The Common Core Workplace (from 7-9-13)

I recently wrote about my journey, my experience with the Common Core, by turning the stages of grief upside down and beginning with Acceptance of the CCSS and ending with Denial. I’d like to delve into a few additional ideas in my next few posts.

In this post, let’s take a look at the future workplace or career that the Common Core sponsors and writers seem to be envisioning for all our students. For starters, lets look at what the Common Core values and devalues.

What does the Common Core value?

It values information and argument. It emphasizes informational text – which is, I assume, text that is informative about some topic. It values argument – the ability to make a logical case, using information from these informational texts to make your case and rip to shreds the case of whomever opposes you. Keep in mind, this is not about negotiating or finding win-win solutions or common ground with anyone. The Common Core People emphasize calling it “argument,” not “persuasion.” It is combative, and the goal is to make the other side lose because that’s the only way to win. The Common Core emphasizes objectivity and analysis. You are always to be an unfeeling observer. It values writing “to text” – in other words, writing about what somebody else wrote, not writing about any original thoughts you may have. It values distance and detachment. Although they have since backtracked on the issue of background knowledge being bad when one reads (one prominent supporter of the Common Core blogged about this change, but my searches online have found no evidence that the change has been heralded or announced much), I think the prejudice still remains. The Common Core still values a “New Criticism” approach: stay within the four corners of the text, don’t make connections to the author, yourself, or the world around you. The text is the text. Mine it for information, dissect it, analyze it. And then step away before you get your hands dirty.

In terms of what the Common Core doesn’t value, perhaps avoiding getting your hands dirty, avoiding anything messy, seems to be at the heart of its values system.

It wants to get away from an emphasis on writing personal narratives or opinions, because no one will care about them. The Common Core doesn’t want to deal with personal connections to what you read, because asking “How did that make you feel?” is for sissies. It doesn’t value empathy; the only reason to see things from someone else’s point of view is so you can refute it in an argument. It doesn’t value making connections to yourself or the world. It especially doesn’t value emotions, either in reading or in writing. Emotions are not rigorous. It doesn’t much value creativity, though it gives lip service to some creative writing forms. Creativity seems to be something they feel uncomfortable with– like emotions. There is no way creativity can be rigorous.

And so what kind of job does the Common Core seem to be preparing students for? I’m picturing the ideal Common Core job. You are working for a large, personality-less corporation. You are interchangeable with the other employees. You work in a cubicle, Dilbert-style. Your assignments involve researching informational texts from an objective perspective and advising people who are higher up in the company than you are how they might use the information. You may make an argument about a course of action, but it will be based only on the facts you have researched. Your feelings and intuitions, and any innovative ideas you may have do not count for anything. Only the evidence matters, and the logic of your argument.

You will make your arguments, and then file your report.  And then you begin again.

I suppose there may be jobs like this out there. I would not want one.

Apparently, the Common Core doesn’t think that anyone will want the following jobs:

No one will be a Fiction writer/playwright/screenplay writer. Story doesn’t matter. Learning the creative process of creating characters, settings, and plots that explore ambiguous and profound themes is not something in the realm of possibility for our students. Pulling material from your own life and either telling your story as is, or transforming your own life into the stuff of fiction, is not something anyone does any more, so forget about it. You are only allowed to write about what other people write. This business of writing from your imagination has to go. And as for play-writing, no one goes to the theater any more.

Speaking of which, no one will work in the theater either. Plays were meant to be studied academically. You were  not meant to delve into the characters and understand their feelings, connect their experiences to yours so you can act them on stage. You weren’t meant to creatively imagine what emotional impact you want your production to have in order to make decisions about music, sets, lighting, and costumes. Emotions don’t matter. Creativity doesn’t matter, and empathy doesn’t matter. We study plays and discuss them. Feeling them, acting them, living and breathing them is beside the point.

Speaking of empathy and the devaluing of story, please don’t plan on going into psychology, counseling, or the ministry. Don’t go into customer service either. Because you won’t do very well. With your rigorous Common Core training, you can ask your patient, client, parishioner, or customer why they think someone would want to hear their story, and tell them no one cares how they feel. If a customer has a complaint about your product or service, listen but don’t empathize. Decide if they have enough evidence and can argue their case well enough to warrant you taking any action on their behalf. You can still be a doctor. Just don’t really listen to the patient or your intuition. Remain computer like, and on your computer. Look up the symptom, dispense the proper pharmaceutical. Don’t view your patients as people. That is very, very dangerous. And messy.

Don’t worry about being an entrepreneur, either. Your Common Core training will prepare you to be a cog in someone else’s machinery, not to build a machine of your own. You will lack the observational powers to observe your own life and the lives of those around you, to see the problems and needs that want filling, and to create innovative new products or services to fill them. You won’t be inclined to value your own ideas and thinking, because you will have been trained that they don’t matter – only citing sources and writing to text.

You might think that being a scientist would be a good option under the Common Core. Indeed, most scientists I’ve read, like Carl Sagan, Francis Collins, and Dan Ariely, among others, are objective and rational in their work, but chose their work based on their passions and interests. The Common Core gets the rational and detached part right, but completely undervalues interests and passion.

What about being a teacher? Well, if the Common Core has its way with our educational system, a teacher will need to be driven by evidence– in this case test-score data, either from PARCC or Smarter Balance. They will be unquestioning cogs in a system that demands obedience and conformity, and demands that teachers put the standards and the assessments ahead of the needs of individual students. Teachers will use the scripted materials handed to them by Pearson (or whatever publisher) in order to meet the demands of the Common Core, because these materials are more research based and aligned to standards than anything they might think of themselves. Of course, teachers of the future, raised on the Common Core, will not be able to think of any original ideas for teaching based on their own experiences with their own students. They won’t have to bother empathizing with their students, because they will have been encouraged by their own educations that no one gives a $#!+ about anyone else’s story.

If you think I’m exaggerating, think again about what the framers of the Common Core value, and think about the jobs I’ve listed above. The Common Core has a very limited, constricted idea of what students might find themselves doing after school, and it amounts to being a drone.

Welcome to World Wide Widgets.