Common Core references the Bible as a mentor text…New York City bans far less controversial…

As the Common Core continues to slowly infuse into curriculum more and more teachers around the country find themselves reading lines like;

Grade 8, RL9 – “Analyze how a modern work of fiction draws on  themes, patterns of events, or character types from  myths, traditional stories, or religious works such as  the Bible, including describing how the material is rendered new.”

Yes, the BIBLE.  The whole church and state thing seems to blur when the bible is a mentor text.  But why shouldn’t it be.   It is the most read book of all time right? The Core standards push students to take their prior knowledge and use it as they engage in activities that challenge their high cognitive thinking skills.  I have built units of study on this very foundation and blogged about things like Norma Webb’s Depth of Knowledge.

But just when I thought we were moving forward,  New York City seems to have almost done a 180 on the idea as they released to publishers their banned word list.  In my opinion, this has to be one of the most ridiculous lists I have ever seen in all my years in education! Links to articles two articles on the story are here and here and here.

The list composed of 50 or so words or topics that they strongly suggest do not seem on standardized tests range include;

  • Religion (well that is a given)
  • Halloween (because it has Pagan undertones – even though schools still wear costumes and celebrate it)
  • Birthdays (because Jehovah’s witnesses do not celebrate them – but the rest of us do?)
  • Holidays in general (because of Atheists – and last time I checked we get a lot of vacation for holidays)
  • Dancing (because some cultures don’t allow it…but the rest of us have an unfair advantage for having danced!)
  • Dinosaurs (because it challenges Creationism – so much for evolution)
  • Wealth and Poverty (as a topic because it may make kids who are poor jealous – I am at a loss on this one…)
  • Aliens or reference to out of space creatures (apparently science fiction is to much!)
  • Witchcraft and sorcery (so much for reading about muggles and butterbeer)
  • Give human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects (guess we don’t need to worry about personification as a literary device.)
  • Disrespectful to authority or authority figures (Arab Spring/Occupy Wall Street is out – 1984, here we come!!!)
  • Homelessness (yeah we should definitely avoid this topic, why teach the kids about this problem and possibly affect change?)
  • Expensive gifts (I wonder what they consider expensive?  A homeless person would probably consider a mylar balloon expensive!)
  • Vacations and Prizes (Again – no words…)
  • Loss of employment (This one may be the first off because loss of employment is effecting almost everyone – so back to being neutral)
  • Violence (yeah, so I guess the test makers need to be told no graphic depictions of murder or rape for the elementary school children)
  • Catastrophes and disasters (that current events stuff like Japan Earthquake, or tornado, or hurricane is way to much – seriously?)
  • Terrorism (“because that is way to scary” – and that is a quote from the news article! – I don’t a NYC public school child that can not recite the “See Something, Say Something” mantra that is everywhere in NYC..but yes, way to scary!)
  • War and bloodshed (yeah that would be an unfair advantage to any kid that reads, uses the internet, or watches tv)
  • Weapons (I wonder what they define as a weapon – pencils can be weapons in schools…hmmm….)
  • Slavery (seriously – this historical fact is apparently racist – but great news for all those taking American History regents – they don’t have to study this huge part of our past…)
  • Excessive TV (define excessive…)
  • Junk Food (really???  I thought this was a food group for kids these days)
  • Video Games (yeah most kids these days have never played one…not!!!)
  • Popular Music (well there goes any chance at tapping into that prior knowledge – so much for using the mp3’s to our benefit)
  • Bodily functions (should be interesting to see how they are going to write those biology tests without human body function stuff which of course is part of the New York’s own state standards)
  • Cancer (I guess HIV/AIDS is okay…or heart disease but Cancer is a big NO!!!!)
  • Celebrities (So biographies are out because isn’t anyone who has a biography in some way a celebrity?)
  • Computers or swimming pools in the home (but not in a library or park – that is okay – in the home it is unfair for those economically disadvantaged)

I know that I sound bitter when it comes to some of these topics, but that’s because I am.  Why are we hiding from the topics that have helped shaped the diversity of New York? How is avoiding them being “culturally sensitive?”  Isn’t prior knowledge at the core of developing domain knowledge which is what every student needs to really tap into their intrinsic wish to learn?  Some of the topics on this list are just so far fetched.  I know that the goal of teaching is not not teach to the test.  However when the tests go nation wide in 2014 with the PARCC assessments, teaching to the test is just going to be a reality because the stakes get even higher.  That said – can we as educators not worry about teaching kids poetry that includes personification because that is banned?  Some of these taboo topics are at the core of our curriculum. The Core Standards reference personification – Grade 6 L5.a Demonstrate understanding of figurative language, word relationships, and nuances in word meanings. by interpreting figures of speech (e.g., personification) in context.  Yet, New York State will not allow it on their standardized tests.

It almost feels as if the list was created by a bunch of people who have never met kids in a conference room on the top floor of some office building were people just randomly shouted out the topics that came to their head (except maybe “Give human characteristics to animals or inanimate objects” that one sounds like they may have gone to a computer for some help for the well known literary device).  I just wonder how and why they think that in this day in age hiding from the topics that are all around the students is a good thing.  If it is to give the students a level playing field then just skip the test thing all together.  Otherwise next thing we know they will ban farms for a setting – because all kids who have picked a pumpkin or an apple on a school field trip will have an unfair advantage!!


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