers) are developing computer-based testing for a scheduled  implementation in 2014-15. 11

Among the unresolved issues are:

1) the amount and impact of testing time required for the new assessments;
2) whether the results have enough validity and precision to justify high-stakes applications currently being eyed by lawmakers (e.g., evaluation of principals and teachers);
3) the ability of the two consortia to sustain the effort given the current fiscal needs and  available resources;
4) whether the assessment systems will be ready on time; and
5) most important, whether the tests will create incentives for teaching a rich, engaging,  comprehensive curriculum.12

A paramount issue is whether, given the current status of federal and state budgets, there  will be the political will to provide schools and students the professional support and  learning resources necessary for the effort to be successful.  As the absence or presence of rigorous or national standards says nothing about equity,  educational quality, or the provision of adequate educational services, there is no reason to  expect CCSS or any other standards initiative to be an effective educational reform by  itself. 13

Key Research Points and Advice for Policymakers

• The adoption of a set of standards and assessments, by themselves, is unlikely to  improve learning, increase test scores, or close the achievement gap. 14
For schools and districts with weak or non-existent curriculum articulation, the  CCSS may adequately serve as a basic curriculum. 15
• The assessment consortia are currently focused on mathematics and  English/language arts. Schools, districts, and states must take proactive steps to  protect other vital purposes of education such as citizenship, the arts, and  maximizing individual talents – as well as the sciences and social sciences. As testbased  penalties have increased, the instructional attention given to non-tested  areas has decreased. 16
• Educators and policymakers need to be aware of the significant costs in  instructional materials, training and computerized testing platforms the CCSS  requires.17  It is unlikely the federal or state governments will adequately cover these  costs. For the CCSS to be meaningful depends directly on whether it is adequately  supported.
• The nation’s “international economic competitiveness” is unlikely to be affected by  the presence or absence of national standards.18
• Children learn when they are provided with high-quality and equitable educational  opportunities. Investing in ways that enhance these opportunities shows the greater  promise for addressing the nation’s education problems.

Notes and References

1 In support, see Finn, C.E. Jr. (2010, March 16). Back to basics. National Review Online. Retrieved October 2,  2012, from http://www.nationalreview.com/articles/229317/back-basics/chester-e-finn-jr/.
For a strongly critical voice, see Greene, J. P. (September 21, 2011). My testimony on national standards before  US House. Retrieved October 2, 2012, from http://jaypgreene.com/2011/09/21/my-testimony-on-nationalstandards-before-us-house/
Finn and Greene are both generally on the political “right” on educational issues. But similar division is found on  the “left.” In support, see Weingarten, R. (2010, June 3). Statement by Randi Weingarten, president, American  Federation of Teachers, on Common Core standards. Washington, DC: American Federation of Teachers.
Retrieved October 2, 2012, from http://www.aft.org/newspubs/press/2010/060310.cfm/.
And in opposition, see Ravitch, D. (2012, July 9). My view of the Common Core standards (blog post). Diane  Ravitch’s Blog. Retrieved October 2, 2012, from http://dianeravitch.net/2012/07/09/my-view-of-the-commoncore-standards/.

2 NGA, CCSSO, Achieve (2008).Benchmarking for Success: Ensuring U. S. Students Receive a world-Class  Education. Retrieved October 2, 2012, from http://www.corestandards.org/assets/0812BENCHMARKING.pdf
3Ash, K. (2012, February 29). Common core raises PD opportunities, questions. Teacher PD. Retrieved October 2,  2012, from http://www.edweek.org/tsb/articles/2012/03/01/02common.h05.html/.
4 Whitehurst, G, (2009, October 14). Don’t forget curriculum. Brown Center Letters on Education, #3, 6.  Washington, DC: Brown Center on Education Policy, Brookings Institution. Retrieved February 11, 2010, from  http://www.brookings.edu/papers/2009/1014_curriculum_whitehurst.aspx/.
Bandeira de Mello, V. D., Blankenship, C., & McLaughlin D. (2009, October). Mapping state proficiencies onto  NAEP scales: 2005-2007. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education  Statistics. Retrieved March 20, 2010, from http://nces.ed.gov/nationsreportcard/pubs/studies/2010456.asp/.
5 Kohn, A. (2010, January 14). Debunking the case for national standards: one size fits all mandates and their  dangers. Retrieved January 13, 2010, from  http://www.alfiekohn.org/teaching/edweek/national.htm/.
McCluskey, N. (2010, February 17). Behind the curtain: Assessing the case for national curriculum standards,  Policy analysis 66. Washington: CATO Institute. Retrieved February 18, 2010, from
http://www.cato.org/pub_display.php?pub_id=11217/.
6 Robelen, E. (December 8, 2011) Most teachers see the curriculum narrowing, survey finds (blog post).  EdWeekOnline. Retrieved October 2, 2012, from http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/curriculum/2011/12/most_teachers_see_the_curricul.html/.
Wisconsin Center for Educational Research. (1999, Fall). Are state-level standards and assessments aligned?
WCER Highlights, 1–3. Madison, WI: Author.
Amrein, A. & Berliner, D. (2002). High-stakes testing, uncertainty, and student learning. Education Policy  Analysis Archives, 10(18). Retrieved October 4, 2012, from  http://epaa.asu.edu/epaa/v10n18.
Shepard, L. (2000). The role of assessment in a learning culture. Educational Researcher, 29(7), 4–14.  Phillip Harris, Bruce M. Smith,B. M. & Harris, J. (2011) The Myths of Standardized Tests: Why They Don’t Tell  You What You Think They Do. Rowman and Littlefield, 100-109.
7 Education Secretary Arne Duncan said, “The idea that the Common Core standards are nationally-imposed is a  conspiracy theory in search of a conspiracy.”  Duncan, A. (2012, February 23). Statement by U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, on a legislative proposal  in South Carolina to block implementation of the Common Core academic standards (press release). Washington,
DC: U.S. Departmentof Education. Retrieved October 4, 2012, from  http://www.ed.gov/news/press-releases/statement-us-secretary-education-arne-duncan-1/.
8 Klein, Alyson (2012, September 26). Rift seen among Republicans on Common Core. Education Week, 32 (5), 19.
9 Obama, B (2012, February 9). Remarks by the President on No Child Left Behind Flexibility. Washington, DC:  Office of the Press secretary. Retrieved October 2, 2012, from  http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2012/02/09/remarks-president-no-child-left-behind-flexibility/.
Note that these standards need not be the CCSS, although in all cases but one the CCSS has been used. Virginia was  granted a waiver based on college- and career-ready standard other than the CCSS.
Klein, A (2012, June 29). Five more states get NCLB waivers (blog post).Politics K-12/Education Week..  http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/campaign-k-12/2012/06/five_more_states_get_nclb_waiv.html)…

See Full List of Notes and References Here:  http://greatlakescenter.org/docs/Policy_Briefs/Research-Based-Options/02-Mathis_CommonCore.pdf

Hilarious Washington Post Article on the Stupidity of Deleting Classic Literature   2 comments

The Washington Post has a hilarious article about the stupidity of deleting so much classic literature in high school English classes while calling Common Core education an increase in rigor.  Love it.  Reposting.

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The Common Core’s 70 percent nonfiction standards and the end of reading?

By Alexandra Petri

http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2012/12/07/the-common-cores-70-percent-nonfiction-standards-and-the-end-of-reading/#comments

Forget “The Great Gatsby.”

New Common Core standards (which impact 46 out of 50 states) will require that, by graduation in 2014, 70 percent of books studied be nonfiction. Some suggested texts include “FedViews” by the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco, the EPA’s “Recommended Levels of Insulation,” and “Invasive Plant Inventory” by California’s Invasive Plant Council.

Forget “Catcher in the Rye” (seems to encourage assassins), “The Great Gatsby” (too 1 percenty), “Huckleberry Finn” (anything written before 1970 must be racist) and “To Kill A Mockingbird” (probably a Suzanne Collins rip-off). Bring out the woodchipping manuals!

 

I like reading. I love reading. I always have. I read recreationally still. I read on buses, in planes, while crossing streets. My entire apartment is covered in books. And now, through some strange concatenation of circumstances, I write for a living.

And it’s all because, as a child, my parents took the time to read me “Recommended Levels of Insulation.”

Oh, “Recommended Levels of Insulation.” That was always my favorite, although “Invasive Plant Inventory” was a close second. (What phrases in literature or life will ever top the rich resonance of that opening line? “The Inventory categorizes plants as High, Moderate, or Limited, reflecting the level of each species’ negative ecological impact in California. Other factors, such as economic impact or difficulty of management, are not included in this assessment.” And we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past has nothing on it!)

“It is important to note that even Limited species are invasive and should be of concern to land managers,” I frequently tell myself, in moments of crisis. “Although the impact of each plant varies regionally, its rating represents cumulative impacts statewide.” How true that is, even today. Those words have brought me through moments of joy and moments of sorrow. They are graven on my heart. I bound them as a seal on my hand.

My dog-eared, beaten copy of “Recommended Levels of Insulation” still sits on my desk. I even got it autographed. Their delay in making a movie of this classic astounds me. That was where I first learned the magic of literature.

“Insulation level are specified by R-Value. R-Value is a measure of insulation’s ability to resist heat traveling through it.” What authority in that sentence!

And then came the table of insulation values. I shudder every time that table appears. It is one of the great villains in the history of the English language. Uriah Heep and Captain Ahab have absolutely nothing on it. In fact, I do not know who these people are. I have never read about them.

“Wall Insulation: Whenever exterior siding is removed on an

Uninsulated wood-frame wall:

·           Drill holes in the sheathing and blow insulation into the empty wall cavity before installing the new siding, and

·           Zones 3–4: Add R5 insulative wall sheathing beneath the new siding

·           Zones 5–8: Add R5 to R6 insulative wall sheathing beneath the new siding”

I remember curling up with that and reading it over and over again. It was this that drove me to pursue writing as a career — the hope one day of crafting a sentence that sang the way “Drill holes in the sheathing and blow insulation into the empty wall cavity before installing the new siding and” sings.

But I doubt I will ever achieve this lambent perfection.

Look, I was an English major, so I may be biased.

People often, feelingly, write about a vague namby-pamby thing called the Magic of Literature. By the time you stagger out of one of these essays you wish that they had not been read to as children.

But I am not saying this as an advocate of the vague namby-pamby magic. I truly believe that everything you need is already there, in the greatest works of literature. If you want to fight your way through a thorny sentence, look no further than Shakespeare. If you are having trouble figuring out what equipment is necessary for the task you are about to perform, look no further than the Iliad, where Achilles has a similar problem.

Life is full enough of instruction manuals.

The best way to understand what words can do is to see them in their natural habitat, not constrained into the dull straitjackets of legalese and regulationish and manualect. It’s like saying the proper way of encountering puppies is in puppy mills. Words in regulations and manuals are words mangled and tortured and bent into unnatural positions, and the later you have to discover such cruelty, the better.

The people behind the core have sought to defend it, saying that this was not meant to supplant literature. This increased emphasis on nonfiction would not be a concern if the core worked the way it was supposed to, with teachers in other disciplines like math and science assigning the hard technical texts that went along with their subjects. But teachers worry that this will not happen. Principals seem to be having trouble comprehending the requirement themselves. Besides, the other teachers are too busy, well, teaching their subjects to inflict technical manuals on their students too, and  they may expect the English department to pick up the slack. And hence the great Purge of Literature.

These are good intentions, but it will be vital to make sure the execution is as good, or we will head down the road usually paved with good intentions. There, in the ninth circle, students who would otherwise have been tearing through Milton and Shakespeare with great excitement are forced to come home lugging manuals of Exotic Plants.

All in all, this is a great way to make the kids who like reading hate reading.

That’s certainly one way of addressing the reading gap.

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Great article.  Thank you, Alexandra Petri.

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