¡Common Core Death Match!

Dear Common Core:
I know I’ve been ignoring you. The truth of the matter is that I’ve never been all that interested in you. In fact, there’s something about you that leaves me feeling, well, just a little bit sleepy. In other words CC—can I call you CC?—the problem isn’t you, it’s me, or at least that’s what your devoted fans are so quick to imply should my opinion shade the slightest bit critical. But I’m starting to wonder if I may have misjudged you, CC. I think we need to talk….

Our troubles started when a New York City teacher shared with me this Grade 11 English Language Arts pre-assessment that was designed with you in mind. Oh it all sounds innocent enough. Students must read an excerpt from an informational text (I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what one of these is, CC) along with two poems, then determine which genre best conveys the reality of life in an impoverished Indian community, making their case in an *argument essay* in accordance with 12 helpfully provided guidelines. Will it be the excerpt from Katherine Boo’s outstanding informational text, Behind the Beautiful Forevers, or will Imtiaz Dharker’s poetry reign supreme? Will informational texts finally vanquish poetry once and for all? And why do I have a sneaking suspicion that I know which side you’re rooting for, CC?

The Dead Poets Society
You don’t have to get all “To His Coy Mistress” with me, CC; I know how you roll. You’re up to your old college and career ready ways again with this subtle nudge to the handful of students who still haven’t gotten the message that poetry ≠ career.  As for the few 11th graders who sided with poetry against informational texts in this death match, perhaps you could have career advisers call them at home to share some informational texts about the dismal job prospects of poetry majors, you know, just in case. Since this was only a pre-assessment, we’ll still have plenty more opportunities to judge whether your message is sinking in…

The career road not taken
Now you’re probably wondering why I felt the need to put down my wine box and climb off the couch for this particular battle. It’s simple, CC: I like my fights fair and this is starting to feel like a bit of a pile on. Even before you weighed in with your nonfictional, informational prose and your robust real world reflections, poetry wasn’t exactly climbing the charts. And that was before we all came together as a nation to agree that career readiness means encouraging our youth to major in “product management for Yahoo!”. This latter bit of info text wisdom comes via Reid Hoffman, Entrepreneur. Product Strategist. Investor. And founder of LinkedIn, where there is not a single job listing for poet to be found.

I know why the cage-busting bird sings
I know what you’re thinking, CC. You’re thinking that mine is an argument light on evidence and reason, lighter still on credibility and precision. I’ve failed to order ideas and information within and across paragraphs, nor have I used appropriate transitional words/phrases in a way that clarifies the reasoning and logic of the argument. As for my counterclaim(s) about the various ways that poetry falls measurably short as a genre, they’re feeling just a little too convincing, if you know what I mean. But before you score me a big fat zero for “no evidence” on the death match rubric, consider this, CC. I have a conclusion that not only clarifies my position, but strengthens it.

I felt a funeral in my brain
You see CC, it just happens that this particular battle is one with which I’m all too familiar. While I proudly wear the uniform of Team Poetry, epaulettes and all, the man to whom I’m *technically* married (TMTWITM) marches under the flag of the informational text—lots and lots of informational texts. In fact, during the time that I’ve spent composing this *argument essay,* three more boxes containing even more such texts have arrived upon our doorstep. While their precise contents will remain a mystery until such a time as the designated recipient chooses to open them, I’m going to go ahead and infer what they do not contain: poetry. How can I be so sure? Let’s bring in some supplemental evidence in the form of a recent conversation.

Me: “What do you think about poetry?”
TMTWITM: silence.
Me: Beginning to wonder if perhaps I should repeat the question given that the silence seems to be of an unusually lengthy duration.

TMTWITM: “Nothing. That’s what I think about poetry.”
Me: “Nothing????”
TMTWITM: “Absolutely nothing! Wait—is this for your blog?”

Should poetry just pack it in and go home? Send claims, reasons and evidence to tips@haveyouheardblog.com.


  1. The blog post blended journalistic non-fiction and creative satire in an effective way. I want my kids to be able to understand why it was an effective piece of writing!

    Which is why I, a CC skeptic and a creative writing teacher, really dig this assignment.

    The prompt IS annoying on the surface (i.e. the test winking at its own non-fiction emphasis even within its own essay prompts), but if you drill down for a second, this is a great way to get young writers to think critically about the strengths/limitations of different genres. If I taught my poetry unit well, my students may well write an essay that acknowledges the power of metaphor and imagery AND ultimately decides that non-fiction is better than the Dharker in elucidating the issue(s) in question. Or the other way around. Good essay prompts let the mind creatively and critically consider multiple defensible responses.

    That’s what I want, anyway. Rip, rip, rip, students!

    1. I compared your comment to my blogging effectiveness rubric and have scored myself a “4” so will be taking the rest of the day off! I agree with you up to a point, and was very inspired by the lengths the teacher in whose class this assessment was given was going to get her student to think critically about genre. What bothers me though isn’t just that Common Core puts poetry in a corner but that poetry only seems to be valued as a way to make an argument. Check out this PARCC ELA assessment for example. http://www.parcconline.org/samples/english-language-artsliteracy/grade-10-elaliteracy Once again you could make the claim that forcing students to compare and contrast the way that Icarus’ experience of flying is depicted in Ovid and Anne Sexton. But one might also begin to suspect that the architects of operation college and career readiness have no poetry in their souls…

      thanks for reading!

  2. I loved this piece, and I disagree with Ross. The prompt is horrible (like most CC prompts). Is this what English class is reduced to –a dry and deadly analysis of which GENRE is best at conveying Indian poverty? Is it possible to say that one genre is better at expressing a given topic than another? OK, I grant that poetry might not be the best genre for conveying a Terms of Use Agreement. What a stupid prompt. What is English class for? Plunging into imagined worlds, escaping from the confines of one’s narrow experience, learning about the different types of humans, the inner life of humans, the wider world, seeing how the masters of writing use language, getting aesthetic pleasures… This is the soul of English, and assignments should revolve around this. Under CC, English class revolves around pointless and painful exercises like this one.

    I think David Coleman had an idea of what he wanted –Andover for All –but he miscalculated in his design to get us there. His analysis of what made Andover Andover was faulty –he thought it was all about rigorous analysis. He failed to see that it was also about having teachers who were real humanists, people who knew and loved great literature, and who created a robust, rich curriculum that imparted knowledge of the world. CC is breeding a deformed, demented version of his vision.

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