A Teachable Moment

When you come across a statement like the following, it’s a real attention getter:

Remember, Common Core is not a federal initiative, but a national movement to raise the level of learning in our classrooms through a different take on what matters; we are finally focusing on depth of understanding and mastery of concepts. This is what teaching should do.

The author is Monica Brown, a fourth grade Reading and Language Arts teacher in Memphis, and also a Common Core coach for the Tennessee Department of Education. She wrote it in today’s Commercial Appeal op ed page.

It’s a bit of a run on sentence, but putting that aside, there are other problems with it and the whole of her argument as she presents it. “Not a federal initiative” she says. Technically, she’s probably correct. Realistically, the government is using Common Core standards as a way to decide what states get money and which ones don’t. Tennessee has to adopt it to be eligible for Race to the Top money. President Obama has said he wants to tie federal Title 1 funding to the adoption of CC. You follow the curriculum they want, you get the money. You don’t and you don’t. When the government does that, it’s more gangster government extortion than democracy.

The “national movement” part can be translated as a national movement cultivated for decades by Progressives and now rammed down our throats. It didn’t spring up organically because citizens saw the merits and urged their legislatures to promote it. It has been foisted on them by people with money to make and liberal ideas to promote. Governor Haslam agreed to it before the standards were even written.

Her phrase “through a different take on what matters” is a lot of the problem people have with the Common Core curricula because what matters is not literature, history and better math skills. Critics say grades 6-12 English classes will be required to spend at least 50% of their time on nonfiction and informational texts such as US political documents, court decisions and scientific and technical manuals. No “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Shakespeare, poetry or “Diary of Anne Frank.”

The math part uses an experimental geometry method developed by a Soviet educator that was abandoned because it failed. Also, a child could reach the correct answer, but not by the procedure prescribed by the Common Core. It would be considered wrong.

“We are finally focusing on depth of understanding and mastery of concepts,” the teacher continues. Yes, concepts they decide and understanding they want. Maybe the loss of memorization and facts has been a hindrance to young people. When they need to call on them in practical life (like multiplication or subtraction at the grocery checkout) they aren’t there.

Brown says “Leaders actually came together to support something that was not a left or right wing agenda.” Really? The Core was developed by liberal/progressives a long time ago, including everybody’s favorite radical, Bill Ayers. One of the big backers is the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation that has its own agenda. The emphasis on universal standards, environmental concerns and anti capitalist narratives are not something you’d find in a conservative endorsed package. Nor would you find the mandatory and anti individual nature of it sanctioned by conservatives.

Ms. Brown leaves out something very important. That’s the data tracking embedded in Common Core. Facts about a child’s family, religion, political beliefs and voting records are part of the program. Children will be watched and monitored for facial expressions and all this will be kept in a database.

She also leaves out the question of money. How much will this cost? How much will be put on the taxpayer? It’s going to require training, and massive upgrades in computer equipment and bandwith.

A very good writer used to regale the newsroom with stories of his youth and education in a one room Alabama rural school house. Access to books was not a given, nor was anyone concerned about his self esteem. Somehow he managed to master the language, carve out a great career and hone a keen analytical mind.

The more we fret and legislate about education, the worse it seems to get. Hard to see how Common Core will do anything beneficial at all – except to those who will make money off of it.

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