Barbara Riis-Christensen: Common Core initiative leaves much to be desired

August 16, 2013 

I read the articles in the Merced Sun-Star regarding Common Core. After speaking with retired teachers, I learned that since the 1960s the jargon of "problem-solving," "critical thinking" and "critical analyses" have been used to describe new teaching programs.

Regarding the English curriculum of Common Core, only 50 percent of classical literature will be taught.

Classical literature is the foundation of our nation. It teaches children to investigate their surroundings; to make wise decisions, to have empathy; it teaches them how to exercise their liberties.

Anthony Esolen, a professor of Renaissance English literature at Providence College in Rhode Island, states: "What appalls me the most about the Common Core Standards is the cavalier contempt for great works of human art, thought and literary form. … We are not programming machines; we are teaching children. We are not producing functionaries, factory like. We are to be forming the minds and hearts of men and women. Frankly, I do not wish to be governed by people whose minds and hearts have been stunted by a strictly utilitarian miseducation.

"The English Language Arts (ELA) in Common Core minimizes reading of literary classics, but rather focuses on informational texts. A member of Common Core Validation Committee, Dr. Sandra Stotsky from the University of Arkansas, refused to sign off on the ELA standards because of the poor quality, elimination of emphasis on literature and lower reading level."

As you might or might not know, algebra will no longer be taught in the eighth grade. It will be taught in the ninth. This will slow down the advanced students. In the teaching of math in Common Core, critical thinking methods put the cart of why in front of the horse of how. Memorizing times tables and doing other basic math functions sets the foundation of why. Many of us are show-me-how-to-do-it type learners. Show us how first, and then we will understand.

In relation to mathematics, James Milgram, the only mathematician on the Common Core Validation Committee, also refused to sign off on the standards because of their poor quality. He stated, "It's almost a joke to think students (who master the common standards) would be ready for math at a university."

Will the teachers be able to decide what should be taught in their classrooms or will Common Core be in charge of the lesson plan? The answer is Common Core. Since this will be a federalized program, that is supposed to teach the same lessons throughout the nation, the lessons will be scripted. Common Core is a one-size-fits-all education and does not address the unique individuality of each child.

Nicholas Tampio, who teaches critical theory at Fordham University, says, "America needs many kinds of excellent programs and schools: International Baccalaureate programs, science and technology schools, Montessori schools, religious schools, vocational schools, bilingual schools, outdoor schools and good public schools. Even within programs and schools, teachers should be encouraged to teach their passions and areas of expertise. Teachers inspire lifelong learning by bringing a class to a nature center, replicating an experiment from popular science, taking a field trip to the state or national capital, or assigning a favorite novel. A human being is not a computer, and a good education is not formatted in a linear code."

According to Orlean Koehle, president of the Eagle Forum of California, "When there is a national education program in place, it is almost impossible to have any influence on changing policy or program. Your local school board, state school board, state legislators, and the governor will be powerless to change it."

It is important that the child's education should be in the hands of the parents, local and state school boards — not with the federal government.

The author is a resident of Atwater.

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