Words on Words: The arrival of Common Core

5 mins read
Clarissa Thompson
Clarissa Thompson

As many of you may know a new federal educational initiative, The Common Core State Standards, has been adopted by Maine along with 48 other States and U.S. territories. This is a major reform and one which I have taken a great interest in due to DDG’s long standing commitment to working closely with our educational partners. Recently I participated on a national bookselling panel on the Common Core. Preparing for the session really allowed me to focus on this timely and exceedingly important topic and I want to share my thoughts on why the Common Core, and the educators who will be implementing it, deserve our support.

The first thing a person in Central Maine would do when wanting to gather some insight on the Common Core State Standards is connect with Clarissa Thompson of the University of Maine at Farmington. As you may know, Thompson is to the Common core what Sarah Vaughn is to Jazz standards. I asked Thompson to share some of her, well, core insights.

Click here to see a video featuring Thompson talking about Common Core.

Much as a procession of suitors to an eligible but secretly disinterested monarch, educational initiatives arrive to much fanfare, have their moment on the stage, and then shuffle off to increase the height of the scrap heap of failed curricular reforms. It is vitally important for anyone who cares about reading and education, that the Common Core State Standards be the suitor to break this weary and counterproductive paradigm.

Why the hyperbole? Well, here’s the thing. The Common Core believes strongly in the power of engaged reading to stimulate learning. It recognizes reading as the dynamic component of education, the yeast in the dough. It affirms that productive reading is not a mechanical process but rather a profound event. In making this observation and putting it into practice the Common Core gets it right.

What should those of who want the Common Core to succeed  be worrying about? First that the initiative will fail due to the burden it places on teachers. Since the reading of complex texts has been extended beyond Language Arts into Science, Social Studies, and Technical Studies classrooms. there is a lot of work to do. One can envisage grumbling and heads being stuck in the sand to wait for the initiative to die and go away.

This leads us to the second great danger, that the burden of meeting the standard will lead to taking the easy road, to buying canned curriculum, also known as the slow death of everything good and decent. Tepid, stultifying, canned curriculum, designed to wear a stamp saying it is aligned with the Common Core State Standards, can never meet a standard which insists upon the use of reading material that dynamically engages and inspires students. As an independent bookseller I am excited by the opportunity to support teachers in making this transition by providing them with high quality title selections that they can trust, filtering through the many, many newly released titles that meet the standards to find those few that embody it, which will strongly engage and move student readers.

The third concern is that this laudable mandate to read more terrific Literature and a great many more quality Informational Texts is an unfunded mandate. Here  we need to support our schools with creative fund raising and whatever else we can think of to make the Common Core take root in their classrooms.

There is a great deal at stake. Here is one thing to bear in mind. If the Common Core ends up on the scrap heap you can be sure that the next big educational initiative will hinge upon something  a good deal less congenial than inculcating and celebrating the power of reading. The next big educational thing will be more along the lines of mandatory neural implants because our children can’t compete in the global marketplace with just their organic brains. The Common Core may not be perfect, few things start out in a perfect state. It gets some really important things right though. Let’s work together to make it work for generations to come.

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