On Books and the Common Core

The Common Core rhetoric is ubiquitous–rigorcollege/ career readinesshigh standards, and real world skills–the same message, different packaging everywhere one looks. We all know it has invaded our schools and teachers and administrators are scrambling to implement the Common Core with as little difficulties as possible. For many, the rhetoric and empty promises delivered by proponents of the Common Core are all most people will hear and they will not think to question it. They will trust that all is being handled and all is well.

Don’t be fooled!

All is not well and critics of the Common Core are widespread and coming from the full gamut of the political spectrum and from individuals representing all walks of life. The standardization, or rather the Conformity and Comliance, demanded by the Common Core is very concerning. Many worry that the expectations on students are unrealistic and inappropriate for many. The overuse of testing used for accountability of students, teachers, and schools has many concerned about narrowed curriculum and bad teaching practices. The Common Core is untested and foolish according to many and will have little effect on American students’ learning. The drive for higher standards and greater academic success, as well as the need to trim precious finite budgets, has many schools cutting or eliminating valuable disciplines and activities like art, music, PE, and recess. Criticism extends to several new kids on the educational block including required systems of teacher evaluation like NY’s APPR plan, and the scheme to collect student and teacher data through Gates funded inBloom.

But just as disconcerting is the influence of corporate power in the educational game and the massive profits they seek to earn from the PK-16 market. Pearson, who already holds the contract in New York state for providing state tests, will take over New York’s teacher certification in 2014. Pearson has already admitted to multiple errors on its tests, yet still stands to rake in billions of dollars offering schools ‘solutions‘ to the implementation of the Common Core. And they’re not alone. Companies, like Renaissance Learning and McGraw Hill, providing educational materials have jumped on the Common Core cash cow from the beginning, promising innovative solutions for schools and providing assessment tools that are mandated by the state (and paid for by the school).

And the educational cash cow is not just being milked in our schools. The Common Core is a hot topic among publishers: “What does this mean for the children’s book industry? Ideally, a whole lot of knowledge sharing—and increased book sales,” according to a Publishers Weekly article.  Scholastic is one of many proudly touting their alignment to the Common Core. Stenhouse Publishers, HarperCollins, Random House, Macmillan/ McGraw Hill, The Penguin Group all have similar statements of backing the Common Core.

Now, let me be clear: just because their offerings are Common Core aligned does not mean they are inherently bad. Many wonderful classic books, like The Little Prince, are being reviewed and declared perfect for the Common Core. But I do fear a climate where new, fresh voices and talents might be ignored if their art doesn’t fall within the narrow purview of Common Core suitability. I worry that authors might be bullied into relinquishing their authentic, creative voices in place of a watered down, standardized version of their work.

The other day, a young woman came to my door. She was a college student selling educational books door-to-door through Southwestern Advantage. She had been at my neighbor’s house previously and my neighbor told her I was considering homeschooling. The saleswoman said they had some great homeschooling curriculum I might be interested in. I really wasn’t interested in the door-to-door sales pitch and besides, a friend of mine who had simultaneously arrived had already helped herself to a beer from my refrigerator and I was anxiously waiting to join her on the porch for some good chit chat and a cold drink! Anyway, I told her I really wasn’t interested in curriculum at this time, but she insisted that she show me her materials.  She started to open her bag and I asked, “Are your books Common Core aligned?”

Her eyes widened, her smile broadened. Her thoughts became transparent and I knew that she believed that this could be the selling point to seal the deal with me. “Yes,” she replied “they are!

“Then I am most definitely not interested,” I stated. I could tell she did not understand. When I walked her to the door, she asked me why I was concerned. I told her that the Common Core was the primary reason that we are considering homeschooling and that the structured, one-size-fits-all approach that tends to be adopted with the Common Core would not work for us.

Again, I realize that materials are not inherently bad just because their seller promotes them as Common Core aligned. But I am opposed to the Common Core and all the nasty little details associated with it. Most importantly I will not support the open market our educational system has become and the joke that all will be saved and made proper with the purchase of canned education. As much as I am able, given the ubiquity of the Common Core, I will refuse.

Like many things in life, the naturalness of learning–the art of teaching and being taught–is stripped away. We forget we even had it. Then it is packaged and sold back to us and we are led to believe that we cannot live without it.

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