A remarkable spectacle has unfolded over the last few years. The Obama Administration has offered multi-million dollar grants to states to tempt them into adopting a new approach to education called Common Core Curriculum.
At this point, more than 40 states have accepted the deal. Prediction: they will regret it.
In these tight economic times, every state needs every dollar it can get. The Obama Administration exploited this desperation in order to sell goods that in normal times, I believe, the states would reject.
But money is not the only pressure. I've seen some startling agitprop in Norfolk, Virginia, where the local paper runs editorials attacking our governor for refusing the money. Be sensible, the paper lectures. Do it for the kids, the paper sermonizes. All the other states are grabbing the loot; what's wrong with you, you brain-dead Republican?
Just last week the supporters of this sweeping initiative staged a dog and pony show to convince the community that the governor has lost his mind, and that sensible education is contained in a far-reaching imperium known as the Common Core Curriculum. Go to CORESTANDARDS.ORG and examine this thing for yourself, including Appendix A and B. You will find dense verbiage that feels contrary to the spirit of sincere communication and educational excellence.
Once the states accept the deal, they will increasingly have to adhere to the small print in this prolix document. Compare Obamacare; compare the tax code. The devil lives regally in the myriad of details. Only the authors of the new Standards can claim they understand these details. Publishers, schools and public must wait passively for judicial interpretation. Now let me point to the one most absurd aspect. The authors of this thing write proudly that they are "cutting out less important course material," which turns out to mean Social Studies, History, Science, and just about everything else that constitutes a genuine education once past elementary grades.
So what are the public schools going to do all day instead? They are going to focus on reading and math.
Here's one of the big stories of the last 50 years: Reading and Arithmetic are two subjects that our public schools are notoriously incapable of teaching. But now they're going to ignore everything else in order to focus on what they cannot do. The only appropriate reaction is: OMG.
If you read all the propaganda, Common Core Curriculum is a perfect blueprint for moving school children toward a mastery of higher math and greater textual understanding. Like every Brave New World, this blueprint sounds great on paper. But will it work? The reality is that we have kids today in middle school (and high school) who can't do elementary arithmetic; we have 50,000,000 functional illiterates. An Education Establishment that would allow such failure cannot be trusted to fix its own house. That as much as anything else justifies the cynicism anyone may feel about Common Core Curriculum. I've been watching this Common Core bandwagon for the last few years, and had a bleak feeling from the start. All you have to do is read the Standards for the early grades in math: "First graders develop strategies for adding and subtracting whole numbers based on their prior work with small numbers. They use a variety of models, including discrete objects and length-based models (e.g., cubes connected to form lengths), to model add-to, take-from, put-together, take-apart, and compare situations to develop meaning for the operations of addition and subtraction, and to develop strategies to solve arithmetic problems with these operations. Students understand connections between counting and addition and subtraction (e.g., adding two is the same as counting on two). They use properties of addition to add whole numbers and to create and use increasingly sophisticated strategies based on these properties (e.g., 'making tens') to solve addition and subtraction problems within 20. By comparing a variety of solution strategies, children build their understanding of the relationship between addition and subtraction..."
"Increasingly sophisticated strategies" to add 6 and 8? Would there be even one adult in 25 who has any idea what these people are talking about? Who will be able to judge that a classroom is actually doing all this? Only the ed bureaucrats, who will thereby become ever more powerful and intrusive.
But even this jargon is not as scary as the very thought that, after a century of eliminating content, our Education Establishment has come up with a Master Plan for cutting the last remaining content. And doing so openly and proudly.
Social Studies is a concession to collectivists, anyway. It should be scrapped in favor of real History, Economics, Civics, Geography, etc. But our self-proclaimed experts are rampaging in the opposite direction. They want to get rid of everything that gives depth to a child's education. Common Core Curriculum actually seems to envision that a child will spend all day exploring math problems and reading problems, specifically non-fiction. The authors of Common Core tend to scorn anything so frivolous as a poem or a novel.
However, it is precisely poems, novels, history, geography, science, and every other bit of knowledge and human experience that gives context to all other subjects. Many kids have minimal attention spans to begin with. Can anyone imagine them solving math and reading problems all day? And here is the larger truth: you can't learn any subject without learning many other subjects. In studying science, you learn math, history, and reading. That's how it's supposed to work. And does every day it every good school.
I've noticed a strange new phenomenon, which Common Core Curriculum illustrates. Everybody and his uncle is concocting these elaborate schematics or flow charts for how children supposedly learn. Actual facts and knowledge are rarely mentioned. These proposals are general and technical, much as a sanitation engineer might diagram pipes for storm drains. Input here, output there. The hip bone connects to the leg bone, the leg bone connects to the foot bone, and so eighth-graders master algebra. See?
But the more prudent way to devise a new curriculum is to take nominations from around the country for the best 100 private schools, and then summarize what they do there and copy it. You would then be empirical, using what is known to work. Whereas in the case of Common Core Curriculum you will be entirely theoretical, using what is unproven. (The Far Left has always had a morbid fascination with Time Zero, that is, starting over without any relics from the past. This dangerous thinking seems to be built into Common Core Curriculum.)
In any event, the Curriculum is based on a flimsy scaffolding, for example: "The standards emphasize depth over breadth... it's a learning method favored by many foreign countries that tend to outpace American schools." Folks, isn't it obvious to everyone that we don't now have breadth OR depth. This smug little generalization is silly.
Well, my picking on Common Core Curriculum is like picking on some mutant animal--seemingly not productive at some point. Meanwhile, the strange creature is breeding like crazy and taking over the country. I promise you, just think about the phrase "cutting out less important course material," and you will wake up in the middle of the night knowing you must be having a bad dream. If only that were the case.
One expert summed up the pitch this way: "The standards need to be fewer, clearer, higher." Unfortunately, our Education Establishment has shown little talent for CLEARER and none whatsoever for HIGHER. They do have a genius for FEWER. To summarize: Common Core Curriculum appears to be code for National Curriculum, exactly the thing which the USA does not want. We will do better if states and cities experiment and compete. (Then suppose we had a press that would report objectively on the successes and failures of various school systems, as opposed to pushing what the Education Establishment wants.)
The only thing that saved the country from the plague of Whole Word is that circa 1995 California's reading scores fell to the same level as Mississippi. Californians were so stunned by this embarrassment that they promptly revolted against the idiocy in the schools. But if Common Core Curriculum establishes the monopoly it clearly wants, every state will be using the same ideas. How then do we find better ways? When every tiny little curricular detail is chiseled in stone, how will we be able to fly? Finally, why does the Education Establishment want every state to fall into line at the same time? Why not wait a few years so we can find out if the Core Curriculum states perform as promised? It would be far better, for research purposes, to have some states using other approaches.
Related articles on the writer's site Improve-Education.org:
49: HOW DO WE LEARN? HOW SHOULD WE TEACH?
54: PREEMPTIVE READING -- TEACH YOUR CHILD EARLY
56: TOP 10 WORST IDEAS IN EDUCATION
TITLES OF YOUTUBE VIDEOS ARE:
THE BIGGEST CRIME IN AMERICAN HISTORY
EDUCATION AS NEUROTOXIN
IMPORTANCE OF FOUNDATIONAL KNOWLEDGE
FLOW CHART ASSIGNMENT:
Draw up a chart to illustrate the gushers of money and politics flowing through what should be the unrelated field called Education. For example, Race to the Top grants to the states were a twofer for Obama: further federal control of state activities; and massive support for his loyalists in the Education Establishment.