The author, a retired educator, takes a look at where public education is heading. Those who care about teaching and learning — as well as those who care about democracy and the nature of the American republic — will appreciate the perspectives.
Business Week Reveals Why Common Core Disdains Fiction in 2000
by Susan Ohanian
And the little very very very very very very very old man smiled, and looking at the faerie he said: ‘Why?’ —e. e. cummings, The Old Man Who Said Why
This is the kind of writing primary graders savor. I speak from first-hand, on-the-spot observation here. Of course, teacher experience, knowledge, and intuition count for nothing. Education policy makers are deaf to my expertise. Unions are deaf to my expertise. NCTE, my professional organization for decades, is deaf to my expertise.
The only way teachers appear at the ed reform table is when they’re served up as the main course–to be eaten alive. I advise teachers to remember Thomas Pynchon’s warning in Gravity’s Rainbow: If they can get you asking the wrong questions, they don’t have to worry about the answers.
And Glen Ford at Black Agenda Radio has seen the handwriting on the wall for years. He warned us that the goal of corporate education reform is to turn teaching into a service industry. In his commentary The Corporate Dream: Teachers as Temps, Ford pointed out that “Teachers are the biggest obstacle in the way of the corporate educational coup, which is why the billionaires, eagerly assisted by their servants in the Obama administration, have made demonization and eventual destruction of teachers unions their top priority.”
When the Tampa Tribune announced the debut of the Common Core in Hillsborough, I wondered if anyone blinked in astonishment: First-graders should be able to explain major differences between books that tell stories and books that give information.
An oft-repeated assertion of self-proclaimed Common Core architect David Coleman is that non-fiction is where students get information about the world and that’s why schools must stop teaching so much fiction. In this assertion, Coleman is echoing the corporate world which he is hired to serve.
Here’s how Business Week contributing editor Thane Peterson opened his June 13, 2000 column: “Amazing as it seems to me sometimes, I can’t recall a single corporate executive ever making a literary allusion in my 20 years as a business reporter.”
Peterson continues, “There’s a simple enough explanation for this: Businesspeople, especially in the U.S., tend to be utilitarian. Most regard literature, art, and music as outside the box of everyday work — as a hobby or charitable pursuit, or maybe a way of spending time with an artsy spouse. But the idea that deep immersion in great works of art might contribute to a CEO’s capacity to lead, or deal equitably with employees, or grapple with a difficult situation, isn’t one that comes to mind for most corporate heads.”
Peterson notes that unlike many corporate executives, Bill Gates does read some fiction. He lists as his favorite books The Great Gatsby, The Catcher in the Rye, and A Separate Peace. Sounds like high school assignments. More recently, Gates said he liked The Bridges of Madison County and The Shipping News. (I admit I found Bridges unreadable. A friend of mine, a noted educator, took her copy back to the bookseller and demanded a refund. “I’d never done anything like that,” she said, “But I wanted them to know how bad it is.”)
This inscription from The Great Gatsby is the following quotation is engraved on the ceiling of the Gates home library: “He had come a long way to this blue lawn and his dream must have seemed so close he could hardly fail to grasp it.”
The next line in that novel is “He did not know that (his dream) was already behind him, somewhere back in that vast obscurity beyond the city, where the dark fields of the republic rolled on under the night.”
But I digress. As fun as it is to stick needles in Bill Gates, the real point here is that Common Core State [sic] Standards were never intended to be of the people, by the people, and for the people. They are of the corporations, by the corporations, and for the corporations. Here’s how this works:
- The Common Core State Stamdards (CCSS) were developed by the states –Arne Duncan
- I am 46 states + Northern Mariana Islands– Bill Gates
Bill Gates funded the Common Core development and is paying for much of the PR campaign supporting it plus the Professional Development materials flooding school districts courtesy of the Hunt Institute (recipient of over $5 million from Gates to provide this function).
And because our media have become stenographers for corporate interests, they issue press release hoopla as news, rarely questioning the corporate message, only asking their reliable stable from Fordham, Hoover, American Enterprise Institute, Brookings, DEF, et al for confirming soundbites. After all, the New York Times has a Wealth Matters column but no Poverty Matters column; they have a Business Section but no Labor Section. This bias underpins their education coverage.
Educating Students to Fill Most In-Demand Jobs
And so corporate courtier Arne Duncan tells a group of education reporters that unemployment is caused more by a ‘skills crisis’ than a ‘jobs crisis,’ and that we aren’t educating students to fill the most in-demand jobs.
Downgrading the importance of fiction in our schools, saying that children gain information about the world only through nonfiction, is the Common Core’s role in “educating students’ to fill those most in-demand jobs.
Schoolteachers who have gloried in reading Rotten Ralph, The Just-So Stories, The Trumpet of the Swan, The Great Gilly Hopkins, Incident at Hawk’s Hill, The Acorn People, and hundreds of other titles with their students are late in getting to this corporate party. In Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle Chris Hedges points out that universities have already accepted their corporate role, and “As universities become glorified vocational schools for corporations they adopt values and operating techniques of the corporations they serve.”
Here’s Michael Dirda on the importance of Dr. Seuss.
Dr. Seuss has written more immortal works than any other twentieth-century American author. Think about it. Virtually every child in this country has read, is reading, or will read The Cat in the Hat, Horton Hears a Who, And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street, The Butter Battle Book, and perhaps a dozen others equally splendid. Consider too that each of Seuss’s more than forty titles is read not once, not twice, but scores of times, usually to pieces. . . . And what do we learn from Seuss? The joy of words and pictures at play, of course, but also the best and most humane values any of us might wish to possess: pluck, determination, tolerance, reverence for the earth, suspicion of the martial spirit, the fundamental value of the imagination. This is why early reading matter. At any age, but especially in childhood, books can transform lives. . . . — Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life
Local newspapers are filled with stories of teachers “getting ready for the Common Core.” What they mean is teachers are using the summer break to prepare for visitation from bloated, opportunistic blood-sucking Common Core vampire squad inspectors. . . making sure there’s no fiction glut depriving youngsters of their job skill opportunities.
If our professional organizations had any integrity, they would issue this WARNING: Close contact with Common Core standards may cause palpitations, irregular heartbeat, dark urine, dizziness, unusual bruising or bleeding.
But NCTE, IRA, and NCTM are too busy churning out their own books and teacher training videos on how to use the Common Core. Yes, the complicity of our professional organizations plus the complicity of the unions has made Common Core a done deal. But if you believe in heaven and hell, you know where the Standardistos who rob children of imagination and dreams will end up.
When a population becomes bullied or intimidated out of exercising rights offered on paper, those rights effectively cease to exist. This includes teachers. There are no excuses left. Either you join the revolt against corporate power or you lose your profession.
And your self.
— Susan Ohanian June 19, 2012