professornana (professornana) wrote,

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A love letter for us all

Well, several things aligned yesterday to bring me to the blog today. The first was a sermon in church. After the reading, the priest stood up and asked, "what do we make of this?" I have to admit that this was the same thought I had after listening to the reading, too, so I was curious to see where Father headed. For me, the crux of the sermon was his assertion that PEACE was not the absence of conflict. In so many ways, the sermon reminded me of the words of T.S. Eliot, words which are echoed in Bob Cormier's THE CHOCOLATE WAR in a poster Jerry Renault has in his locker that asks, "Do I dare disturb the universe?" I have to admit that I wrestle with this question from time to time. As I post criticisms of CCSS and the folks on its GRAVY TRAIN (and thanks to Anthony Cody for that phrase), I wonder if I could do more simply by taking each of the standards one by one and listing books that could be used to teach the standards.

But then a couple of other things entered into my deliberations. One was a blog site doing just that: taking the standards one by one, suggesting titles, and then building a lesson around them. Quite frankly, I would rather not sully some of my favorite books by making them into lessons. I would prefer kids read the books for pleasure and not for some assessment. If we are going to make kids hate a piece of writing, better it be from the soulless textbook than from the lists of books I amasss each year as I read.

And then I decided to read the new Tom Angleberger THE SURPRISE ATTACK OF JABBA THE PUPPET for Sunday's #bookaday. If you do not know this series, please remedy that immediately. Start with the first book, THE STRANGE CASE OF ORIGAMI YODA and work your way up to this latest entry. Angleberger has written about his usual cast of eccentric characters in a form and format that belies the reading and lexile levels assigned to the book (of course. The books are in the 700 band; the levels hover in the 4.5 range for the series). In this book, Dwight and his friends decide to push back against the new curriculum in their school, FUNtime, a program designed to increase scores on the state and national tests. The program features a singing calculator, a dancing thesaurus, and idiotic songs and mnemonic devices. Angleberger skewers the nonsense taking place in schools across the nation right now. Moreover, he shows how kids are aware of all the stupidity being done in the name of test scores: removal of electives, the arts, etc.

I doubt that there is a teacher out there who will not appreciate the incredible balancing act in this novel: Angleberger does not forsake his trademark humor, his sense of pathos for kids marginalized by others, or his ability to tell a story that pulls in readers. Yet, somehow he manages to do all this and still show the sad focus of too many of those "reformers" who will jump on the gravy train and ride it until the next big thing comes along. I see it as a love story to all the teachers who share books with kids, who provide authentic audiences for writing, who value response to literature over yet another benchmark, worksheet, etc.

Rather than avoid conflict, Angleberger stares it in the face and asks, "What if we all took the tests using #1 pencils? Would it blow up their computer or something?" (p. 140). So, I am going to go grab a lovely ripe Texas peach from the kitchen and disturb the universe some more.
Tags: ccss, conflict, idiocy, peace, testing
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