In September 2015, I received the following email from a New York student in a graduate-level teacher education program:
Dear Ms. Schneider,
I am an educator at a school in New York City who was shocked to find a letter from a Professor [name] in my mail box this week. As an educator, I am of the opinion that creativity should be a key focus of any curriculum.
I have enrolled in a master’s in ed. program at [name of school] and as an educator have expressed disagreement with Prof. [name] over the Common Core. [This professor] also has worked for Pearson….
As the letter from Prof. [name] directs, I should stop expressing my opinions of the CCLS (Common Core Learning Standards) in class. I feel this ironically stifles my right to freedom of speech and I am gravely concerned that [the professor’s] attitude will negatively affect my academic progress. …
I am shocked by the letter, which was mailed to me in person….
I spoke with the individual sending the email. We had a frank conversation that included the reality that I do not know firsthand how the student has conducted him-/ herself in class. However, there are issues about this situation that are problematic regardless of the student’s behavior. First of all, the professor chose not to ask the student to make an appointment for a one-on-one meeting, instead choosing to “talk at” the student via what is an intimidating letter given the power differential between professor and student.
In the letter, the professor apparently used a required school email address to communicate with students and request individual conferences with each (not sure why the email had to be a school account, but it was). The student in question did not sign up for the school email address; instead of sending the student a brief note requesting a conference via post, the professor decided to unload on the student in a two-page letter sent to the student’s home.
I will not reproduce the entire letter, nor will I offer the identities of the student, the professor, or the school. But I will offer readers excerpts that reveal the professor’s intent to squelch opposition related to the Common Core and to defend both Common Core and the test-centric reform. Ironically, the professor states that teachers “will no longer be able to stand at the front of the class and treat students as recipients of received knowledge” in a letter in which he/she expects the student reading it to fall in line and swallow its contents without question.
Here we go:
Below are some of the things I would have told or asked you if we had met face-to-face.
Your repeated condemnations of the “ELA Common Core” as the source of most of the current problems in teaching English in middle and high schools are not relevant to the linguistic material we’ve been discussing and they are startlingly inaccurate. I hope that from now on, you will do what I assume you ask your students to do: explore the theories and research underlying the Standards and the key documents pertaining to their use before asserting generalizations that reflect only your opinion and not the facts. The (sp.) are dozens of documents about the Standards and the Core on our Blackboard site, as well as examples of some of the test texts and exercised and the curricula teachers have created to help students master the skills that the tests assess (in particular, the ability to become an active, engaged reader endowed with the agency necessary for a deep and thoughtful engagement with high-quality literary and informational texts that build knowledge, enlarge experience, and improve critical reading and thinking). So-called “teaching to the tests” provides a far superior education than the scattershot, uninformed curricula and pedagogical strategies that far too many English teachers relied on before the institution of rigorous requirements for both student (sp.) and teachers. Teachers will no longer be able to excuse their ineffective lessons by claiming that students are “not well-equipped enough” or “smart enough” to learn. If they want their students to succeed, they will no longer be able to rely on 20th century curricula and teach a-rhetorical context-less lessons and narrow skill (sp.), and they will no longer be able to stand at the front of the class and treat students as recipients of received knowledge.
White the Core articulates the common Standards, it does not mandate a particular curriculum or pedagogical strategies. It is up to the teacher to create meaningful opportunities for students to master all the English language arts in meaningful social contexts through meaningful interactive activities.
No discussion needed. The professor hath spoken.
The professor then closes the letter by taking up for the students who agree with the professor’s pro-Common Core perspective. In the closing, the irony continues as the professor uses this letter to “shut off or shut down” apparently the only student in the class who has experience enough with Common Core outside of what the professor offers; the professor does so under the guise of taking up for “a few” who “feel shut off or shut down” by criticism to a Common Core indoctrination that in the professor’s estimation will likely ensure all students in the class (except the letter recipient) as being “very effective teachers”:
None of your classmates has done any teaching and they are all excited at the possibility of doing this soon. My guess is that they will be very effective teachers because they are already versed in the kinds of activities that they will have to encourage their students to do: collaborate respectfully on projects requiring them to develop new skills and synthesize new information using 21st Century tools in multimodal ways. However, a few of them have told me how discouraged they are by your constant negativity. They feel shut off and shut down when you refer to your teaching experiences to complain that the tests stifle teachers’ and students’ creativity. I am asking you to please stop doing this so that your classmates can feel comfortable discussing the linguistic material they need to understand in order to figure out its pedagogical implications. I know that you teach “only to pay the bills” (as you wrote on your survey), but they want to learn how to teach to foster their students’ curiosity and creativity, inspire them to learn about and through varied media, provide them with critical lenses for exploring their lives, and encourage them to love literacy and learning.
So, in order to foster the teaching of “critical lenses” for students to “explore their lives,” the only student with teaching experience is expected to uncritically just put a cork in it as the remaining, naive teachers-in-training are led to believe all is well in Common Core Land without a hint of any push to critically consider its “pedagogical implications.”
After careful consideration, the student decided to drop the class.