Al Stout: Stop the hysteria — new school standards make sense


February 3, 2014 

I thought we’d left such things as Crypto-Commie-Fluoride Hysteria behind us in the ’60s, a la Dr. Strangelove.

But then I find editorials in the paper on “Common Core” filled with misleading and uninformed statements and unfounded claims, and I feel as if we’re all in a flashback to the days of mass hysteria and control, as misled ideologues voice their “concerns.”

The Common Core is the most sensible and logical approach to educational policy I’ve seen in my 25 years of teaching. And, despite the agitprop surrounding its advent, it was not devised by our “government.”

What about the assessment, you ask? Isn’t it too hard? Here’s what it asks students to do:

1. Read or listen or observe;

2. Stake a claim about what meaning they make after having read, heard or observed;

3. Defend that claim with evidence or reputable authority;

4. Acknowledge the validity of other claims, or be willing to question the reasoning put forward.

In short, this is argumentative research writing; it requires one to use evidence selectively and judiciously to back up one’s position (something naysayers seem to forget to do).

Who wouldn’t want students to have such skills? These skills enable students to “Go ON!” as the slogan suggests and prepare students to successfully complete college-level work — and, thereby, graduate, so we’re no longer number 48 as a state (in funding).

Why would anyone be against this? What are they afraid of, since they seem so unreasonably fearful?

The arguments against implementing the Common Core seem senseless. “Local control”? We have it! “Teacher autonomy”? I have more freedom now teaching the Common Core than I’ve ever had in my career, and it feels wonderful. “Data storage”? Who cares? You don’t think data is being stored anyway? I store data all the time, myself: samples of student work, samples of exams and so on.

I have grave difficulty understanding the positions against Common Core and the mania that accompanies the stands against it. You would think the “Russians are here!” but they are not. Common sense has at long last prevailed, and arrived in the form of the Common Core and its assessments.

I am tempted to conclude that the adversarial positions of Common Core are simply political ruses wrapped in sheep’s clothing. There must be some countervailing political aim to opposing Common Core, or why would there be such loud and screeching alarms sounded? I hope I am wrong, and this is merely a matter of simple though deeply rooted and pervasive misunderstandings.

Otherwise, it seems irresponsible, if not criminal, to deny our students this wonderful opportunity. Our students aren’t stupid — they are bright and capable. Our teachers are not cowards — we welcome the challenge to increase and improve our students’ skills, and the idea has energized us to plan and prepare for real and meaningful standards and assessments.

It is my fervent hope that we not retreat to the 1960s but advance to the future; that we are not blinded by wild rhetoric, but instead enlightened by the chance to really make a difference in student learning. Let’s not allow this chance to slip away — or, worse, for it to be buried beneath a mound of useless rhetoric.

Al Stout, of Boise, has taught at Skyview High School for 18 years, is an AP English Literature consultant for The College Board and was a Boise State Writing Project Fellow in 2007.

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