THE CHURCH MILITANT
Ephesians 5:11-"And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them". This Christian News Blog maintains a one stop resource of current news and reports of its own related to church, moral, spiritual, and related political issues, plus articles, and postings from other online discernment ministries, and media which share the aims to obey the biblical commands to shed light on and refute error, heresy, apostasy, cults, and spiritual abuse.
Karen Swallow Prior, Ph.D., is a professor of English at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. She is the author ofBooked: Literature in the Soul of Me(T.S. Poetry Press) and serves on the faith advisory council of the Humane Society of the United States. She and her husband, Roy, serve as deacons in their church and keepers of their 100-year-old homestead, where they live with their horses and dogs—and, more recently, Karen's mom and dad.
The man behind the Common Core State Standards, a set of robust learning measurements that have the potential to change the state of American education, recently reached out to Christians to discuss the role of literacy in our society.
David Coleman, also the president of the testing organization the College Board, recognized that Christians, as a "people of the book," would take a particular interest in the next generation's ability to read, think, and understand texts. Coleman invited about a dozen Christian thinkers and scholars to join him for a two-day conference held this spring to discuss the challenges and implications of the new literacy standards for people of faith.
For while the development of reading skills is essential to college and career readiness (the mission of the College Board and the goal of Common Core), no one more than evangelicals can appreciate the importance to a people and a culture of the ability to read, and read well—or the devastating effects of being unable to do so.
From the carving of God's commandments on stone tablets to the narratives and letters circulated within the early church, from the painstaking preservation of the scriptures at the hands of medieval scribes to the Protestant Reformation's birthing of the printing press and the invention of the modern university, ours has been a faith centered on the Word—and words.
The Christian obsession with text is not only a part of our history—but something that continues to shape contemporary Christianity. We readily engage questions around biblical interpretation in deep ways, as we consider infallibility, inerrancy, context, hermeneutics, canonicity, and scriptural authority. Even in the 21st century, entire spectrums of denominations, doctrines, and practices center around our reading, studying, and understanding of Scripture.
Thus, despite my own skepticism toward the countless education reforms I've seen in almost 25 years of teaching, the Common Core reading standards hearten me not only as an educator, but more so as a Christian who recognizes the centrality of words to our faith.
The deep, reverent reading that we find so essential to the Judeo-Christian tradition is one of Coleman's driving passions. And it is this passion that informs the reading standards of Common Core. So far, 45 states have adopted these new standards, which push for deeper, more applicable, concept-based understanding in reading and math.
At this point, if you've heard of Common Core, you've probably heard from the opposition. Critics complain that it's a federal program (it's not) or that it's too dramatic and difficult a shift for our public education system. As a college professor, I can tell you such a rigorous approach is needed, even if it's a struggle for teachers and students to adopt. My colleagues and I in higher education see the deficits in reading comprehension far too often in the college classroom. The kind of sustained, deep reading taught through Common Core will require more discipline—on everyone's part—but the rewards will have exponential results.
The vision behind the literacy standards boasts that the skills taught through Common Core—engagement with literary and informational texts, critical reading, cogent reasoning—will apply beyond the classroom and workplace. It's easy to see the parallels between these skills and the close reading and study of Scripture upheld by today's evangelicals. The Common Core Reading standards require students to understand a text in deep and meaningful ways, prompting them to:
cite strong and thorough textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly
determine the meaning of words and phrases as they are used in the text, including figurative and connotative meanings
analyze how the parts of a text contribute to its overall structure and meaning as well as its aesthetic impact.
Such an approach represents a sharp turn from the subjective reader-response methods of teaching reading that have trickled down over the past several decades. No longer will there be an emphasis on politicized readings over what texts actually say.
This kind of deep reading has been shown in recent research in the cognitive sciences to be an experience distinct from the more superficial decoding of words that comprises much of our daily reading. In fact, these studies demonstrate that deep reading cultivates the brain's ability to feel empathy and makes readers "morally or socially better"—but only through the kind of slow, reflective reading the Common Core standards encourage.
Despite whatever bureaucratic or pragmatic difficulties the Common Core State Standards pose (and surely, there are some), evangelicals can take heart that others share our understanding of the significance of reading. "Reading is resonant," Coleman explained during the meeting. "It's not important just for academic life, but for work life and spiritual life, too."
Indeed, the kind of careful readers the Common Core literacy standards seek to develop are exactly the kind of readers that people of a Word-based faith seek to cultivate, too: readers encouraged to develop command of textual knowledge, to ask reverent questions of the text, to rely on textual evidence making judgments and drawing conclusions, and to demonstrate these skills by producing their own skillful texts.
In short, the Common Core standards of reading promise to revitalize the fading art of reading well. For Christians, this is indeed good news.
"David Coleman, the non-English teacher who wrote the Common Core national English language arts (ELA) standards, is conducting a charm offensive to persuade Christians to embrace the new national standards. According to Mr. Coleman, students "educated" under Common Core will be better readers and better able to understand Scripture, and thus will enjoy deeper and more satisfying spiritual lives. Quite a claim for any set of school standards – much less standards based on an arid view of workforce-training rather than true education.
The central organizing theme of the Common Core ELA standards is that study of creative literature must be diminished in favor of nonfiction "informational texts." The idea is that students should be drilled in the types of documents they are more likely to encounter in their entry-level jobs (and make no mistake, Common Core is a workforce-development model, not an education model).
What is Coleman's evidence that switching focus from classic literature to nonfiction (including Federal Reserve documents and the EPA's "Recommended Levels of Insulation") will create better readers? There is none. To the contrary, all the historical and empirical evidence confirms the opposite. As Dr. Sandra Stotsky and Dr. Mark Bauerlein have shown, "classic literary texts pose strong challenges in vocabulary, structure, style, ambiguity, point of view, figurative language, and irony." Isn't this the kind of education students need to be able to understand Scripture – much of which, obviously, is constructed as stories, parables, and creative literature?
The premise that great literature creates great readers is validated by the Massachusetts experience. Massachusetts rejected the workforce-training model in 1993, embracing instead a reading curriculum rich in high-quality literature. This curriculum was incorporated even into the vocational high schools, so that students who chose that path would still be expected – allowed – to explore the classics. The result? Massachusetts SAT scores rose for 13 consecutive years beginning in 1993, and Massachusetts students routinely scored highest in the nation on national reading tests. Sadly, this was before Massachusetts jettisoned its high standards for Common Core.
When not trying to win over Christians, Coleman himself promotes a method of teaching that is greatly at odds with true Bible study. Coleman advocates "close reading" of a text, unencumbered by anything that might help the reader actually understand the text. For example, he has trained English teachers to present the Gettysburg Address "cold," with no instruction about the historical situation, the purpose of the address, or the scriptural allusions, and no dramatic reading of the speech. Students are to consider it as merely a collection of sentences that fell from the sky and arranged themselves on a page.
Apply that technique to Bible study. Christians should read the Scripture closely, of course, but in isolation from the breadth of Biblical truth? How are we to truly understand Jesus' teachings without reference to the Mosaic Law that came before? How is it possible to fully appreciate the instruction concerning, for example, marriage and family without locating it in the center of God's covenantal love throughout Scripture? How can the poetry of the Psalms touch our hearts if it is severed from the deep faith – the souls -- of the people who composed it? Or are the Psalms even worth our time? When has a supervisor asked any one of us to explain Psalm 37?
The fundamental problem with the Common Core approach is that, to achieve its job-training goals, it recognizes no difference between one "complex" text and another "complex" text. A great work of literature has value far beyond the complexity of the words used – it allows students to understand the eternal human condition; it allows them to confront human challenges that recur throughout the ages; it teaches empathy, prudence, forgiveness; it transports the readers to places and times not their own. The Common Core ELA standards are, quite simply, indifferent to this type of education. Training, not educating, is their goal. They are not interested in helping students become the people God created them to be; they are interested in creating workers.
So although Coleman argues that the ELA standards promote "slow, deep, reflective" reading, Christians should ask exactly what types of texts are being offered. Why does Common Core reduce the type of texts that can actually help develop good Christian men and women – and that comprise most of the Scriptures? "Recommended Levels of Insulation," read slowly, deeply, and reflectively, is still "Recommended Levels of Insulation." Students deprived of the great stories are less likely to embrace, fully, the greatest Story."
Jane Robbins is a senior fellow at the American Principles Project.
Educators Offer Inside Scoop on Wisconsin Common Core Hearings:
Published on Oct 15, 2013 on YouTube:
In an exclusive in-studio video produced by The New American magazine, veteran educator Mary Black, who testified against Common Core October 3 at a Wisconsin hearing, speaks with fellow educational expert Dr. Duke Pesta about what happened and why the nationalization of education is a bad idea.
To view Mary Black's testimony from the Wisconsin Common Core Hearings in Madison from 10/3/13, click the link below:
Florence, Colo.--Attorneys with Pacific Justice Institute sent a strongly-worded letter this afternoon to school officials at Florence High School, warning them against squelching student privacy and speech rights in order to cater to the wishes of a teenage boy who has been entering girls’ bathrooms on campus.
“This is a nightmare scenario for the teenage girls—some of them freshmen—and their parents at this school,” noted PJI staff attorney Matthew McReynolds, who sent the letter to Principal Brian Schipper and Superintendent Rhonda Vendetti. “This is exactly the kind of horror story we have been warning would accompany the push for radical transgender rights in schools, and it is the type of situation that LGBT activits have been insisting would not happen.”
Parents at the school, located near Colorado Springs, became irate when they learned that a teenage boy was entering girls’ bathrooms and, according to some students, even making sexually harassing comments toward girls he was encountering. When the parents confronted school officials, they were stunned to be told the boy’s rights as a self-proclaimed transgender trumped their daughters’ privacy rights. As the controversy grew, some students were threatened by school authorities with being kicked off school athletic teams or charged with hate crimes if they continued to voice concerns. The parents became aware of PJI’s Notice of Reasonable Expectation of Privacy and contacted PJI for help.
The letter sent today by PJI explains that the non-transgender students retain significant privacy rights that are being ignored by the school. The letter also points out that Florence High has not taken minimal precautions such as requiring the student to continuously and exclusively identify with one gender. According to student witnesses, he sometimes uses girls’ bathrooms and other times uses boys’ facilities.
“We’re not going to stand by and let 99.7% of our students lose their privacy and free speech rights just because .3% of the population are gender-confused,” stated Brad Dacus, the president of Pacific Justice Institute. “LGBT activists are sacrificing the safety and sanity of our schools to push an extreme political agenda. This battle is no longer confined to California or Colorado; it is spreading to every part of the nation. It is crucial that we act now to prevent a crippling blow to our constitutional freedoms.”
PJI is demanding assurances from the school that privacy and expressive rights will be protected and any accommodations will not involve the girls giving up access to most of their restrooms, as has previously been suggested by the school.
Earlier this year, PJI led the opposition in California to AB 1266, the most sweeping legislation yet to assert transgender rights in schools. That law, which is set to take effect January 1, 2014, is currently being targeted by a citizen referendum drive. Californians who have not yet signed a petition should visit www.privacyforallstudents.com to get involved. PJI’s Notice of Reasonable Expectation of Privacy is available in both California and nationwide versions, and can be accessed at www.pji.org. _______________________________________________________________________________________