By: Pat Austin
Among the many topics covered during CPAC this year has been a good, hard look at Common Core. Here, on this blog, Lady Liberty does an excellent job covering Common Core topics. From my point of view, I’m glad to see CPAC and other conservative groups taking a hard look at the monstrosity that is Common Core.
My perspective is that of a classroom teacher; I teach high school English. While I recognize that the stated intentions behind Common Core are good, I’m not sure I trust the stated intentions. The oft quoted rationalization behind Common Core is that schools should be teaching the same basic standards across the country: a kid in Alaska needs to know long-division at the same time a kid in Florida does. Theoretically this will help kids who move from one school or state to another..
My gripe with Common Core at this point is personal. I resent that it takes all of the decision making out of the hands of the classroom teacher and the local school districts. Case in point: for years in tenth grade English I have taught To Kill a Mockingbird. With the advent of Common Core, TKAM has been bumped down to the ninth grade reading list. I’m told that “really it’s an eighth grade level book.” It seems that the Lexile level of To Kill a Mockingbird just isn’t high enough (rigor!) for tenth grade. Last summer we were given a new reading list from which to choose new novels. For tenth grade the list is a selection of “world literature” which includes titles such as My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, A Thousand Splendid Suns by Hosseini, and The Life of Pi by Martell, among others.
Oh, there’s a few classics still there such as The Grapes of Wrath.and Twelve Angry Men. But, if we’re going to talk about Lexile levels and complex, rigorous text, Twelve Angry Men is not exactly difficult reading. When I brought up this point, it was suggested that it’s not just the text itself that must be rigorous, but “what you can bring in and do with it.”
Which brings me back to To Kill a Mockingbird. Why can’t a teacher of any grade level for that matter bring in complex side readings to raise the rigor of any text? Furthermore, what of the teacher who has a high school class with an average reading level of about fifth grade? Not that we need to teach down to that, but how frustrated is a kid with a third grade reading level going to be trying to read The Grapes of Wrath or One Hundred Years of Solitude?
As another example, Julius Caesar is not on the reading lists anymore at all. In tenth grade it’s been replaced with Macbeth (which previously had been grade 12) and the twelfth grade Shakespeare is now Hamlet (which kids will read again in college.) I’m told this is non-negotiable. I’m told that Macbeth is more rigorous than Caesar. Did Shakespeare really sit down and decide to write Macbeth at a higher Lexile level than Caesar? I’m dumbfounded.
There is an entire generation of kids that will now never know what the ides of March means.
The point of all this is simply that all of this decision making is no longer in the hands of the districts or the schools themselves, not to mention the teacher. Among the many problems with Common Core, it treats kids as if they are all the same and function on the same level. Many of the novels are new “touchy feeley” nonsense or are just downright inappropriate as we have seen.
Am I bitter because they’ve ripped my beloved To Kill a Mockingbird from my chalk covered fingers? You bet I am. I’ll continue to fight for the American classic until my dying breath. And I will continue to fight for excellence and high standards in education as well. But the bottom line in all of this is that the federal government should have no say in the matter.
Pat Austin also blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.