Common Core’s literacy standards give leftist educators a backdoor for bringing activism into the classroom

Jul 9, 2013 by

YPSILANTI, Mich. – Politically liberal K-12 teachers are not unanimous in their opinions of the national Common Core math and English standards.

The radical teachers associated with the organization Rethinking Schools blast Common Core as a “new, tougher version” of No Child Left Behind, and predict its “test and punish approach” will lead to more public schools being closed and more charters being opened.

The progressives at Michigan-based Creative Change Educational Solutions, however, are downright giddy over the nationalized math and English standards. They particularly like the indoctrination opportunities they will have under Common Core’s “interdisciplinary approach to literacy” that begins in kindergarten and lasts through high school.

By making literacy education – which covers reading, writing, listening and speaking skills – an all-school affair, Common Core essentially requires all educators to become English teachers, at least to some degree.

Some Americans might think that sounds like a good idea. On paper, maybe it is.

The problem with that plan is another Common Core requirement, which requires students to be taught largely with “informational” (or nonfiction) texts. By the time students reach their senior year of high school, 70 percent of their reading will be dedicated to nonfiction, a category that includes “historical documents, scientific tracts, maps and other ‘informational texts’ – like recipes and train schedules,” reports a New York Times blog titled “The Learning Network.”

That means all those newly deputized English teachers – who also teach math, science and social studies – will have wide latitude to choose which topics their students should be reading, writing, listening and talking about.

That’s why Creative Change is so excited about Common Core.

A recent news story about an Indiana English teacher shows the perils of Common Core’s obsession with informational texts.

During the just-completed school year, veteran educator Melinda Bundy replaced her popular unit about King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table for one about President John F. Kennedy and the 1960s, according to National Public Radio.

The English teacher made the switch because the new Common Core standards require that she incorporate historical documents into her lessons. Bundy’s district apparently let each teacher decide which historical documents to us.

Bundy chose to teach a unit on the 35th president because she “adored JFK.” That’s hardly an inspiring criterion on which to base a learning experience for students.

There’s no indication that Bundy used her unit on JFK and the 1960s to promote her political ideology, whatever it may be.

But is there any doubt that at least some politically active teachers – trained in the Bill Ayers approach to education – will use their freedom to bring their political philosophy into the classroom?

Creative Change officials are betting that many educators will do just that, and have produced informational videos telling them how it can be done.

Math Concepts + Informational Texts = Social Justice Teaching

In one of the videos, Creative Change Executive Director Susan Santone urges teachers to consider using their Common Core-literacy education duties to educate students about “sustainability.”

As the Creative Change folks acknowledge, sustainability is an umbrella term that can cover a range of left-wing causes, including radical environmentalism, social justice, equality and global citizenship.

In the video, Santone tells teachers and school leaders that by consciously centering Common Core-related lessons on sustainability, they can make these issues “a driver” of student learning, instead of just an occasional “add on.”

For example, an informational text about third-world “sweatshops” can transform a simple math lesson about ratios and proportions into a powerful social justice lesson (with just a hint of anti-capitalism added in for good measure).

A sample test question found on the Creative Change website reveals how easily this is done:

“Women are paid just less than eight cents ($.08) for every $25.00 NFL T-shirt they sew, meaning their wages are less than one percent of the NFL’s retail price for the T-shirt. Each sewing line, or module, has multiple female workers who must complete a mandatory production goal of 1,500 T-shirts in the standard nine-hour shift. Management sets these goals and the workers have no say whatsoever.”

Using that information, students are asked to use their math knowledge to determine how many shirts the women have to sew each hour – both individually and as a group – to meet their quota. Students are also asked how much each woman earns per T-shirt, and what her earnings are in relation to the cost of the shirt.

A related writing assignment found on the Creative Change website asks students to explain if they’d be willing to pay $2 more for a T-shirt that was made in a way that protected the environment and workers’ rights.

What a perfect way of blending activism with literacy education.

To be fair, it’s unclear if this particular writing assignment – part of Creative Change’s “deep portfolio” of teaching materials – is aimed at math students or not.

But in reality, it doesn’t really matter because Common Core’s across-the-board approach to literacy education enables activist teachers to shape their students’ political perspectives even as they learn basic skills.

Unprecedented levels of indoctrination?

It’s not just the leftists at Creative Change who see the potential of Common Core.

In a newly published book titled, “Social Studies, Literacy and Social Justice in the Common Core Classroom: A Guide for Teachers,” author and elementary education professor Ruchi Agarwal-Rangnath explains how educators can meet the new learning standards by teaching language arts and social studies as complementary subjects.

“If we find ways to build bridges between language arts and social studies, we may find greater spaces to teach social studies for social justice,” writes Agarwal-Rangnath.

She continues:

“Language arts and social studies taught as complementary subjects offer the opportunity for social justice issues to emerge from picture books, writing and reading workshops, current events, textbooks, independent reading and class discussions.

“Social justice, then, becomes the foundation of the curriculum, instead of something outside or separate. Literacy and social studies, collectively, offer the opportunity for students to engage in meaningful learning that supports students in becoming not only strong, technical readers, but critical, active thinkers as well.”

Blending social studies with Common Core literacy requirements is ideal for teachers who “need to creatively think of ways to mold social studies into ‘an already crowded curriculum,’” Agarwal-Rangnath writes.

To be clear, Common Core isn’t opening the school door to left-wing indoctrination; that door has been ajar since the 1960s.

The unique thing about Common Core is that it allows certain teachers to justify their activism as an attempt to teach literacy and critical thinking skills.

State and local education officials can contain the potential damage by adopting very specific curricula that limit the kinds of materials educators can use in the classroom.

For instance, Bundy, the Indiana English teacher, could be required to teach about the Declaration of Independence instead of JFK.

However, if Bill Ayers-inspired teachers are left to choose their own informational texts for newly required literacy lessons, Americans will see unprecedented levels of student indoctrination in their local public schools.

Common Core’s literacy standards give leftist educators a backdoor for bringing activism into the classroom – powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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