Common Core: Phasing Western Culture Out of Education


This week, left-wing outlets, like NPR’s quiz show, Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me! and the Huffington Post, as well as the British Telegraph, expressed surprise and concern that the new national Common Core standards will destroy the love of literature.  The leftist outlets focused on favorites like Catcher in the Rye and To Kill a Mockingbird, but couldn’t seem to connect this unconstitutional federalization of education with their favorite presidential candidate.

They should also be concerned about what the recently released test questions reveal about what the feds want: happy workers for the State.

The test questions, which will eventually be given to every single student, are the kind you could expect from a close pal of Bill Ayers, co-founder of the terrorist group Weatherman-turned-“Distinguished Professor of Education.” Ayers’s close colleague, Stanford Education Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, education director of Obama’s presidential transition team, heads content specifications for testing under one of the consortia, Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium which received $176 million in stimulus funds to develop testing under Common Core—now the law of the land, at least in 46 states. (The rest of the $360 million for testing was given to PARCC, Partnership for Assessment Readiness for College and Career.)

SBAC recently released 16 sample test questions.  They reveal that the “transformation” of American education that Darling-Hammond had eagerly anticipated will be fulfilled—toward making students into global citizens, devoid of a sense of cultural heritage, and content with performing quick tasks that require little concentration.

Common Core was sold as delivering more academic rigor, on a more consistent state-to-state basis.  But one of its most controversial aspects for the English/Language Arts portion (the other being math) was the replacement of literary works with “informational texts.” Students are to divide their time equally between literature and informational texts, until high school, when literary works will make up only 30 percent of English/Language Arts instruction.

The recently released sample test questions do indeed test for students’ ability to search out information from both written and audio/video “texts,” and provide short written responses to them, as well as, occasionally, correct punctuation.

The Common Core website attempts to assure us that “the Standards require a certain critical content for all students including classic myths and stories from around the world, America’s Founding Documents, foundational American literature, and Shakespeare.” Yet, at the same time, “they intentionally do not offer a reading list.”  We know, however, that if students are to be tested on reading and writing skills, some content will be necessary.  The content presented in the sample test questions is telling.  None of it is from the “classic myths and stories,” etc., cited above.

Common Core proponents repeatedly refer to the changed “twenty-first century workplace.”  Accordingly, tests are administered by computer and incorporate videos.  Two of the samples ask students to answer questions after watching short videos about weightlessness in space.  Such testing is in line with the increased emphasis on “listening and discussion skills” that I noted in my report for Accuracy in Media.  In Common Core-aligned lessons, high school juniors and seniors were tasked with looking at, and then discussing, photographs and videos.

The trend of late has been to emphasize such “alternative literacies,” but Common Core codifies what are really preliterate skills.

Even the written texts and analytical tasks seem to test only for rudimentary skills: the ability to read a short, simple passage and then pull out the correct information.  Three of the sample questions involve searching out answers and definitions in a simple narrative titled “Grandma Ruth.”

Another question asks the students to provide an ending to a story that consists of two short paragraphs about a character named Jeff and his dog walking by a lake, when a splash is heard.

The question remains: how would the response be graded?  For absence of grammatical errors?  Or according to Darling-Hammond’s criteria spelled out in her 2009 Harvard Educational Review article of “developing creativity, critical thinking skills, and the capacity to innovate”?  She did indicate that new assessments would use “multiple measures of learning and performance.” We can expect some—ahem–“discretion” in grading.

The intent of Common Core is to ensure every student of “college and career readiness.” Are such questions intended to meet the top goal of Darling-Hammond and the Department of Education—that is to “close the achievement gap”?  One suspects so.

The next question too asks the student to complete a writing assignment–arguing for a longer school day.  This time the student is given a schedule of activities.  The assignment is to “revise the paragraph by adding details from the daily schedule that help support the reasons for having a longer school day.” Presumably, this tests for the ability to provide “relevant evidence.”

Coincidentally, the idea of public schools being “centers of community life” with longer days has been something that the Obama administration has been promoting with daily announcements about “cradle to career” initiatives and efforts to “engage” various “communities.” While he was still head of Chicago schools, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan made schools community centers, offering three meals a day, and even eye exams and eyeglasses.  Now he wants to expand the role of schools on a nationwide basis. In Duncan’s vision, schools would be open 12 to 13 hours a day, 7 days a week; they would “meet the social and emotional needs” of students, and provide cultural and academic activities, as well as services for parents, like GED tutoring and healthcare clinics.  To Duncan, such efforts are part of a “battle for social justice.”

So is it a coincidence that one of the test questions concerns a longer school day?

Notice the student is not asked if the school day should be longer. Textbooks, similarly, now ask students to write papers on how “you personally might respond to [President Obama’s] call to remake this world.” The popular Norton Reader does exactly this in one of the topic questions that follows Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech in its pages.

Next in the sample test is a reading passage titled “Planes on the Brain,” by free-lance writer Elisabeth Deffner in a children’s magazine called Faces, published by Carus Publishing, which was acquired by ePals Corporation in 2011.

ePals, which is working with Microsoft, Dell, and IBM, encourages “global collaboration.” One of its “Rich, Multi-Disciplinary Student-Centric Learning Centers” is called Global Citizens. Its website says, “Microsoft and ePals are working together to offer schools and districts interoperable products and tools for building educational communities, delivering high quality content and facilitating collaboration.” The Bill Gates company, Microsoft, is the vehicle of delivery for content.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation is the largest private funder of Common Core.  To get schools “tech ready” for the online national testing, the Gates Foundation-supported Education Week provides helpful tips and reminders and an encouraging blog post.  Not surprisingly, a test question comes from an article published in an online magazine that partners with Microsoft.

These are close collaborators indeed, for the “Our Approach” page of ePals could have been written by Darling-Hammond herself:

Authentic ePals projects are centered around meaningful content and experiences that require teamwork, digital literacy skills, higher-level thinking and communication. By engaging in authentic learning experiences about relevant issues, students, teachers and mentors learn and work together, strengthening core learning while motivating learners and building self-confidence and skills necessary for future careers.

ePals, also, we are told, helps teachers learn “to use technology effectively in their classrooms, by providing professional development, curriculum, contests and other resources.”  The “Transforming Volunteering” promotional video features a quotation by—surprise–President Obama about “shaping the future.”

In 2010, ePals received broadband stimulus funds and won the contract for New York City.  Partners listed on the video include the World Bank, National Geographic (which just announced a line of Common Core-aligned reading materials), and the Washington Post.  ePals is also partnering with Teaching Matters, which describes itself as “a non-profit organization that partners with educators to ensure that all students can succeed in the digital age.”

Teaching Matters, on October 18, 2011, honored Darling-Hammond as a “Champion of Education and Innovation.” The press release referred to Darling-Hammond as “an authority on school reform, educational equity and teacher quality,” and noted that in 2007, Education Week (the Gates-supported Common Core advocacy newsletter) “named her one of the 10 most influential people in the field of education over the last decade.”

The “Champion of Education and Innovation” promises to influence further with such test questions:

• How was the Tuskegee Airmen program a positive influence? (along with a “highlighting” exercise)  (Nothing wrong with learning about the Tuskegee Airmen—except when such examples are used in isolation to indict the U.S. as a racist/imperialist nation.)

• A writing assignment concerning the use of cell phones in schools with reasons for and against presented in bullet points (must be one of those “relevant” topics).

• A passage, “Diamonds in the Sky,” about astronomy with two multiple choice questions and a short writing response regarding how scientists can use the knowledge to make diamonds.

• A passage about the invasion of kudzu that asks the student to eliminate unnecessary sentences.

• Grammatical corrections to a student essay about watching a hockey game.

There are no references to the “classic myths and stories” or “America’s Founding Documents” that bureaucrats promised.

Are these examples of the “higher order thinking” and “more thoughtful assessments”  that Darling-Hammond touted in her post-award interview by Teaching Matters Executive Director Lynne Guastaferro?

Apparently “twenty-first century skills” and “higher order thinking” don’t call for lengthy works of literature, like Shakespeare’s plays, Little House on the Prairie, or even favorite novels of liberals.  More likely, students will be given a short passage and asked how a sod house affects the ecosystem.  The wallpaper for the Teaching Matters website features a bulletin board with projects on biodiversity.  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is advancing the use of their materials regarding environmental regulations for Common Core. California’s Invasive Plant Inventory is on the recommended informational reading list, as is EPA Executive Order 13423.

Do “twenty-first century”  students no longer need to read poems by John Donne about love so strong that separations are like “like gold to aery thinness beat”?  Or do they need to learn how to make diamonds?  Are we really going to inspire the next great American novelist by asking him to insert a few sentences on a computer screen about what happens when a splash is heard?

For sure, for decades now, educators have been moving in the direction of Common Core, with the replacement of classic imaginative works by texts that address “relevant” leftist political issues.  Since at least the 1980s those like E.D. Hirsch have been decrying the loss of cultural cohesion through an unraveling curriculum and lowering of standards.

Many gave up on the public school system and sent their children to private schools or home-schooled them.  But critics warn that national tests will make these curricula moot.  They are right.  Education Week recently reported that already many Catholic and other private schools are jumping ahead and adopting Common Core in preparation for college-entrance exams that will line up with Common Core criteria.

Literary works promote an American cultural identity, pass on Western Judeo-Christian values, inspire independent thought, and develop the imagination.  Their elimination is likely to produce citizens incapable of understanding the proper–and limited–role of the state.  It’s too bad that the liberal lovers of literature failed to see the dictatorial move of a president through the Department of Education in his first term. Now they whine about students not reading To Kill a Mockingbird. They themselves need to read Dr. Zhivago.

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  • objectivefactsmatter

    " Now he wants to expand the role of schools on a nationwide basis. In Duncan’s vision, schools would be open 12 to 13 hours a day, 7 days a week; they would “meet the social and emotional needs” of students, and provide cultural and academic activities, as well as services for parents, like GED tutoring and healthcare clinics. To Duncan, such efforts are part of a “battle for social justice.”"

    These freaking communists want a literal nanny state. This is a lot worse than even I'd imagined till now.

  • RedWhiteAndJew

    I wonder if Michael Bellesiles had hoped, when he penned his Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, that it would influence the content of future American history textbooks.

    To this day, many of the unintelligentsia of the left ignore that fact that he lost his Bancroft Prize…and his professorship…when the heights of his fraud came to light.

    Meanwhile, you can get the book for a penny at Amazon:

    http://www.amazon.com/Arming-America-Origins-Nati

    Still too much, IMHO.

  • http://twitter.com/paulvmarks @paulvmarks

    One correction – the Daily Telegraph is what passes for a conservative newspaper in Britian (not a leftist one), although with its endless backing "monetary stimulus" and so on, you can be forgiven for mistaking it for an officially leftist newspaper.

    As for Comrade Duncan and the Federal Department of Education – well a Social Justice President is going to appoint Social Justice Comrade to such departments. However, even a non leftist President would find that the Department of Education worked for collectivism.

    Either such departments have to be abolished (as Reagan promised way a back in 1980 – but failed to do in 1981) or people in States who do not want their children to be brainwashed into collectivism, have to get their State out of the Union.

    There are no other alternatives.

    Either a fundementally smaller (in size and scope) Federal government.

    Or get out of the Union.

  • Lost_Lenore

    I'm afraid we have already been deprived of our culture and heritage for several generations, now, since the advent of progressive education. How many of us, in being taught anything about ancient Greece, learned about the many dilemmas inherent in democracy and the many 'solutions" tried by the Greek city states, solutions we can learn from today? How many of us, in studying our nation's constitution, learned from reading some of the Federalist Papers, the rational behind many of the provisions in our Constitution? What our founding Fathers really thought the role of government to be? Of the fact that the framers of our Constitution found a too weak government as much to a danger to our country as despotism? If we don't know these things, how can we uphold our constitution and our way of life?

  • A. Chaves

    I used to teach biology to non-majors in college. Unlike the liberal arts, the natural sciences cannot be dumbed-down without obvious consequences. The course I taught was moderately rigorous, but I would estimate that at least a third of my students should not have been admitted to college. Consequently, it was failure in my class (and no other) that prevented some from graduating. I even had the race card played on me by a student who had the verbal skills of a 4th grader. This this "common core" requirement, they will simply have to get rid of the science general requirement, or there will be a rebellion of students who have been spoiled by all the joke courses they took in other departments.

    Now that I teach chemistry I hardly deal with this anymore (non-science majors rarely take chemistry). However, as critical thinking is replaced by "critical studies", I am deeply sadden by the undermining of the cultural heritage that has given us so much in terms of self-actualization, not to mention the truly sublime works of art that have no equivalence in the primitive societies that these "citizens of the world" are being trained to admire.

    In effect, even though the consequences of watering down of liberal arts is not as immediately obvious as the lack of preparation for students who want to be doctors and nurses, the long-term consequences are just as severe. In countless ways, we will be all the poorer for it.

    .

    • Thomas Wells

      You must have missed noticing the politically correct : "Green Chemistry" stuff out there. You didn't miss much.

    • Jim_C

      The most salient point I took from your account is that 1/3 of your students should not have been admitted. I'm afraid I agree.

      It's a truism that a college degree is he new high school diploma. College simply isn't for everyone–including some of those who don't do too poorly in it.

      My big theory is that the country, and the world, changed so rapidly and drastically through the 20th century, we've barely begun to deal with the fallout from that. We are stuck with an education system built for agrarian children at the end of the 19th century. We nostalgically laud the "classical" education once only the province only of the very privileged–but few really want to go back and drudge through the classics. The liberal arts, just like the sciences, haven't been "watered down" so much as "added to." Information exploded in the 20th century.

      I'd like to see a complete, radical re-imagining of the concept of high school. I think there should be a heavy vocational component. I think there should be some form of voluntary tracking. I think there should be other degrees of training that make a candidate hire-able other than a college degree. We force a lot of people to sit still and memorize stuff they'll never truly remember when we could be teaching them how to put together an engine or build a house. Those things incorporate math and science and teach marketable skills without having to force-feed them abstractions.

      • Nancy_Claire

        Ohhh I sooo agree with you. I have been saying this for a long, long, time. I am a recently retired teacher and most of my memories are of what wasn't working. I retired as a very, frustrated teacher after 20 years.

    • Sharkie

      Our schools are failing because we do not hold our teachers to a standard that requires rigorous preparation of materiel germane to the classes they teach. A general teaching certificate does not prepare them for teaching the specific class they are assigned to teach.

  • Marty

    I've just finished teaching an introductory course in politics after making the point on several occasions and in different contexts that the West is the Best, different cultures are not equal, and that islam has never been able to produce a genuine political democracy and will be unable to do so in the future. Most of my students agree, but, then, I'm in Texas. It's interesting that the students are from a variety of ethnic and religious backgrounds and still agree that in the contest between the West and rest, they take the West any day of the week. No one here cares about political correctness and that is a good thing.

    • A. Chaves

      You are very brave! I taught in Texas too, but I can never imagine saying this in a classroom setting (then again, I teach science). The closest I came to doing this was taking to task a new edition of an environmental science textbook for its eggregious whitewash of the poor human development index in the Middle East. I photocopied the same table from the previous edition of the textbook to show my students what was being hidden. I suspect that the new edition was doctored after some groups (such as the Coucil on American-Islamic Relations) cried foul. It was a teachable moment about the perils of political correctness.

      It is indeed interesting (as you point out) that many people of other cultures respond positivelywhen you told the truth. We do no favors of people from diverse political backgrounds by never putting their cuture on the spot. Brave activists like Ayaam Hirsi Ali show that tribalism can be unlearned and transcended.

    • Nancy_Claire

      Good for Texas!!! I hope they are successful in getting rid of CScope.

  • dmw

    After reading and thinking about the above article and comments, especially from the teachers, I have come to the conclusion: Liberals lie, people die. (Or at best are soulless Zombies pretending to be "advanced" [21st Century] humans.) The hubris. Unbelievable.

  • Thomas Wells

    "Houston,we have a problem." Core meltdown.

  • Jim_C

    I think criticism of the Dept. of Ed. and Duncan are timely and appropriate, yet I found the criticisms of some of these classroom exercise examples incredibly shallow and poorly argued. None of them seemed a bridge too far, and in fact sounded like excellent skill building tools.

  • Ghostwriter

    Why get rid of Western literature? Both West and East have fine literary traditions.

  • dubrovnov

    Home schooling is the answer. I am sure that we will wee this movement grow.

  • Arius

    The death march of the US, and the West, continues.

  • Black Primary

    Nowadays public schools exist solely to raise the future voting herd. Anyone who wants a truly educated child who is capable of producing more than an ounce of critical thought should be home schooling.

    • Sarah

      Absolutely, until these standards become part of home schooling requirements. We are fools if we think we can stand back and watch the public education system go to hell in a hand-basket and not be affected by it.

  • sushieq

    Common Core is coming to California colleges. A recent NYT article reports that legislation is being introduced in the CA Senate that will force the states colleges and universities to give credit for third-party courses taken by students online. The article further reports Pearson's involvement as well as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. https://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/13/education/cali

    Common Core is the education arm of Agenda 21 in the US. Simply speaking, Common Core is a way of internationally standardizing education and reducing standards for everyone.

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    I wonder if Michael Bellesiles had hoped, when he penned his Arming America: The Origins of a National Gun Culture, that it would influence the content of future American history textbooks.

  • tmanosaurus

    Abraham Lincoln measured by common core… introverted, shy beyond a
    fault, non communicative, unapproachable due to a near catatonia,
    unattractive in social settings, catatonic, unresponsive to
    hypotheticals, undriven to any decent purpose, uninvolved, introspective
    beyond a fault, unusable in team environments, possibly socially
    damaged, undriven or uninspired, overboard in questioning and answer
    seeking, motivated by nothing, querying little, over querying when
    querying, opinionated, sad, morose, unsocial, unattractive, bad genes,
    unusual and unwelcomed in social settings, ……

    You get the idea, Common core can miss everything God hides in
    people which must be incubated over a greater period of incubation.
    Common core is mans lecherous pursuit to vainly assign worth by
    behavior in mundane circumstances driven mostly by an already
    established juvenile setting whereas most people aren’t released as
    adults until a far later period in their lives. This is corporate abuse
    of immature stages of life for deployment into irrationalities and life
    long grooming to executive wishes. This is an abandonment of freedom to
    crows pecking your eyes out starting at birth.