Monday, December 17, 2012

Where Would A People's History of the United States Fit in the Common Core?

American Educator has a critique of Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States. I find the AFT's traditional conservative slant to be tiresome, but Wineburg makes some good points, and A People's History is certainly a polemic, but as usual I think Wineburg's perspective overstates the overall influence of Zinn in actual American classrooms.

Regardless, it does provide a good context for thinking about how the Common Core is supposed to work.

For starters, perhaps this essay should just be seen as an argument that A People's History is not a sufficiently high quality text to satisfy the exhortations of the authors of the Common Core standards. This would be especially true since the Common Core history standards emphasize primary or at least secondary sources, and A People's History, which, according to Wineburg, mostly cites other secondary sources, when it has citations at all.

On the other hand, A People's History is indisputably in the Core's wheelhouse of "informational texts" aka "Literary Nonfiction" aka "...historical accounts written for a broad audience," especially given that commentary around the standards emphasizes evaluating arguments and rhetoric. You can't learn to critique arguments if you are only given pre-selected texts with airtight logic and ample factual evidence. Or maybe that's what the CC authors have in mind.

So instead, perhaps you'll read A People's History in English instead of History class, with an English teacher guiding you through a set of tasks primarily focused on close reading and analysis of the text itself, with only part of one standard addressing whether "the evidence is relevant and sufficient." This might work out fine, in fact Wineburg's own analysis is more about how Zinn constructs his text as a whole than a point by point refutation.

Or perhaps not. Maybe students will sit through watered down history (and science) lessons taught by English teachers in the name of meeting the "informational text" requirement. It is difficult to say what the Common Core's vision of disciplinary and interdisciplinary literacy really is, or how it will play out in tests and classrooms.

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