Tag Archives: beliefs

The Common Core as a religion

Time for a metaphor: I’m wondering if the Common Core education standards are the foundational text of a new religion.

(Regarding the relevance of metaphor within the Common Core, here’s “CCSS.ELA-Literacy.W.11-12.2d: Use precise language, domain-specific vocabulary, and techniques such as metaphor, simile, and analogy to manage the complexity of the topic,” and if any topic needs its complexity managed, it’s the Common Core. And of course, I should mention here that, in using a metaphor, I’m also acknowledging that the things compared are both alike and not-alike.)

After reading this article about how the Common Core allows for “extra support” for learning-disabled children but still requires all students at a grade level to read the same literature passages (no matter what the students’ assessed reading levels are), I started thinking about how the Common Core prescribes that humans do certain things, no so differently from how the Bible prescribes certain activities.

Now, the imperative “you shall not murder” is a lot catchier, not to mention more obviously important, than the command to “CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.8 Delineate and evaluate the reasoning in seminal U.S. texts, including the application of constitutional principles and use of legal reasoning (e.g., in U.S. Supreme Court majority opinions and dissents) and the premises, purposes, and arguments in works of public advocacy (e.g., The Federalist, presidential addresses),” but then the former was written by those inspired by God, and the latter is written by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers.

But just as the Bible says “you shall have no other gods before me” and this helps the faithful get into Heaven, we teachers likewise shall not have any standards other than those of the Common Core — “With students, parents and teachers all on the same page and working together for shared goals” — and by doing so, “we can ensure that students make progress each year and graduate from school prepared to succeed in college and in a modern workforce.” The educational afterlife of college and workforce success thus achieved, there shall be ushered in (in the “forty-five states, the District of Columbia, four territories, and the Department of Defense Education Activity [that] have adopted the Common Core State Standards”) a new era of prosperity and global hegemony unlike that ever seen before upon this earth. (Woe be unto those five states that have “yet” to adopt the Common Core as their path to such success.)

My facetious tone toward the Common Core is intended, but I mean no disrespect to adherents to the Bible. But the metaphor I’m proposing here is that the Common Core is a statement of values as surely as is any religious belief system. And like any statement of values, there’s a utopian vision at the end. If only the values are followed, success shall be “ensure[d].”

And of course, these value systems call for measures that exceed realistic expectations (as in the case of learning-disabled students mentioned above, but also for most students — the standards for high-school students ask them to do things that I don’t recall being asked to do until well into college). Any set of standards that did not promise universal salvation would not be something that a mob could get enthusiastically behind. Saying “it would be nice if everyone could ‘use a variety of techniques to sequence events so that they build on one another to create a coherent whole and build toward a particular tone and outcome (e.g., a sense of mystery, suspense, growth, or resolution)‘” does not rhetorically inspire the confidence that “the Common Core State Standards are the first step in providing our young people with a high-quality education” [emphasis mine] does .

The Common Core is a set of values of what’s best for students to learn, and of course, there’s nothing logically necessary about values. All values choices are arbitrary. Certainly some values are more efficient or effective than others, but values are values. What is used to justify the Common Core’s set of values? Apparently, the same justification used for mob rule and banning books  —  popularity and community standards: “Teachers, parents and community leaders have all weighed in to help create the Common Core State Standards.” (It’s easy to skip over the introduction to the standards, but that’s where these projects justify themselves, and this justification is pretty slippery, no? Who were these generically identified teachers, parents, and community leaders? How much “weight” was granted to these affected parties’ concerns, anyway? We don’t know; what we do know is that the credited “authors” are themselves identified only as “National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers,” a title intimidatingly long enough to stymie any but the most dedicated researchers. Is this committee of “officers” all that different, in process and ambition, from this decision-making process? Any such process of deciding what has value is a nebulous process — but once these values are specified in the specific, esoteric terms in which the Common Core standards are written, any uncertainty has been washed away, and these standards seem to be the only things that have value.)

It’s not just that I disagree with the values; any values I would substitute for the Common Core’s would be equally arbitrary. The problem is when these arbitrary Common Core standards are asserted as being non-arbitrary, as being applicable to all students, as being valid standards against which to judge students, teachers, and schools. I’m concerned that the Common Core standards are simply unrealistic, and that these unattainable standards will then be used to declare teachers to be failing, as judged by these forthcoming debacles of tests, and then “failing” educators will be forced to make more arbitrary changes.

I can accept that the Common Core does exist as a statement of values, a set of beliefs, just as I can acknowledge that there are many different religious beliefs in the world. But I don’t personally believe in most of these religions, and I don’t believe in the Common Core as a salvation (or even as a good idea, really).

A summary of my fundamental (and temporary) beliefs

Every so often, I define what it is that I’m really interested in. Somehow, these definitions don’t feel right for long, or they feel too dull. But I’m still trying to get a grasp on what I really want to do and enjoy doing, and tonight these are:

*  I’ve posted several times recently about my frustrations with fiction. I think I can save readers a lot of work by saying that my current perspective is that the ideas we have — the ideas we’ve learned in school, received from family and friends, read from the great wise elders, and even those we came up with ourselves — are insufficient. (OK, I realize I’m trying to drag others into this with me by using “we.” Correct this to “I” and “my ideas are insufficient.”) I feel lately like there are books-full of ideas, and I have a mind-full of ideas, that model the world and try to explain reality but actually pull my attention away from direct experience of my present surroundings and my present thought and from even not-thinking.

* I don’t feel I’ll be done with this re-evaluation anytime soon, or ever, because part (not the whole, but part) of being alive is letting go of all things I’ve ever already done or thought. I just don’t care that much about things I’ve written or photographed or done or thought in the past. (I used to think I was dumber in every moment of the past before now — I try not to think that way now. I try to look at stuff I did in the past as just different from now, but not necessarily worse or less accurate.)

* Corollary: I had an idea today about how maybe all my prior writings — notes, journals, poems, blog posts, etc. — are perhaps not meant to be published (since I don’t usually feel like doing that, but I tell myself sometimes that I should, and then I feel guilty that I haven’t) but instead are meant to be just ideas that I could go back and read and write about again in the future.

* Any work I’ve done feels dead to me. I feel no real connection to anything I’ve done, especially writing from more than a few months ago. My journal notebooks are no longer viable, unfinished, once all their pages are filled. I put them on the shelf and start another, unfilled one.

* I think lack and absence are judgments I make only in the abstract, and likewise, when I judge anything (as adequate or inadequate), I’m comparing it to an abstract standard. Problem is, I think standards and comparisons are arbitrary, and so judgments are bullshit, and that when I actually look at the real things around me, I see only fullness, wholeness, completion. Even the worn stocking cap on the desk in front of me now is “worn” only in my judgment. The hat is the hat — it doesn’t even need the words I’m using to call it the hat.

* Words are arbitrary. Words are abstract. Words are bound to fail to capture or even fully reflect reality. Reality is beyond words, outside of words. If words and reality were infinite lines, they would neither intersect nor be parallel.

* Metaphors are comparisons, are simultaneously right and wrong, and so are also bullshit.

* I tend to look at the world in human terms, in my terms, so often. It’s easy to say that a tree’s branches are “reaching for the sky,” but that’s what a person does. I have no idea what a tree’s consciousness looks like, or what would even be comparable.

* I have no idea what any other creature’s consciousness looks like. I think I catch my dog doing some things that resemble human consciousness, but that’s probably because he lives with us and, to some extent, may not fully have an animal’s mind anymore (as I once heard someone say that dogs aren’t quite people but also aren’t quite animals anymore). So whenever I write fiction that attempts to imagine what, say, an animal or inanimate object thinks, I’m basically turning that thing into a person.

* I like trying to imagine the inner life of a tree or a dog or a chair because, basically, human characters bore me. I’m aware that this position may indicate a certain misanthropic or autistic tendency in me, but I’m also aware that I seem to be as human as most others, so there. But these others tend to bore me, with their fascination with ball-game-playing and beer-drinking and sex-having.

* I’m also aware that I sometimes am fascinated by these things as well, and that I’m not elevating my own human status by criticizing others. But it’s lonely being a humble genius, too.

* I’m almost 40 and I realize that such abstractions as number-counting are also bullshit in terms of having significance. I have awoken and done things each of the previous nearly 14,600 days, and I’m aware that I have some limited number of days to continue to be conscious, yet I’m not sure that any of these things matter. In a way, I completely fulfill whatever it means to be alive by being alive. There’s nothing I have to do before I could die. Could happen anytime. But it’s pretty nice to be alive, and I hope to continue to do so for many thousands more days. But I just don’t think it matters — I don’t see any importance in an amount of living measured in duration of time.

* I also don’t see any importance in measuring a life by money earned or titles granted or projects completed. I’m not sure we need to measure life at all — that could be another bullshit idea. I’m not interested in what the measurement of life, or of a life, is — but I am interested in the measuring.

* I’m kinda interested in writing as if I were a wise sage, a brilliant guru, a Liver of Life — but I’m humble enough to know that I’d be bullshitting others, and I’m also humble enough to know that I don’t really care whether what I write is of interest to others. I don’t mean that to be rude — I’m glad to have people read what I write, and I’m glad if it intrigues or inspires others. I’ve been much inspired and intrigued by others’ work that I’ve read. But I also know that thinking about what others think of my work doesn’t help me to do my work. It’s bad if people dislike my work; it’s worse if they overpraise it. Being ignored is something I can live with, and do my work with.

* I’m aware that this summary has gotten far too long. But I’m a complicated person (or like to think that I am) and I’m certainly a wordy person, and nobody had to read this far, even me.

* I’m aware that there are other smart people who have said and written many smart things, but I’m feeling like it’s OK for me (at least, at this stage of my intellectual development) to ignore others. Maybe it’s more valuable now for me to cut out other ideas than it is to try to take it in and argue with it. This reminds me of something I read in the past: an essay by Richard Hugo in which he advises his students to ignore what he says if it doesn’t help them — your important arguments are with yourself, he wrote. (I just checked with this source: it seems Hugo was quoting from Yeats. When I was young, I wondered how writers could quote each other so easily, offhandedly. Now that I’m older, I realize how off-hand it is. Certain ideas, certain writers’ words, stick in my brains, become part of that world-model I carry around in my mind.)

* I’m aware that that previous paragraph, if it isn’t exactly self-contradicting, is sorta that way, and I sometimes believe that there’s truth in paradox.

* I also don’t believe in truth. I’m not saying that a person shouldn’t try to be as honest as one can be when testifying in court, but that if truth is some sort of correspondence of a word-statement to reality, that’s bullshit because words and reality don’t intersect, as I said above. I just wanted to be clear about that.

* Finally, I realize that I need to finish this up because I’m getting tired and that I kept writing because it felt good to write, though this text may not feel so good to me tomorrow, but I think it feels good enough (in my memory, at least — I haven’t re-read it, and probably won’t before posting it) to post tonight. I feel like I’ve been laying down some charming prose (which is, of course, not charming to admit), but I could be fooling myself.  (I might always be fooling myself, or is that false modesty?) I could go back and cut out all the bad parts — but then, eh, this whole thing would fall apart. It’s just a text, after all, and it doesn’t matter what it says so much as that I enjoyed spending some of my life-time’s consciousness writing it. That seems sorta bombastically profound — I don’t mean it that way. I don’t mean anything that way — or, let’s say that I meant what I wrote as I wrote it tonight. But I might think of these things in different ways tomorrow.

Links: 1 Jan. 2013

A fun thing about having a blog: it’s like being able to edit my own magazine (and I don’t have to even commission the pieces). I’m still figuring out the form, the capabilities, of a blog, and I’m now thinking of a blog as a magpie’s collection, a curiosity cabinet of things (ideas, texts, images, sounds, video, etc.) created by me and also of others’ works curated by me. I’ll have more to say about forms — and their ability to encourage new ways of thinking —  in another post.

1. An NPR interview with musician Miguel, who talked about creative inspiration and commercial motives:

AUDIE CORNISH: What do you hear in modern R&B? Are there specific things you embrace in your own music and others’ that you’re trying to move away from?

MIGUEL: I don’t want to overgeneralize. Historically, black music has influenced other cultures and other genres, and created other genres. Rock would have never happened without blues, you know what I mean? We would have never had hip-hop without R&B. And somehow I feel like R&B and soul music has forgotten that it was, at one time, the influencer. Now, it’s being more influenced by other sounds. Which is great; I think we should be cultured and want to incorporate other influences. That’s what art is really about: taking your knowledge and your sensibilities and incorporating them in a way that celebrates the commonality, but also highlights the individuality.

R&B has been kind of consumed by dance music in recent years.

I think that in those balances where the commonality and individuality happen, R&B has lost the importance of the individuality. It’s more about, “What does everyone else like? What is everyone else doing? Let me be acceptable to everyone else.” It’s so commercially driven that it’s lost the essence, the soul and the emotion behind it. [On the other hand], take an artist like Adele: She can create a song that can live in a dance world, or is danceable, but still is soulful. That’s R&B to me. I mean, there’s plenty of artists who are making R&B music, but because of their ethnicity, it’s considered something else.

You’re one of a few R&B artists to be singled out lately as pushing the music different directions. You and Frank Ocean and The Weeknd all have very different sounds, but you do share some things: Your production is denser, and your songs are more lyrically focused. Is there a little bit of a quiet revolution going on?

I mean, why not? There are artists that are pushing boundaries. More than anything, I think there’s an awareness for soul again — almost redefining or reprogramming people’s expectations or whatever preconceived notions there might have been, based on the past decade and a half.

Because pop music, and R&B pop music in particular, can be very regimented: chorus, bridge, breakdown, rapper comes in.

Yeah, it’s very formulaic.

But a song like “Where’s the Fun in Forever?” doesn’t feel that way at all.

I appreciate that. That song was originally written with and for Alicia Keys, [who was recording an album in Jamaica and invited me to come]. We created a makeshift studio on the roof — so, I mean, just a blanket of stars in the sky, and nothing but the sound of the ocean in the distance. The very first thought [I had] was, “We’re not gonna live forever, but where’s the fun in forever, anyways?” And it just became this song. For me, the notion was very personal, because I feel like this year I started to realize that I’m not invisible or invincible anymore. Times are changing, I’m changing, my family’s getting older — and I’m happy to be responsible for things now. For a moment, it felt really heavy. But for some reason, at that moment in Jamaica, just looking up at the stars, I felt this incredible sense of relief.

2. An article in Chicago magazine about instances of abuse in an Indiana church described some cults as preaching that “it’s a sin of pride for you to think for yourself … It’s your ego or a demon or Satan’s influence that causes you to doubt the edicts of the leadership.”

A former member of the church described “a process of hollowing out the followers and repopulating them with yourself. … [The founding pastor] took your voice, he took your beliefs, he took your likes and dislikes and opinions, and he gave you his own. But in the process of hollowing you out, he made you very weak.”

This idea of “hollowing out” the beliefs of a person struck me. I was thinking yesterday how I sometimes take suggestions and follow orders from some people in my life — family members, supervisors, etc. — that is, I externally, objectively, do what they ask me to do, but that doesn’t mean I change my internal beliefs to match theirs. The ideas we have about what reality is, what’s really true: Why would I allow anyone to convince me of their “truths” about anything?

Maybe the question is this: To whom do we grant authority on reality?