The Danger in Drawing Conclusions from Amelia Bedelia

Good day, CharterFolk.

Some of you may have seen this article resurface in recent days.

The Atlantic highlighted it in their “One Article to Read” feature last week.

It highlights a sobering problem, the fact that youngsters these days read for fun much less than prior generations.

What conclusion does the article draw about what’s to blame?

NCLB and Common Core.

As several educators explained to me, the advent of accountability laws and policies, starting with No Child Left Behind in 2001, and accompanying high-stakes assessments based on standards, be they Common Core or similar state alternatives, has put enormous pressure on instructors to teach to these tests at the expense of best practices.

Apparently, the boogeyman is an overbearing pedagogy forcing kids to search for literal meaning in texts so that they can pass a test, thereby undercutting the love of reading something fun like Amelia Bedelia.

The NCLB and Common Core-mandated pedagogy, the article states, requires teachers to present isolated paragraphs to students rather than whole stories, which saps the experience of its joy.

For anyone who knows children, this is the opposite of engaging: The best way to present an abstract idea to kids is by hooking them on a story. “Nonliteral language” becomes a whole lot more interesting and comprehensible, especially to an 8-year-old, when they’ve gotten to laugh at Amelia’s antics first. The process of meeting a character and following them through a series of conflicts is the fun part of reading. Jumping into a paragraph in the middle of a book is about as appealing for most kids as cleaning their room.

It’s the latest malady in public education attributed to NCLB and Common Core.

Some claim Common Core killed off history.

Others say NCLB did the same to art.

I’m not sheepish about surfacing my criticism of reform efforts gone awry.

… including naive thinking embedded in NCLB.

Nor am I naive, however, about the motivations behind efforts to discredit all forms of state-mandated testing.

So when I see people making boogeymen of NCLB and Common Core yet again, rather than taking into account many other broader societal trends that are clearly affecting whether kids today read for fun …

… trends that Jonathan Haidt shows quite convincingly …

… are resulting in our kids neither reading nor having fun, much less reading and having fun …

… I know enough to refrain from drawing facile conclusions.

Amelia Bedelia is a cultural icon.

Social commentators have been drawing conclusions about the woman who draws the drapes since the series first came out more than 60 years ago.

An alternative reading of her character, one advanced in this New Yorker article a few years ago …

… argues that Amelia Bedelia is not some clueless person naively unaware of the wrong interpretations she makes of words, but is rather someone who consciously knows what she’s doing in order to spread chaos.

When it comes to presenting NCLB and Common Core as responsible for nearly every negative thing we see in public education today …

… and encouraging people to draw ridiculously facile conclusions …

… such as the idea that NCLB and Common Core are responsible for kids not reading for fun as much these days …

You tell me, CharterFolk.

The work of clueless people naively unaware of what they’re doing?

Or conscious efforts to spread chaos everywhere?

Amelia Bedelia indeed.