"I know no safe depository of the ultimate powers of the society but the people themselves; and if we think them not enlightened enough to exercise their control with a wholesome discretion, the remedy is not to take it from them, but to inform their discretion by education. This is the true corrective of abuses of constitutional power." - Thomas Jefferson 1820

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Missing the Twain and No Absolutes. The Future for our Children?

Why do Common Core standards remove a piece of literature teaching absolute truth?

Common Core standards mandate more scientific and non-fiction reading in public schools and less emphasis on literature.  Huckleberry Finn has been removed from classrooms in Massachusetts as a result of these mandates.  From Charles Chieppo and Jamie Gass, Schoolkids Missing the Twain from Telegram.com:

The Missouri of Clemens’ youth was a slave state. His family owned several slaves, and he was even a Confederate soldier for a few weeks. But Clemens came to be a powerful voice for civil rights. “Lincoln’s proclamation,” he said, “not only set the black slaves free, but set the white man free also.”

Mark Twain’s greatest achievement was “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” a tale about the title character, the abused backwoods son of an alcoholic, and Jim, a Negro slave fleeing captivity. The story chronicles their journey together down the Mississippi. Twain not only uses Jim’s humanity and heroism to help Huck unlearn his own racism, but to illustrate the moral and societal failure of slavery and racial discrimination.

According to Twain scholar Jocelyn Chadwick:

“The book’s pivotal moment is when Huck awakens to hear Jim ‘moaning and mourning.’ Jim’s been crying for his family, and Huck says some of the most significant words I’ve ever read in fiction: ‘I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does there’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so.’ ”

No less of an authority than Ernest Hemingway wrote, “All modern American literature comes from … Huckleberry Finn... There has been nothing as good since.”

It's regretful Massachusetts public educated students won't be reading Huckleberry Finn in their classrooms:

Sadly, students in Massachusetts and across most of the country may soon have to seek out Huckleberry Finn on their own, because it isn’t included in national K-12 education standards that have been adopted by 46 states and the District of Columbia.

Twain’s masterpiece isn’t the only casualty of the Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s decision to adopt weaker national standards known as “Common Core.” These new English standards include less than half as much classic literature and poetry than the Massachusetts standards they will replace.

We might be "lucky" in Missouri since Twain wrote in Missouri and students "might" be able to read a local author in the classroom with the 15% rule "allowed" by our consortia.    However, adopting additional material is frowned upon because "common" means just that: common.  All students are to learn the same material in every state. From Achieve:

When 48 states and three territories signed on to the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI), it was their goal to create a shared set of expectations in English Language Arts and mathematics. Therefore, states who adopt the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are expected to adopt them in their entirety. While states will not be considered to have adopted the common core if any individual standard is left out, states are allowed to augment the standards with an additional 15% of content that a state feels is imperative. For example, some states may include literature from authors born in the
state or about groups or events important to the state. In some cases, these requirements are even written into law. States may also need to add content to courses so that they align with other existing policies. It is important to note, however, that adding to the CCSS is purely optional.

In fact, the 15% guideline should be considered primarily as a common-sense guideline to meet specific state needs. States should be judicious about adding content and keep in mind the possible implications of doing so. Remember, a central driver in the creation of the CCSS was to develop standards that were common across states lines – and clear and focused – the opposite of the “mile wide, inch deep” standards so prevalent in many current state standards. A literal interpretation by states of the 15% guideline (that is 15% added at every grade level and in each subject) would undermine the very reason the states developed the Common Core State Standards in the first place.

What will Massachusetts students lose by not reading Huckleberry Finn?  Read this comment from a reader on the site:
bbbbb wrote:
"All right then, I'll go to hell" is another big moment.

Huck was going to collect the 200 to turn Jim in, but realized he could not.

It underscores the moral truth than all men are created equal, and endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, LIBERTY, and the pursuit of happiness."
There is a natural law so powerful about right and wrong; that is not subjective, that is not relative, that Huck was truly willing to allow his soul to be damned for what was truly right.
It's a great book. I think I'll re-read it.


There are moral lessons learned through literature, not through fact driven and scientific text.  Imagine that.  Common Core mandates will diminish literature in favor of factual texts since students need to be better workers.  Too bad students' sense of morality will suffer to further workforce needs.

Now read this article from David McElroy Is this what happens when you teach children there are no absolutes?:

Humans have always robbed each other, killed each other and done other evil things to one another. But as we became civilized, we learned that some things are right and wrong. Many of us believed in ideas rooted in natural law and natural rights. Other people rooted their ideas in different ways, but they still agreed upon most of the basics of what was right and wrong.

Sometime during the 20th century, that long-held shared belief about right and wrong started falling away among the public. It wasn’t just the immoral or lawless who were responsible. Those types had always had the willingness to hurt people and to do things that they knew were wrong.

The new belief to take the place of moral absolutes in the public consciousness was moral relativism, even if people wouldn’t necessarily know what to call it. The idea was that there wasn’t really such a thing as absolute right and wrong. Those were old-fashioned religious concepts, they said. Instead, right and wrong were said to be very relative and situational. I saw and heard this idea influence things I was taught in school, and I’ve seen more recent examples that were far more blatant.

I thought about all of that Thursday when I ran across some video that was uploaded to YouTube four years ago. I can’t verify it, but it appears to be the raw footage of interviews done by a TV news station with two young females about a crime they’ve committed. (Since the face of one of them is obscured, I assume she was still a juvenile.) As I listened to these girls, I found myself thinking that they’re the end result of teaching generations of kids that there aren’t any moral absolutes.

Read more about these girls' crimes here and why they wanted something that didn't belong to them. 

Below is a youtube video in their own words about their crime and reasoning.   Here is an article from wpbf.com in Lake Worth, Florida detailing their crime.  Think about Jim, a fictional character in a novel, and these girls in their non-fictional world.  Who represents the best of being human?  Huck coming to terms with his own racism and discovering absolute truth or these girls who only acknowledge their own desires/wants and have no empathy for others?  

Would you rather your children read Huckleberry Finn or watch reality youtube?   At least Huck is remorseful.  That word apparently was never on the spelling list or in reading material for these girls.

1 comment:

  1. Quick update on at least one of these teens. The older one, Stephanie Woods, has continued a life of crime and as of '09 was facing a possible life sentence for attempted kidnapping. She blamed drug use for her crime here in '08. http://bit.ly/UubvwN. The latest is another arrest in April of this year for parole violation. hhttp://bit.ly/IyJXB9 She is now 22. I guess she is just one of those students who cannot learn.


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