On page 7 of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) document, the writers of the CCSS have included several descriptors of what a College and Career Ready (CCR) person can do. This is an important page for any teacher because if you don’t agree that a CCR person can do these things, you’re going to be at odds with some or all of the rest of the CCSS document.
My question in approaching these standards connects to my mission as a teacher: will the person described below be able to flourish with their unique gifts once they enter the world of work and/or college? In other words, do the CCSS promote student flourishing?
Let’s see. According to page 7, a CCR person can…
1. Demonstrate independence
CCR people can, without having their hand held by a teacher, comprehend a diverse array of complex texts, and, using these texts, they can make sensible arguments and communicate complicated information (sounds like the reading anchor standards). In other words, if you hand a CCR person an inorganic chemistry textbook or a training manual, they’re not going to look from it to you with lamb-like eyes.
Likewise, they are able to pick up on a speaker’s main points, identify where they are confused in a conversation, request clarification, ask relevant questions, and competently and thoughtfully engage in a group discussion (sounds like the speaking and listening anchor standards). Whether they’re sitting in an Intro to Literature discussion led by the famous Dr. Lillian Back or listening to a boss explain the past quarter, CCR folks can hold their own.
Furthermore, they are independently able to use standard English in befitting situations, and they have access to a wide vocabulary. Granted, they probably text in what Grandma would assume is a different language, but when the task, purpose, or audience calls for it, the CCR person knows how to communicate in what Lisa Delpit calls “the language of power.”
At the broadest level, the CCR people direct their own learning, and they effectively seek out and use the many resources available to them in the 21st century.
2. Build strong content knowledge
CCR folks are lifelong knowledge builders. They build knowledge at both a broad, general level and at appropriate discipline-specific levels, and this knowledge is gained by engaging with high-quality works (e.g., they become informed about the world via, say, TheWeek.com rather than the E! Channel). Essentially, these people enjoy accumulating knowledge and grappling with it through writing, speaking, blogging, chatting, letter-writing, Skyping, etc.
3. Respond to task, audience, purpose, & discipline
Going into greater depth on something that I mentioned in #1, CCR humans understand that communication must change to meet the situation at hand. If they’re trying to gain the boss’ support for an idea, they will communicate one way, but if they are trying to articulate insights gained from an experiment, they will communicate in another way. They know that written and spoken conventions vary based on a variety of factors, and that a smiley face emoticon is not appropriate for an argumentative essay
Additionally, they know that, when arguing, the evidence you use and how you use it depends on who you’re trying to persuade.
4. Comprehend as well as critique
This one is easy to skip over, but think about it: most people are quick to do one or the other of these, but not both. For example, recently my students and I were reading Animal Farm and discussing Napoleon’s use of propaganda. I asked students to conduct Google searches for various types of propaganda, and, though what they found ranged from hilarious to haunting, I was most taken aback by a proud student displaying the image below:
Putting aside the traditionalist/pessimist monkeys inside of me that see such derisive treatment of the executive branch as a sign of the end times, let’s look at this “text” in terms of CCR.
According to the CCSS, someone who is CCR is able to both comprehend and critique–they are open-minded, yet discerning; they “work diligently to understand precisely what an author or speaker is saying, but they also question an author’s or speaker’s assumptions and premises and assess the veracity of claims and the soundness of reasoning” (CCSS)–and so, in this case, they could understand what the poster was referring to (claims that President Obama is an elitist), yet they could also question where these claims come from. A CCR person would be able to do this no matter which side of the political spectrum they fell on, and, if they had questions (e.g., where do claims of Obama’s elitism stem from?), they would have either the gumption to look it up or the honesty to say that they weren’t sure.
5. Value evidence
When interpreting a movie or a newspaper or an all-company email or a syllabus, CCR students cite specific evidence. “No, Captain America wasn’t a perfect hero–after all, he kissed the random girl while his true love watched.”
Additionally, they make their reasoning clear to their reader or listener. In other words, they don’t just do what I call “quote bombing”–where you drop in a quote that backs up your argument without any explanation of how it does so–but instead they make clear what a given piece of evidence is being used for.
6. Use technology strategically and capably
Short explanation: they use Wikipedia for developing background knowledge, not for proving a point in an argument.
Longer explanation: CCR students have a clear idea of the strengths and limitations of technology. They appreciate spell check, but they know that it doesn’t catch homonyms; they install extensions in their web browser that make definitions of difficult words a double-click away; they habitually Google a question if they have one, and they try various ways of posing the question if they first don’t find the information they’re looking for.
Basically, a CCR person sees technology as a tool, not a shiny object or an omniscient benefactor. (Click to tweet this.)
7. Come to understand other perspectives and cultures
CCR students recognize that generalizations about peoples, places, tribes, and races are always inaccurate. There is no one thing that all white people do. There is no one attitude that all Muslims have. There is no one temperament of all black people.
Human beings are infinitely complex, especially in groups, and rather than fear this truth or generalize it away, CCR people actively seek to understand perspectives and cultures different from their own. This does not necessarily mean that they must swallow a postmodern, relativistic view of the world (i.e., every person determines their own truth; all paths are equal), it just means that the CCR person is on a quest for understanding.