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Letter: Common Core: Good or Evil

I have serious doubts about some aspects of the Common Core curriculum; I have serious doubts about some aspects of the Common Core curriculum; I have serious doubts about some aspects of the Common Core curriculum. I reiterate this thrice because, in more than one public venue, this has morphed into “Paul Manton is 100% in favor of the Common Core curriculum and thinks that anyone who does not share his enthusiasm is an idiot” - thence to diatribes about Obamacare, the war in Iraq, Bill Gates, global warming, and respiratory illnesses in children. I don’t understand the confusion. Is I because I don’t suffer from America’s self-imposed Attention Deficit Disorder and can comprehend the English language above the Third Grade reading level? But permit me to make things perfectly clear. As clear as an azure sky on a summer’s day. Let me remove all doubt as Dickens removed all doubt anent the death of Jacob Marley. There are some things I dislike about the Common Core curriculum and some things about it I like.  

Things I dislike about the Common Core:

1. It has the same teach-to-the-test evaluative paradigm that rendered the pre-Core curriculum a mediocre game show trivia contest rather than one whereupon intense testing could be but one of several effective diagnostic tools.

2. In the higher grades, it neglects the literary classics and hitherto successful traditional approaches to the humanities and social sciences and does little to address the problem of politicization which, via political correctness and secularism, has bequeathed to students an entirely distorted comprehension of literature, history, and sociology. (Some would say it even promotes said politicization and insofar as this is true, it was also true before the Common Core ever appeared on the scene).

3. It suffers from an ultra-reductionist epistemology whereupon students fail to grasp the more multidisciplinary nature of academic subjects. It risks being merely the flip-side of the diluted smorgasbord it aspires to usurp.

4. Its wording and/or structuring of mathematics leads to ambiguities of the stated problem rather than stressing exactitude; joining previous endeavors such as the “New Math” of the early 70’s in its failure to take advantage of tried-and-true methods for teaching math that, in erstwhile generations, sired a population able to do math in their heads without an electronic calculator.

Some Things I Like About The Core:

1. It does not presuppose that cognitive development is highly limited as hitherto assumed; allowing children to tackle mathematical functions more sophisticated than previously endeavored at the same age level. My Second Grader, for example, probably knows more about mathematics (and other academic subjects) than I knew in the Second Grade.

2. The Common Core presents more intense testing which if implemented sans the aforementioned teach-to-the-test approach and utilized as only one in a myriad of evaluative devices, can be effective.

3. It places emphasis on “the Three R’s”. Without powerful mathematics and reading proficiency skills, a strong grasp of more complex and/or abstract academic concepts is impossible.

4. It is inspired by successful curricula adopted by China, Taiwan, Singapore, and several western European countries whose students consistently outperform American students in basic academic aptitude. A recently-released study by the Program for International Assessment (produced by the nonprofit Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), for example, compared  fifteen year-olds on basic mathematical skills in which American students ranked thirty-one out of thirty-nine nations/municipalities surveyed which included many of the aforesaid; down at the bottom of the list with Third World countries.  

Maybe the Common Core should be scrapped, maybe it should be altered a wee bit, and maybe it should be modified beyond all recognition...maybe. But it will go down as the first serious endeavor to overhaul an educational system that, true to the dire prognostications of the 1983 “A Nation at Risk” report, did, indeed, give us the first generation in American history less educated than its parents.

Paul Manton