Strict or Loose Interpretation?
The interpretation of the United States Constitution often falls into two camps; strict or loose construction. According to ANSWERS.com the following definitions apply:
- Strict: “…Constitution means exactly what it says, and thus, is not open to interpretation or inference.”
- Loose: “…Constitution must thus be interpreted in light of historic and societal change.”
Using the debate on the interpretation of our Constitution as an analogy for the possible issues surrounding the implementation of the Common Core is apt. There are those who will want to read the CC standards in a literal sense, and there will be others who will argue that the words of the document are open to interpretation and inference. Every educator in Maine must do a close reading of the Common Core Document including the appendices and supporting documents such as the Criteria for Publishers in order to be well informed for the forthcoming, inevitable debates on implementation.
To help put the CC in context, here is a video of David Coleman, one of the chief architects of the Common Core, explaining the four principles that informed the authors’ work.
Critical Questions (Literacy Standards)
1. What is the teacher’s role in implementing the Common Core?
In a recent AMLE listserve posting a colleague wondered if teachers are doomed to become “scripted corporate trainers” using materials mass produced by powerful publishers. In Maine that seems impossible; however in other states, teachers are required to use scripted curriculum — they literally recite from a script designed to illicit very specific responses from the students. Most corporate trainers also work from a script to insure common delivery of the message. Will Maine teachers still be empowered to create and use engaging curriculum materials and units even as publishers are receiving criteria for creating teacher-proof materials for the Common Core?
2. Is time really a variable?
Both Commissioner Stephen Bowen and State Superintendent for Instruction Don Siviski maintain that schools must change their view of time. In their scenario, the outcomes remain the same for each student and the time to meet the standards becomes a variable; traditional grade levels fade away. Yet the Common Core states, “Students advancing through the grades are expected to meet each year’s grade-speciﬁc standards and retain or further develop skills and understandings mastered in preceding grades.” A strict interpretation of the CC suggests that grade-level expectations are absolute. Does Maine face a conundrum when customized learning meets the CC?
3. What exactly is text?
This word cloud certainly demonstrates that the word “text” plays a prominent role in the standards for reading. Additionally, Appendix A states, “ In particular, if students cannot read complex expository text to gain information, they will likely turn to text-free or text-light sources, such as video, podcasts, and tweets. These sources, while not without value, cannot capture the nuance, subtlety, depth, or breadth of ideas developed through complex text.”
Obviously a strict interpretation of the Standards is that the printed word is how the word text should be understood. I would never argue that students shouldn’t know how to read and mine printed text for evidence to support an argument. However, ideas are disseminated in the 21st century through a variety of means–text, images, audio, and any combination of the three. Despite the statement to the contrary in Appendix A, I think complex ideas can be transmitted through media. How will students learn to analyze and evaluate such sources if they are not practicing “close viewing and listening” of multiple examples? And… do text-to-speech apps and audio books fall under the category of text? I wonder if perhaps text requires a loose interpretation for the 21st century student?
4. Why does argument seem to take such precedence over persuasion and narrative when I read commentary or listen to presentations on the writing standards?
Once again, I would never argue that students should not master the art of writing a logical argument piece. However story telling is an ancient and honored method of passing on a sense of culture, making a point, and convincing people to take action. Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle, and Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago are just a few examples of narratives that have moved readers to protest and make changes. What’s interesting is that the Criteria for Publishers states that in middle school 35% of writing should be argument, 35% of writing should be to inform or explain, and 30% should be narrative. When those percentages are spread across the curriculum (because the literacy standards also apply to content areas besides Language Arts), they seem pretty reasonable. Perhaps this is an instance when strict interpretation of the Standards is preferable and experts’ advice should be taken with a grain of salt!
It is incumbent upon all us–teacher, administrator, citizen–to probe and clarify the implications of the Common Core for our students’ education. Ask questions, push back when things don’t make sense, compare recommendations by the experts to research on effective practices, and interpret wisely.
Tags: Common Core