I gave another Common Core professional development talk yesterday, this time to some 100 folks, mainly middle school ELA teachers, some Social Studies teachers, some librarians, even some Special Ed instructors. The day taught me a lot. For those of you who have not really delved into CC, there is one term you need to know: point-of-view. In the past this was a negative in NF for K-12, where the god was “objectivity,” being “reliable” or in that famous kiss of death, “good for reports.” If a book was “gfr” that meant it was not very interesting, not very eye-catching, not troublesome yet useful — safely bland. From 5th grade on, the CC insists that students treat Social Studies, Language Arts, Science, even Math as the lands of debate, discussion, evidence, analysis and most of all POV. The CC insists that our students can catch knowledge on the fly, in formation, taking shape — they can swim with sharks of POV.
Yesterday I asked the attendees to try an experiment — we grouped them as teachers and librarians together, and then asked them to create clusters around a topic. That is to take some beat in their regular scope and sequence and find materials — books, yes, but also newspaper articles, documentaries, websites, youtubes — that took clearly clashing POVs on that subject. Was Columbus a hero or a genocidal maniac? Why did King Tut die? Is global warming a real issue or a liberal lie? These clusters worked well. Some clusters showed the gaps in our literature for young people — even though it is easy to find photos of segregationists who opposed Dr. King, or famous speeches such as Gov. Wallace’s “segregation now, segregation forever” classic, it is not at all easy to find memoirs, novels, interviews that make that strongly held view personal — we have swept it under the rug. The same with the Holocaust, where Hitler Youth was really the only source that quickly came to mind to create a cluster that was more than “voices of the dead.” I hurry to add that no one is trying to “balance” Dr. King with Gov. Wallace and treat them as equal — but to understand that moment as it really was, we need to hear resistance just as much as idealism.
I strongly suggest that anyone who reads this blog start to think of clusters around the standard areas in the curriculum — not a good book on X, but what is the conversation, the clash of materials, that can engage students in the conflicting views on X.
One wonderful teacher told me that he was thrilled at this focus on POV and debate because just this year, after 11 years teaching in middle school, he had written up a list of his strengths and weaknesses, showed it to his students, and asked how they thought the class could be improved. They asked for…more debate and discussion. But I also heard from a number of attendees about false compliance with the CC — that teachers and even administrators are trying to find ways to shoehorn what they have been doing for years into CC just by giving new labels to old bottles. Instead of questioning how to meet the essence of CC, they try to find the faintest resemblance between what they did yesterday and what the CC demands. This false compliance may work for the moment — and I have heard the same thing in other school districts — but in 2014 we will have CC assessments — and there the new labels will be useless. So anyone planning to retire next year can, I suppose, get away with this slight of hand, but boy I would not recommend it as a long term strategy — neither for the kids it robs of real thinking nor even for the teachers themselves.
On my way home, I got a call from yet another publisher trying to figure out the CC — friends this is happening, get on board.