By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK
Without exception, the correspondence we receive at First Teachers is opposed to Common Core, the federal government’s program to establish standards for local schools around the country. And yet, I continue to discover an editorial or column from someone on the right in support of the plan. That is not surprising. After all, for many years it was conservatives who were pushing the notion that there was a need to establish standards in our schools, to promote academic excellence and to prevent the academic left from politicizing curricula around the country.
One has only to think back a decade or so, when people like William Bennett and Lynne Cheney were making the rounds on the talk shows to promote that effort.
It is always good to know what the other side is saying on an issue. To that end, we call to our readers’ attention an exchange on Common Core that can be found on the web site of The Federalist. It can be accessed at http://thefederalist.com/2014/04/16/the-federalist-debate-pullman-vs-petrilli-on-common-core/. The exchange is between two conservatives, one a supporter of Common Core, the other an opponent. The discussion is a balanced and fair-minded, without any of the overheated rhetoric that often is part of this debate. It is worth a look.
Opponents of Common Core looking for something specific to advance their case will find an article on the April 18 edition of the web site Real Clear Politics useful in that regard (http://www.realclearpolitics.com/articles/2014/04/18/the_common_core_problem.html#ixzz2zG13Re6B.Re). The author is Erik Erickson, editor in chief of RedState.com. He contends that “Common Core State Standards could be the under-the-radar issue of the 2014 campaign.”
Erickson begins by conceding that a common core of subject matter for schools around the country is a desirable goal. “We are a highly mobile society,” he writes. “People are likely to move more than once for jobs. Often they move their whole families to new school districts. Sometimes families move across the country. Children, particularly children whose parents are in the military, are prone to be disadvantaged in education if they move around. A school in one part of the country may be ahead of, behind, or on altogether different subjects than a former school. Because of this problem, the education elite in the country thought it would be worthwhile to promote a common core of education — i.e., ensure that children in a mobile society are exposed to a common core of subject matter regardless of the school they are in.”
Erickson agrees with the critics of Common Core who warn of the “federal strings” it will bring, as well as a likely liberal bias that will teach “children to be good worker bees for the big companies that support it, but not necessarily good citizens with an entrepreneurial mindset.” But he believes there is a problem that will arise before these political and ideological issues come to the fore: “Math.”
The “education elite,” says Erickson, “have again rejected the tried-and-true way of teaching mathematics in favor of the trendy and novel. But the methodology is so different that the majority of parents cannot help their children. As a basic example, children are encouraged to estimate a series of numbers to be added instead of simply carrying a 1 from the right column to the left column. Children are discouraged from counting on their fingers. Their teachers would prefer they estimate totals than be precise. More convoluted, children are encouraged to explain their answers. No longer is it correct to add 2 and 2 to get 4. Now a child must explain why that is so. If a child decides that the answer is 5 instead of 4 but provides a logical reason for the answer, teachers are encouraged to give the child points.”
Erickson uses his own family as an example. “In my own household, our second-grader attends a private Christian school that is using Common Core. In second grade, our child has already been exposed to time, money, addition, subtraction, measuring, multiplication, division, and fractions and is now headed into math involving parentheses. Before one concept is grasped, new concepts are approached. Common Core seeks to build familiarity before competence.
“The way the math is taught, parents cannot help their children because they do not understand it. Some schools are offering to re-teach parents math skills via Common Core so they can help their children.”
It is not just parents who are alarmed. “Teachers are frustrated, too. Many see students who once liked math now shying away from it. The teachers must deal with the frustrated parents, too. It is not a bad idea to have some uniformity of education in a mobile society. But reinventing several-thousand-year-old basic concepts goes too far. More and more parents are turning to the ballot box to stop the technocrats from doing this. This sleeper issue could impact local elections nationwide.”
On another topic: a warning from R.D., a correspondent who believes that Catholics who support vouchers for our parochial schools are making a mistake. “Try as I might,” he writes, “I can never understand the argument in favor of school vouchers specifically for Catholic parochial schools. It will be devastating for Catholic schools to accept them. Vouchers are a Trojan Horse that will undermine the entire purpose of a Catholic education, viz. catechesis in the faith. Once those hostile to the faith are allowed inside Catholic schools through a voucher program, they will wreak havoc with Catholic doctrine.
“Once federal authorities are permitted inside the walls of our schools, they will begin to chip away at the catechesis of our students in the faith. Consider ‘conservative organizations’ that have already fallen to the forces aligned against the Church: Girl Scouts now support Planned Parenthood and educate young girls on the availability of their ‘services’; the Boy Scouts have capitulated and now allow openly homosexual members. Catholic schools were never meant to be an extension of the public school system; they were founded because Catholics needed institutions of our own that the state could not control and use to indoctrinate our children. It was true then and equally true now.
“Those Catholics who think they can grab the voucher money and fend off the hostile forces that will assuredly follow the money don’t know the extent of the war ahead. We will not be fighting Satan from outside the walls of the Church, but from within the walls of our schools. Caveat emptor.”
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Readers are invited to submit comments and questions about this and other educational issues. The e-mail address for First Teachers is firstname.lastname@example.org, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 15, Wallingford CT 06492.