Argument, in short, is the essence of thought. So, it is heartening to see that the English/language arts documents of the Common Core State Standards Initiative acknowledge the supreme and “special place” of argument among all other literacy standards. We hope that readers won’t overlook the section in the common-core research that asserts that argument is “the soul of an education” with “unique importance in college and careers.” One of us—Jerry Graff—was prominently mentioned in this section, for demonstrating that college is fundamentally an “argument culture.” To succeed, students can’t simply amass information (as important as that is); they must also weigh its value and use it to resolve conflicting opinions, offer solutions, and propose reasonable recommendations. The same could be said for the demands of citizenship and the modern workplace.
We are encouraged, then, by the common-core standards, which contain a ringing endorsement of argument as the primary mode for reading, talking, and writing about complex texts. What concerns us is that for all their merits, these standards are still overlong, redundant, and often confusing. Consequently, the most important and powerful standards are at risk of being marginalized—or overlooked entirely.
People are starting to notice that these things are just poorly executed from stem to stern. No amount of spending by Gates can hide it forever. Almost everything written about them is just nonsense -- including at least half of this critical column -- but eventually people will start seeing through the haze.