Why do we need the Common Core Standards for Literacy? Simple. Because our global community requires citizens who will be able to make decisions based on research and data, not on sound bites and opinions from various special interest groups and political circles. Pulling from the Common Core Instructional Shifts, we desperately need to develop students’ capacity to write from various sources and use text-based evidence to support opinions. In particular, our students must be able to use evidence to take and defend important positions. Whether that position is political, societal, economic, or environmental, we must demand thinkers who adopt a mindset based on data, not here say–not an easy thing to do given the abundance of information and opinions circulating on the Internet.
As an example, today I came across two separate climate change articles. One was printed in the Huffington Post, the other in Yahoo News. In the Post’s article, Global Warming ‘More of a Religion Than A Science,’ the author writes, Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) dismissed the concern over global warming, labeling it a “religion” and claiming efforts to address climate change are useless.“It is not proven, it’s not science,” King said Tuesday, according to The Messenger of Fort Dodge, Iowa. “It’s more of a religion than a science.” The congressman spoke at a Fort Dodge event sponsored by the conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity. King said he thought environmentalists should focus on the positive aspects of the earth heating up due to more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, instead of harping on the negatives. “Everything that might result from a warmer planet is always bad in [environmentalists’] analysis,” King said. “There will be more photosynthesis going on if the earth gets warmer. And if sea levels go up four or six inches, I don’t know if we’d know that.”
In the Yahoo News article, New Reports Reveal the Dire Picture Humanity is Painting for Earth’s Climate there is a passage from the American Geophysical Union which states, Human activities are changing Earth’s climate. At the global level, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases have increased sharply since the Industrial Revolution. Fossil fuel burning dominates this increase. Human-caused increases in greenhouse gases are responsible for most of the observed global average surface warming of roughly 0.8°C (1.5°F) over the past 140 years. Because natural processes cannot quickly remove some of these gases (notably carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere, our past, present, and future emissions will influence the climate system for millennia.
Wow, who do you believe, Rep King or the American Geophysical Union, and how do you take a position? According to the Common Core Instructional Shifts, you look for the evidence to support whichever position you prefer to take. In the two articles quoted above, one could argue there isn’t enough information to make a position, and that’s a lukewarm, possibly fair statement. However, when applying the Common Core Instructional Shifts to the climate change scenario, students would be required to go beyond the news to the data. They’d need to access unbiased, valid, and reliable studies that present the facts and not the opinions so often expressed through the media. As many people know, in the case of climate change, there is unequivocal evidence that the earth’s climate is warming up, and primarily due to anthropogenic forces. In fact, just yesterday NOAA released their State of the Climate in 2012 report which details how rapidly our climate is changing. Regardless of one’s own opinion, we must have individuals who regularly use facts to support their points.
There’s so much to hope for in developing students’ metacognitive skills and thoughtful consideration of important issues through the Common Core Instructional Shifts. The Common Core State Standards are solid, and the value placed on informed use of evidence to communicate and argue various positions is a welcome focus to education. The standards and instructional shifts ask educators to develop students’ capacity to think deeply and thoughtfully, and to do so with evidence in mind. Perhaps with these changes we’ll see a more thoughtful public that consumes information more critically. A public that is not swayed by special interest or political groups but by the data behind the issue. A public that does what’s best for today’s generation and those that follow. In terms of climate change, too much is at risk to do otherwise.