Common Core vs Cultural Literacy, Classics, and Connections

As a teacher, I was told that Common Core (or College and Career Readiness) Standards were THE standards to measure. Measuring is what we did. A lot. The problem is that I continued to think about my handy Dictionary of Cultural Literacy. Whereas Common Core might focus on skills that every student should have in order to learn the right information for any given task, Cultural Literacy focuses on the specific facts those with power tend to have. Granted, the future might indicate that those in power, who have achieved Common Core mastery, might actually change what those in power tend to know. However, they might just use their advanced Common Core skills in order to better learn or interpret Cultural Literacy facts.


The reason why I focused on Cultural Literacy as a teacher was because I believe in the idea that there is likely a set of important facts that we should KNOW, along with all of the methods for obtaining other facts when necessary. For example, should we all know who Abraham Lincoln is, or should we just be ready to look it up if someone asks? In literature, should we know to whom "O Captain, My Captain" refers? Educators tend to focus on Common Core because tests tend to focus on the same standards. That is likely very useful. However, in my own teaching and learning, I've found cross-curriculum connections and simply memorizing some important facts to be more useful when it comes to applying what I know and maintaining real conversation.

With that in mind, Educabana will be dedicated to presenting alternative forms of what's important in education. Mostly, we believe that a public form of liberal arts education is the true determining factor in the success of a nation. As the wealthiest nation, America could have focused on this philosophy but chose to focus on how certain Asian countries test higher in fourth grade math. We are all to blame for the lack of desire to educate the whole child in favor of focusing on core subjects and high-stakes testing. Using Educabana to find a teacher or student is our way of helping to right the ship. In many ways, there is water, water everywhere, nor any drop to drink, and if a generation of students fails to learn what that last statement refers to, then it really doesn't matter if they out-test Finland in 4th grade science.

Besides Cultural Literacy, students should learn about both the Classics and Connections. Actually, that's some nice alliteration: Classics, Connections, and Cultural Literacy. Let me explain the Classics a bit, since we've tended to forget them, and that's all it will take for them to disappear from the earth. I'm not being overdramatic, either. Have you ever discussed Aristotle or Aquinas or Dickens or Joyce? Have you read any of the Great Books? Do you care about them when The Da Vinci Code and The Matrix obviously explains all of it anyhow? A few thousand years of Western Culture summed up on a Wikipedia page should not be good enough for us.

Connections refers to a BBC series I saw a long time ago and that was also published in some books. James Burke uses connections in history, science, economics, invention, and other world events to explain how and why things happened. It's like the idea of teaching English in unison with Social Studies and Science so that students understand the whole meaning, not just random facts and skills, but applied facts and skills. My school district bought into a system for doing this and then dropped it because I was pretty much the only teacher who bought into it. Literally. You might see a few of my lessons that made the attempt on this site, but without the interest of the other departments, it was pretty futile, but so is teaching kids who don't care about the subject or see how it relates to others. When I started most of my classes with a Cultural Literacy fact or a news article, it wasn't about grammar or reading, but about making some kind of connection between reading, writing, or philosophy that made sense to them and throughout history. If you don't do that as a teacher or student, then it's really just about what you retweet or post to Facebook, which is certainly not adding anything to the Great Works of the Western World.

Which brings us back to the Common Core, which is not all that bad. It's kind of like a guide for skills that students need to attain in order to learn what they have to learn. My argument isn't that Common Core itself causes the problems in current and future boredom in education, but that teachers' misunderstanding of how to achieve Common Core results does the trick. For example, when I had to teach a certain grammar skill set, I used a text related to The Merchant of Venice in order to do it. How much time does that take? A lot. Was it worth it, considering it was used for one class for one year? Not really, but it was the right thing to do. With larger class sizes and workloads, most teachers will never find the time to create this sort of resource, but it can be done. If I have a Merchant of Venice 16-19 Grammar Comma Lesson and I post it on this site, others can use it. If someone else has a 20-23 Merchant of Venice Comma Lesson that is shared, now I could use that next year. Common Core, ACT, or College and Career Readiness doesn't matter all that much as they focus on the same skills, but if you use a random text about global warming while reading The Merchant of Venice, that is wrong, less effective, and boring. If nothing else, go through an ACT practice book and find texts that somewhat relate to what you're teaching.