July 24, 2014

Seeing the Common Core in Our Own Image

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We have taken on daunting writing projects, and putting one’s words in front of an audience is always intimidating. But nothing we have written has been as consuming and intimidating as this effort to write about the Common Core almost every day. Sometimes there is so much to write about that we don’t know where to begin. Other times, we find ourselves staring at a blank computer screen.

In her marvelous book about writing, Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott addresses the ways we imagine real writers work and how these exaggerated ideals can cripple us. She writes:


I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her. (Although when I mentioned this to my priest friend Tom, he said you can safely assume you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.) (p. X)

This and other Lamott inspiration help us, but in the process of getting reading about writing, it occurred to us that Lamott’s insightful quote carries a second layer of meaning relevant for learning about the Common Core.

Most of us interpret the Common Core as Anne Lamott describes the people she hates (and presumably those she loves) in the quote above. That is, most of us writing, teaching, or selling something related to the Common Core are shaping it into our own images. We find the parts that we like, the standards we with which we agree, the ideas we have written about before, and we emphasize these parts. So the calling card for a speaker/consultant/publisher/writer/administrator becomes, “The important thing to know about the Common Core is ______.” Fill in the blank with whatever that person found important before the Common Core was even invented. We can modify Lamott’s statement to say, “You can safely assume you’ve created the Common Core State Standards in your own image when it turns out that they endorse all the same things you do.”

Such a “favorite-parts approach” skews interpretations of the Common Core, causing fragmentation and confusion. This tendency toward familiarity creates a marketplace tide of materials developed around idiosyncratic interpretations of the Common Core State Standards. It seems that everyone now has a book about the Common Core and that everyone’s curricular materials now align with the Common Core. But this alignment can mean something different for every item you purchase, every article you read, and every lesson you download. How do we know how well or how thoroughly something aligns to the Common Core? Which materials are the products of “close readings,” both of the standards and of the context surrounding them? Which materials are closely/deeply/tightly aligned (ALIGNED!!) and which are aligned-ish? Not surprisingly, we have some thoughts on this, which we will share with you tomorrow.

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  3. [...] we like, the standards with which we agree…and emphasize these parts,” in check. (from Seeing the Common Core in Our Own Image) As we look back over our posts, we recognize places and times where we have veered from that ideal [...]

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