The latest shiny object in the educational establishment that has enraptured the heart and soul of school administrators nationwide is known as Common Core. What started as an idea with the noblest of intentions has morphed and grown into a national threat. What Whole Language Instruction did for reading scores in this country, Common Core seeks to spread across the curriculum with what I believe are equally disastrous results.
I have been looking at this issue for sometime now. It may be hard for many parents to grasp what is going on in the curriculum across the board, but there are broad changes that are taking place that are far different than what we had as students.
With Common Core, there is a lack of emphasis on memorization. Whereas we were required to memorize certain dates in history, such as the beginning of certain wars, key battles, presidential assignations, and the signing of key documents, Common Core seeks to do away with this. Rather than rely on memory, Common Core seeks to have students critically analyze material, digest it, and come to an understanding of the material rather than a mere recitation of cold hard facts. While on the surface, this may have merit, beneath the surface, there are hidden dangers. Two such dangers come to mind. First, it is hard to critically analyze material when you are do not know the facts. In other words, a student must be familiar with the facts before a valid interpretation derived through careful critical analysis is possible. The result is that you begin with your conclusion rather than following solid research methodology. This greatly influences the content of the curriculum. The modern history course has more information on George Washington Carver than George Washington. The downplaying of American wars and military victories are replaced with trivia of noted civil rights leaders, thus not providing any geopolitical context with which to “critically analyze” the material. The standard of excellence for curriculum now is based upon its political correctness rather than its adherence to the facts of the events.
Lack of memorization is also played out in the math curriculum. Math is no longer consider inductive, building one concept upon another. Students instead are taught to understand the relationship that numbers have with each other rather than memorizing multiplication tables. Instead of the old reliance of memory to understand what 6 x 6 is; attention is paid to the chart that a student is taught to reproduce on paper in order to figure out the answer. Then the answer is usually placed in the form of some social situation wherein the student must pick the “best” answer. Should students not understand the relationship that numbers have with each other? Of course, but not at the expense of learning the fundamentals! Rather than an emphasis on the right answer, the process becomes more important. Try that the next time the teenager at the checkout line cannot make correct change for you. At least she understood the process!
Lack of memorization is also displayed when it comes to reading and literature. At the risk of sounding older than I am, but when I was a child, we had to memorize poems each week. We had to memorize the Preamble to the Constitution. Later we memorized Shakespeare and Chaucer. At the time, I really did not know why we had to memorize such things. “When will I ever use this?” was my refrain. But memorization begins the process of training the mind. Neurons form new connections enabling the the brain bucket to hold more. In other words, the more you memorize, the greater your capacity to critically analyze what you have in memory. This training of the brain also makes it possible to memorize more complex things as you get older.
I recently attended an event at my child’s school wherein the children read poetry. These poems were not the classics. They were collections from contemporary authors whose ability to stimulate any cognitive interaction was suspect at best. The kids did not recite the poems, but read them. Because phonics was replaced with Whole Language Instruction, many of these children also lacked the ability to read even the simplest of poems. Thank you Common Core!
A second problem with Common Core has to do with the development of the mind, or what educators like to call psychological education. When a baby begins to crawl, he does not need to understand the relationship between positive and negative protons in order to learn not to touch the electrical outlet. The toddler needs to understand not so much cause and effect, but rather action and consequence. Common core seeks to provide a level of critical understanding and analysis at all levels of instruction. While this goal is somewhat nobel, it is often misguided. For decades educational psychologist have sought to uncover methods and abilities of children based upon certain stages of life. While some of their conclusions are riddled with error; others are just common sense. Common Core, in their desire to provide critical understanding and analysis, bypasses common sense. When this is done, you no longer have analysis, but indoctrination. This indoctrination also has a PC attachment. Man-made Global Warming is PC fact, despite evidence to the contrary. Democrats are the party of the poor and down trodden. Islam is a religion of peace. All marriages are equally valid, except for the 2 opposite gendered parent traditional marriage. Rather than knowing that 6×6=36, it is more important for the student to understand the process and form a conclusion based upon the “best” answer.
Children learn differently at different stages in life. When a child is a toddler, action and consequence is normal. Later, cause and effect take the place of action and consequence as the moral dimension of a child’s understanding begins to develop. It is only later in life that children move from thinking concretely to beginning to think abstractly. Common core refuses to acknowledge concrete learning in favor of abstract critical analysis. Such analysis is often done in the vacuum of fact.
Educational standards are always in flux. I fear that the flux we are in today is a dangerous slide into a cognitive nirvana of perfect nothingness. Sadly, we are to blame. We have not held our elected leaders accountable. We have allowed our colleges to become bastions of PC multiculturalism. We have allowed our churches to become sidetracked by health and wealth, social justice messages. Instead of pursuing excellence, we have tolerated the mediocre such that the mediocre has become the new normal. We are seeing these results played out as incoming freshmen do not know today what freshmen knew 20 years ago.
About 3 years ago I was speaking with a teacher about this very thing. She demanded to know what the basis was for my conclusion. I explained to her that as a college teacher I often gave extra credit questions to test the general knowledge of a student. If they knew the answer, they earned bonus points. If they did not know the answer, it cost them nothing. She smiled and wanted to know what types of questions that I asked. I replied that it was mostly trivia from art, history, literature, science and such. She then wanted to know specifically what were some of my questions. I gave her some examples: Where is Omaha Beach? She replied that it was in Nebraska. Where is Normandy? That was even easier because she grew up not far from there in Oklahoma. Seeking to redeem the conversation I asked her if she had ever heard of the English Channel. Sure, but she never watched it because her cable provider did not carry it. This conversation actually happened. My wife pulled me away when she noticed the vein in my forehead expanding.
So what is our task at hand? First, educate yourself about Common Core. Second, get involved in your child’s education. Work with your teacher. If your teacher is young and fresh out of college, help him/her become informed. It is time we hold our school administrators accountable. Attend School Board meetings and voice your concerns. Join with other parents and work for the betterment of our schools. Do not accept the status quo from our elected servants.