Common Core: Gerald Graff Versus Diane Ravitch?

Many of you are probably familiar with (and perhaps have partaken in) the heated conversations occurring on the state and national level about the Common Core State Standards (CCSS).

Particularly resonant to my own situation is that the “Common Core Yields Odd Political Allegiances“: the article title I invoked in the previous clause begins with this line– “To say that new academic standards have yielded strange bedfellows would be an understatement.”

However, I am concerned that, as usual, the national discourse about CCSS reduces the complexity of these tensions to the equivalent of twin (albeit opposing) Facebook status updates– one to which we respond “like” or “dislike” without much further research or thought.

At the risk of reducing a complex issue to a simplistic “Good Thing/Bad Thing” binary (If you watch the clip, I love it when Jon Stewart says, “Good thing or bad thing?  Let’s go to our analyst, Flippy the Coin!” and I am always horrified anew when the reporter cuts off a sophisticated financial analysis with an unbelievably snide “Can you just say if that’s a good thing or a bad thing?”), I think it’s worth noting that two remarkably fine minds and scholars have both produced coherent arguments regarding their opposing stances on the Common Core– Diane Ravitch and Gerald Graff.

Despite my playful title (although that would be an Epic Rap Battle, eh?) , when it comes to this particular high stake issue in regards to education, I am chilled, even as I laugh, as Stewart satires: “It’s like the word went out from CNN HQ . . . 86 the professor talk and just let the people know does this story go in my happy bag or my sad bag?  Emoticon me– Chop Chop!”

I don’t need to tell anyone reading this blog that, when it comes to education in the 21st century, to steal a line from De La Soul, Stakes is High. And when it comes to education, some readable “professor talk” is more than appropriate.

Diane Ravitch: Everything You Need to Know About the Common Core

When the Modern Language Association (MLA) met for its annual conference in early January, Diane Ravitch delivered an address titled “Common Core: Past, Present, Future.”  In her talk, Ravitch, an education historian and activist, provides her answers to the following questions:

  • What are the Common Core Standards?
  • Who produced them?
  • Why are they controversial?
  • How did their adoption happen so quickly?

Ravitch acknowledges to her audience, early in her speech, that “as scholars of the humanities, you are well aware that every historical event is subject to interpretation.  There are different ways to answer the questions I just posed.”  She then explains that the session was supposed to be a dialogue– unfortunately, David Coleman, the man “generally acknowledged to be architect of the Common Core standards,” could not attend.  Therefore, she points out, “you will only hear my narrative, not his, which would be quite different.”

Gerald Graff: Reaction to Ravitch: A Different View of the Common Core

Gerald Graff, a former president of the MLA and professor of English and education at University of Illinois, was in the audience.  In his response, he not only provides that other narrative– you’ll also hear his explanation as to why “I like the new Common Core Standards, which focus precisely on the “college readiness” skills that my students not only struggle with but don’t seem to have been told are important.”

A Final Thought

I urge you to read both texts with care.  If you are inclined to “dislike,” one over the other, then read it playing Peter Elbow’s “Believing Game.”  The one you are inclined to “like,” with, I suggest Elbow’s “Doubting Game.”

Then tell me one idea (a quote, a concept, a thought) that strikes you after reading both documents (to the end!  Don’t be the person who reads the first paragraph and then starts responds with something inane).  Post it here.  Let’s have a dialogue of our own that transcends a status update or the good/bad banality of news coverage.

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