Mayday! Mayday! SOS! All nouns on deck! Man the semantics! Fire up the phrases! Don’t shoot till you see the whites of the “I’s”. You, over there, grab a round of idioms. Load up on similes and, if you do nothing else, save the colloquialisms. The English language is under attack. Yes, the Common Core is lobbing gibberish jargon from every direction: the classroom, the PTA, the Department of Education and more! It’s a hostile takeover. Words as we know them are being redefined by the minute. It’s a whole new language. It’s Core-speak.
Yes, Core-speak, the Common Core Language (CCL), is the newest way bureaucratic educators talk amongst themselves. Core-speak isn’t teacher slang either. It’s a precisely crafted world of words that guarantees no parent on earth can possibly understand it.
Anyone who knows pretty much anything about the federally led Common Core State Standards knows it comes with buzzwords and catchphrases that only could have been hatched out of the educational bureaucratic lab by intellectual giants who think these things up every day. Where else would expressions like “flat classrooms” come from, Flat Stanley?
This new dialect, Core-speak, likely evolved out of Educanese, short for education bureaucratic language. It is also known as educationese. Whatever they call it, it’s still the academic language of education theorists. It’s often attributed to educational psychologist Benjamin Bloom and education methodologist Madeline Hunter. Today, educratic think tanker Bob Marzano is only one of a crop to directly influence the CCL jargon. Don’t underestimate them either. One hundred years ago, John Dewey, the godfather of modern institutionalized public education, proposed reframing the word “school” connotatively to mean “social center.” Fast forward to August 13, 2013 — New York Governor Andrew Cuomo issued an executive order aligning education, health and social services into one turnkey phrase “community schools.”
In fairness, English is a living language that is always in a state of transformation, which is a good thing. Otherwise, we’d all be chatting it up like Grendel and Beowulf. Still, there’s a huge difference between the natural evolution of a language and the purposeful hijacking of one where words have been repurposed to deceive or confuse. Euphemistically-laced lingo is everywhere these days and it’s especially on the other side of the 21st Century classroom door.
This, however, has nothing to do with teen-speak or pop-cultural expressions like “my bad,” “epic fail,” “sick” or “twerk.” This is about words like global, empathy, faction, remediation, assumptive, adaptive, equity, sustainable, benchmark, automaticity, stakeholder, collaborative partner, robust, rigor, career-ready, intervention, informational-text, empathy, staircases, scaffolds, ladders and lattices. This is about abbreviated words and portmanteaus like RAFT, P3, C3, MOU and RTI. In Core-speak the 3R’s aren’t reading, ‘riting and ‘rithmetic. They’re rigor, relevancy and relationship. Oh, and one more thing, assessment does not mean test.
You may know the words but they don’t mean what you think. Well, it’s time to get on-board with the “whole language” thing or you will be at parties talking to a wall. Nope, this isn’t going to be easy either because, remember, it’s not the definitions of words that have changed. It’s the connotative or suggestive meanings implied by words and compacted phrases. If you’ve ever been to a school board meeting, you’ve already heard Core-speak in action — endless suits talking in quasi-legalese-sounding circles at eight o’clock in the evening. It’s the kind of gibberish that even Jabberwocky wouldn’t understand. And it’s on purpose. You don’t want to be “that parent” who asks, “What are they talking about?” And they know it.
Novelist George Orwell knew it too. In his bleak, futuristic meme Nineteen Eighty-Four, the supporting character of Syme was the linguist who developed Newspeak, the language of supreme leader Big Brother and the governing Inner Party. Syme’s job was to destroy all words from Oldspeak (Standard English) and replace them with streamlined Newspeak words. Early on in the book, Syme explained Newspeak by saying “every concept that can ever be needed will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.”
He was describing precise language. Precise words in expository writing is the very mantra of the Common Core ELA grade 6-12 literacy requirements. Interesting to note, “precise” often means different things on the time-space continuum of the Common Core. In grade 3, precise words are described as exact or specific . By grade 8, it means accurate and very defined. This means, they are to use words that are full of structural text complexity, whatever that means. You know, words that excite! Words the engage! Words that enrich! Words that educate! Students are to use important words like those on the Academic Word List (AWL). Oddly enough, the Butte College tip sheet on “How to Write Clearly Using Precise and Concise Language” suggests using precise words like “visage” instead of “face,” “endeavors” instead of “tries,” “cognition” instead of “thought,” “subsequent to” in place of “after,” and “at the present time” instead of “now.”
Furthermore, the college’s website literature also defines concise language as “using the fewest possible words without sacrificing meaning.” Use “youth.” Ixnay “juvenile,” “teenager,” “child,” and “adolescent.” Can we still say pubescent?
Tragically, we are living in a world where there are more no school nurses, only health techs. There are no school librarians, only the more precisely labeled media specialist. Passing a kid into the next grade is now called social promotion, stakeholder means the primary public and/or public-private partners invested in the school district, but that’s not you. HQ no longer is short for headquarters. It means “highly qualified” as in being a “master teacher” of the Common Core. Charter school means public school but it has an appointed non-publicly elected school board and “inclusion” is all about “mainstreaming” students with LDs (learning disabilities). Disorder means boy. This is only the tip of the iceberg.
Core-speakers use terms like essentialism and mutualism. They pontificate about clear and compelling visions of a next generation that’s future ready. They claim to live in a land of tiered partnerships and learning platforms that are domain-specific, college and career ready to engage the state standards and learn forward with quantifiable process-based learning narratives that is truly authentic education. Core-speakers even know that dashboards aren’t just in the cars anymore.
Core-speak is peculiarly riddled with such stunning Orwellian-inspired ditties like change agent, change maker, education pioneer, thought leader, thought merchant, groupwork, groupthink and mindshift. On the other hand, the fictional Newspeak only had thoughtcrime, thought police and mindthink. How long before a word like teamplayer gets truncated down to “teaplay” kind of like “minitrue” was short for the Ministry of Truth in Nineteen Eighty-Four?
In fact, the whole precise words movement is creepy and it’s attributed to David Coleman, the Common Core’s English Language Arts (ELA) chief architect, who also is president of the College Board. Coleman was appointed to the post by President Obama. It is has been reported that he has never taught an elementary school class in his life, yet he is redesigning a century’s worth of college entrance exams. He is aligning the ACT, PSAT, SAT and AP to the Common Core State Standards. He’s even got the high school equivalency test, the GED, covered. In his spare time, apparently, he’s rewriting the English language.
Coleman is a raging fan of this razor-sharp linguistic precision. He is also the man responsible for turning the fiction-to-non-fiction equation in the classroom upside down. In the Common Core Language Arts standards, the fiction to non-fiction reading ratio grades K-5 was reported at 50:50. In grades 6-12, this ratio shifted dramatically to 70:30, favoring non-fiction, which in Core-speak is more precisely known as “informational text.” Well, whatever they call it, this and a whole lot of other questionable content has had parents in an uproar nationwide.
Precise words have also birthed the Core-speak genre called contemporary realistic fiction. Not exactly “Harriet the Spy” or “Charlotte’s Web.” The Pearson generated article Characteristics of Good Realistic Fiction, informs us that this new literary form “deals with many complex problems and situations from understanding sexual orientation to dealing with family problems.” The elucidating baby white paper also dishes that a good, realistic, fiction novel is about people, their problems, and their challenges.
Apparently, the Berenstain Bears Learn about Strangers wasn’t meeting the realistic contemporary fiction rigor requirement for kindergartners. So instead, bring on the leading providers of textbooks and book fairs to our schools–Pearson and Scholastic load the literature up with personal experience narratives, character-problem solution stories and all the age-inappropriate details you can find. Now, worksheets are coming home from the primary grades with such new kid classics as “Daddy’s having an affair” and “The Big D,” Divorce–because daddy had an affair, and “Who’s the baby daddy?” These and more have been posted online by outraged parents.
For all that proponents have to say about the rich text complexity of the Common Core’s reading requirements, it isn’t rich at all. At best, it may only prove to be doublespeak. Ask Dr. Sandra Stotsky, the revered ELA expert who sat on the Common Core validation committee and refused to sign off on the standards. She has called the Common Core standards inferior. In a recent Breitbart interview, Stotsky also called the standards “rather shady.”
Perhaps, the greatest tragedy is this dismantling of the English language. Unintelligible yet precise Core-speak that will erase the richness of words as we know them? Buh-bye connotations, innuendos, nuances and all. Sorry, no more flavor for you in your words. You have hit the Fed Led Ed word quota ceiling.
Sadly, the non-precise words that the Common Core rejects are the very words in the American English lexicon that are most a part of our heritage. Sometimes they are juicy phrases that string out-of-context words together like fine pearls. Other times they simply and pointedly paint the richness of the human experience in our mind’s eye. Our words are not only our past, they are our future. It is the colorfulness of language have inspires us whether they come to us in classical literature, through the humor of a stand-up comic or in the sounds of a Southern drawl or a New York accent peppered with distinctive dialect and loads of local color. This is the gift of the common word. It has influenced the world for centuries.
If Orwell could weigh in on the conversation, he might have called Core-speak “doubleplussungood” because in the novel Nineteen Eighty-four, you may recall, there were no more words to say “bad.” In Newspeak, the only way to express a bad feeling or bad gut instinct about something was through the word “unbellyfeel.” Only the last of the old timers understood Oldspeak to know words like “good” and “bad” — and the Inner Party knew it.
Ironically, it is the wordsmith Syme who says this chilling comment to the novel’s protagonist Winston Smith: “Has it ever occurred to you that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand a conversation as we are having now?”
If George Orwell was alive today, he just might say about this deliberate destruction of the English language: “Oldthinkers unbellyfeel Core-speak.”
But don’t worry, it’s not 2050 yet.