Saturday, July 5, 2014

Close vs. closed reading

Every time I spend more than a minute under the sky, something surprises me. Every time.

I get occasionally surprised indoors as well, but not consistently so. Walls keep things in, walls keep things out.

We see the screens as some kind of wildness, opening up the world in our living rooms, but really, all we are doing is connecting our caves, like human Habitrails. If you can reduce it to binary language, it's not wild anymore.

Wild is a lot of things, and can be frightening for many reasons, but it ultimately gets down to a lack of control. The truly wild leaves us powerless. None of us are special, we will all die someday.

Our classrooms block out the wild. Too distracting, too off task, too unpredictable. We use filtered words and symbols to stand for the world outside the cinder block walls. Wild children are not tolerated, wild thoughts left unspoken. The best we can do is augmented reality.

Still, the final bell does eventually ring, and our lambs tumble outside--some at the edges of the sea, some near the tops of mountains, some into snow, and others into the blinding heat of a desert.

Every child's life outside the classroom is different. Cinder blocks and curated curricula can only control so much in a child's life. And they know this.
I have no problem with close reading--heck, I majored in philosophy back in my Michigan days (and proudly have a diploma inscribed with "BS in Philosophy" tucked away in my attic somewhere). When I saw the CCSS version of close reading, I had a visceral response to it--it made my belly churn.

The CCSS version of close reading focuses on "text-dependent questions"--nothing exists outside the text in front of the child. David Coleman, an "architect" of the Common Core standards, spoke to the NY State Department of Ed on Dr. King's "Letter From a Birmingham Jail," where he attacks bringing in background information before children read the letter.

From Care to Make a Difference via Portside

  • But I bet the word "jail" lights up the amygdala of a few children in my classrooms. 
  • I bet quite a few of my lambs can tell you the difference between "jail" and "prison" whereas those in Coleman's world would just blink in confusion.
  • I bet the children who know Birmingham would react viscerally to its name, where over 40 kids in a hundred live in hot, humid poverty.
You cannot keep any text reading "closed"--every child brings a different history to the text.
You cannot make a curriculum "standardized" without closing off the local and the wild.
You cannot make a child "proficient" at anything worthwhile if you keep the world contained in closed loops.

If you want to do "close reading" CCSS style, use a manual on how to replace a belt on your vacuum cleaner.

Pretty good training for a cubicle, though....

That's not to say there's nothing wild under your roof--just ask the  dust mites crawling under your feet.


Jenny said...

Our oldest (almost eleven) recently asked about dust and what it is. When her father told her it's mostly human skin she was both fascinated and disgusted. More questions followed. Like so many conversations that stem from their questions, I loved it.

doyle said...

Dear Jenny,

Much to be said for the "dust to dust" passage--but now our child knows too much!