Unfortunately, CCR isn’t just the name of a band anymore. In education, it stands for “College and Career Readiness,” and it is what the entire goal of the American school seems to be. Common Core is based on College and Career Readiness. Indiana state standards, though they are not technically Common Core, are still College and Career Readiness standards.
It sounds like a good thing, right? We want students to be prepared for further education or for productivity in the workplace.
But something is lacking here. As an English Language Arts teacher, my standards focus on things like “citing the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what a text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text” and “analyzing the development of a central idea over the course of the text, including its relationship to supporting ideas” and “providing a detailed, objective summary of a text.”
Where do I talk about the morality issues in To Kill a Mockingbird? Where do we discuss the issues of responsibility in Romeo and Juliet? Where do we examine prejudice and our reactions to it when we read The Outsiders? None of that is in the standards.
When I read the standards, I see that the state wants me to punch out good little workers in the assembly line of my classroom. I see that the state no longer truly values a liberal arts education. I see that discussions of the humanities must take a back seat to the evidence we find in the literature to support what we think the author’s purpose is.
It is hard for me to find time these days to teach my students how to create an original turn of phrase in writing. I feel I don’t have time to spend discussing the characters and their motivations in the books we read. I sometimes feel that, even though my students don’t know basic grammar, I’m wasting time teaching it to them because my standards indicate that I should be focused on something called “media literacy” (which includes standards like “Analyze and interpret how people experience media messages differently, depending on point of view, culture, etc.”)
I value many of the things the standards express, but my values go beyond that. I don’t want my students to just be good workers or to just cite evidence. I want them to develop a relationship with literature, to write in ways that please the reader, to craft sentences that are grammatically correct, and to speak with confidence in front of groups of people.
So I ride the line, sometimes hopping to one side, and later skipping back to the other. Sometimes I follow the standards closely, because that’s how I’m evaluated. (The test that shows whether my students can meet these criteria is the way in which my teaching is judged.) Other times, I say the heck with what the state says; I’m going to do what I know is good teaching, and what I know my students both need and want, whether it’s in the standards or not. If I stick with the one, I – and probably my students – are a little bit more miserable with what we’re doing. If I go with the other, my job may be on the line.
I enjoy my job, and I don’t want to put it in jeopardy. But if I keep doing it the way I’m being asked to do it, I fear I won’t enjoy it much longer. Already I have two colleagues talking about how this may be their last year because what we are being asked to do goes so strongly against what we know to be good education.
Childhood, after all, is not just about getting ready for college. The purpose of learning goes beyond knowing skills to do a job. While school plays a significant and important role in preparing students for college and career, I believe there is more to it than that. After all, when I was working outside of education, I often heard my supervisor say that she would rather have an intelligent, well-rounded person whom she had to train in specific skills than one who could do the job perfectly but lacked the ability to see a broader picture or to think beyond the task at hand.
If the proverbial pendulum is swinging, I hope it is near its apex so that I can begin to truly love my job again… and to think of classic rock when I hear the letters CCR.