Common Core Supporter Ignores Reason-Based Issues

Merts

Tuesday in the Huntsville Times, Common Core supporter and “teacher of ninth grade Honours English” Kathleen W. Dotts shared her assessment, entitled “Huntsville Teacher: Common Core Supporters Not ‘Liars and Victims,'” of an opinion written on October 1, 2013 by Ken Freeman entitled, “Common Core is a Big Lie, Its Supporters are Liars of Victims of the Lie.”

I would highly recommend that you read Mrs. Dotts’ piece. The other one by Mr. Freeman, not so much.

You see, Mrs. Dotts is correct in her assessment of the piece by Mr. Freeman. It does, absolutely rely upon, as Mrs. Dotts writes, “a miasma of fear.”

(Just as an aside, it is always a pleasure to read the writing of a person who knows how to use the language. In case you were wondering, Miasma means “an influence or atmosphere that tends to deplete or corrupt.” What an apt choice of words. It’s clear that Mrs. Dotts is a master of the language, and if the comments from her readers are any indication, she seems an excellent teacher. I’m sorry that I never had her, but then my teacher of ninth grade English was also excellent despite the lack of an honours designation. My love of the language developed a bit more slowly than her students at Huntsville High it would seem.)

In case you’re confused, yes, I agree with Mrs. Dotts that Mr. Freeman’s article is a fetid collection of fallacies (supposing, of course, that Mrs. Dotts will forgive the use of alliteration in her defense).

As I often tell my students when they’re developing their argumentative essays in 101, if you’re going to argue on my behalf, Mr. Freeman, please make sure that your arguments are sound. Otherwise, you’re hurting the cause, and it would be better if you simply hushed.

I completely agree with Mrs. Dotts assessment of Mr. Freeman’s article. While she doesn’t directly identify herself as a supporter of common core, she does call herself one of Mr. Freeman’s “liars or victims.” She clearly is neither as she proceeds to use a combination of standards from the past seven years to eviscerate Mr. Freeman’s editorial. These standards include those used in Alabama from 2007-2009, the current Alabama standards adopted in 2010 (CCSS/CCRS) and finally from the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices from 2010.

But what is truly interesting is that while she is wiping the floor with Mr. Freeman’s pathos-based argument, she doesn’t actually offer any justification for changing from the 2007-2009 set of standards to common core, but that point is rather buried under the weight of her verbal throw down, isn’t it?

In fact, what she is doing in this article is showing that any set of standards including those from 2007, you know before we started spending the $40 million dollars that Wardynski claimed we would have wasted if the Alabama congress had voted to repeal Common Core back in February, will be useful for analyzing an argument in the hands of a good teacher.

Does this mean, Mrs. Dotts, that Common Core is actually unnecessary as it doesn’t actually change anything in how you conduct your classroom? If so, then can we get that $40 million back?

Tell ya what, let’s hang on to that thought for a moment while we look at the arguments she does and does not make.

Strawman Fallacy

Mrs. Dotts seems quite capable of identifying logical fallacies in Mr. Freeman’s opinion, but she’s ignoring a fairly substantial one in her own: namely, the strawman fallacy. This is a fallacy that is quite popular with politicians today. In fact, we’ve seen it employed often during the past few weeks of our national embarrassment. This is a method of argument where you refuse to actually respond to your opponent and simply respond to what you wish your opponent had said.

Now while she is specifically directing her response to the inane opinions of Mr. Freeman, she is not actually offer any defense to the logical arguments against adopting CCSS that many others, including myself, have offered. She has set up her own scarecrow (or conveniently used Mr. Freeman who has so kindly offered his services as such) while ignoring the reason-based arguments for opposing Common Core.

Reason-based Opposition to Common Core

For example, I oppose Common Core for the following four reasons. I’ve been posting these four reasons since February, and I’ve yet to receive any evidence-based response to these concerns:

First, the standards were developed by the Gates Foundation and organizations funded by his foundation. Have you ever wondered why the US Chamber of Commerce loves CCSS so much, or why the National and local PTAs do? Both organizations stand to make a great deal of money off of the implementation of CCSS. They have plenty of incentive to tell us common core is great that has nothing to do with education.

Second, the standards have not been tested in any way. So any claim of “increased rigor” is basically unfounded. Any claim that our students won’t be College and Career ready unless we adopt these standards flies in the face of reason that Mrs. Dotts so effectively calls for.

Third, the standards are being used to justify a dramatic increase in standardized testing to demonstrate their effectiveness. Just today, for example, Huntsville City Schools implemented its second formative testing system (Pearson’s SchoolNet) to go along with the first (STAR), which it has not replaced. So now rather than benchmarking our kindergarteners with just one standardized reading and math benchmark, we’re going to be using two. And both will be administered at least four times a year to children at least as young as five in order to make sure that our kindergarteners are ready for college and careers. (Yes, I’ll be writing much more about this again soon.)

And fourth, implementing the standards is needlessly expensive. As Mrs. Dotts points out above, her approach to teaching her class to analyze an argument really hasn’t changed in the past seven years even with the implementation of CCRS this year. As such, seriously, can we get that $40 million back? My children’s class sizes are too large. My son could really use more speech and occupational therapy to help prepare him for college and a career. In other words, wouldn’t this money be better spent elsewhere?

Argumentation from Logos, Ethos, and Pathos

Finally, Mrs. Dotts, you remind us that “as standards of teaching insist, argument [sic] must balance the appeals to logos, ethos, and pathos.” In this, again, you are correct. We must present logical, reason-based arguments, that are supported by credible sources in an emotionally fair manner. (By the way, this isn’t only insisted upon by “standards of teaching” but also by millennia of argumentation practice.) So, it is not actually a divorce from pathos (emotion) that we must seek, but rather a balancing of the three. Granted, Mr. Freeman offers nothing but an appeal to emotion, and specifically fear, and as such, you are right to reject his opinion.

However, a complete divorce from emotion is also an ineffective mode of argumentation.

As such, now that I have offered four, reason-based reasons for opposing Common Core, I would like to offer just one pathos based point.

Isn’t it interesting that in this debate between those in favor of CCSS and those opposed to CCSS here in Huntsville that yours is the first voice of an actual classroom teacher to be heard? Isn’t it also interesting that the first classroom teacher’s voice to be heard is one that basically agrees with and supports Superintendent Wardynski’s own opinion concern CCSS/CCRS?

Could it be that Mr. Freeman’s horrifically argued claim that supporters of CCSS are victims might have a modicum of truth, despite his ridiculous allusions to Hitler and Nazi Germany?

I offer my credentials, my ethos if you will, as an advocate for teachers to support my final claim: there are many, perhaps not a majority, but many, teachers in this district who do not agree that Common Core will improve their classroom teaching, nor their student’s performance in college or careers. They view CCSS for what I believe it to actually be: the latest in a century of miracle cures and snake-oil for what ails the American public school system. They view it as yet another, in an endless stream of them, “method,” that they are forced to adopt by people who know little to nothing about education. They view it as just one more red-herring designed to distract the American people from dealing with the one issue that we seem to always sweep under the rug: poverty.

So why haven’t we heard from those teachers? They’re too afraid to publicly opposed anything that Dr. Wardynski publicly supports.

Regardless of how you feel about this final point, I offer the other four reason-based points for your consideration.

Not everyone who opposes Common Core is unreasonable.

Oh, and Mrs. Dotts, I thank you for your years of service to our community and our nation.

Sincerely,

G. Russell Winn

Instructor of Humanities, Husband, Daddy, Doughnut (or Donut if you prefer) Man

Huntsville, Alabama

 
Russell
"Children see magic because they look for it." --Christopher Moore, Lamb: The Gospel according to Biff, Jesus' childhood pal.

7 Comments

  1. While I am quite sure that Mrs. Dotts is a fine teacher, I think her position regarding Common Core can be largely explained by who she is and what circles she runs in. She is the wife of Phil Dotts, financial consultant to the city of Huntsville, former state legislative candidate, member of the Committee of 100, buddy of Mayor Battle, and all-around member of the city’s power elite. This is the exact crowd, of course, that keeps regurgitating the happy-clappy, soft-focus pro-CCSS talking points and telling us all not to worry our pretty little heads about it. Given Mrs. Dotts’ connections, would anyone really expect her to do anything other than support the party line on Common Core?

  2. It frustrates me that this discussion has been framed the way it has. Consider this analogy: I tell my son he has to go to bed at 4:30 in the afternoon. He asks why. I tell him that he’s been tired in the morning and needs to get more sleep. He asks why 4:30. I say, “Because.” At that point, there’s no LOGICAL argument that he can make, because he is not responding to a legitimate rationale for the decision. So what’s his most likely approach? Pathos — “THAT’S NOT FAIR.” And he’s right, but there’s no discussion to be had, which leads to invocation of the ultimate argument ender, “Because I’m the parent and I said so” (ethos).

    Now look at the Common Core debate in these same terms. School systems have been told they need to change to this new set of standards. Why? Because your old standards aren’t consistent from district to district and students aren’t ready for careers and colleges. But why these standards? “Because.” How can critics attack standards that have no actual credentials to establish their merit? I feel as though we’re supposed to be dazzled by Mrs. Dotts’ smack-down of an inferior writer (and perhaps thinker) and then simply accept her point of view “because she’s a teacher and she says so.”

    By the way, I think the use of the English spelling of “honours” in her class title is pretentious and affected. The HCS Course Description and Registration Guide uses the American English spelling in the course title. Perhaps this is supposed to convince us of her professional gravitas, I don’t know. I might be more inclined to accept that if I weren’t aware that most of her students spend the rest of their high school careers un-learning the writing style and conventions that she instills in their year with her.

    1. I agree with you Kelly. I find it ridiculous that the teacher’s voices were not useful in the creation and implementation of common core and yet they are very quick to run to those teachers that support it and hold them up high.

  3. Obviously the above writers have no personal knowledge of Mrs Dotts. I do. Best English teacher my children ever had. She was demanding yet motivated them to become polished writers.(and highly successful adults).
    To attack her credibility via her husband and his supposed connections is laughable. Its a coward’s argument and ignores Kathleen’s ability to think for herself. If you knew her …but you don’t.
    What you should be quite concerned about is how the system’s money is being thrown down the rabbit’s hole. Ask why we are spending boucous on electronic signs,landscaping,soap despencers but not on teachers. Curriculums come and go but research shows that the single most important factor is the class room teacher.
    Also, you should track the mass exodus. Its not just Nikki leaving, but anyone who can find other employment. Thank. God my kids are through school. Sorry for the rest.

    1. I appreciate your point of view, but it’s not credible to say that Mrs. Dotts’ connections and social circle should not be taken into account in this matter. She, like all of us, is a product of her environment, and she is influenced by those whom she is around. Her husband is a member of the very exclusive business group that is one of the chief supporters of Common Core in this area. I dare say that if, say, Eula Battle took a public position on a controversial topic that just happened to be in line with what her husband was pushing as mayor, you would take this into account when assessing the validity of her arguments. Same here.

      I agree with you about the teachers, however. We are losing the best we have, and there is no end in sight. Interestingly, though, some of the kinds of policies that are driving them off are now engrained in Common Core. The constant testing, for instance. When teachers seemingly test more than they teach and when they live in deathly fear of where their test scores are going to fall, other career options start looking increasingly attractive.

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