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21 August 2013 @ 04:11 pm
Meanings, words, definitions  
Another confluence of events leads me to ponder the meanings and definitions of words lately. To me, meaning and definition are not quite synonymous. I think definitions are a tad more restrictive than meanings, but perhaps I am overthinking. Who knows? I do know that this pondering over meaning versus definition is not limited to me and my sometimes over-caffeinated brain.

I love, for instance, this reflective piece by Glenda Funk over at Evolving English Teacher: http://evolvingenglishteacher.blogspot.com/2013/08/censorship-in-classroom-and-choices.html?spref=fb. Glenda is echoing some of my own thoughts, but her posting is so much more eloquent when it comes to censorship, the type of censorship we are seeing in the name of educational reform. That last paragraph is paramount: "This school year: Start the Choices. Stop the Censorship." When we take away choice, we are limiting what kids can read and learn and experience. Mandatory reading lists without any chance of choice truly is censorship of a different type. I think that is a large part of my problem with the Exemplar Texts of CCSS. They are severely limited in terms of authors, genres, diversity, range, and more.

The folks over at Rethinking Schools are also considering definitions and meaning and CCSS: http://www.rethinkingschools.org/archive/27_04/edit274.shtml?utm_content=bufferb9629&utm_source=buffer&utm_medium=twitter&utm_campaign=Buffer. They begin by pointing out that the Common Core State Standards are not, in fact, state standards at all. They point to the failures of NCLB and how those same failures (though o a much larger scale) will occur with CCSS assessments as well.

And that brings me to my own musings after reading one of Valerie Strauss' columns in The Washington Post (and if you are not reading her column, please start making it part of your daily routine. It is called The Answer Sheet: http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/answer-sheet/. A column in "disruptive reform" inn education set my mind to spinning. Disruptive is hardly a term I would want associated with education let alone education reform. Of course, it is a term borrowed from business, something that reformers would like to see education become. They see the market for all manner of things if disruption occurs. That is why the gravy train is so looooooooooooooooooooooooong. There is not a day goes by that there is not some new product on the market aligned to CCSS.

As for the word reform, here is one definition: Reform means the improvement or amendment of what is wrong, corrupt, unsatisfactory, etc. What is corrupt in education that needs reform? My answer would likely differ from those of the architects of the latest reform movement. The corruption I see (and it continues under CCSS) is the concept that standardized tests and federal standards will fix education. What is unsatisfactory is the flawed concept I have discussed here many times: ONE SIZE FITS ALL. After shopping for jeans with College Girl last night, I can assure you that one size does not even fit many or most or some. And yet, here we are again trying to force kids into the ONE SIZE FITS ALL mold. It is almost reminiscent of Soylent Greeen, only in this case we are taking the minds of kids and forcing them into some machinery that will turn out kids who all (ostensibly, that is, if teachers just follow the plan of CCCSS and the assessors) know the same stuff. How this makes them career ready is something I continue to question. I know it does not make them college ready either. We do not want horde after horde of kids who pass standardized tests. We want kids who can think for themselves. Kids who can write personal memoirs as well as reports from their lab experiments. Kids who read for pleasure, who can respond to a variety of texts, sometimes critically and sometimes personally. What concerns me is that there is no room for the INDIVIDUAL in all this. And there are kids who are gong to be left behind if you will pardon the reference to the last reform motto.

So, it is not enough simply to remember the HUMAN factor in what we do, we also need to be aware of the INDIVIDUAL factor. I admit this is something I work on each and every semester: trying to think of ways to allow for more choice, to permit students the option to address an assignment in a different way that I originally envisioned. It is, quite frankly, easier to have everyone do the exact same thing. But then I recall the story from an inservice so many years ago about a boy who loved to draw and who would produce incredible pictures with inventive use of color and shape, etc. until he came up against a teacher whose directions needed to be followed. It did not take long for the boy to produce exactly the same drawing as everyone else. I worry that we kill off the imagination, the invention, the risk-taking of kids when we ask for the same evidence of learning, when assessments are machine-scored, when there is no room for the personal and individual response.

One of the things I love about my PLN is that we can talk about texts personally and permit individual insight, response, and preferences. One of my favorite things is to talk to someone who did not like the book as much as I did, to ask why, to see things from a different perspective. It challenges me. It forces me to see other aspects I might not have considered. And, of course, we can both agree to disagree and talk on until we find a text we love. I worry that disruptive reforms and federal standards and soulless Exemplar Texts will put an end to this type of discussion and leave kids wondering why they should bother to read beyond what is required. That will be a sad day, one I hope we can prevent.
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