We shall continue with our Common Core standardized exam, provided by the testing consortium Smarter Balanced. Recall that this is an eleventh-grade English Language Arts examination.
Much Ado About Much Ado About Nothing
It was the first day back at school after the holiday break. Our drama teacher, Mrs. Kent, handed out our next assignment: an in-depth study of a scene from one of Shakespeare’s plays. I was so excited to see that I had been assigned a scene from Much Ado About Nothing. Finally, here was my long-awaited opportunity to act out a comedy scene from Shakespeare! My joy was short-lived, however, because moments later I saw Luke shuffling my way with that mocking grin on his face that I find so infuriating. Of course, Mrs. Kent had assigned Luke to be my partner! Even worse, we were to play Beatrice and Benedick, two of Shakespeare’s most famous lovers. Where was Macbeth’s dagger when you needed it?
. . . As soon as we sat down to look at the scene, Luke was pompously proclaiming himself an expert.
“Beatrice and Benedick are obviously in love here at the beginning of the play. Anyone with a brain could see that, Kate,” he said.
“I have brain enough for both of us, Luke, which is good, since you seem to be in need. Beatrice and Benedick only fall in love because they’re tricked into it. They would never have fallen in love otherwise—that much is obvious to anyone with a pulse.”
“Oh, really? I’ll speak slowly so you can understand,” Luke said. Etc.
Sample question from the exam:
Click on two sentences that summarize the main idea of the text.
a) Luke and Kate are both very knowledgeable about Shakespeare.
b) Luke and Kate present arguments to their teacher and defend their points of view.
c) Luke and Kate realize that people can have different interpretations of characters in a play. Etc.
Who most likely wrote the foregoing passage? Support your answer in two-three sentences.
a) an underpaid testing-hack
b) an overpaid testing-hack
c) a graduate student in English literature strapped for cash and willing to sell his soul
d) William Shakespeare
Which description least fits the foregoing banter between Kate and Luke:
c) perfectly natural; just how two star-crossed, teenage lovers of Shakespeare would talk to each other
d) comically unrealistic
Questions on the examination as a whole (for advanced readers):
Students who read such selections on a standardized exam (and have read similar passages in their English classes to prepare for the exam) will think about these passages . . .
a) throughout the course of their lives.
b) when telling stories to their children and grandchildren.
c) when navigating the tempestuous waters of the twenty-first-century global economy.
d) when Hell freezes over.
Most noticeably missing in this standardized examination in English is:
a) great English literature
b) learning of any kind
c) any discernable academic standard
d) all of the above
The proximity of such eleventh-grade English standards to the work that will be required of students in a college English literature and composition class could best be described as:
a) pretty darn close
b) close enough for government work
c) exactly on the money
d) missed by a country mile
So what have we learned through this examination? The first lesson is that all the promises of “college and career readiness” are empty slogans: a tour de force of jargon-ridden demagoguery on the part of the testing hacks and their rich supporters, as well as the rest of the education bureaucrats who control the nation’s public schools. The idea that these readings and the simple-minded questions that follow would prepare students for college is preposterous—unless, which is already the case—the first two years of most colleges serve as one giant, expensive effort at remediation.
The second lesson is, as I show in more detail in my book The Story-Killers, that the authors of the Common Core have no love for great literature. Do not be fooled by the cutesy dialogue of Kate and Luke, who talk about reading Shakespeare. This is not Shakespeare. In fact, this sample examination (presumably for the consumption of teachers primarily) contains not one selection from literature. Compare the passage above to the real Beatrice and Benedick:
Beatrice: I wonder that you will still be talking, Signior
Benedick: nobody marks you.
Benedick: What, my dear Lady Disdain! Are you yet living?
Beatrice: Is it possible disdain should die while she hath
such meet food to feed it as Signior Benedick?
Courtesy itself must convert to disdain; if you come
in her presence.
Benedick: Then courtesy is a turncoat. But it is certain I
am loved of all ladies, only you excepted: and I
would that I could find in my heart that I had not a hard
heart; for truly I love none.
Beatrice: A dear happiness to women: they would else have
been troubled with a pernicious suitor. I thank God
and my cold blood, I am of your humour for that; I
had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man
swear he loves me.
A little tougher—and wittier—no? How much could be said—about Beatrice’s character, about young men, about love itself—discussing the line, “I had rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me”! Is there any comparable line from the testers’ mock dialogue?
Finally, just how stupid (or somnolent) do they think the American people are? The passage on the “science of meditation” is clearly soft evangelizing in the new religion—a kind of New Age, quasi-spiritual, multicultural mush—supposedly supported by science. The passage on Eco-fashion, however, is the harder side of that evangelizing: on human beings’ constant threat to Goddess Planet. Washing your T-shirt is one of the new sins, and to have that sin forgiven, you must buy clothes that are genuinely Eco-friendly. The rest of the passage urges the young consumers of clothing to action. Readers are invited to search labels thoroughly, making sure that clothing manufacturers aren’t just paying lip-service to environmentalism. The teenage consumer must learn to hold these awful corporations accountable for their destruction of the environment and chronic waste of the world’s energy and resources (on which the EPA has a perfect handle). In short, the forces behind the Common Core dictate that our children’s minds should be trained on absurdity and thinly-veiled political propaganda rather than the great, soul-ennobling stories written by Shakespeare and Austen and Melville and Poe.
To appreciate fully the gravity of the situation, parents and citizens must understand one basic reality of the Common Core and one basic reality of education. Nowadays, he who controls the testing controls the schools. And he who controls the schools controls the minds of our future citizenry.