A recent article by Dana Goldstein in the New York Times about the Common Core displays a common tendency among liberals. They never acknowledge that their pet programs can fail. When a “progressive” proposal fails, the left never goes back to construct an entirely new scheme. They return to their overriding goals, tweak the old plan a bit, and hang a new name on it.
Dana Goldstein is unashamedly leftist, but she does have some grasp of reality. Her 2014 bestseller, The Teacher Wars: A History of America’s Most Embattled Profession, adroitly mixes her admiration for the philosophy of John Dewey with respect for the plight of many America’s teachers.
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The subtitle to the Times article illustrates the leftist tendency to cling to bad ideas. “It was one of the most ambitious education efforts in United States History. Did it fail? Or does it just need more time to succeed?”
Whence Came Common Core?
Common Core is an offspring of John Dewey’s socialist system of education which he branded as “democratic.” At first, his system kept a local agency in charge. However, later elaborations shifted power to the states and the national government when the inherent defects of egalitarian socialism came out. American parents and taxpayers listened to slogans like “a world-class education” and promises of being “in the vanguard of education reform.” Those parents wanted the best for their children, and the “experts” promised it.
Between about 1950 and today, those experts controlled the show. They have convinced parents that Dewey’s new methods will produce better results than the classical education of the past. When the radicals of the sixties entered the scene, they introduced programs of social change to further a socialist agenda. Actual learning became secondary.
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At the same time, parents and the general public noticed that young people often knew less than their elders. Parents discovered that their children could not write a sentence correctly. Young store clerks could not make change. Work habits deteriorated. Parents and taxpayers began to question the quality of increasingly expensive schools.
The bureaucrats sprang into action, attempting to justify their salaries by creating ever more cumbersome “programs.” Each failure spawned a more “comprehensive” response. Common Core was one of the later results of this process.
Fortunately, parents rejected Common Core, and it is now in its death throes. The program generated a wave of criticism rarely seen in education. The experts are taking a step back.
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Abandoning Common Core – and Simultaneously Embracing It
One thing is sure; the phrase “Common Core” is gone. However, the ideology that created Common Core will continue. Winning this battle does not mean overall victory. No one yet knows what they will call the next plan, but it will come.
Goldstein points out that the state of Kentucky was the first to adopt the Common Core. In 2017, it left the fold. However, the repeal did not mean repudiation. Kentucky drew up a similar program, calling it the Kentucky Academic Standards. Then, the bureaucrats and legislators can assure voters that the hated Common Core is gone, all the while knowing that its spirit marches on.
The Times article mentioned one reason why Common Core was unpopular. Parents could not understand it. They could not figure out, for example, the calculation methods of “unbundling” and “number bonds.” The author mentioned that “Both methods are commonly used in high-achieving nations. But to many American parents sitting at kitchen tables and squinting at their children’s homework, they were prime examples of bureaucrats reinventing the wheel and causing undue stress in the process.”
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Goldstein’s thinking is typical of leftist analysis. First, she indicated support for the overall ideas by appealing to a source of authority (those in high-achieving nations) that cannot be verified. Then she looks down on parents who can’t figure the math out. Last, she presents the right-wing backlash as products of the frustrations of the unenlightened.
The good news is that the program shook the education establishment. The experts and their bureaucrats have never been more threatened. The defeat of the Common Core is significant. Parents and taxpayers are increasingly willing to question the experts.
Four generations of parents and students have faced an arrogant education bureaucracy that holds them in contempt. The Common Core marks the first time that an education program was abandoned through massive public rejection.
It is long past time for those parents to recover the sense that they know what is best for their children. It is time to challenge that bureaucracy – over and over again.
Asking the Right Questions
The best challenge may be to ask simple questions. When you notice something that raises concern, you have the right to an answer. School officials should be able to explain what they are doing in words that you can understand. They will try to take refuge in jargon or professed good intentions. Members of the public cannot afford to allow the bureaucrats to escape so easily. If they can’t justify their ideas in words you can understand, then you can’t trust them with the education of your children.
Concerned parents can also find allies within the schools. The enormous amount of testing that Common Core – and previous “reform” programs – created is still a fixture of school life. Such tests have a place, but they should consume no more than three to four days a year.
Herein lies an opportunity. Most teachers and school site administrators hate the testing regimes as much as students and parents do. The cost of these tests – and it is considerable – is often borne by cash-strapped local school systems.
State boards of education mandate many of these tests. These boards are subject to oversight by state legislators. Even the most leftist state legislators will respond if their offices get twenty-five or fifty calls on a single subject.
The end of Common Core is encouraging, but it is not enough. Bringing sanity back to education is possible. The future hangs on the people’s willingness to get involved – and not be tricked by responses that they do not understand.