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First Teachers… Don’t Go Wobbly On Common Core

November 22, 2013 Frontpage No Comments

By JAMES K. FITZPATRICK

In the October 24 edition of First Teachers, we published comments from Dr. William Snaer on the standards that are called for as part of the federal government’s Common Core program. Snaer is a retired pediatric dentist who has written on a variety of topics in The Wanderer. Dr. Snaer believes there has been “careless piling on directed at Common Core energized by a mix of conspiracy types.” He argued that Common Core’s attempt to establish standards for our schools — which Snaer maintains “evolved in large measure from the work of E. D. Hirsch Jr.” in 1987 in his book, Cultural Literacy — “deserved better treatment, especially from those who hold to the conservative position that our schools’ mission is to preserve the best of the intellectual and moral heritage of Western society.”
Many of our readers disagree with Dr. Snaer, especially in regard to our Catholic schools. C.M. writes she “was a bit flummoxed.” She takes issue with Snaer’s position that the individual states set Common Core’s standards, insisting that Common Core “was largely adopted through the state bureaucracies with very little knowledge or input from the people or the people’s representatives. If this were truly a state-based effort, there would certainly have been much more local participation and citizen involvement.”
Beyond that, she notes that “Professor James Milgram and Professor Sandra Stotsky, both of whom were the top content experts on their respective Common Core review committees, have refused to sign off on the Common Core standards because of how they will leave our children behind their international peers and ill equipped for anything beyond a community-college-level education. In fact, both of these professors are now actively campaigning against the Common Core because they believe this to be such a radical shift for the worse in American education.”
Another reader forwarded to us a copy of a letter sent to the American bishops by 132 Catholic college professors protesting the adoption of Common Core by our Catholic schools (see last week’s News Notes column). In the letter, the Catholic professors argued that “notwithstanding the good intentions of those who made these decisions, Common Core was approved too hastily and with inadequate consideration of how it would change the character and curriculum of our nation’s Catholic schools. We believe that implementing Common Core would be a grave disservice to Catholic education in America. In fact, we are convinced that Common Core is so deeply flawed that it should not be adopted by Catholic schools which have yet to approve it, and that those schools which have already endorsed it should seek an orderly withdrawal now.”
The Catholic professors who signed the letter maintain that “Common Core-educated children will not be prepared to do authentic college work. Even supporters of Common Core admit that it is geared to prepare children only for community-college-level studies. No doubt many of America’s Catholic children will study in community colleges. Some will not attend college at all. This is not by itself lamentable; it all depends upon the personal vocations of those children, and what they need to learn and do in order to carry out the unique set of good works entrusted to them by Jesus. But none of that means that our Catholic grade schools and high schools should give up on maximizing the intellectual potential of every student. And every student deserves to be prepared for a life of the imagination, of the spirit, and of a deep appreciation for beauty, goodness, truth, and faith.”
The professors go so far as to hold that Common Core’s aims and philosophy of education “will undermine Catholic education, and dramatically diminish our children’s horizons. Promoters of Common Core say that it is designed to make America’s children ‘college and career ready.’ We instead judge Common Core to be a recipe for standardized workforce preparation. Common Core shortchanges the central goals of all sound education and surely those of Catholic education: to grow in the virtues necessary to know, love, and serve the Lord, to mature into a responsible, flourishing adult, and to contribute as a citizen to the process of responsible democratic self-government.”
The Catholic professors continue: “Common Core is innocent of America’s Catholic schools’ rich tradition of helping to form children’s hearts and minds. In that tradition, education brings children to the Word of God. It provides students with a sound foundation of knowledge and sharpens their faculties of reason. It nurtures the child’s natural openness to truth and beauty, his moral goodness, and his longing for the infinite and happiness.”
The “history of Catholic education is rich in tradition and excellence. It embraces the academic inheritance of St. Anselm, St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, and Blessed John Henry Newman.” The Catholic professors hold that Common Core openly sets aside that “teaching tradition in favor of secular standards.”
J.P. of Reedsburg, Wis., is on the side of the Catholic professors. She writes, “The Common Core tests were devised by the federal government with stimulus money. They knew that by so doing the curricula would necessarily have to follow the tests as stated by Arne Duncan. An examination of lessons and texts by parents has turned up some alarming revisions of history, the pushing of pro-socialist agendas and some explicit sexual reading material, no doubt in the name of presenting ‘diversity.’ One mother shocked her board of education by reading aloud a sadomasochistic text which her daughter’s high school class was taking turns reading aloud.”
J.P. does not agree with Dr. Snaer about the level of state control over Common Core’s standards: “States were required by the federal government to adopt the Common Core standards if they wanted to qualify for federal Race to the Top money. Gov. [Mike] Huckabee said he had no idea, at the time of his involvement, that data would be gathered and shared, some of which is biometric data. Other sensors to monitor students that have attracted fierce criticism were outlined in the U.S. Department of Education document Promoting Grit, Tenacity, and Perseverance: Critical Factors for Success in the 21st Century. Read it. Pay special attention to page 44 (Image 62) which shows the biometric devices. Follow the money. The Gates Foundation is the catalyst for the development of the biometric devices. Bill Gates is looking forward to Common Core. In his words, ‘it will unleash a powerful market of people providing services for better teaching.’ No doubt Microsoft will be one of the providers.”
University of Steubenville professor Anne Hendershott argues similarly in a recent column in Crisis magazine, calling Common Core a “federal government takeover of education.” She quotes Richard Thompson, superintendent of Catholic schools for the Archdiocese of Denver, who saw no need to adopt Common Core in his schools since they are already “exceeding most of Common Core standards. We’re already there and more.” Also, Joe Giganti, the Cardinal Newman Society’s vice president of communications, who states flatly, “Why adopt these standards when Catholic schools consistently outperform the public schools?…Not to mention the very real concerns about the secularized nature of the course material, which directly conflicts with maintaining an authentic Catholic identity at these schools.”

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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 fitzpatrijames@sbcglobal.net, and the mailing address is P.O. Box 15, Wallingford CT 06492.

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Fr. James Schall passed away today. A Jesuit priest & Georgetown professor, he served as mentor & model to a numberless many (including me). With penetrating insight & wit, he pointed us to Christ & those great Catholic minds we mustn't forget.

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