In a recent blog post, Hofstra University Social Studies educator Alan Singer made a compelling argument challenging the core of Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts.
Singer contends that there is a serious flaw in the Common Core reading standards resulting from “the ideological point of view about literacy and learning of those who developed it.” The flaw, he points out, centers on uncertainty about the true meaning of a document.
The Common Core College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for English Language Arts aver that deep meaning is imbedded in the text of a reading passage, primary source document or text alone, apart from its history or the context in which it was written. Consequently, Common Core standards require students to:
- "Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text."
- "Determine central ideas or themes of a text and analyze their development; summarize the key supporting details and ideas."
- "Analyze how and why individuals, events, or ideas develop and interact over the course of a text."
Singer, on the other hand, believes there is no “universal timeless interpretation of a text.” He asks, “Is deep meaning inherent in a text, as the national Common Core standards claim, or is meaning created through the interaction of the reader with a the text because we can never really know exactly what an author from a different time period or who lived under different circumstances intended?”
In order to demonstrate his point, Singer directed his readers to a 15-minute video entitled “Close Reading of Text” produced by David Coleman, a leading author and proponent of the national Common Core standards. The video, based upon Dr. Martin Luther King’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” offered a sample set of reading lessons for middle school students in alignment with the Core Standards in literacy.
“Predicting what’s in a text before you read it is not an essential college and career ready skill,” Coleman said. Rather than providing students with background information or guidance before reading a text, he said students could be offered a “mini generic reading strategy that could include discussion about “main idea” or “cause and effect.”
“Because in this type of teaching,” Coleman continued, “you are constantly challenging students to explore what they can do without any help or scaffolding at all.”
Through careful study of the text, King, himself, Coleman contends, would explore the agenda for the students telling them what is important.
Contrary to Coleman’s ideas about what literary instruction should look like, Singer reinforced his view about the importance of understanding the historical content of a document by quoting Associate Justice William Brennan, who in 1985 said, “We current Justices read the Constitution in the only way that we can: as Twentieth Century Americans. We look to the history of the time of framing and to the intervening history of interpretation. But the ultimate question must be, what do the words of the text mean in our time. For the genius of the Constitution rests not in any static meaning it might have had in a world that is dead and gone, but in the adaptability of its great principles to cope with current problems and current needs. What the constitutional fundamentals meant to the wisdom of other times cannot be their measure to the vision of our time. Similarly, what those fundamentals mean for us, our descendants will learn, cannot be the measure to the vision of their time.”
Singer argues that meaning is debated, not uncovered, and that we interpret text based upon information we gather from what we read and from the world. Based upon our experiences and social positions, Singer says, we may arrive at different interpretations about the deeper meaning of a text.
“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,” Singer said. “This is a major reason that Common Core is seriously flawed,” he added.
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Video via Engage NY.