Part 4: 50 States, 50 Sets of Standards v. One Country, One Set of Standards

Part 1, the introduction, is here.
Part 2, a defense of resource sharing, is here.
Part 3, an analogy that fewer choices helps us be more creative, here.

Part 4: I give.

This morning on NPR, Shankar Vedantam reminded listeners that we don’t change our minds. It’s similar to a This American Life episode that became the basis for a unit and curriculum I helped design that invited students to compare Regents writing to “real” writing. The task was organized around the essential question: What’s the point of writing an argumentative essay if we rarely change our minds? 

I’ve reached the inevitable conclusion that there doesn’t seem to be a point. Vedantam’s gist was a bit more nuanced: we can change others’ minds but not unless we find the right framework.
I can’t seem to find the words to persuade someone who believes 50 sets (actually 1000 when you add all up) is better than one, or 20, set(s). I’m not sure how to convince someone who thinks “locally-grown” standards are inherently better because they were written by teachers with a particular accent as opposed to those with accents from multiple states and regions. I’d like to think someone making the alternate claim could find the words to get me to change my mind, but I’m not persuaded by quotes from long-dead Founding Fathers or a general claim of “because it’s better” or “we were fine before this particular set of standards.” I’ll do my best to keep my mind open, though, and keep looking.
So I conclude my series by conceding. Tribe mentality in runs deep. We get a bee in our bonnet, a hum in our dinger, we set up camp and call it home. I’m not sure if I’m a counselor at Camp Common Core but I am on team “Let’s Save Teachers’ Time” and a card-carrying member of the “We Can’t Go Back in Time” club. And yet… and yet….
A writing standard from a national set of standards: Develop claim(s) and counterclaims fairly and thoroughly, supplying the most relevant evidence for each while pointing out the strengths and limitations of both in a manner that anticipates the audience’s knowledge level, concerns, values, and possible biases.
A writing standard from a state-developed set of standards:
  • Challenge or support a point of view with supportive facts and opinions 
  • Compare differing points of view in order to draw conclusions 
  • Determine the validity of both sides of an argument, supporting or refuting one or both sides of the argument
I’m struck by the similarities. And differences. Both require we help students see the other side of an argument. The first one asks that students consider their audience when writing and to be fair. The second one is about challenging and determining validity. In both cases, I wonder – what are the implications when the adults in students’ lives struggle with the demands of the standard? How do we model these standards or find anchors for them if adults are so rarely willing to do it ourselves?

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