What is at the Heart of Our Common Core?

Image courtesy of guardian.co.uk

The U.S. Department of Education is in a state of flux-again. They are in the process of adapting the Common Core Standards. In the past each state taught its own standards, and while many standards overlapped, no two states had the same educational objectives. The Core Standards will unite educators in this country like never before. Every teacher will speak the same language, teach to the same standards and encounter similar struggles. How we do like sameness in the USA.

The standards ramp up expectations of what students should know and be able to do before entering the next grade level. Students are expected to “read a wide variety of complex literature” and “write within a variety of genres”. They are expected to “make claims and support them with evidence,” to “trace the theme of a story from the beginning to the end”  and “compare the text version of a story to its theatrical or film production”(http://www.corestandards.org/)- all ambitious goals. But something crucial seems to be missing. All those goals are perfect for someone college-bound, but not every child will go to college. Not every child wants to go to college. However every child will have to work with others, will have to live alongside others and will have to interact with others. The global goal of education should always be to build tolerance so students can grow in knowledge with each other.

Maybe it is my literature background, but the best way I envision teaching this lofty yet overlooked standard is through reading and books. “It is through the themes, characters, and conflicts of such books that we can guide our students to connect with each other and the world around them, develop understanding and respect for their own cultural groups, empathize with the tragedies and triumphs of others, write and add their own personal voices to the mosaic and value multiple perspectives and experiences as part of their lifelong learning processes.” ( http://www.schoolwide.com/newsletter/Online_newsletter/janfeb/multicultural_literature/multicultural.pdf) Of course, if it were as easy as going to the nearest public library and checking out a book about a culture that is different from your own…wait a minute…it actually is that easy. While I cannot claim to know what library systems are like in other parts of the world, the United States has an incredible library system. Every book from soup to nuts can be checked out, for free, and you can keep it at home for up to three weeks. If your local library does not have it, they can request it from another library that does, for free. However, the library systems from school to school can vary tremendously based on funds available, which makes building tolerance that much more difficult.

Recently I had to complete some research for my master’s degree as a reading specialist. In one project I had to analyze the collection of genres within a classroom or school library. In the other, I had to analyze one or two multicultural texts. In both I became increasingly aware of not only my own ignorance and that of the nation that has raised me, but more importantly, how easily that can be remedied.

joup common core standardsThe first project entailed counting books within both fiction and nonfiction genres. Because my school is situated in the middle of Tinley Park, IL our library fared better than most. Our collection boasts approximately 8,000 books or nearly twenty-five (25) per student equally divided between fiction and nonfiction. The genres are well balanced and even encompass bilingual books in Spanish and Arabic, the two growing demographics of our district. Overall I was pleased (proud even) that our library offered so much to our students and rightfully so.

While I had the library records in front of me I thought I would begin researching multicultural pieces for my second project. I hoped to find a wealth of stories, poems and picture books reflecting Middle Eastern culture. Unfortunately no keyword I entered revealed that for which I searched. I could search by country or region, but the results were lopsided: more nonfiction books turned up than fiction books. My purpose was to find realistic fiction books to help educate students about Middle Eastern culture through stories, not history books.  I discovered a few here and there beginning with A Little Piece of Ground and Shooting Kabul. Then it was brought to my attention that Shooting Kabul is set in Afghanistan, not the Middle East. How did I miss that in World History?

I read Three Cups of Tea, some picture books and mythology books. All brought one thing into very sharp relief: my hours and years of education have been just as lopsided as the results of my library search. Many of the countries I read about (namely Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Palestine) were not even on the map of the world I studied as a child and are only brought to my attention when there is violence to report in that area. Not only am I completely ignorant of the conflicts encountered by people there, I am completely unaware of the struggles they face upon arriving in the States. It was not a planned ignorance mind you and I certainly try to hold no prejudices, but the absence of information was stunning.

This being said…How many of my students are in the same boat as me?

There is a pile of literature I gleaned from the Tinley Public Library (http://www.tplibrary.org/) on Afghan, Indian and Middle Eastern cultures. I also plan on diving into websites with resources such as http://www.ipl.org/div/pf/entry/48493  and do a specific Google search.  My brain thirsts for the information that has been withheld from it for so long and correcting my comprehension is crucial. How else will I be able to educate my students for the 21st Century? It seems like as teachers unite under the Common Core, both they and their students should hopefully begin to realize that they have more in common at their own cores and it’s told in their individual stories.

Lisa Quesada

Lisa Quesada

Lisa is the Reading Specialist at a middle school in Tinley Park, Illinois. She has been teaching for over twenty years and earned both a Masters in Reading Specialist and a Masters in Educational Leadership. Books, music, movies, and education are her life!

One Response to What is at the Heart of Our Common Core?
  1. Joe Grez

    JGrez Reply

    Excellent read. Really looking forward to see your progress on this through out your school year

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