I have wasted way too much time getting dragged into conversations with insistent idiots lately.
The least informed members of the right wing are shouting the loudest in the movement against the Common Core State Standards. The nuances of that debate are fodder for a future post, but suffice it to say that they are a top-down set of standards that are more about selling products that teachers don’t need to schools that can’t afford anything else than they are about improving schools.
CCSS was not created by educators, though the businesspeople who wrote them fashioned a cute little creation myth insinuating that it was teacher-driven. I digress.
Many self-declared Tea Party members and a variety of factions of Libertarians are dead-set against CCSS. Many liberals and progressives, as well as parents and teachers of all backgrounds are also against the CCSS, or at least have concerns. Each of these groups has their own reasons for disliking CCSS, and many of those reasons are quite contradictory.
I personally am not a fan, but there are some aspects that are less objectionable than others. One cool thing is that in some schools, teachers are creating some really dynamic lesson plans (though it is folly to think that this is a new phenomenon).
Another is that the standards themselves have some subjects and some grade levels that seem to please some teachers and students by expanding the curriculum.
Another bonus is that there is a push towards greater diversity of authors and perspectives.
Now, in some places, we have been introducing black and brown authors to students for a long time. In some places we aren’t scared to talk about women’s studies or a variety of religions and cultures. We even admit that gay people exist.
In other places, the idea that the federal government is forcing scary gay black Muslims (real or imagined) into their children’s schoolbooks is enough to make folks start stockpiling bottled water.
These same folks love that most famous phallic symbol (the gun), but they are terrified of sex.
They refer to sex ed as “advertising for Planned Parenthood.” (Because heaven knows that so long as women can’t identify their own genitalia with anatomical terms, they don’t need pap smears or contraception. Magic!)
They also lump all explanations or descriptions of anything sexual into the category “pornography.” Because Juggs and James Joyce’s Ulysses are totally the same, dontcha know?
The current controversy is over a novel that is on a list of *potential* books for high school students to read. It is called Dreaming in Cuban, a National Book award finalist by Cristina Garcia. It is a story of family, culture, immigration, mental health and the way that politics effects everyday life, according to folks who have read it..
Full disclosure. I haven’t read it yet.
That is why I am not saying, “yes, definitely, let’s require this book for everyone in America of all ages.”
I’m not recommending it and I am not not recommending it. Because I haven’t read it yet.
The thing is, there are lots of folks who have not yet read this book.
Some of them have seen one page.
It has a sex scene.
But rather than reserving their judgement on it until they have read it or instead of saying, um, “my family chooses not to have that book in our house,” they want to use it as a wedge regarding Common Core.
In so doing, they are getting other folks who have not read the book and likely have never even heard of it before to rise up against it (on the basis of one page out of context). Getting uninformed people who are suspicious of brown people who speak Spanish to begin with riled up about sex (those hot-blooded Latinos, right?) plays into stereotypes.
When stereotypes get inflamed, some people get hellbent on pushing their representatives to create policies based on “values” and “morals.” (Meaning, always, their own, regardless of the First Amendment or the diversity of our country.)
Mind you, when pressed, none of these folks can suggest appropriate substitutions. They’ll tell you a laundry list of books that aren’t okay (one other much-maligned book is The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison), but after asking in many groups and forums these last few days, I have yet to receive anything more than a vague “bring back the Classics!”
Since they can’t name one “classic” title, I doubt they have read any of them either. If they had, they would know that the Classics are all about the sex and violence.
When I pointed that out, they insisted that because of the old-timey language, kids don’t know that they are about sex and violence.
De Nile ain’t just a river in Egypt.
The excuse is always, “I have strong feelings. This goes against the values and morals we teach our children, and if you don’t feel like we do, you are a bad parent and you are what is wrong with America (if I had a nickel for every time someone told me that… ), and we need laws to protect all of us from the stuff my kids aren’t allowed to see.”
If you have ever spent a minute in an anti-Common Core thread in any social media, you’ll know exactly what I mean.
I also have strong opinions about those things. I just don’t want to dictate all of my values to others to the point that I blur lines and stifle academic discussion.
Look. I am against CC. I believe that professional teachers should create the curriculum on a more localized level. I am against standardized testing. I am in favor of parental involvement in school planning.
I believe that teaching children moral development is imperative and that it begins at home.
I believe morals can be enforced in school.
The values I want schools to reinforce are the ones that help us get along, not the ones that keep us divided.
School can and should teach us to respect each other for who we are. It can and should teach us to work together, to compromise, to be empathetic and to participate in our communities.
It isn’t explicit instruction, it is just the nature of creating a functioning classroom environment. It is stuff that comes naturally to most kids-they just need help with conflict resolution and such sometimes.
It isn’t a subject for grading-it is just the perks of being engaged in society, and school is the first community that most children experience with their peers and without their parents. I believe that in a healthy school environment with respect all around, this all can happen organically. I’ve seen it.
I also believe in giving my children credit. They have learned their values at home, so when they read challenging material on deep subjects, they read it critically. They look for flaws and ask questions. Their teachers are trained and continue to study new ways to open critical discussions.
Just because children read something, it doesn’t mean that they go out and do it.
What behaviors we change based upon what we read depends more on the level of critical thought we put into what we read and the quality of dialogue with others which it inspires than it has to do with the material itself.
My kids didn’t take up farming after Charlotte’s Web, and I read Moby Dick twice, but whaling isn’t for me. I’ve read more than my fair share of comic books, but I haven’t turned into a mutant with super powers. I’ve read Cinderella and I have no desire to marry a prince. I’ve read Night and have yet to commit genocide.
The lessons that I have internalized from reading such complex material are not superficial mimicry.
They are deeper and more nuanced lessons about our collective history, various perspectives on various types of conflict and the nature of the human condition.
Our kids are learning how to navigate a complicated world. They hear about this stuff in the media and the news and from peers. If we read about hard things: relationships, family situations, death, war, genocide, etc., then we can create a context in which the RIGHT messages can come to the forefront. As in “drinking might seem cool, but here is how that story plays out for real.”
Or “I used to be nervous to talk to different people, but then I read a book that showed me girls from Southeast Asia face the same types of conflicts and problems that my friends and I do, so we actually have stuff in common.”
(Funny aside and spoiler alert: the premarital sex in Dreaming in Cuban doesn’t work out so well for the main character. I didn’t even have to read it. I just googled the fucking plot. Context is everything. Oh, and those who are all worked up about the consensual nookie seem to have no issues with the political oppression or rape in the book. Oh wait. That’s right. They didn’t read it. I almost forgot because it is so nonsensical.)
Teenagers know about and are having sex. Lots of it. Thankfully, states with a broad sex ed curriculum are seeing a drop in teenage and unplanned pregnancies (due to increased understanding of how things work and how to use birth control). Unfortunately, those in abstinence-only states are learning that putting your fingers in your kids ears doesn’t protect them from anything but knowledge.
They already all read about, watch media about and talk about sex. We were all teenagers once. If you weren’t thinking about sex all of the time, then my guess is that your hormone levels were below average or you were a late bloomer.
Most young people are motivated primarily by sex hormones.
That is a good thing, because it is how the species keeps from going extinct.
If we can just keep kids both busy and informed, we can help them to retain the upper hand most of the time until their lives catch up with their bodies.
I have no delusions. I feel that my kids are perfect, but I know they aren’t. They are going to do stuff I wish they wouldn’t. How do I know this? Because I was a kid once, and I look like shit in rose-colored glasses.
Everyone looks like shit in rose-colored glasses.
I have done my best with true information, ethics and love. Our best is all we can do.
But sometimes there are other influences, both good and bad. Learning what to do when they encounter a different situation, perspective or idea than those of our family’s values is a necessary part of growing up.
When it comes down to it, I trust my children. In a few years after being in classes like this, they will be off on their own, in college and then starting careers and families.
They will have to be prepared to navigate all of these hard issues in the real world.
I want them to have a frame of reference. That is what reading challenging work and discussing it critically is about.
I would encourage folks to keep the spectrum of options for reading material wide. Individuals and families should be able to opt out and do a separate project if such a book would violate personal or religious values/beliefs. If you choose to opt out of public schools entirely (though I firmly believe that public schools with diverse populations are the key to strengthening democracies), I think it is your right to do so.
I just don’t think it is a problem of Common Core that we are trying to broaden the spectrum of reading *options.* None is required. This should be discussed on the family level and the local school level.
I also think that we have to remember, in a country as diverse as ours, there are different values and beliefs. When we try to turn our personal beliefs into policy for everyone, that isn’t in the American spirit. Keep the options open so that one school can choose what is best for them and another can choose a different book to meet the needs and desires of its community.
We need to quit the fear-mongering. If all of the people who act terrified of sex in the media were really as chaste as they claim to be, there would be a lot less religious fundamentalists in the world, and a lot less quickie marriages with loose-fitting wedding dresses.
We also need to quit letting irrational and uninformed people to hijack every important education conversation.
A variety of opinions is good, so long as they have their facts straight. And not every opinion-holder has the necessary background, skills or knowledge to dictate policy that others will have to follow.
If you haven’t read a book, you do not have the necessary facts to make any decisions about that book for anyone other than yourself.
Curriculum should be created by educators. Reading lists should be made by English Language Arts teachers and librarians. Social studies curriculum should be created by those with degrees in teaching it (along with social scientists and historians who are on the cutting edge of new research and analysis). The same goes for all subjects: we need to have some faith in the experts, just like we do in other fields like law, medicine and architecture.
This whole idea that we can malign anyone with training and facts with the slur “elitist” is an exercise in absurdity. Expertise is earned by commitment, training or experience. It is not created out of thin air based on whether you use CAPS LOCK to make REALLY SERIOUS POINTS!
Top-down dictation of curriculum by businesspeople is bad (often because they don’t even know the material, don’t understand the nuances, haven’t studied education or child development and they haven’t read the books).
When the curriculum dictation is bottom-up, it is just as bad if those same qualifiers exist.
Why is this all so important?
Well, those with money to make through CCSS have painted everyone who is opposed with a broad brush. To reformy-types, we are all just wackos.
This banning of books and fear of the unfamiliar could be the undoing of the whole movement.
On the other hand, if we win and get our states to reject Common Core, and our districts to reject non-stop testing, those who would ban books and remove evolutionary biology, climatology, non-Western studies and diverse perspectives from schools will be poised as the loudest voices ready to fill the curriculum void.
We need to make sure that people who actually read and understand books are responsible for picking books for kids to read.
Because the whole point of sending our kids to school is so that they learn new, factual stuff so that they are smarter than us someday. If we want our kids to be dumbed down, we can keep them home and keep them stifled by the limits of our own experience. (Even many who school at home know that they have to get their kids out and involved in the world around them in order to learn.)
But if we want our children to thrive and go beyond what we have been able to accomplish, then we have to set aside our irrational fears of the unknown and trust our children.
If we have raised them right, then challenging books will make them stronger.
If our values are worth anything, then they will be strong enough to stand up to those bits of media that conflict with them.
And if one page of one book is enough to make your child reject all of your morals and values, then maybe there is something deeper and more offensive in your values that your child is rejecting.
Like the barely veiled racism, homophobia, misogyny, denial of scientific truth and xenophobia that underlies all of your policy suggestions.
If you want to keep your kid ignorant, that, sadly, is your right. But you have no right to try to make my kid stupid.
Banning books makes people stupid.
There is no word in English for the degree of stupid that is required to ban a book you haven’t even read.
Now, does anyone have a copy of Dreaming in Cuban that I can borrow? Every time people try to ban something, my reading list get a little longer. Lately, that is happening a lot.