An ad supporting the Common Core State Standards posted by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation featured a Missouri Teacher of the Year, Jamie Manker, saying, “I support the Common Core because it’s asking kids to think.”
Manker is asking kids to think, but what does asking mean?
According to the Free Dictionary online, the first example given after defining the verb ask is a little ironic:
1. To put a question to: When we realized that we didn’t know the answer, we asked the teacher.
Those who wrote the Common Core State Standards should cringe at this interpretation, an example of students who turn to the teacher for an answer rather than continue the inquiry on their own. Perhaps this Q and A relationship is not so surprising given the focus on multiple choice questions in testing to measure student progress on the standards.
The next few examples did not improve the meaning of the work “ask” because the connection between “ask” and “answer” conveyed permission:
2. To seek an answer to: ask a question.
3. To seek information about: asked directions. 4.a. To make a request of: asked me for a loan. b. To make a request for. Often used with an infinitive or clause: ask a favor of a friend; asked to go along on the trip; asked that he be allowed to stay out late.
Examples #5 and #6 were the only statements of “ask” with that other Common Core idea of rigor. Replacing “ask” with the synonyms require, expect, or demand is much more aligned to the support of the Common Core as rigorous.
5. To require or call for as a price or condition: asked ten dollars for the book.
6. To expect or demand: ask too much of a child.
I would argue that a change from the verb “ask” to the verb “train” in the promotional statement on the poster better reflects the goal of every teacher at every grade level. Training students to think is critical, whether a teacher supports Common Core or not. Changing the verb from “ask” students to “train” students how to think implies skill building as seen in these examples:
1. To coach in or accustom to a mode of behavior or performance.
2. To make proficient with specialized instruction and practice.
3. To prepare physically, as with a regimen: train athletes for track-and-field competition.
4. To cause (a plant or one’s hair) to take a desired course or shape, as by manipulating.
5. To focus on or aim at
This simple change of verbs shifts the emphasis from students seeking permission to think to students being coached to think. I am confident that is what Ms. Manker meant. The change would also disassociate student “asking” permission to think as the real message from the Gates Foundation…or maybe not.