Much Ado About the Common Core

Common Core and the War on LiteratureA review of The Story Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core by Terrence O. Moore (2013) and What Is Common Core? by Darcy Patterson (Mims House, Little Rock, 2013).

The latest big government education scheme is called the Common Core. And like all intrusive programs, it is embroiled in controversy.

If there is one thing that characterizes those who oppose Common Core, it is their passion. However, theirs is not an emotional or knee-jerk reaction but a reasoned opposition driven by a desire for excellence in education. Those involved are not crazy fringe conspiracy theorists but parents, grandparents, teachers and educators who know what a good education is and have the courage to defy the liberal educational establishment and ask to be heard.

Curiously, if there is one thing that characterizes the advocates of Common Core, it is their lack of passion. One sees a cold, bureaucratic approach which seeks to impose a one-size-fits-all program to mass-produce students who will be uniformly “career and college ready” to be better integrated into the “twenty-first century global economy.”

The clash between these two parties is now shaping the future of American education.

There are numerous books being published on the Common Core. Two of these, almost picked randomly, are: The Story Killers: A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core by Terrence O. Moore and What Is Common Core? by Darcy Patterson. The authors present reasoned arguments and refreshing common sense. They speak from experience since they have long been involved in education and can present feasible alternatives with a proven track record.

Hillsdale College professor Terrance Moore’s book is especially intriguing. He does not take a shotgun approach to the Common Core. He has read all the literature and done his homework. He quotes Common Core-friendly textbooks and teachers’ manuals. Moore cites specific case after case to show how the Common Core will harm education. He writes with passion and urgency.

“The Common Core,” Moore claims, “is a program that directs people to be preoccupied with only the functional aspects of human existence and to have almost no interest in the higher aims of life.”

And yet, he continues, Common Core does not even succeed in teaching “the functional part” of education. Rather, Dr. Moore affirms that the program provides a “substandard, limited and superficial education” that will not help students become truly “college and career ready.” He observes that the Common Core has no coherent philosophy of education. It presents fragments of works with modern commentary and little relevant context. The program imposes standards that are not really standards but garbled guidelines full of jargon to hide a more politically-correct agenda devoid of morals, heroism or traditional values.

1145735_reading_books_at_homeHowever, Dr. Moore’s main lament is the systematic killing off of the literature that builds character and teaches lessons. Like Plato, he believes that those who tell the stories and narratives of society control the culture. He believes the Common Core “ignores, chops up, misunderstands, trivializes, distorts and spoils our greatest stories.”

Indeed, as the title of his book indicates, he calls the advocates of the Common Core the “story killers” since they take away those parts of education which give meaning and context to life. Narratives like the Bible, the story of the nation’s founding, the pioneers and others are an important part of defining America. Ironically, the Common Core takes out the core of what education should be. Moore not only criticizes the program but presents his alternatives that return the classics to their proper place in education.

Darcy Patterson’s What Is Common Core? is a general discussion of the program. The book traces its history and development, highlighting its inorganic imposition upon the nation.

Patterson’s view is that the Common Core represents a back door implementation of a national curriculum with no feedback or discussion among parents. Despite claims to the contrary, the fact that all will be subject to constant testing will create a de facto curriculum that she shows to be unbalanced and untested.

She is particularly concerned by the fact that it must be accepted as a whole, and she notes the lack of mechanisms whereby parents might change or modify this one-size-fits-all cookie-cutter program. Moreover, the Common Core calls for a database that stores test results from kindergarten to post-secondary school that raises issues of students’ privacy.

Like Moore, Patterson also laments the exclusion of so many classics, and the unexplained inclusion of texts of obscure cultures of questionable value. With the use of “constructionalist” math, the mastery of basic arithmetic is no longer required. Instead, she cites examples of how simple arithmetic problems are turned into confusing riddles.

“I see students as humans who need to be equipped for life,” Patterson states, “not as future workers in a global economy.”

“Being equipped for life” is what education is all about. It’s not only about careers and theSubscription5.1 learning of knowledge. These things are important. However, education should above all embrace the “higher aims of life.” It should capture the imagination of children and engage them in a passionate search for the good, true and beautiful. This requires not a common core but rather an uncommon and extraordinary core of literature and skills that catapults the child toward all that is marvelous, sublime and eternal. America’s children deserve no less.


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Common Core and the War on Literature