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We here at the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship take no position on the Common Core Standards/Florida Standards. They have strengths and weaknesses, like all standards, and the emphasis on using primary sources within ELA classrooms is a positive development. However, the rollout of the standards, and the associated assessments, has been problematic to say the least. In the spirit of discussion and inquiry, we do want to share interesting articles that address what we as civic educators are doing in the classroom. Nicole Mirra offers a critical take on how Common Core impacts civic education, and questions whether it truly does integrate civic learning into the classroom.

Furthermore, it is imperative to note that the simple inclusion of civic documents in the Common Core required reading list does not constitute a sustained focus on the civic nature of literacy…. Simply reading the Declaration of Independence for its main ideas, in my mind, is not a civic act. Debating the extent to which the promises of that document have been realized in your students’ neighborhoods and then developing community action projects might be. But that is not the focus of the Common Core – the Common Core is focused on students’ ability to read any piece of informational text and draw evidence from it in order to construct a sound argument so that those skills can be applied to any number of college or career assignments. Our founding documents, in the eyes of the Common Core developers, are simply sources of information. No context or democratic purpose necessary.

Dr. Mirra makes some good points here. One of my own concerns as a civic educator and even just as a social studies person is that many of these primary source documents students are engaging with are not addressed in context. To me, removing a primary source from the context in which it was written raises issues concerning whether or not students are truly understanding the document and whether than can effectively transfer the conceptual elements of the document into realms of civic life. At the same time, we also need to remember that the standards are aimed at ELA classrooms, not social studies classrooms (we only get an appendix), and what the history/social studies (hmm…issue there as well) part of standards focus on are elements of content-area literacy in using a document. But can you truly address content-area literacy without considering CONTEXT? And do ELA teachers have the content background necessary to address that context?

These issues are why I am a fan of the College, Career, and Civic Life Framework, and we have begun integrating elements of the inquiry arc into our own work here at the FJCC. The C3 Framework moves beyond simply interpreting documents; instead, it asks students to interrogate documents, to ask questions, and to DO something as citizens. The developers of the Framework HAVE sought to show how it may work with Common Core as well; while it does not conflict with Common Core, it does improve upon it.  Throughout the year, this blog will talk more about the C3 Framework and how it relates to Civic education.

Ultimately, what we should remember is that the Common Core State Standards/Florida Standards are just that: standards. They are NOT curriculum, and it is up to us as educators to really move beyond those standards to develop a strong curriculum that addresses the need for quality civic learning. The foundation of Common Core, which involves the use of primary source documents, is a start. The C3 is a path. We are the drivers of the curriculum.

Hat tip to FJCC Senior Fellow Dr. Elizabeth Washington for directing us to the article!