Talk to teachers. For this piece on the common core, I don’t think you did. A principal, sure.
Speaking of which, here’s an interesting tidbit from one of the principals:
Jayne Ellspermann, the principal at West Port High School in Ocala, Fla., said teachers in her school are already seeing an improvement in the writing and analysis abilities of students who have been learning under the standards for about five years. Her own grandson benefited as a first grader, she said, when he wrote a Thanksgiving report about why he wouldn’t want to sail on the Mayflower. He built his argument on stories the class read that described rotten food and abysmal sanitary facilities. Before Common Core, she said, he likely would have just memorized the date the ship sailed and made a hat.
This might be too “in the weeds,” but this anecdote is not about the standards. It’s reflective of an improvement in the teaching of social studies, a subject that is marginalized by standardized testing. How we teach the Pilgrims has been the subject of a longstanding debate for years. I remember talking about how we teach historical myths in social studies methods courses as a graduate instructor in 2005. Lies my Teacher Told Me was first published in 1996.
Common core proponents did a great job selling the standards. In the above case, the principal confuses improvements in teaching with the standards. Memorizing facts and promoting historical myths are signs of bad teaching that can improve with, or without, the standards. Teaching this subject has improved, and was improving, well before the standards. If we choose 2010 as a target date for the standards, and for argument’s sake use the publication of Loewen’s book as another benchmark, that’s a span of roughly 15 years. It’s simply incorrect that the standards had anything to do with shifting a conversation that had already been happening for over decade, at minimum.
Actually, I don’t consider a persuasive essay about the conditions on the Mayflower a dramatic improvement in teaching. What kid in their right mind today would sign up for a two-month trip covered in vomit? Doesn’t sound like a very challenging rhetorical exercise. It might be more interesting to consider reading a text like Encounter. Although not about the Pilgrims specifically, it would be more evocative to get students to consider the perspectives of Indigenous peoples rather than focusing on their own discomfort with long ocean voyages.