Sunday, August 15, 2010

Who Cares? Habits of Mind and Standards

For whatever stupid reason, I've found myself thinking about how an analysis of last weeks WSJ article, Some Firms Struggle to Hire Despite High Unemployment, would fit in with the Common Core ELA standards.

In case there's any confusion about where I'm starting from, the best description of what I do and what I would want my children or students to do while reading this texts comes from the old Mission Hill habits of mind:

  • How do you know?
  • Whose point of view are you seeing?
  • What causes what?
  • How might things have been different?
  • Who cares?

Although those aren't standards, per se except insofar as you would require a student demonstrate their use of the above.

England's Programme of Study in English is, compared to most countries, fairly similar in approach to the Common Core. Under "Reading for meaning" they have "Students should be able to:

  • f reflect on the origin and purpose of texts and assess their usefulness, recognising bias, opinion, implicit meaning and abuse of evidence
  • g relate texts to their social and historical contexts and to the literary traditions of which they are a part
  • h recognise and evaluate the ways in which texts may be interpreted differently according to the perspective of the reader

I would consider those sufficient tools to understand what is going on in the WSJ article.

The American Diploma Project's "Logic" section shows how we now start to wander off the path. It deals pretty well with rhetoric as argument, but isn't adequate for the WSJ article, because the article isn't an argument. It is informational, but part of a larger implicit argument, dependent on the class context of its writer, publisher and readers for its ultimate meaning. For example, an unemployed person should not conclude from reading the article that he or she should pursue training as an "industrial hygienist."

Anyhow, let's get down to nuts and bolts and relevant Common Core standards.

Let's look at 9th and 10th grade standards because the 11th and 12th grade standards focus on specific texts like "seminal U.S. documents" and "a text in which the rhetoric is particularly effective," so... I don't know what to do... So we'll just do 9-10. Under Reading: Informational Text: Craft and Structure we have:

6. Determine an author’s point of view or purpose in a text and analyze how an author uses rhetoric to advance that point of view or purpose.

But that's not right is it? If I'm thinking about the author's point of view or purpose I'm losing the track compared to focusing on The Wall Street Journal's point of view and purpose. And does "how an author uses rhetoric" get at the substance of a critical analysis?

In the "Integration of Knowledge and Ideas" section we also have:

8. Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is valid and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; identify false statements and fallacious reasoning.

Now, this is confusing because in the writing standards "argument" and "informative/explanatory" are separate, but in reading, argument is part of "informational?" Anyhow, this text isn't explicitly an argument, except insofar as it claims that "some firms struggle to hire," which is true, if weak, depending on your definition of "struggle." It isn't wrong because it is false or fallacious.

There are some variations on these in the science and history/social studies literacy standards, including in 11th and 12th grade:

  • 8. Evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other information.
  • 9. Integrate information from diverse sources, both primary and secondary, into a coherent understanding of an idea or event, noting discrepancies among sources.

These kind of jump in out of nowhere, and leave one puzzled over the relationship between, um, ELA informational text and History/Social Studies informational text since the ELA analogue standards in those years are specifically about historical documents. The History version has a bit more spunk, but isn't the kind of analytical frame England sets up.

And... that's it. It may be true that most other current state standards don't give readers any more powerful tools, but beyond logical analysis of arguments, there's not much there in the Common Core.

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