All across the nation, parents are reacting to a new educational program called Common Core. Under this program, national standards and testing are being set up for students which will eventually give rise to a core curriculum that will fundamentally change the way American children are educated.
Many states and dioceses have adopted the Common Core standards that have been proposed by the government without significant public commentary. It behooves everyone to take a look at what Common Cores is and why it should not be accepted.
There are many reasons that could be cited.
However, this article will present considerations based on the ideas of my book, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here and Where We Need to Go. The three reasons given here focus on how this unpopular program goes against the core concepts of what true education should be.
The reasons are:
a. Common Core takes from parents their primary God-given right regarding the education of their children.
God communicates the principle of fecundity directly to the family. It would make no sense for God to give this fecundity without providing the means to perfect its fruit, the children. Thus, God gives parents the means by which the child develops toward its end, which is found in the principle of education together with the principle of discipline based on parental authority.
“Nature intends not merely the generation of the offspring,” says St. Thomas Aquinas, “but also its development and advance to the perfection of man considered as man, that is, to the state of virtue.”1
Pius XI explains the role of the family quite strongly in his encyclical on education: “The family therefore holds directly from the Creator the mission and hence the right to educate the offspring, a right inalienable because inseparably joined to the strict obligation, a right anterior to any right whatever of civil society and of the State, and therefore inviolable on the part of any power on earth.”2
That is to say, the parents have the obligation to see to the proper upbringing of their children, which includes their religious, moral, intellectual and physical education.
By imposing universal and standardized testing upon students, Common Core ultimately determines the content of what is to be tested. Some of this content reflects politically correct positions and sexual attitudes. Since the program imposes national standards in education, parents have no say in contrast to the voice they now have with local school boards.
Many parents have already found objectionable content in Common Core materials that they feel endangers their children’s morals, innocence and intellectual development. However, there are no mechanisms in place by which parents might voice objections to and ultimately change this content (especially in those most important matters dealing with sexual morality). Moreover, even homeschoolers will be indirectly affected by the initiative since it will influence college admissions expectation and standardized tests, all of which are being revised to meet Common Core standards.
The role of the State in education should be to assist not suppress the family’s responsibility to form their children and preserve their innocence. Common Core would, in effect, silence the voices who must speak out. It would place children at risk and expose them to the dangers of standards, which contain the deadly poison of impiety and impurity.
b. Common Core Frustrates the Purpose of Education: The Primary Goal of Education is not Making Students “Career and College Ready”
Common Core shows a fundamental denial of the purpose of education. One of its primary goals is to make children “career and college ready.” It proposes to do this by filling children with testable information. The program mistakes storing information for education.
It happens that the primary goal of education is not making children “career and college ready.”
While education does involve the learning of information, that is not its principal function. The primary goal of education is the building of character which prepares one for what one will become in life. Education involves the training of the mind, the formation of lasting habits and the cultivation of the imagination. All of this results in the development of those unique and unfathomable riches found inside each soul. Education should convey meaning to the human experience and since the object of education is the search for truth, a search should eventually direct the individual to his final end in God and salvation.
“In fact,” continues Pius XI, “since education consists essentially in preparing man for what he must be and for what he must do here below, in order to attain the sublime end for which he was created, it is clear that there can be no true education which is not wholly directed to man’s last end.”3
Common core frustrates the purpose of education by reducing education to purely materialistic and economic terms. In fact, the very subjects that should fortify the formation of character are diminished. Literary or historical texts are replaced by “informational” texts. The teaching of the classics is reduced to the minimum while mathematics is highlighted. Everything must be quantifiable and generic standards aimed at the purely economic goal of job placement.
It must be admitted that economic goals in education are very important goals but they are not the most important ones. There is another side of man that is spiritual and superior.
As noted in the book, Return to Order: “This superior side of man’s nature is what makes every person unique and establishes their dignity. This gives rise to political, social, cultural, and religious activities and sciences that tower above mere material economic sustenance and deal more directly with our spiritual needs and ultimately our eternal salvation.”4
The cultivation of this spiritual side of man is the essence of education and the building of character. Thus, the proper appreciation of literature, history, culture and art provides a spiritual platform that enriches the individual and points him in the direction of God and salvation.
Because of its secular origins and materialistic focus, Common Core does not recognize this spiritual platform and certainly does not point students even in the general direction of their final end in God and salvation.
c. Common Core Does Not Correspond to Human Nature: It is Education Without a Soul
There is an obsession in modern society to solve problems with huge process and standardized programs. Such “solutions” resemble huge organizational machines that reduce everything to mass production. In the case of modern education, it is as if students are components of this machine and not actual human beings. That is to say, life’s processes are very different from mechanical processes. To put in place a massive educational machine fails to recognize the organic nature of man. It takes the soul out of education.
Young people cannot be treated as cogs in a machine since they are living and unique beings. When the element of life that enters into the equation, everything becomes more complex and unpredictable. Any system of education must consider that life brings with it pondered choices, unending creativity, and varied rhythms. The lives of students are full of spontaneity, unpredictability, and individuality that bring to education a rich and immense variety of possible human actions. The drama of the classroom, that makes teaching so attractive, is the fact that it is full of vitality and moods, meaning and nuance, poetry and passion.
As Return to Order claims: “From the exuberant element of life, there springs forth unique systems of art, styles of life, socio-political institutions, and economic models that differ from the rigid and soulless central planning and one-size-fits-all solutions so prized by socialists and bureaucrats.”5
In this way, the teacher cooperates with the educational work of the loving parent, who, “following certain moral principles, strongly guide, nurture, protect, and cultivate their children’s growth differently according to their aptitudes and the circumstances.” Teachers, like parents, “must not determine, force, or program the free will of their students since this is contrary to their nature.”6
Common Core by its standardized teaching and testing seeks to create a massive machine of education. The student is processed through this machine, which churns out college and career-ready units. The teacher becomes a technician and not a person with a noble profession and vocation. Success becomes measured by statistics and not by how it instills character in students. Catholics should especially be alerted since such methods do not direct students toward their final end in God and salvation.
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What is wrong with Common Core is not only its untested standards or its standardized testing. Its errors are so fundamental that it cannot be tweaked, modified or adapted. As has been shown, its whole concept of education is flawed. The concerns of the parents are disregarded. Its primary focus frustrates the purpose of education. The program’s methods run contrary to human nature. What is wrong with Common Core is its core. It is rotten and must be discarded.
1 Suppl. S. Th. 3; p. Q. 41, a. 1
2 Pope Pius XI, Encyclical on Christian Education, December 31, 1929
4 John Horvat II, Return to Order: From a Frenzied Economy to an Organic Christian Society—Where We’ve Been, How We Got Here and Where We Need to Go, York Press, Hanover, Pa., 2013, 128.