Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Etruscans and Americans

If “Common Core” had been discovered in the yellowed pages of a 19th century Presbyterian teachers’ college from Ohio, political conservatives would be insisting that it be instantiated immediately. As it is, political conservatives across the spectrum, including libertarians and Objectivists, are opposed to something they know nothing about. If they understood it, they would be in favor of it.
From the PolitiChicks webpage
denouncing Common Core

Here is a slice of apple pie from the PolitiChicks “voice of conservative women” website, an essay by Macey France of Oregon:
I remember learning about the Etruscans when I was in the 9th grade. To this day I couldn’t tell you what they did or who they were because it was so boring I could barely keep from nodding off while writing the report and pray I didn’t get the uncontrollable giggles when I gave my presentation.So when I discovered this Common Core lesson on Early World Civilizations and began to read up on the things being taught in the unit, imagine my surprise when I discovered this lesson was for 1st grade. Yes, you read that right, FIRST grade. Six year olds will be asked to do the following: Explain the significance of the Code of Hammurabi;Explain the significance of gods/goddesses, ziggurats, temples, and priests in Mesopotamia;Describe key components of a civilization.Those are only three of the eighty one (81!) things that your 6 year old should know at the end of this “ELA Domain.” And none of them have anything to do with the actual mechanics of reading and writing.
Apparently, Ms. France suffered from some kind of communist education plan herself because she should have written "none of them has..."; but languages change and we see this error commonly in the best of places.  More substantially, Ms. France need not worry for her children because she lives in Oregon and the standards that bother her are from New York: Engage-NY (here) is that state's Common Core State Standards Initiative.

Even so, the requirements are interesting to consider.  Many of the 81 learning goals do bear directly on applying the mechanics of reading and writing, including the last: “Use personal pronouns orally.” Among the other goals are:
  • Locate Egypt on a world map or globe and identify it as a part of Africa;
  • Identify Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as major monotheistic world religions;
  • Define monotheism as the belief in one God;
  • Identify the Star of David as a six-pointed star and a symbol of Judaism;
  • Identify the Torah as an important part of the Hebrew scriptures;
  • Identify that a Jewish house of worship is called a synagogue or temple;
  • Recognize the cross as a symbol of Christianity;
  • Identify the crescent and star as symbols of Islam;
  • Identify the Qur’an as the holy book of Islam, containing laws for daily living and many stories that appear in Jewish and Christian holy books;
  • Identify that a Muslim place of worship is called a mosque;
  • Identify who is telling the story at various points in a fiction read-aloud;
  • Ask and answer questions (e.g., who, what, where, when), orally or in writing, requiring literal recall and understanding of the details and/or facts of a nonfiction/informational read-aloud;
  • Identify the main topic and retell key details of a nonfiction/informational read-aloud;
  • Ask and answer questions about unknown words and phrases in nonfiction/informational read-alouds and discussions;
  • Use agreed-upon rules for group discussion (e.g., look at and listen to the speaker, raise hand to speak, take turns, say “excuse me” or “please,” etc.);
  • Carry on and participate in a conversation over at least six turns, staying on topic, initiating comments or responding to a partner’s comments, with either an adult or another child of the same age;
  • Ask questions to clarify information about the topic in a fiction or nonfiction/informational read-aloud;
  • Ask questions to clarify directions, exercises, classroom routines, and/or what a speaker says about a topic;
  • Learn the meaning of common sayings and phrases;
  • Identify new meanings for familiar words and apply them accurately;
  • Use personal pronouns orally
 It is a lot to ask of a six-year old, but we know that as with most people children do rise to meet expectations.  It is also a lot to ask of a teacher in 35 weeks to cover all 81 points when also dealing with discipline and administration. We can only wish them all good luck, while keeping in mind that some children will benefit greatly from the challenge, though most will absorb only about 67% of it, more or less; and nonetheless be better off.  After all, that is the purpose of education.
If any child achieves half of the goals, they will be far ahead of Ms. France when she was a ninth grader, bored and giggling over the Etruscans. for a vacation in Tuscany

Why should we care about the Etruscans, anyway? 
Every four years we inaugurate a President. The inauguration was a Roman ceremony in which Etruscan priests ("augurs") sought (and typically found) auspices for the future.  The Roman gods Vulcan, Minerva, and Mercury were Etruscan gods borrowed into the Roman religion.  The Romans had been politically inferior to the Etruscans. As Rome ascended, the historical Roman kings beginning with Numa Pompilius (716-673 BCE) began the integration of Etruscan nobles into Roman society.  The fourth Roman emperor, Claudius (ruled 41-51 CE), wrote a history of the Etruscan people and was likely the last person who could read their language (Wikipedia for Claudius). Despite centuries of scholarship, while we can sound out the letters, we still have little idea what the words mean.  Will the time come when no one can read English because some other culture ascended over ours? Early Etruscan tombs generally depict smiling, happy people. Then, something caused a cultural shift, and funereal art became grim and sad. Will America's optimism collapse at a stroke whose nature will be lost to time?  But the Etruscan people are still with us: we call them Tuscans and Florentines. We owe them the Renaissance.  

Here is the Common Core State Standards Initiative Home Page 


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