The Standard of Liberty Voice
A publication of The Standard of Liberty Foundation
May 9, 2014, #81
Crimes of the Common Core
Book Review by Janice Graham
The Story-Killers, A Common Sense Case Against the Common Core,
Terrence O. Moore, 2013
Aware parents and sincere teachers are wringing their hands as they suspect a terrible crime being committed. It is the systematic murder of young minds, elementary through high school. At last, the Sherlock Holmes of education has come to strip off the nefarious disguise of the Common Core for all to see. His name is Terrence Moore, teacher, education reformer, and writer with a Ph.D. from the University of Edinburgh, a professor of history at Hillsdale Collage, and founder of numerous classical charter schools. He has expertly and painstakingly done what worried citizens everywhere have wished for: dissected, closely examined, and analyzed the federal Common Core (standards and textbooks) which now controls the testing and curriculum of our public schools and even many private schools in more than forty states. What's in it really? And what is it doing to the vulnerable minds of the rising generation? Terrence Moore tells us in his timely new thriller, The Story-Killers.
I'm dead serious; it's a thriller, a disturbing book that to a lover of literature and learning reads in parts like dark science fiction: Huxley-esque "Brave New Core" or Orwellian "Animal School." I couldn't put it down. It's incredible 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 who think they're smarter than the greatest thinking comprising the accumulated history of the age-old human race.
The book poses questions. Did you get a classical education? Will your children and grandchildren? Terrence Moore says no, we probably didn't, that it was in the 1950s that Americans got the last decent education from our public system, and our posterity is totally being thrown under the school bus due to the Common Core.
What is the purpose of educating the young anyway? Moore hones in on what the elites posing as education reformers say they think it is: getting a job. The book is worth reading just to be treated to Moore's refreshing revelation on the false premises behind the ubiquitous phrases "twenty-first century," "global economy," and "college and career readiness," showing how none of these should be primary concerns in educating children. (I was always bothered by the schools trying to pigeon hole my young children into the commercial world and now I know why.) Moore reminds us: "The purpose of a liberal education, then, is more than getting into college or getting a job. Those are byproducts of a liberal education, but not the highest purpose."
"The chief reasons for education are to bring children and young people to an understanding of the human and natural worlds and to teach them virtue and self-government. . . Today's children and young people need to understand human beings and true human happiness no less today than they have in the past. Indeed, given the amount of time they spend on video games and social media on their own, the young people of today may need more study in the humanities than ever before. Therefore they need stories-beautiful and powerful stories that instruct them, that inspire them, that amuse them, and that make them more human."
Young people must be taught "how to bring about beauty and order and justice in the world. First, however, the must learn how to bring order and beauty into their own souls." They learn this by seeing life through the classics, "through the eyes of those who have best understood human life."
"The man or woman who understands human nature and history, and who has a tolerable work ethic and a sound character, will never have trouble getting into college, nor landing a job, nor gaining a public voice, nor knowing what counts for truth, beauty, and goodness in this world. As such, that man or woman will have a much greater chance of obtaining the great end of human life: happiness-the happiness that comes from pursuing truth and living virtuously."
What happens when the rising generation gets a true education? Things like: "Love. Law. Freedom. Science. Culture. Prosperity, Justice. Faith. Happiness." What has resulted from our secularized culture of politically correct malaise and will only further spread in the hands of the Common Core? The opposites of all of the above.
The author's expert analysis focuses specifically on the teaching of great literature, which necessarily includes traditional values, religion, philosophy, and history. Not only has he documented and explained flaws and dangers ingrained in the Common Core (which to the untrained eye may seem innocuous or be obscured), but he has written about it engagingly and well, in total contrast to the pretentious, incomprehensible, boring, and random material displayed in the Common Core Standards and textbooks themselves.
But for all Moore's systematic study and measured and often charitable conclusions, he is righteously indignant, and his literature-loving wife "sick at heart," at the direction our country has taken in the education of children and youth, as should we all be. As I read I began to make a list of adjectives Moore uses in describing parts of the Common Core, including the written standards, teacher prompts, questions, requirements, textbooks, performance tasks, and activities, and I must say these materials speak for themselves. A lot of it truly is: pseudo-scientific, radical, simplistic, insipid, mind-numbing, meaningless, bankrupt, artificial, mechanical, predictable, dreary, boring, lifeless, formulaic, boilerplate, Mickey Mouse, canned, unclear, mush, shoddy, random, disordered, obtuse, biased, drivel, dry-as-dust, irresponsible, intellectual clap-trap, snarky, confusing, a waste, duplicitous, petty, distracting, mishandled, disparate, clueless, slapdash, absurd, mad, culturally worthless, politically charged.
Even if former generations thought school was boring in their day, even if they had a few bad teachers and not enough excellent ones, I'll bet they don't think their education was particularly artificial, biased, duplicitous, worthless, politically-charged madness. Moore convinces us that this is the state to which we have arrived today. Under the direction of the Federal Government and the arch-testers, our children are receiving "a false education." In many instances it's easy to see that the Common Core "offers the facade of learning without any actual learning taking place."
Lest you think Moore 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 read or discuss the 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. (Let’s add that word to the list.)
In fact, many of the assignments, questions, activities, and living author contributors are so random that Moore believes the writers of the 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 students “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, 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 sick for the kids, I feel really sorry 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.”
If you think Moore is throwing up his hands in despair, 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 and knowledgeable teachers actually guiding them through them. “[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?”
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 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.
Alas, the 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.”
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