Know the facts of Common Core

“Common Core” is a collaborative-effort begun in 2010 by the National Governors’ Association Center for Best Practices and The Council for Chief State School Officers (a nonpartisan organization made up of K-12 educators and school administrators from all 50 states). The CCSS is not an “unfunded mandate,” a tax-supported government program, nor a creation of either the United States Department of Education or the Obama administration (although both of these latter groups do support its goals).

Simply put, the idea behind Common Core is to suggest – not establish – certain common educational standards for public schools around the nation. Its overall goal has been to enable American students to successfully compete with students in other nations; to encourage American students “to make progress each year and to graduate from school prepared to succeed in college and the modern American workforce.”

The CCSS website states that these standards are intended “to clearly communicate what is expected of students at each grade-level”. By “focusing on core conceptual understandings and procedures starting in the early grades, thus enabling teachers to teach core concepts and procedures well – and to give students the opportunity to master them.” In other words, CCSS is about attempting to make the next generation of Americans more literate and informed than their forebears …

Such goals are not much different from what was proposed by the 9th century English King Alfred the Great (a 35th-generation ancestor of mine) who authorized the translation of notable Latin works into Anglo-Saxon English in the hope that the common-people of Wessex would become more literate. Nor are these goals far removed from the ideas proposed by author E.D. Hirsch Jr. in his well-received 1988 book, “Cultural Literacy – What Every American Needs to know” (Vintage Books). In all three cases, the goal has been expansion of knowledge and the encouragement of intellectual-curiosity.

However, if we are to believe the gaggle of (mostly tea party oriented) writers of recent letters to The Times and other local newspapers, Common Core is “the Devil’s invention,” an “insidious plot” to “take away our rights,” “overthrow The Constitution,” “undermine our values,” “corrupt our youth,” and its implementation (according to these writers) would mean the “end of civilization as we know it” … Balderdash!

Perhaps the most humorous – and most outrageous – of these reactionary views was expressed in a May 8 letter (“Headed to disillusion, boredom, decadence?”) from a frequent Times contributor with intellectual pretensions who quotes British philosopher Edmund Burke to “prove” that the Common Core standards promote “diabolic-thinking.” This writer claims that the CCSS standards will force schools to “reject recognized dogmas or rules as well as established manners.” He also claims that CCSS standards would “limit the study of classical literature in favor of non-fictional ‘informational texts’.” Both of these claims are untrue! The Common Core ELA (English Language Arts) standards statement says that “It is important to note that the 6-12 literacy standards are not meant to replace content standards in those areas, but to supplement them.” What really might bother this writer is that the CCSS standards stress reliance upon “critical thinking” and the use of “evidence-based” materials. This standard might indeed be a problem for someone who regards junk like Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged” as “classical literature”! Times readers should know by now how much the tea party crowd likes “critical-thinking” and “evidence-based” information!

Nor is it any coincidence that some of the most vehement allegations about Common Core have emanated from the “Heritage Foundation” – a rightwing “think-tank” that recently was forced to fire white-supremacist writer Jason Richwine after it was revealed that a “Heritage” report on immigration that he co-authored stated that “Hispanic students are incapable of learning on the same level as whites.”

Some of the critics of Common Core might do well to remember that the term “critical-thinking” means one’s ability to tell truth from falsehood. They might also remember that it was Edmund Burke who said, “No passion so effectually robs the mind of all its powers of acting and reasoning as fear!”

Fred O’Neill lives in Marietta.