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Calling on Standards to Meet Today’s Challenges

In The Problems of National Standards, Lil Brannon challenges Miles Myers idea that national standards will provide the opportunity to solve the literacy crisis in America. She feels that national standards create an oversimplification of and diversion from real problems that plague today’s students. The challenge is to not perpetuate the literacy crisis by oversimplifying ELA standards that indirectly aim to foster an environment that is not student-centered and teacher led. Restrictive national standards are creating an environment where “competing and diverse human needs,” students, and teachers are being “managed” by institutions (Brannon 441). Therefore, students and teachers, the ones who should be supported, suffer.  The teacher becomes invisible. Student needs are not met.

The literacy crisis, Brannon suggests, “arises from the tension between America’s promise to the individual that he or she will have full access to intellectual resources and the needs of capitalism to have a differentiated, stratified workforce” (Brannon 441). If this is true, the definition of “literacy crisis,” as the term is generally understood, would be a sham. In addition, literacy would be a privilege for some, not a right. The focus for national standards should be to provide all students with a language arts curriculum that allows for them to have an equal opportunity to learn and grow. These standards should not be created under false pretenses. If standards are marketed to address the evolving needs of every student in America so that they will have the “language resources they will need to participate in the world of tomorrow,” as mentioned in The English Language Arts Standards, then standards must do this. But if they fail to do so, they will only perpetuate the misery that seems to exist for so many students and teachers.

Brannon also calls on readers to take action and support rights to academic freedom in the classroom. National standards will not support learners if guidelines are too strict and do not allow teachers the freedom to address the unique needs of their students. These individuals should not be treated as a homogenized group of people who are carbon copies;  they should not be expected to learn in identical ways. A teacher must be allowed to tailor the curriculum to be able to support those who have unique needs, problems adjusting to the standards prescribed.  Material that does not support learning needs to be adapted. Furthermore, as Lori Kixmiller submits, in Standards without Sacrifice, in order for students to be successful and become proficient, “we need to teach them to analyze a writing situation by determining the audience and what to say to them – something our formulaic models often omit” (Kixmiller 31).  Standards should not turn into “repressive dogma” that restrict a student’s right to learn from material that engages them.

Existing standards create an environment where it is “…more important for students to be polite and not criticize – a position supported by the invisible teacher…” (Brannon 445). It is crucial for students to question what they are asked to learn. They will need this skill in the outside the classroom where it is important to question the environment in which they live. Otherwise, they risk not learning to take control of their own life.

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8 Responses

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  1. Kevin L. Ferguson says

    I wonder if making a distinction between “national” standards and “local” ones would help resolve this issue in any way? It would be more efficient to institutionalize education across the US, but there would be more diversity (“stratification”) if standards were only local. (Or wait, is this how we end up with Hunger Games?)

    • Rachel Duso says

      local vs. national might have been a way to look at it but, correct me if I’m wrong teachers, the new core curriculum is supposed to be the same across the U.S. I believe that was the point of doing that. There’s been many problems with the curriculum because it hasn’t changed with society over the years. It’s been the same for years but our children are changing along with everything else, the only that thing that hasn’t changed is the school system.

    • Dana Choit says

      I do think this might end up in a sort of “Hunger Games” situation. If students from perhaps poor or disadvantaged schools held standards of more basic skills- that were necessary- it may help the students to indeed gain such skills, however, similarly an affluent school way past such basic skills, would be at such a drastically different level (although this would also help to raise their own personal skills and intelligence). It would in a much more extreme way further widen the gap between the affluent, advantages or more skilled schools and the disadvantaged, poor, or needy schools (and the students in them).
      In addition, it would also create a much more blurred line of what constitutes a level of achievement in perhaps HS graduation, or completion of specific grades or classes. What says that a poor student learning the basics shouldn’t graduate HS in four years at the same time as a rich student learning so much beyond the minimum should also graduate in four years time? ..(Or is this already happening anyway in a less in-your-face kind of way?)

  2. johnjparente says

    If Brannon’s version of “America’s promise” about education is a privilege, then what is next? What does that set up? I like what you brought up here. It would be quite a privilege to be guaranteed a free education that improves your life and the lives of everyone around you. Sounds great! When groups like NCTE, IRA, and CSR pursue this “promise” I guess it can really get sketchy. I don’t know enough of the politics to comment.

    Free education is actually the law in this country. State compulsory education statutes, however different, all say that the opportunity for a free education is the law. The standard to which that education is kept should be a local issue for obvious reasons. I would say it is up to the American government (national) at first, to make sure that States do their part to bring students to the buildings. Beyond that, they should back off.

    Standards having a common core is one thing, but panels and associations made by the feds? Forget it.

  3. Guadalupe Bueno says

    By following the standards are we then using a mold similar to that of the five paragraph essay ? It seems so, moreover, students are caught in the middle of politics, and then everyone wonders why students do poorly. Needless to say, this is a cyclical issue that keeps on expanding, unless the teachers have more autonomy which would allow them to individualize learning. Moreover, Victoria, I like what you mentioned about the students need for inquisitiveness, because once they are out in the “real world’-I particular don’t think their world is “fake” -they will need to exercise being thoughtful citizens and not mere empty jars awaiting to be filled in with often times misguided information that have perpetuated some individuals in the lower classes.

  4. Rachel Duso says

    I’m also wondering about this common core curriculum. If it doesn’t work the way it’s thought to, what kind of generation will we wind up with? At a first look the children are the ones who suffer but what about those who come after them and the rest of society?

  5. mobrien says

    I am actually in the thick of the Common Core Standards in my district. Due to the new evaluation of teachers that the NYS legislature has put into place, these standards are a vital component of how “effective” my rating will be at the end of each school year. To be honest, the standards make sense. They are well thought out and are meant to engage students with high-level thinking across grade levels. I cannot say that I believe the issue is with the standards, but I do believe we are headed down a slippery slope when any type of standard is fueling a competetive atmosphere in the classroom. Teachers in NYS are about to be rated on their effectivness with the majority of this rating to be determined by students test scores. The Common Core curriuculum has the potential to allow for deep discussion, inquisitiveness, and higher level thinking in the classroom. However, when we are going to be held accountable for how a student performs on a standardized exam, our classrooms will see an inevitable shift away from independent thinking and towards cookie-cutter answers/skills/writing that will hlep our students pass an exam and help us keep pur jobs. We have been talking a lot about balance this semester, and I think this is what is missing when we talk about standards, especially in NYS. The Common Core can lead our students to success in the classroom, but there seems to be a disconect between what we are calling a standard in the classroom and what the state deems as a standardized exam.

  6. Christopher Grimm says

    First, I want to apologize to Dana, or whomever is presenting this week, for this comment being so very late.

    Second, I agree with you Victoria on your summary and assessment of Lil Brannon’s article. Students must be encouraged to challenge and refute what they are taught–and , especially, those ideas which counteract what they agree with, or think they agree with. This is an intrinsic part of the learning process! It also ties into what Brannon calls “academic freedom” (445). Certainly academic freedom extends to students and not just teachers–or does it?

    (By the way, did anyone else find it disturbing, not that a MIDDLE SCHOOLER thought school was boring, but that that same student was advocating MOTORCYCLES being allowed on school grounds. Perhaps Lil Brannon omitted Ms. Atwell’s experience teaching middle AND high school students, but I thought this anecdote was amusing, the way it was written!)