Sunday, March 23, 2014

Common Core Horror

The following is a short version of a review on Terrence O. Moore's new must-read book: 

The Story-Killers, A Common-Sense Case Against the Common Core.

 It’s scary what’s happened to public education and to the nation since it has fallen into the hands of big-money-backed, pseudo-intellectual radical progressives, and arch-testers who seem to think they’re smarter than the greatest thinking comprising the accumulated wisdom of the age-old human race.

Lest you think the author of The Story Killers an alarmist, according to the Common Core literature textbook (and I don’t remember even having a literature textbook in high school, only actual literature), high school seniors who are supposedly studying Mary Shelley’s masterpiece of human ambition, morality, and psychology, Frankenstein, are never required to actually hold or open or read or discuss the actual book. They don’t learn anything about the actual story or what it teaches. Instead they spend their time with silly caricatures on the Halloween figure, acting out a Saturday Night Live skit, writing monster autobiographies, and reading about a modern author’s nightmares. No, we’re not making this up. The activities assigned are so far removed from the book as to be moronic.

Many of the assignments, questions, activities, and living author contributors are so random that Moore believes the writers of the Common Core standards and textbooks have not read these classics themselves. When the teacher is to use the same cut-and-paste questions for Tom Sawyer as they do for Pride and Prejudice, something’s not right. When the Founders are portrayed as racist tyrants, and the Great American Story one of greed and hate, some serious revisionism is taking place. When the entire Western Cannon of Judeo-Christian literature is left out, what we have is a “severe case of selling our sons and daughters short.” When students are assigned to “compare and contrast” works they have never read, we have an exercise in meaninglessness. When young people “are required to have opinions they know nothing about,” which can only “lead to hubris and intellectual dishonesty,” “we are turning our children into nonthinking idiots.” When trendy untried contemporary authors are given center-stage, we have a problem with understanding the difference between permanent knowledge and narcissistic tunnel vision. When we no longer teach the longing for great things and instead emphasize the anti-hero, alienation, and the literature of protest, we have lost our humanity. We cannot help asking in a sort of horror, as Moore asks, of the Common Core, “Is it incompetence, ignorance, or ideology?”

Be that as it may, the Common Core, disguised as cutting-edge educating, pretty much does a hatchet-job on the classics, and in doing so on traditional values. I not only feel horrified for the kids, I also feel terrified for the good teachers who are being forced to teach this silly boring junk and are being used as “pawns, spreading political, cultural, and moral bias.”

But if you think Moore is surrendering to this monstrosity, you will be happy to find out his book describes an alternative way of teaching: the time-tested Socratic method using a purposeful foundational curriculum, which includes students actually reading whole works, knowledgeable teachers actually guiding them through them, and a great collection of important historical writings. “[T]hese readings work together to deliver the comprehensive story of human beings trying to achieve liberty and happiness through civilization.” I love his booklist in the back of the book which outlines the works he recommends for grades 9-12. I’m going to make my way through this list myself as I see I missed out on some basics and would like to revisit the ones I was barely introduced to. Do we want our children growing up asking “Why wasn’t my own school education held to a true standard of the best that has been thought, said, done, and discovered? They will certainly have a right to feel cheated, that is if they haven't turned into a type of past-feeling, walking-dead zombie by then themselves!

How important is classic literature and the correct understanding of it? Incredibly important. “If we allow our stories to die, our love of the good and the beautiful and the true will die with them.”  “The great stories teach us, ennoble us, comfort us, and inspire us. A people that takes its best stories seriously will be more just and more humane.” Contrarily, to use more of Moore’s words, the Common Core will help produce jaded, bored, and prematurely cynical human beings. After all, ‘[y]ou can turn young minds most anyway you want to.”

"It is the duty of parents, poets, artists, and education to train young people in making the proper emotional responses, for without trained emotions people do not have the motivation to behave morally,” wrote Doris T. Myers in Reading the Classics with C. S. Lewis. Indeed, as I read The Story-Killers, I felt it was a more detailed extension of Lewis’s own The Abolition of Man (Moore’s students study this great book in their junior year), which begins with concerns over the destructive nuances in a mid-twentieth century high school English textbook and warns that such arbitrary radicalism will lead to the end of mankind.

I love Lewis’s gentle, civilized, visionary words: "Every age has its own outlook. It is specially good at seeing certain truths and specially liable to make certain mistakes. We all, therefore, need the books that will correct the characteristic mistakes of our own period . . . The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books." Roger Scruton (whom I think of as a C. S. Lewis of our day) said of his own classical education: "The RGS [Royal Grammar School] had not been infected by the modern heresy that tells us that knowledge must be adapted to the interests of the child. On the contrary: our 'beaks' believed that the interests of the child should be adapted to knowledge. The purpose of the school was not to flatter the pupils but to rescue the curriculum, by pouring it into heads that might pass it on. Of course, you can impart knowledge only to those who are willing to receive it."

Without such wisdom, the sort of minds the Brave New Core is wired to produce truly horrifies.

Alas, where great literature is concerned, the science fiction-like Common Core amounts to burning our own Alexandria without any need at all for 451 degrees. It’s a disturbing and criminal development. But our astute detective Terrence Moore gives us much-needed truth and hope. The best “stories are not hard to find, but a person must be looking . . . It is high time we take our stories . . . and our schools . . . and our nation back”

 -Janice Graham

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