Controlling the narrative

Can you think of a profession that does a worse job of controlling a narrative than education?

There are 3.1 million teachers in our K-12 schools. About 35 percent of them teach English/Languages Arts. If there were a group that should know something about a narrative, this would be it.

The Common Core, love it or hate, is a prime example of this problem.

My sister-in-law recently moved her family to a new town. This also meant a move from private to public school. Lisa scheduled an introductory meeting with her son’s fourth-grade teacher. She left the school 10 minutes later in a panic

She wasn’t worried about her kids getting beat up or making friends. She was worried about curriculum. This is how our phone call began:

“Do you know anything about the Common Core?” she asked. “The new school is using that theory.”

Let’s take a moment to unpack that comment.

Why doesn’t my college-educated sister-in-law have a clue about the Common Core? Theory? Is that how it was described to her? Shouldn’t the teacher (and her school) have a handout or an elevator speech to describe the Common Core and allay parents’ fear? How is Lisa going to walk back from her deep lack of understanding and help her children be successful in the school?

Four hours later, as I sat through the parent orientation at the public high school I want my eighth-grade son to attend, another dose of narrative anarchy.

A Q&A with school leadership followed the tour and student and parent testimonials. The Common Core was the dominant topic.

“Do you follow the Common Core? Why do you do the Common Core – can’t you do something else? Do they do the Common Core in middle school? Do the other high schools in town do the Common Core? How do you teach it? Is it going to be on the test?”

The National PTA offers a Common Core toolkit. The Girl Scouts offer merit badges aligned to the Common Core. Parenting Magazine offers Common Core tips for parents. This is about as mainstream as messaging can get, and yet the narrative goes awry.

Educators must gain control of the narratives that dominate our professional lives. There are a whole lot of English teachers out there who could help.

You can follow me on Twitter: @davidBIE


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