Thursday, May 1, 2014

Sorry, Newsweek, But You're wrong About Louis C. K.

My first thought when I read Alexander Nazaryan's response to Louis C. K.'s Common Core tirade was, "Wow! What an ass!"

This is not an insult. Readers of this blog know that the what-an-ass writing style is one of my favorites, and I have been an ass frequently. I don't have the luxury of being an ass for a national newsmaga-- well, newsthingy. But it's a skill I respect.

Unfortunately, the alternate title for this blog entry is "Newsweek Presents the Same Old Shit With Some Extra Sass on the Side."

Nazaryan leads off with a summary of Louis's work that makes a simple point-- pretending to be mad about shit is this guy's shtick (so his anger on this occasion probably has no authentic roots in actual anger). Nazaryan then gives a quick summary of Louis's twitter tear. From there, we move on to the usual Common Core talking points. With extra sass.

Mockery of both sides of the opposition? Check. The conservative CCSS opponents are fringe nuts, and the lefties are all teachers worried that they will be judged based on real data. He notes that the standards are "especially loathed" by teachers' unions, thereby keeping up with the new narrative that teacher unions (you know, like the AFT and NEA who have endorsed CCSS right along) are the biggest threat (dethroning the previous champs, tin hat tea partiers).And--ha!-- conspiracy theorists who think Pearson is somehow making big bucks off all this. Yes, that's certainly far-fetched.

A few paragraphs later, he will reduce CCSS opponents to union shills and far-left crazies. 

Comparing CCSS to the ACA? Check. Nice line here-- both are necessary but "poorly executed, dropped like a lowing cow into the den of starving lions that is the modern political scene."  Which means we've also tagged the "CCSS fooferaw is all about politics, not the innate suckery of the Common Core itself."

Nazaryan admires Louis C. K.'s bullshit detector, but finds it dismaying (to....someone?) that he has used his audience to "malign an earnest effort at education reform, one that is far too young to be judged so harshly."  I am not sure how much older CCSS must be before we are allowed to malign it. I was not aware that there was a grace periods for programs that show every sign of being destructive failures, but Nazaryan does not get into that scheduling issue.

Referencing "my time in the classroom"? Check. Nazaryan logged five years in Brooklyn, so good for him. Unfortunately, only he and a few colleagues didn't suck. Everything else was a sea of mediocrity. Damn, but it's tough to be better than everyone else; five years were enough to make him tired, cynical, and, I guess, equally mediocre.

Nominal admission that waves of tests can't fix things, without going so far as to continue on to "so maybe we should stop". Check.

Blithe statement of unproven assumptions? Check. "But introducing a set of national standards is a first step toward widespread accountability, toward the clearly worthy goal of having a teacher in Alaska teach more or less the same thing as a teacher in Alabama." Why are national standards clearly worthy? Seriously? There's not a lick of research to suggest that national standards help anybody learn anything.

Baseless International panic button? Check. The Chinese are leaving us in the dust. Soon we will not be the international test-taking champs. And the connection between that and anything is where...?

Call for teacher accountability without an actual plan? Check. We need "for those teachers to have to account for what their charges learned." Because teachers are the only factor in what students learn? And we can call for teacher accountability all day, but since nobody has a clue (well, that's not true-- I have a plan, but nobody listens to me). Teacher accountability = great. No plan = waste of words.

Grumpy complaint about Kids These Days and how they need to have it rougher? Check.

Staging scenes from Of Mice and Men isn’t going to catch us up to China anytime soon. Nor are art projects or iPads. It was dismaying to hear the new New York City schools chancellor, Carmen Fariña, recently complain that our students are deprived of “joy” in the classroom. Joy, our twerking young ones know. Trigonometry, not so much.

Now it's my bullshit detector that's going off. Are Louis's daughters problems tough? Nazaryan says that's as it should be. No. Wrong. Challenging is great, and appropriate. Batshit crazy, pointless, senseless, developmentally inappropriate, just plain stupid-- these are not okay. "Tough" is not in and of itself a pedagogical virtue. Having no food is tough. Living in a car is tough. Having your life held hostage to questions with no sensible answer is tough. That does not mean these are what we should aspire to provide our children.

But no-- here's one more Reformster who says, "If this makes your kids sad and their school day joyless, good! That's how life is supposed to be, ya little whiners."

Use of the word "rigor?" Patronizing comments about lower class children? Double check. "It's the kids in the South Bronx or the South Side who would benefit from a little more rigor in the classroom." Really? Really?? So it's them poor brown kids that need to get their asses kicked and shaped up? Why not go all in and call them "shiftless," too?

Clueless irony? Check. "The saddest thing about all this is that C.K.’s children will be fine, as will mine and, probably, yours." This is true-- because those well-to-do children have the privilege and wealth necessary to shield them from the Common Core, because they won't have some well-heeled magazineything editor telling the world that they need to get rigorously shaped up with some pedagogical toughness, and because they will be able to avoid the very shit you're saying they should be gleefully pursuing!

Closing zinger that allows commentator to be an ass back atcha? Check.

For the most part, the complaints against Common Core and the charter-school movement have come from upper-middle-class parents whose objections are largely ideological, not pedagogical. It’s fun to get angry when you’ve got nothing to lose.

Well, yes, as you've so ably demonstrated, it is.

Here's what great about Louis C. K.'s critique. It takes us back to most basic level. Skip the pedagogical jargon and the educrat gobbledeegook and the marketing blitz and the political white wash. Just ask a simple question-- does this stuff look like it makes sense? Does it look like it would work? A reasonably famous layman with a well-tuned bullshit detector says, "no." Cool.


  1. And in a total dick move Newsweek had to throw a Klan in Indiana comment into the article.

  2. Does the author, Nazaryan, have children of his own? Do they go to public or private school? If public- is it urban/poor public or wealthy/suburban? I bet I already know. Big money now controls media. Who owns media? Big money. They want to buy/control public education too. Mainstream media is biased, with rare exception.

  3. I'm pretty neutral on the CCSS, but this is some of the best writing I've read in a while. Excellent!

    1. Pity you are so deprived of good reading material.

  4. Common Core is not a valid measure of anything except a child's endurance for psychological torture. These Pearson faux tests and materials are designed to make children fail. Reformers are only interested in failure data.

    Any educator who still has common sense can look at Pearson's questions and recognize it as junk. Any parent who understands how children learn will recognize it as junk. Wake up America and keep these perpetrators of Commom Core away from your kids.

  5. The comment that I left on the Newsweek article:

    I laugh a bitter laugh every time I hear someone refer to the Common [sic] Core [sic] State [sic] Standards [sic] as "higher." These were hacked together by amateurs, overnight, without any professional vetting. They were paid for by plutocrats who wanted one national bullet list to tag their educational software and assessments to. The ELA "standards" are backward, hackneyed, unimaginative, often prescientific, and dramatically distorting of both curricula and pedagogy. And one could drive whole curricula through their lacunae. Learning involves acquisition of both world knowledge (knowledge of what) and procedural knowledge (knowledge of how). The Common Core in ELA contains ALMOST NONE of the former and expresses the latter so vaguely that, not being concrete or operationalized, they cannot be validly tested, and so the new tests being put together based on the Core are completely invalid. The lead author of these "standards" had absolutely ZERO relevant experience. The authors hacked these together based on a quick review of the lowest-common-denominator groupthink of the state standards that preceded them. Educational publishers are now taking these amateurish, puerile "standards" as a de facto curriculum, producing texts filled with activities that model the egregiously narrowed activities on the new Common Core College and Career Reading Assessment Program (C.C.C.C.R.A.P.) tests. Basically, these "standards" have turned K-12 education in the U.S. into low-level test prep. The "standards" are invariant. Kids are not. These "standards" belong to an extrinsic punishment and reward theory of education that is entirely discredited, for extrinsic punishment and reward is inherently demotivating for cognitive tasks. The "standards" are the product of a takeover of U.S. education by know-nothing plutocrats and business people and politicians who have decided to micromanage U.S. education based on dangerous, backward ideas, and these "standards" will have, are having, precisely the opposite of their intended effect. However, they are making and will make a lot of money for a few software vendors and testing companies. This piece by Nazaryan is clueless. Teachers oppose these "standards" not because they fear being held accountable but because the "standards" themselves are very, very badly conceived and are doing enormous damage, every day, in classrooms around the United States.

  6. "Joy" is exactly what our kids need in the classroom. They need to love learning, or all the "rigor" in the world will not make a damn bit of difference.