Charles Blow writes in a recent article about the Common Core standards,
Our educational system is not keeping up with that of many other industrialized countries, even as the job market becomes more global and international competition for jobs becomes steeper.
We have gone from the leader to a laggard.
The latest attempt to solve this problem is the Common Core standards, a group of national educational standards that is supposed to encourage the teaching of critical thinking and problem solving. The standards I use are available here.
Yet they’re not universally accepted. Conservatives tend to bristle at anything they see as Federal mandates from above for national standards of just about anything. Liberals, in support with unions, don’t like the idea of using testing as a measure of teacher effectiveness. (The New YorkÂ Times also had an article on growing opposition to the standards.)
Yet I wonder about what it says now that we must go to great lengths to teach critical thinking in school. I don’t recall many activities in high school that seemed geared to practicing critical thinking, and I don’t remember any direct instruction in critical thinking, yet somehow I became a critical thinker. Take for example the skill of inferring. I go to great lengths to teach my students what inferring is and what it isn’t, to differentiate between merely observing and inferring, and to apply the skill to texts. Yet I don’t remember anyone teaching me that. It just seemed like something I picked up along the way as I read increasingly complex texts.
Another new feature of the Common Core standards is an increased emphasis on what the Common CoreÂ Consortium calls “informational texts.” We just called it non-fiction. The Consortium points out that in the traditional educational progression, students spend all of high school reading literature and then they’re suddenly required to read informational texts in college. It’s as if reading the one has no influence on reading the other. I don’t really recall having to read or to analyze much more than literature in high school, yet I somehow didn’t have any problem making the switch to the “informational texts” of my college career. In the meantime, this push for greater emphasis on “informational texts” means that an entire generation will be underexposed to literature, one of the prime makes of society and social consciousness. (Of course, that’s really only true to any significant degree in in the pre-Internet world, I suppose.)
The big question of course is whether this whole enterprise will work. With states that originally adopted the Common Core standards increasingly backing out, it seems like it might just turn out to be yet another educational fad.