I have often talked about how things are in education; I have not yet delved into where they appear to be going. And where they are going is the Common Core State [sic] Standards. The subject is so big, and so complex, that I've hardly known where to start. As newspapers and parents here in Florida are panicking because Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test scores have dropped, I've wanted to scream, "And what does it matter? This test will be gone after two more years, and what's coming after it is so different, based on the little we've seen, that our current hand-wringing is completely pointless!"
From what I've read in several places, many parents and the public at large (this article, for example, which paints the standards in a favorable light) are almost completely ignorant of the the Common Core Standards. I want to address the CCS in my comic strip, Mr. Fitz, but I've hemmed and hawed for a long time about how to go about it. When I first started the strip, I hoped to get syndicated someday (I've been turned down by all the syndicates 3 times each), so I didn't want to use the real name of our Florida standardized test for the standardized test in the strip. As I explained in an earlier post, I instead named the test in the comic strip the U-SKUNK ( the Universal SKills, UNderstanding and Knowledge test).
My dilemma with the Common Core Standards is whether to use the real name, or make one up. Using the real name might make it easier to educate my audience (or at least make it more obvious what I'm picking on), but using a made-up name is more artistically consistent, and offers more chances for laughs.
So in an attempt to find a parody name for the Common Core Standards, I went to Thesaurus.com. There I looked up the words "Common," "Core," and "Standards."
The first thing that struck me about the synonyms for all three words was that they were overwhelmingly negative in their connotations. Here are just some of the synonyms for the word "common": average, ordinary, banal, bourgeois, commonplace, conventional, general, hackneyed, homely, mediocre, monotonous, obscure, passable, plain, prosaic, run-of-the-mill, stale, standard, trite, trivial, undistinguished, wearisome, workaday, and worn-out.
I will grant you there are some less negative words, like "current" or "prevailing," but hardly anything that is outright positive as opposed to neutral.
That's "common." What about "core"? Well, Thesaurus.com had these synonyms to offer: base, basis, bottom line, bulk, burden, consequence, corpus, crux, foundation, heart, main idea, meat, nitty-gritty, nub, origin, pivot, root, substance... Better, I suppose, though even here quite a few of the words had negative connotations. Although no thesaurus I looked at listed "standard" as a synonym for "core," it strikes me that if you look at core as the central idea or object, something you look at to get your direction, like a tall building in a city, or a castle at a theme park... or a flag. If the core of something might be viewed as a standard in the sense of a banner waving in the wind, then, by George, "core" could also mean "standard."
And standard? Well, other words for standard as an adjective included accepted, authoritative, average, basic, classic, customary, definitive, established, garden variety, normal, official, orthodox, popular, prevailing, regulation, stock, typical... and vanilla. As a noun, standard becomes a banner, an emblem, a figure, a streamer, ora symbol.
So in other words, we could have named the Common Core State Standards any of the following: The Monotonous Burden Symbols The Bourgeois Nitty-Gritty Regulations The Mediocre Meat Figures The Stale Stock Streamers The Banal Basic Banners
The possibilities are endless. So what will I call the standards in my comic strip. I'm keeping under wraps for now, but I've decided that simplest is best. If you've read this post carefully, you might even be able to guess.
I haven't said anything about the standards themselves yet, or the ironies and baggage that come with them, yet I thought it was worth taking a closer look at the name itself. After all, isn't looking at nuances of meaning, examining assumptions, and thinking critically part of what the Common Core is about?
If nuance, questioning, and thinking aren't really what the Common Core is about, then the Common Core is not worth having. If the Common Core really is about nuance, questioning, and thinking, then its supporters should be asking people to challenge and question it just like any other "text." That's how the "open marketplace of ideas" works.