By David Mark Greaves
The Common Core standards are a good idea that needs some more work. They are designed so that grade-by-grade they build on what was previously learned, adding complexity so that the student graduates with a mastery of reading, writing and arithmetic at a world-rated level. And because they build grade-by-grade, the standards, and there seem to be too many of them, particularly in the lower grades, would be best rolled out in the same way. Implementing them fully formed in the higher grades, without a massive amount of in-and-out of school support, with students and teachers who do not have the foundation, is a path to disaster and ignores the Common Core process itself.
Separate from the standards themselves is the question of what the children will be taught, by whom and what materials they will use. As the diagram on page 6 shows, corporations, consultants and financiers see these questions as invitations to line up at the trough of federal, state and city tax dollars and the children simply pave the way to that end.
It is the state that develops the instructional materials and curricula for implementation, and this is why all elections are important and must be followed with agendas and research to guide politicians in determining who the state listens to and who they hire to develop the “instructional materials and curricula” and in deciding the flexibility given to local school districts. This is why the buses to Albany with information for legislators and speaking to them in their district offices is so important. Frederick Douglass, whose narrative is used as a sample of a Common Core middle school curriculum, said it best, “Agitate, agitate, agitate”.
Children need more than skills in the globally competitive world we’re in. To compete with the Chinese, Koreans and Scandinavians, African-American students need a sense of self that is empowering and authentic and that is why the devil is in the details of who controls the information used to achieve the standards and who brings the information to the student. Lesson plans drawn from Cheikh Anta Diop’s Civilization or Barbarism, An Authentic Anthropology can be used to teach all of the disciplines, but the book would not be among a Texas school board’s recommendations to publishers or used as text at a teacher’s college. Only an African-American-controlled school district, or one with enlightened mayoral control, would allow it, and probably instantly become a magnet for teachers with a passion for their profession.
An empowering education is too important a goal to be left to the state. In addition to being active in the schools, parents can always implement their own “Common Core” curriculum in the home to supplement what’s done in class. One of the “Shifts” the state standards require is for the student to learn more from reading. Ideally this can be done in the home with a quiet environment, a comfortable chair and a light over the shoulder on a parent-approved book of educational value. They might give them W. E. B. DuBois’ collection of essays: The Souls of Black Folk or his Black Reconstruction in America to help with the nonfiction standard and Zora Neale Hurston’s Your Arms are Too Short to Box With God for the fiction category. Unfortunately, this ideal state of affairs is difficult to achieve in homes with a stressed single parent concerned with everyday survival, and who may herself be without a history of educational achievement and unable to take advantage of available resources.
There is a lot of work yet to do with the common core standards, and we haven’t even spoken about the testing. You can see some of the dismal test results coming out of Brownsville on page 8.
Race for Public Advocate
Letitia James has a tough contest coming up October 1st. Fourth-place finisher in the primary Cathy Guerriero has endorsed Daniel Squadron, and third-placer Reshma Saujani is backing James despite the competitiveness of their debates. But even with that support, without a large black voter turnout, she’ll lose. Tish James stood against Bloomberg’s 3rd term and stood with her community on the Atlantic Yards project. All the projections are for a very low voter turnout and it’s hackneyed but true: This will be an election where every vote will count.
The Public Advocate is next in line to become mayor, can make appointments to boards and commissions and introduce legislation in the City Council and is the city’s chief ombudsman
Note: Last day to register to vote for the general election is October 11.