I’m still no expert on the new Common Core Standards. After the workshop I attended today, sponsored by DOE Library Services and led by the unstoppable and amazing Olga Nesi, I definitely have a little more purchase on how to work on Common Core lesson planning for the library with my student teachers, and the sense that I have a lot of support in that practice. However, the overwhelming sense I got from this PD (besides being overwhelmed) was ambivalence about these new standards.
Here are a few of my concerns:
1. I felt a lot of push pull in that room today. School librarians are being encouraged to champion the common core because they’re all about research skills, which is what we do. This is our chance to become indispensable!
And yet… we’re also very critical of the fact that there are assessments in Kindergarten, assessments before we’ve actually had time to teach anything, assessments as soon as the kids walk through the door. Do we really want this to be the definitive thing about school library work: that we can support Common Core across the curriculum? Is this what school librarians should be hitching their wagons to? I’m nervous, and I think others are, too.
2. The common core emphasizes process over content. Instead of focusing on teaching facts, we teach students how to gather, articulate, and make inferences from facts in order to create arguments and conclusions. This is a good thing, and again, validates the work of librarians (and philosophers!).
And yet. Do we want to throw the baby out with the bathwater here? What about process AND content?? I’m reminded of Lisa Delpit’s “The Silenced Dialogue,” which argues that the skills/process debate in education is a fallacy, and that what we need to be talking about is how to remedy the fact that some kids desperately need to be taught basic skills before they can engage meaningfully in process-based work. Which leads me to…
3. Equity. This very issue came up today in our workshop, when we were talking about how to scaffold a fairly sophisticated lesson on inference for sixth graders. How can we scaffold this lesson for the students who haven’t had any prior experience with research? Where is equity in the Common Core? It’s still one-size-fits all.
4. The cabinet problem. Olga kept using this analogy today: imagine the Common Core as instructions to build a cabinet. Does it matter if the instructions are about building a cabinet with pine or oak? She argues, not really. What matters is we know and understand how to build the cabinet by following the directions and understand how to use our tools. Ok, I get it. It’s a helpful analogy and it’s powerful. Because for so long, kids haven’t been asked to make anything; they’ve been asked to take tests.
And yet! (I have mixed feelings about the “maker space” trend, but that’s another post…) Where is the criticality in the Common Core? Do we want kids to build IKEA furniture or to IKEA hack? Where is design? Can young people build a better world if all they do is read blueprints, not make blueprints, or dream impossible structures? Or if they don’t care to problematize the blueprints or the structures detailed in them as not accommodating the needs of those who dwell therein? We need to dwell deliberately, critically, and with care!
5. Why should kids care? Can you become Internet Famous if you work the Common Core? Will the Common Core get you to American Idol, the NBA, or any closer to developing the next Apple Corporation? The common core loves non-fiction! And these (rarefied) TRUE STORIES are the stories our kids are loving right now.
And yet!! We still can’t deliver on these “American dreams;” could we possibly alter them? The biggest problem we have might be overcoming our own cultural myths. But that’s another story (pun intended).