"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

"There is a growing technology of testing that permits us now to do in nanoseconds things that we shouldn't be doing at all." - Dr. Gerald Bracey author of Rotten Apples in Education

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Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Practice Close Reading on Tuffy The Rodeo Clown

Finally, we have found a 21st century skill!

Let's practice our close reading skills, as described in Common Core, on the reports about Tuffy the rodeo clown who donned a President Obama mask at the Missouri state fair. Close reading is described by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC)
"Close, analytic reading stresses engaging with a text of sufficient complexity directly and examining meaning thoroughly and methodically, encouraging students to read and reread deliberately. Directing student attention on the text itself empowers students to understand the central ideas and key supporting details. It also enables students to reflect on the meanings of individual words and sentences; the order in which sentences unfold; and the development of ideas over the course of the text, which ultimately leads students to arrive at an understanding of the text as a whole."
The highlighted text is the key feature of  close reading. You can only consider the text presented when answering a question about the text. You may not bring in prior knowledge or context. You must examine meaning thoroughly (not sure how you can do that when limiting yourself to the text on the page) by reading and rereading.

So let's take some text on the Tuffy Gessling scandal being created in Missouri. We'll use this text from Politico
Boonville School Superintendent Mark Ficken, president of the Missouri Cowboy Rodeo Association, was the rodeo announcer during a controversial performance at the Missouri State Fair Saturday night, the association confirmed to PoliticMo on Sunday.
It was confirmed Sunday night by a spokesman for the Missouri State Fair.
“Watch out for that bull, Obama,” he said at one point.
According to an account published on the Democratic-leaning blog ShowMeProgress.com, a voice asked “if anyone would like to see Obama,” portrayed by a masked clown, “run down by a bull.” The crowd reportedly cheered, until the “bull came close enough to him that he had to move.” According to the account, at that point the clown “jumped up and ran away to the delight of the onlookers hooting and hollering from the stands.”
The performance set off a firestorm on social media on Sunday, and Lt. Gov. Peter Kinder, a Republican, and U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, both called on people to be “held accountable” for the performance.
It was not clear whether it was actually Ficken’s voice making the anti-Obama comments, but attempts to contact him on Sunday were unsuccessful.
* UPDATE * Ficken did speak with MissouriNet. He told the outlet that it was not his voice being heard during the controversial performance, but that of a rodeo clown.

Now, using only the text provided answer the following prompt:  Should Mark Ficken be able to keep his job as Superintendent of Boonville schools?


  1. You should not make a decision as important as that based on a report from a media source, especially a single media source where every story is written by the same person.

  2. Anonymous - I totally agree, but Common Core doesn't distinguish between sources in the standards. In fact, they say they want kids to be looking for bias in their sources. However, in close reading practice, students are not allowed to investigate other facts to determine if there is bias. I would actually hate for anyone to answer the prompt in the blog because there is so much information missing, (i.e. Were there terms in his contract that this violates? How involved was he in the production of the show? Enough to know this segment was coming? What do Kinder and McCaskill mean by held accountable? Would Ficken have liked to see Obama run down by a bull? etc.)

    In true close reading, a student would not even be able to examine whether this was an exercise of free speech since that argument is not mentioned in the text.

    David Coleman justified close reading by stating that it erased any unfair advantage one student might have over another due to his/her knowledge of information outside of the text provided. Close reading is an example of education equity. The point of this post was to show the truly horrible application of close reading skills in real life.

  3. Wait, we are not supposed to use prior knowledge when reading? That is absurd!! I'm so glad this coming year will be my last year teaching. I'm going to miss the kids but not the rest!!


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