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COMMON CORE REALITY CHECK: Here's How Common Core Assessments Plan to Certify Workers for the Global Economy (with pix)... Let's make sure the children read ALL of Ovid while we're at it!

Although much classical art has been inspired by Ovid's The Metamorphosis, one among the classical artists outdid himself after being inspired by Ovidian informational text. Titian did six variations on themes from Ovid, one of which, "Venus and Adonis" is reproduced here. Substance has been unable to confirm whether Fifty Shades of Grey is also being considered for Common Core coredness. This 10th grade test item is a sample of the type of passage provided by PARCC (The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers, a consortium of 23 states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands), to assess student proficiency on the Common Cores State (sic) Standards. PARCC calls this a "grade-level complex literary text." Truth of the matter: They probably chose it because it's in the public domain and there's no reprint fee.

Titian's Danae, one of the possible illustrations for the Common Core lessons on Ovid that are being proposed by 21st Century savants. As students of Ovid and the 16th Century Venetian master know, the "Poesies" were produced as graphical interpretations of the Roman poetic masterpiece now being incorporated into high school lessons. Hey, teachers in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island,Tennessee--and the Virgin Islands--are you ready for Ovid?

According to Wikipedia, Ovid's masterpiece The Metamorphoses was completed in AD8 and is recognized as a masterpiece of Golden Age Latin literature. It was one of the most-read of all classical works — during the Middle Ages.

I wonder why PARRC doesn't see fit to inform the reader that the version which they're using to test students is the Brookes More translation, produced in 1922. I've posted a prose translation by Mary Innes below it .

On an exam, the University of Nottingham gave students the original and asked them to evaluate these two translations. Note: these university students were enrolled in the classics department; they were not hapless tenth graders. I used to do this sort of thing with third graders and fairy tales: Look at different versions and decide which is more effective -- and why. I have 32 versions of The Three Little Pigs, surely, with Mama Pig announcing to her three children that it's time for them to move out and seek their own fortunes, a tale for our time. But truth be told, my students loved finding variant texts on their own. One Monday, Dougie, repeating 3rd grade and not a fan of school, came in beaming. "You'll never guess what I did! I got my mom to take me to a library 30 miles from here. And I've got a different version!"

Now that's reading excitement.

Modest Proposal: Perhaps if teachers share a Titian painting inspired by Metamorphoses one of two things will result:

1) it will inspire student reading.

2) it will provoke irate parents to get the work banned.

You can go here for PARCC's questions and guide to the right answers to these questions.

Proceed at your own risk.

One possible Common Core lesson based on Ovid's masterpiece might be to identify the scene depicted in one of Titian's Poesies. An additional question for history buffs would be to explain whether the daphenous fig leaf in the version above was in the original or added afterwards. I remind Chicago Teachers that the CTU Quest Center provides Q and A on the Common Core, with advice on students with special needs:

Q. What should I do to meet the needs of my special education students? A: The standards were written with the assumption that with appropriate accommodations all students, including those with exceptional needs, can achieve them. You should continue to differentiate your instruction, following all IEP requirements, goals, and modifications, and implement "best practices" in your curriculum to meet the needs of all your learners.

Question: What would "appropriate accommodations" for reading Ovid be for students with exceptional needs?

Question: What would "appropriate accommodations" for reading Ovid be for any tenth grader?

And I have another question: President Obama says Race to the Top and the Common Core are part of "a national mission to educate our kids and train our workers better than anybody else in the world. I want to recruit 100,000 math and science teachers, train 2 million workers at our community colleges to get the skills they need for the jobs that are hiring right now." President Obama, just how does reading Ovid cut the mustard here?

Titian's "Diana and Actaeon" refers to the Roman name of the goddess who didn't like to be interrupted while bathing with her co-workers. Students who are studying Ovid might also take a detour into Greek mythology and ask why Chicago Board of Education member Penny Pritcker, who studied literature at Harvard and business and law at Stanford, chose the Greek name for the goddess for one of her many entrepreneurial activities, especially given the fate of the poor guy who, through no fault of his own, happened to wander into the above scene. But students embraced by the Common Core may have to settle for the prose translation of Ovid before the Common Core debate has ended.PARCC insists that Ovid "aligns to the PARCC Reading Literature Assessment claim because it is based on a complex literary text. It aligns to the standards and evidence statements listed in that the item requires students to recognize a theme of a literary text and to find detailed support to show how that theme is developed."

PARCC offers no evidence showing how this educates and trains kids "better than anybody else in the world."

What bothers me most of all about this as a test item is the kind of reading students will have to endure--starting in kindergarten-- to get ready for such a test. Our U. S. Department of Education shelled out nearly $200 million of our tax dollars to PARCC to come up with this sort of thing.

My pinions have indeed dipped too low (see below). I want a refund.

Ovid's Metamorphoses: Daedalus and Icarus

Translated by Brookes More, public domain

But Daedalus abhorred the Isle of Crete--

290 and his long exile on that sea-girt shore,

increased the love of his own native place.

"Though Minos blocks escape by sea and land."

He said, "The unconfined skies remain

though Minos may be lord of all the world

295 his sceptre is not regnant of the air,

and by that untried way is our escape."

This said, he turned his mind to arts unknown

and nature unrevealed. He fashioned quills

and feathers in due order -- deftly formed

300 from small to large, as any rustic pipe

prom straws unequal slants. He bound with thread

the middle feathers, and the lower fixed

with pliant wax; till so, in gentle curves

arranged, he bent them to the shape of birds.

305 While he was working, his son Icarus,

with smiling countenance and unaware

of danger to himself, perchance would chase

the feathers, ruffled by the shifting breeze,

or soften with his thumb the yellow wax,

310 and by his playfulness retard the work

his anxious father planned.

But when at last

the father finished it, he poised himself,

and lightly floating in the winnowed air

315 waved his great feathered wings with bird-like ease.

And, likewise he had fashioned for his son

such wings; before they ventured in the air

he said, "My son, I caution you to keep

the middle way, for if your pinions dip

320 too low the waters may impede your flight;

and if they soar too high the sun may scorch them.

Fly midway. Gaze not at the boundless sky,

far Ursa Major and Bootes next.

Nor on Orion with his flashing brand,

325 but follow my safe guidance."

As he spoke

he fitted on his son the plumed wings

with trembling hands, while down his withered cheeks

the tears were falling. Then he gave his son

330 a last kiss, and upon his gliding wings

assumed a careful lead solicitous.

As when the bird leads forth her tender young,

from high-swung nest to try the yielding air;

so he prevailed on willing Icarus;

335 encouraged and instructed him in a]l

the fatal art; and as he waved his wings

looked backward on his son.

Beneath their flight,

the fisherman while casting his long rod,

340 or the tired shepherd leaning on his crook,

or the rough plowman as he raised his eyes,

astonished might observe them on the wing,

and worship them as Gods.

Upon the left

345 they passed by Samos, Juno's sacred isle;

Delos and Paros too, were left behind;

and on the right Lebinthus and Calymne,

fruitful in honey. Proud of his success,

the foolish Icarus forsook his guide,

350 and, bold in vanity, began to soar,

rising upon his wings to touch the skies;

but as he neared the scorching sun, its heat

softened the fragrant wax that held his plumes;

and heat increasing melted the soft wax--

355 he waved his naked arms instead of wings,

with no more feathers to sustain his flight.

And as he called upon his father's name

his voice was smothered in the dark blue sea,

now called Icarian from the dead boy's name.

360 The unlucky father, not a father, called,

"Where are you, Icarus?" and "Where are you?

In what place shall I seek you, Icarus?"

He called again; and then he saw the wings

of his dear Icarus, floating on the waves;

365 and he began to rail and curse his art.

He found the body on an island shore,

now called Icaria, and at once prepared

to bury the unfortunate remains;

but while he labored a pert partridge near,

370 observed him from the covert of an oak,

and whistled his unnatural delight.

Know you the cause? 'Twas then a single bird,

the first one of its kind. 'Twas never seen

before the sister of Daedalus had brought

375 him Perdix, her dear son, to be his pupil.

And as the years went by the gifted youth

began to rival his instructor's art.

He took the jagged backbone of a fish,

and with it as a model made a saw,

380 with sharp teeth fashioned from a strip of iron.

And he was first to make two arms of iron,

smooth hinged upon the center, so that one

would make a pivot while the other, turned,

described a circle. Wherefore Daedalus

385 enraged and envious, sought to slay the youth

and cast him headlong from Minerva's fane,--

then spread the rumor of an accident.

But Pallas, goddess of ingenious men,

saving the pupil changed him to a bird,

390 and in the middle of the air he flew

on feathered wings; and so his active mind--

and vigor of his genius were absorbed

into his wings and feet; although the name

of Perdix was retained.

395 The Partridge hides

in shaded places by the leafy trees

its nested eggs among the bush's twigs;

nor does it seek to rise in lofty flight,

for it is mindful of its former fall.

Prose Version, Translated by Mary Innes, 1955

Meanwhile Daedalus, tired of Crete and of his long absence from home, was filled with longing for his own country, but he was shut in by the sea. Then he said: “The king may block my way by land or across the ocean, but the sky, surely, is open, and that is how we shall go. Minos may possess all the rest, but he does not possess the air.” With these words, he set his mind to sciences never explored before, and altered the laws of nature. He laid down a row of feathers, beginning with tiny ones, and gradually increasing their length, so that the edge seemed to slope upwards. In the same way, the pipe which shepherds used to play is built up from reeds, each slightly longer than the last. Then he fastened the feathers together in the middle with thread, and at the bottom with wax; when he had arranged them in this way, he bent them round into a gentle curve, to look like real birds’ wings. His son Icarus stood beside him and, not knowing that the materials he was handling were to endanger his life, laughingly captured the feathers which blew away in the wind, or softened the yellow wax with his thumb, and by his pranks hindered the marvellous work on which his father was engaged.

When Daedalus had put the finishing touches to his invention, he raised himself into the air, balancing his body on his two wings, and there he hovered, moving his feathers up and down. Then he prepared his son to fly too. “I warn you, Icarus,” he said, “you must follow a course midway between earth and heaven, in case the sun should scorch your feathers, if you go too high, or the water make them heavy if you are too low. And pay no attention to the stars, to Bootes, or Helice or Orion with his drawn sword: take me as your guide, and follow me!”

While he was giving Icarus these instructions on how to fly, Daedalus was at the same time fastening the novel wings on his son’s shoulders. As he worked and talked the old man’s cheeks were wet with tears, and his fatherly affection made his hands tremble. He kissed his son, whom he was never to kiss again: then, raising himself on his wings, flew in front, showing anxious concern for his companion, just like a bird who has brought her tender fledgelings out of their nest in the treetops, and launched them into the air. He urged Icarus to follow close, and instructed him in the art that was to be his ruin, moving his own wings and keeping a watchful eye on those of his son behind him. Some fisher, perhaps, plying his quivering rod, some shepherd leaning on his staff, or a peasant bent over his plough handle caught sight of them as they flew past and stood stock still in astonishment, believing that these creatures who could fly through the air must be gods.

Now Juno’s sacred isle of Samos lay on the left, Delos and Paros were already behind them, and Lebinthos was on their right hand, along with Calymne, rich in honey, when the boy Icarus began to enjoy the thrill of swooping boldly through the air. Drawn on by his eagerness for the open sky, he left his guide and soared upwards, till he came too close to the blazing sun, and it softened the sweet-smelling wax that bound his wings together. The wax melted. Icarus moved his bare arms up and down, but without their feathers they had no purchase on the air. Even as his lips were crying his father’s name, they were swallowed up in the deep blue waters which are called after him. The unhappy father, a father no longer, cried out: “Icarus!” “Icarus,” he called. “Where are you? Where am I to look for you?” As he was still calling “Icarus” he saw the feathers on the water, and cursed his inventive skill. He laid his son to rest in a tomb, and the land took its name from that of the boy who was buried there.

--



Comments:

November 20, 2012 at 3:59 PM

By: Rod Estvan

If we teach Beowulf why not Metamorphoses

Susan Ohanian is no doubt trying to be provocative in relation to asking: "What would appropriate accommodations for reading Ovid be for students with exceptional needs?" Actually Susan while you may believe that to be an absurd proposition, it might not be for some students with disabilities who are taking English Lit at the high school level and actually required to do so by state law.

I have seen accommodations done for students with disabilities for parts of Beowulf, so some short passages from Ovid's Metamorphoses could be attempted for some students with IEPs that do not have cognitive impairments. By the way the majority of students with disabilities in our nation do not have cognitive impairments and are understood to statistically be in the range of normal intelligence. The most common disability label in the US is of course a learning disability which legally can't be assigned to a student who also is cognitively impaired.

The root of Metamorphoses is to be found in the first book subsection "The Creation of the World." Depending on the level of the student's disability the text presented would be either shorter or longer to start with. For some students with disabilities an appropriate accommodation could be simply teaching the idea of the creation of the world. What does that mean - to create a world?

For other students with disabilities an entire class could be spent on just this short passage:

Thus when the God, whatever God was he,

Had form'd the whole, and made the parts agree,

That no unequal portions might be found,

He moulded Earth into a spacious round

Many students with disabilities in Chicago are religious and are familiar with the concept of God, but since CPS has diverse students that God may be different for different religions. Most students with non-severe disabilities by the time they are in high school also have been taught and accept the earth as being round. This short passage is teachable for many students with disabilities. But developing a fully differential lesson for such a complex Epic poem for students at different levels is a lot of work and time consuming.

More than likely if Ovid became part of the standard English curriculum teachers will begin to see a lot of off the shelf products that are adaptive similar to the Graphic novel (comic book version) of Beowulf that I have seen used as an accommodation for some disabled students.

For students with significant disabilities, low incidence students, probably neither the Metamorphoses nor Beowulf are teachable in any meaningful manner. In this situation the entire issue could absurdly be reduced to teaching a child to identify a picture related to either of the texts in order to legally claim the disabled student was provided access to curriculum in a modified manner. I have seen this charade in self contained classrooms carried out by teachers.

I don't think teaching either Metamorphoses or Beowulf to many students with disabilities is as absurd as Susan Ohanian makes it out to be. Which is also not to say that Susan is not correct when she critiques the Common Core's obsession with grade-level complex literary text.

Rod Estvan

November 20, 2012 at 11:05 PM

By: Susan Ohanian

Common Core

I think teaching Ovid to ANY students--except some unique individuals who might be in some special, individualized study program--is absurd. I don't want "adaptive" aids for getting students through tough subject matter. I want subject matter appropriate for students, all students. I want teachers and students left free to negotiate that subject matter.

November 21, 2012 at 4:34 AM

By: George N. Schmidt

Lucifer in my Miltonian dreams... and Common Core absurdities

Back in the day before CPS (Paul Vallas; Mayor Richard M. Daley) fired and blacklisted me from teaching (city and suburbs, as I learned after scouting all the way out to Lincolnshire with my University of Chicago degree and poetry studies under Robert Pinsky at U of C), I experimented seriously with teaching various levels of literature (prose and poetry) with high school students. At various times, I was able to teach books as simple as "The Outsiders" and as complex as "Othello" and "Anna Karenina" (both unabridged) to students in Chicago general highs schools (Amundsen; Bowen) despite all the ranking and sorting that even by the late 1990s had left us with fewer and fewer "advanced" students year after year.

Most of the classics can be taught at the high school level, as can many very sophisticated works of literature from the current era. (I taught "The Honourable Schoolboy" and "The 13th Valley" too). But as Rod Estvan states, they require a great deal of preparation by the teacher and some serious "buy in" from the students. In some cases ("The 13th Valley" because of language; probably "Huckleberry Finn" today for the same reason, but more complexly) parental permission is also advised.

You probably would also do well to get permission for "Romeo and Juliet," "MacBeth," and "Othello" (all of which I taught more than once) if you were prudent in this age of hyper-sensitivity. The problems with pre-marital teenage sex (Romeo and Juliet), regicide (MacBeth), and miscegenation (Othello) may well require extra effort to establish permissions in our sensitive age. But I'm enjoying those conversations with others in their ridiculousness.

Some works just never made it into my personal experiments (before, as I said, Vallas and Daley nailed me and purged me from teaching forever with the blessings of Chicago's civil liberties crowd -- both the ACLU and the NLG).

One of those was "Paradise Lost," which I enjoyed reading aloud once upon a time. Why? The obvious "main character" in Milton's epic is Lucifer. The devil. Anyone who tries to argue that Lucifer is not presented to Milton's readers as a magnificent rebel is barely literate. Other religious works also perch perilously on the edge of danger for the teacher, including, I would say, all of the various "Faust" stories from "Dr. Faustus" to that Robert De Niro movie from a few years ago (and not missing the other American version, The Devil and Daniel Webster).

One of the delightful things about the "Common Core" is that in its mindlessness it is freeing the lazy teacher from thinking about the complexity of great works of literature. Freed from imaginative fiction (for the most part) and gelded into teaching a silly version of the complex life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as prosaic (on the other hand), the teacher who chooses 35 years of safe but boring conformity for herself and her children can follow that grey brick road to the Common Core's placid Oz without ever having to think or promote one original thought of one complex question about, say, GOOD AND EVIL (Milton, MacBeth), RACISM IN ITS REAL FORMS (Othello; Romeo and Juliet) or the WHITE GUY PROBLEM IN THE AGE OF IMPERIALISM (The Honourable Schoolboy; The 13th Valley; the James Bond epics).

What fun.

Cliffs Notes for everyone, and profits to the corporations who turn every major human them into an intellectual Twinkie.

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