It nears midnight and exhaustion calls me to bed, but I cannot. Diane Ravitch asked us to write to you, a more important priority.
It is time to look at priorities. I prioritize the relationship I have with students, the same relationship your Common Core devalues. Informative and expository writing are the mainstay of your writing program. The Common Core does not provide rubrics for narrative or descriptive writing beyond early grades. This is wrong, Mr. President. Horribly wrong.
When I teach students writing, I must find a way to be entrusted with their thoughts. When they state an opinion, they must trust that I will respond fairly, humanely, kindly. When they play with punctuation, they must trust that I will respond patiently, instructively, non-judgmentally. When they tell me, sometimes inadvertently but sometimes blatantly, of deep secrets in their private lives, they must trust I will respond with empathy, respect, and discretion.
I do not gain this trust easily, and the best vehicle I have to do so is personal writing.
But this is frowned on in the Common Core.
The Common Core and the upcoming teacher evaluation systems put me in a race against a list of standards when I would rather be walking a journey side by side with students. This does not mean I lower standards. Personal writing means I have an avenue to entice students to raise their own standards and expectations.
I agree that American education must do more to meet the economy. I agree my students’ best future depends on the skills I, we, teach them today. But I do not agree with taking out meaningful and personal writing assessments, nor do I agree with the diminishment of literature.
When I taught the new staff about writing today, I shared this quote with them from George Orwell: “If people cannot write well, they cannot think well, and if they cannot think well, others will do their thinking for them.”
I believe that truth has never been more important than in this current age of corporate media and divisive partisanship. Thinking independently is needed.
May I tell you then of my anger and tears when our school cut Fahrenheit 451 to make room for more non-fiction essays? May I tell you how the fact Ray Bradbury died the week that Governor Walker was re-elected burned my soul?
In the tragedies of my life, I thought not of essays, however well written. I thought of the Grapes of Wrath, of Things Fall Apart, of To Kill a Mockingbird.
This summer I read Kelly Gallagher‘s Write Like This, which, for the first time, struck a political note in asserting that we must hold true to what is right. Narrative writing is right, Mr. President. Fiction reading is right, Mr. President.
And your educational policies are wrong.