Tuesday, March 12, 2013

It's All About Momentum

   Was chatting with a friend the other day and he asked me about this CCSS stuff he was hearing about.  I gave him a brief explanation and he thought it sounded like an interesting move and one that might benefit me and other nonfiction writers in many ways for years to come.  I said, "We certainly hope so!"  But as soon as I said that a dark cloud passed over my obvious enthusiasm.  And I added, "But there's been some push back about it."
   And we've all heard about incidents of resistance to and downright loathing for the changes to the CCSS.  Educator Diane Ravitch has come out against the CCSS and has recently called for parents to band together in an effort to get their states to withdraw their agreement to impliment the changes.  Even while saying that she finds much that is good about the changes, her anti-CCSS blogs sound like typical paranoid tea-bag rants about big gubmint and evil private business interests.  Or is that the evil gubmint and big business interests?  Anyway, it's almost as if she knows she won't convince the vast majority of level headed professional educators, so she's gone to scare tactics to get parents into her camp.
   There are other negative voices, of course.  At a recent literary conference the director of the college's library services said he liked the changes to the CCSS, except "there was too much nonfiction."  !!!!  I know a writer of children's nonfiction who feels the changes are profound and wonderful, but hates the Appendix B list of exemplar texts.  I tried to explain why I thought the appendix was useful and appropriate, but this writer would have none of that and still denounces the appendix whenever a discussion of the CCSS takes place.  Could some part of this writer's antipathy be because he/she doesn't have a book on the exemplar list?  Meanwhile, there is a blogger/reviewer who seemed downright annoyed that at last summer's ALA conference more and more publishers, especially of textbooks, are actively promoting their various products as CCSS compliant.  In the same breath, said blogger/reviewer promised to do a review column of books that are CCSS compliant.  Go figure.
   It's not that any of these individual voices will turn back the changes to CCSS on their own.  While insistent, I don't think they are ultimately very persuasive (there's too much obvious self-interest involved in their positions).  But I do think their constant, negative drone can have a wearing effect.  And I do have a parellel situation that, while it might be a bit of a stretch to some, does seem worth thinking about.  That's the anti-gun discussion that's going on right now.
   Following the terrible tragedy at Newtown, CT, there was a massive, emotional out cry for gun law changes.  This was answered by the now famous response of NRA President Wayne LaPierre (that certainly didn't do his or the NRA's image much good).  After this, a variety of news reports of shootings taking place all around the US were reported, until my wife Alison looked at the paper one day and said, "I can't stand to read about any more of these shootings!"  My response was, "if you want real gun reform, you should be ready to read about shootings every day of the week and every one should be on the front page."
   Of course, the news reporting of shootings has dropped off considerably and so has the emotional edge in the gun reform message.  But the anti-reform movement has steadily preached the usual line of "we must be careful about our Constitutional rights" "it's not the guns; it's the crazy people" "we already have enough laws; they just need to be enforced" etc., etc.  As announcers sometimes say about football games, the momentum seems to have shifted.
   What does this have to do with the CCSS?  It seems that a great many teachers, librarians, school administrators, writers and others have embraced the changes and are busily preparing to carefully impliment them.  But they aren't all explaining the changes or defending them publically.  So the negative voices seem to be holding court unopposed.  And having some effect.  Maplewood has an online community called, naturally, Maplewood Online.  Recently one poster who dislikes the school adminstration (and has for years) has begun including a condemnation of the changes to the CCSS as yet another evil plot by the school superintendent and his minions.  You would think other posters might call her on this, but they don't.  She goes on and on in various threads, each adding a negative buzz about the CCSS.  Which reminds me; I have to get a MOL account to respond to her rants!
   And that's my point.  We talk about, praise, and defend the changes to the CCSS here in this blog.  But I think we need to get our voices "out there."  Vicki did this very nicely in a response to a Dianne Ravitch blog and I'm sure others have responded in a variety of ways to similar negative comments.  But I think we need to add our voices if not daily, at least over and over again.  I'm going to respond tomorrow to the Ravitch post (though I promise not to be snarky) and then make it a practice to address the negative noise whenever I encounter it as best as I can.  I have a feeling that if enough positive voices are heard, and heard constantly, we can keep the momentum going in the right direction.                        


Sandy Brehl said...

Jim, the pushback you're noting is not about the importance of teaching the topics in CCSS, but about using it as a tool for furthering the labeling of schools as failures and moving public education into a private enterprise funded by public dollars. See this post:
Using authentic, high quality literature to develop knowledge and understanding of all subject areas is at the core of good learning, but arbitrary and invalid testing is not.

Jim Murphy said...

I agree Sandy. Even Diane Ravitch admits there's good things going on in the CCSS (though she quickly pushes that aside to continue her rant). I see it as a strategy to wear people down with a constant, droning message and get them to either be quiet or sign onto her side. I just think a leveled-headed response would at least give some balance to the ongoing discussion.

Sandy Brehl said...

After forty years of teaching I couldn't agree with you more about keeping a reasoned voice, as well as the need for all people to speak up reasonably about their positions and support them fully.
I hope you will comment on Diane's blog, since she welcomes (and always has) comments and even guest posts from all sides.NEVER has she discouraged open and honest discussion of all points of view. Also check her archives sometime to see her "ground rules" which rule out obscenity and personal attacks. Other than that, she welcomes open discussion.
The issue isn't the CCSS as an entity, and I won't repeat her arguments against the coercive way in which they have been been instituted. Since they began she refrained from taking any position about them except to say that they were never piloted and the creators of them did not represent educators or those knowledgeable in the various domains.
This is factual, not a rant. Only in the past month did she finally take a position against the implementation of them as a coercive tool. 46 states signed on because without doing so they would be denied ANY federal dollars, and no one can afford to do that.
There was NO state representation, no educator representation in their development, but rather a third party(ies) created them from a conglomeration of state standards arbitrarily.
Ask Vicki how strongly I agree with the need to have quality non-fiction trade books as the core of high-level instruction, exploration, and research in all disciplines. Always have, always will. I agree fully that the mandates of CCSS open a market for your work and will increase the publishing demand for new (and backlist) titles. I applaud and celebrate that, along with any and all initiatives to engage kids with these materials.
My concern is not that a reasoned and open discussion take place, but that any objection to the current status of the CCSS be seen as a "rant" or a polemic of some sort. Diane is the most reasoned and researched educator around, and holds us all to that standard.
The issue is the politicization of education at the cost to children. Testing will be mandates, and it will ONLY be in reading/math, not across the board.
CCSS IS a reality that has started and will continue to shift the markets in your favor. Just realize that the massive amounts of dollars (billions-with a /b/) that education pumps into the CCSS will end up in the hands of packaged programmers and test-makers. Perhaps your work will be excerpted and will generate some additional funds for authentic creators of literature for young readers, but the vast majority of it will move right out of your reach.
When you speak up about CCSS, and I urge you to do so at every opportunity, please understand the source of pushback is likely coming from parents, educators and others who are opposed to children being co-opted for the sake of hedge funds, not about an authentic development and use of standards.

Catriona Lewis said...
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