A Public Service Announcement! ;)

A Public Service Announcement! ;)

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

MLA Commons K16 Education Committee Taking Up the Common Core State Standards. Time to Help Them Know Where to Stand

A K16 Education Committee associated with the Modern Language Association (MLA), "Inspired by Michael Holquist’s challenge to the MLA to dialogue about the CCSI, what it means for us, and our relationship to secondary education," has created what they term "a space for discussion of standards, assessment, and our role in this process."

Only a few comments have been posted so far, but one poster seeks to brainstorm ideas about how to help teachers implement CCSS. I pray the comment is not the start of a slippery slope.

Folks, if you are against privatization of K12 education and do not want to see MLA infiltrated by Big $-, Big Business- and Big Politics-CCSS support, like some of our other educational organizations may have been (not to say MLA hasn't been influenced by these forces regarding other topics already. I wouldn't know), I encourage you to contact this committee or speak to whomever you know who is a member of MLA and can get your concerns about the CCSS heard. Especially the ELA CCSS.

Do not assume the MLA membership is as informed on the CCSS like the Network for Public Education might be, or Susan Ohanian, Stephen Krashen, or the Badass Teachers might be.

Further, please note  it is entirely possible many professors of literature and rhetoric & composition look at the ELA CCSS and see a dream come true.

You see, the CCSS's focus on rhetorical modes of writing help reify the "importance" of rhetoric and composition and obscure the different philosophies on K12 student writing found in the larger English Education, Literacy, and Ed Studies communities.

As someone who has seen rhetoric and composition faculty take over English Departments or at least exert unduly influence on English Education matters at two different universities -- I'm looking at you, UTEP and Washington State --  sometimes with the support of the rest of the department and sometimes at the chagrin of it, I've seen how easy it is for folks who are college-level humanities educators -- especially rhetoric and composition professors --  to assume that means they also know best for K12 English teaching and assume what so many others are assuming/politically working to their advantage right now: That K12 teachers aren't smart or capable enough to handle pedagogical and curricular matters on their own anyway.

 The ELA CCSS's call for focus on argumentative modes of expression could be music to the ears of these same folks. Now they're doubly important. The K12 teachers didn't know what they were doing before, and now their specific areas of expertise align to K12 curricula, especially high school English curricula.

As well, there is a rationale to be made that the main exemplar texts suggested by the CCSS ELA documents actually represent a curriculum, one which is very narrow and prescribed. Some proponents and opponents of the CCSS ELA will say that's not the case, that the exemplars are just that: Really good examples of texts teachers might use but not the only ones. Regardless, the ELA CCSS focus on American literature and Shakespeare at the expense of global and multicultural literatures, and, sadly, many college  English Departments are still so conservative they still see the resident Shakespearean as king or queen.

 Do you think Shakespeareans -- especially Shakespeareans who are also department chairs,  the leaders of English Departments -- will look at the CCSS ELA, see their preferred literature is also its preferred literature, and be willing to critique it? Fight against it?

I'm telling you there is a very real possibility that the college-level Literature and Rhetoric & Composition faculties across America are salivating over what the CCSS means to them:

Its language suggests a new level of import and necessity -- a rationale for continued relevance and existence -- for which they've been searching for decades. 

We've seen college exert control over K12 curriculum before, especially at the high school level. Indeed, in 1911 NCTE was founded on the radical belief that K12 teachers understood best what K12 students needed, not the college professors crafting hegemonic reading lists to help secondary teachers make sure some students were "college ready." We can't count on NCTE to be that radical this time, not as an entire organization, anyway, especially not since CCCC is one of its most powerful sub-organizations and its members may stand more to gain from the CCSS than anyone other than corporations and privateers.

 My hope is this MLA committee will thoroughly research the many arguments for and against the CCSS and will look to the history of how they came to be and how undemocratic that process was. My hope is their communal sense of equity and social justice will lead them to join other organizations opposing the Common Core State Standards and what they truly represent.

But I'm jaded. Working under two English Department chairs who ran their departments into forms of receivership will do that, as will seeing the cut-throat tactics of rhetoric and composition faculty who seem exceptionally eager to claim their ground, stake their claims, and expand their empires. (Thanks a lot, dismissive Literature faculty, for all those generations of looking on those r&c folks as second-class citizens. You've created a group of folks who may see opportunities like this as justifications, revenge, retributions, and absolutely acceptable, the proper evolution and changing of the guard). I just don't think we can assume the members of that committee will see what Diane Ravitch sees, what Paul Thomas sees, what thousands of Badass Teachers see regarding the entirety of the CCS, let alone the ELA CCSS.

Unless we help them.

Click the link embedded in this post, and also click on the administrator and member icons for more contact information once you're there. Then get to emailing and tweeting. Take to twitter via tweeting @MLAcommons and sharing the link and your worries so they know how to direct your input. If you're an English Ed or teacher educator, contact the English Department and find a sympathetic MLA member who can pass along your concerns.

But don't stay silent. Assuming I'm right about how the CCSS ELA document can be a boon for certain college-level professors,  and given the might of MLA, it is a necessity to share our knowledge to help them see the CCSS and its backers are banes to our K12 students and teachers.

I could be over-reacting. I could be skewing or skewering certain professors' and organizations' sense of themselves. If so, my apologies. Certainly I do not mean to slander MLA or this K16 committee. But if there is even a sliver of truth in what I fear, that the MLA could -- wittingly or unwittingly -- become a pro-CCSS organization, can those of us who know better afford to let its considerable membership and sway contribute to the reign of error dominating contemporary K12 school reforms like the CCSS?


Bucky C. said...

Could the case be made that *most* departments in colleges and universities stand to gain from CSSS, especially once David Coleman completes alignment from K-16?

Anonymous said...


As I was asking....

Anonymous said...

Interesting to see the chair at WSU -- a Shakespearean? -- weigh in on the matter.

Bucky C. said...

I was appreciative of his sense of and desire for resistance. Internal resistance, but subversion just the same. I'd rather see MLA come out against CCSS aggressively and join groups like the Network for Public Education in fighting for reforms that actually address real problems inherent in K12, like equity and lack of social justice and prevalence of poverty. But, anything from MLA that isn't "Yes let's accept CCSS wholeheartedly" is hopeful.

There *are* problems in K12 education, to be sure. But, CCSS addresses most of them in empty rhetoric only. May MLA keep that in mind.