Reading & Reacting: A Serious Flaw in Common Core

Photo: Reading

Reading – cc licensed ( BY ) flickr photo by Jill M

By Alan Singer @ The Huffington Post

There are a number of valid criticisms of the Common Core that are beginning to surface with much greater frequency. Among the many criticisms, there is little question that the Common Core suffers from serious biases and unexamined assumptions. This happens all too often when a small, relatively homogenous group of individuals is responsible for establishing an educational agenda, losing the inherent benefits of a more pluralistic contribution.

In his recent Huffington Post piece, Alan Singer, professor of social studies education at Hofstra University, focuses on one such assumption about reading that underscores all of the English standards.

There is a serious flaw in the national Common Core English/Language Arts reading standards and it is the result of the ideological point of view about literacy and learning of those who developed it. I am not sure if it was done intentionally or if they are actually unaware of it. The flaw is uncertainty about how we know what a document really means.

To his credit, Singer is rather fair and balanced in this opening. While there are a number of educational theories, especially when it comes to the topic of literacy, it seems naive and ignorant to suggest that only one is valid, which is implicit in the first three Common Core Reading Standards, involving the notion of close reading and how we make meaning from reading a text.

Singer highlights that there are competing notions of how to interpret a text that date back at least as far as Socrates and are illustrated directly by our very own Supreme Court’s role of interpreting the Constitution, which incidentally is a particular text that gets a lot of play in the Common Core.

While Singer takes a broader look the problem only suggesting certain implications, it would not be too skeptical to notice a pattern in the Common Core English/Language Arts Standards that seems to advocate a specific kind of reading that has potentially profound political implications. His connecting of Common Core architect David Coleman’s line of thinking with that of conservative Associate Justice Anthony Scalia should be enough for anyone to begin asking questions.

Of course it is not quite as simple as all that, but there is a connection that is undeniable. However, making the connection requires a degree of contextual knowledge, the very issue that Singer highlights is missing from the Common Core almost entirely.

Upon establishing the Coleman and Scalia connection, he juxtaposes it with a subtler counter connection of Associate Justice William Brennan and transactional reader-response theorist Louise Rosenblatt. This counter connection highlights Singer’s point.

A cold close reading of text is never sufficient to discover meaning unless we also take into account the “context” or history of the document and its implications for the present and future. This is a major reason that Common Core is seriously flawed.

Meaning of a text is always debatable, this is at the “uncommon” core of all literary study, and something that we are charged with teaching all students. Just as there is both denotation and connotation of individual words, there is explicit and implicit meaning contained within a clause, paragraph, and entire text. Moreover, while one of the beauties of literacy studies is that any text can potentially endure well beyond the time of its writing, no text can be separated from the context in which it was written. Nor can we as readers separate ourselves from our own context.

What is perceived as the deeper meaning of a text includes wrestling with both what is explicit and implicit. Yet what the very act of perception is forever entangled and influenced by culture, experience, and skill, just to name a few factors.

Singer’s piece strengthens a position wherein suggesting that the Common Core will have an even greater narrowing effect than the legacy of No Child Left Behind would not be without merit. In fact, it could even be argued that there are those that would insist the very Common Core Standards themselves are to be read in a Coleman/Scalia “textualist” manner, with no attention paid to the intent or context that factored into their creation.

Yet that narrow and limited approach would malign the notion that politics are involved, and everyone knows there are no politics involved in education. It is just about learning and the children, right?

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3 thoughts on “Reading & Reacting: A Serious Flaw in Common Core

  1. Renee Moore @TeachMoore

    One of the first pieces on the CCSS that I’ve seen to address this issue of the value of context to reading. I am an English teacher, and while I appreciate close reading, I most often interpret literature and other texts from a historical perspective. Context does matter. Would like to hear the CCSS authors address that omission.

    1. Fred Haas - @akh003 Post author


      Thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment. I too am an English teacher who also appreciates close reading as part of the ecology of textual study. I believe, along, with you that context does indeed matter.

      In fact, I recently had this point made abundantly clear by students in the classroom. Upon giving a class of Stephen Crane’s short story “An Episode of War” to read cold, the vast majority of initial questions they compiled were contextual in nature. They were grasping to determine in which military conflict the story was set. The evidence that locates the story in the Civil War is scant and easily missed. However, upon establishing that evidence all students reported instantly understanding the story better. Add to that some brief historical background and student were able to think and write about the story in a vastly improved fashion.

      A cold close read simply is not enough. If that is the only reading approach students are likely to be significantly limited or inhibited textual powers, which wouldn’t be beneficial for anyone.


    2. Fred Haas - @akh003 Post author


      Many thanks for taking the time to read. I am not sure there will be any comments form CCSS authors about anything anymore. I would argue that context is even more important in challenging texts, which is yet another call from the Common Core.



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