“Wherever we go, there seems to be only one business at hand–that of finding workable compromises between the sublimity of our ideas and the absurdity of the fact of us.”
–from TEACHING A STONE TO TALK, by Annie Dillard
Somewhere between conception and implementation, most grand ideas grow muddled with translation. Given an assumption of goodwill, whatever your political stance on their development, the Common Core State Standards achieve grand idea status for their intent to support opportunities to learn, improve instruction, focus on text, and encourage students to read for meaning. But the sublimity of these ideas has bumped hard into the absurdity of life. Life in the classroom. Life in a difficult economy. Life amongst a myriad of reasonable and unreasonable demands on educators.
Annie Dillard writes at length about polar explorers and her references to explorers’ motivations aptly describe our efforts: “They went, I say, partly in search of the sublime, and they found it the only way it can be found, here or there–around the edges, tucked into the corners of the days” (p. 29). This daily blog sets out to discover and appreciate those points where the Common Core State Standards are sublime, and to mediate those places where they are confusing, or even misguided. This sublimity is prominent in some places, tucked around the edges in others, even hidden in other places.
As the writers of this blog, we get to define sublimity, confusion, and misinterpretation along lines that fit our paradigms for sound instruction. Be forewarned, we are in favor of higher-order thinking, creativity, the arts, and we rebel against categorical thinking. Be further forewarned, that we also believe in knowledge, we value the acquisition of skill that can offer substance to creativity, we believe in practice in context and in isolation, and we appreciate the need for categories.
We don’t consider anyone, especially ourselves, absolutely wrong or absolutely right. So our effort goes into finding the balance between the list of natural contradictions that characterize all the domains of this exploration of reading and writing instruction. This means that the answer to most questions isn’t one perspective or the other, it’s both. Both instructional reading level and books that stretch. Both text-based questions and text-to-self connections. Both narrative writing and writing to present an argument.
While we do not presume to define for all educators what is “sublime” or “misguided” in the Common Core, we do write from tenets that define our responsibilities to ourselves and to you in this project. We will disagree with enough for you to know that our points of agreement are authentic, and we will agree with enough for you to know that our points of disagreement are worth exploring. We hope you will bother to question our ideas, as you set out on your own Common Core expeditions.
Dillard, Annie. Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters. New York:
Harper Perennial, 1992.