Friday, August 23, 2013

Giving "The Bluest Eye" A Black Eye Won't Stop Common Core Implementation

Bob Ellis, the angriest man in the South Dakota blogosphere, turns his ire on the Common Core. In particular, Mr. Ellis takes umbrage at the Core's suggested lesson over Toni Morrison's The Bluest Eye. Inherent in the tone of his post is an intimation that the Core will mandate the novel be taught and that including it in a school's curriculum is something new:
South Dakota Governor Dennis Daugaard may think Common Core standards are just dandy, but in addition to a number of reasons we should be cautious about embracing these nationwide standards, the crud and moral rot included on the Common Core reading list for 11th graders should disturb parents who value the innocence of their children.
The Bluest Eye is hardly a newcomer to controversy. The American Library Association keeps a record of banned and challenged books; Morrison's novel was the 15th most challenged book from 2000-2009, right behind The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The novel has also been praised for its literary merit. It has been an option on the open response section of the Advanced Placement Test in 1995, 2008, and 2009. Even the Mike Opelka post that Ellis cites concedes Morrison is a talented writer:

Again, when you read the selected passage, a couple of things stand out — Morrison’s powerful command of the written word cannot be denied and the story appears to teach that over-the-top devotion to physical beauty is “one of the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought."
Condemning a novel widely respected for its literay merit and has been taught and challenged for decades is not going to be an effective challenge to the Core.

I'm extremely skeptical that Core will do anything to help students learn. To the best of my memory, the Core represents the third set of reading standards South Dakota has used since 2001. Most of the Core's standards are mundane, neither markedly better nor markedly worse than their predecessors. There is, of course, the notable exception that the Core mandates that fiction comprises only 30% of a high school student's reading. That requirement should offend nearly every educated person in the country. I, therefore, recommend Ellis read this George Ball editorial. Ball succinctly explains the Core's flaws:
Now adopted in 45 states, including California, and the District of Columbia, this federal effort sets uniform standards on how math and English are taught in American schools. A top-down program imposed on states in order to qualify for Race to the Top funds, the curriculum is the fruit of a process tainted with politics, vested interests and a lack of transparency.
The Common Core Curriculum is being implemented without empirical evidence of its value, and imposed hurriedly without consulting the very people most affected: students, teachers and parents.
In essence, Common Core is a vast educational experiment - making America's public school students into pedagogic guinea pigs. The program emphasizes the development of critical thinking over subject matter, yet its development and implementation manifest a conspicuous lack of reflection. Critical thinking calls for a balanced, impartial, methodical process of conceptualization and analysis built upon careful observation and experience. The way the Common Core standards are being implemented is more imperial than empirical. As education reformer Diane Ravitch notes, the standards have been adopted "without any field test ... imposed on the children of this nation despite the fact that no one has any idea how they will affect students, teachers, or schools."
Ball concludes with a quick agriculture analogy that should resonate with South Dakotans:
Common Core sacrifices the magic of teaching and learning on the altar of metrics. Teachers, students and administrators are no longer engaged in an organic process geared to the individual. Largely designed by testing experts, not teachers, the monolithic curriculum[*] is like detailed gardening instructions from someone who has never set foot in a garden. "Grow faster!" is the experts' motto. Well, children are not cornstalks.
The Bluest Eye and the controversies that accompany it predate the Core. Teachers who taught the novel before the Core will continue to do so. I highly doubt anyone will decide to teach it because it's included in a sample lesson. The Core's proponents frequently claim the Core's standards don't mandate the teaching of a specific work.

 The fact that the process was producing the Core was not transparent and the fact that there's no evidence it will produce more learned students should be the focus of anyone challenging the new "imperial" standards. Little will be gained focusing on a novel that has had its strengths and weaknesses debated for decades.

*Those who maintain that the standards are not a curriculum can feel free to substitute the word standards here. They are monolithic and prepared by people who have not set foot in the classroom as a teacher.

1 comment:

M Larson said...

I love a good farm analogy when it comes to understanding the stupidity of focusing on standardized testing!