Death to Gradgrind
Death to Gradgrind
There has always been a “reading crisis,” at least for the last two hundred years. Up to the end of the nineteenth century critics fretted over the spread of mass literacy, which (they anticipated) would degrade the quality of literature. And then, at various points over the twentieth century, critics warned that the Book-of-the-Month Club, or middlebrow literature, or paperbacks, or the Great Books of the Western World, or Oprah Winfrey would mean the end of serious reading. As documented here, none of these irrational fears had any basis in reality. But even if others frequently cried wolf in the past, there are real and present threats to reading, and often (ironically) they come from the very quarters that warn that reading is in a crisis that must be addressed. Perhaps the most deeply troubling development on the reading instruction front is Common Core, a set of educational standards that promises “career and college readiness.” It has been adopted by most of the fifty states in the US, though several are having second thoughts and pulling back. The Gates Foundation has heavily promoted Common Core, donating a total of $150 million to teachers’ unions, universities, foundations, state departments of education, and think tanks that support the program. What Bill Gates prefers to call “ philanthropy” was in this case more like an investment, given that the Common Core would require much greater use of computers in classrooms. Likewise, publishing giant Pearson stood ready to corral a huge and largely captive market for textbooks oriented to Common Core. (Historians of textbooks know that, because they are usually sold to a government monopsony, opportunities for corruption are enormous.) Championed as well by Education Secretary Arne Duncan and many state governors, Common Core thus involves the takeover of school reading instruction not by capitalism, but by crony capitalism, cutting out both teachers and parents in shaping educational policy. Pearson was awarded contracts that effectively ensured that the company would be the only qualified bidder. In a 28 February 2014 meeting, Pearson CEO John Fallon and CFO Robin Freestone discussed the company’s long-term profitability with eight market analysts.
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