ON-Lion Letter

A new Encounter Broadside, Common Core -- Yea & Nay, features two contributions to the Common Core debate.   According to the first, from Sol Stern, the Common Core standards still present the best opportunity we have had in the past few decades to restore a content-rich curriculum and an appreciation of the founding principles of the republic back into America’s K-12 classrooms.

Stern is a senior fellow of the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research and a contributing editor of its City Journal magazine.

Beginning in the 1960s, progressives and leftists moved into positions of influence in the universities and the schools of education, according to Stern.  The result was that the concept of a coherent, content-rich curriculum and American republican values were virtually erased from the schools over the next half century.  Conservatives (and Americans generally) who support a restoration of a knowledge rich curriculum and American principles to the classroom should see the Common Core as an opening and a possibility.

It’s understandable that the education left (people like Diane Ravitch, Jonathan Kozol, and Bill Ayers) now regards the Common Core as a threat to their ideological hegemony in the ed schools.  But Stern shows that the arguments made against the Common Core so far by the Tea Party and conservative pundits such as Michelle Malkin and George Will are short-sighted and reflect a lack of understanding of what the standards actually call for in the area of classroom instruction.  The Common Core represents an historical opening for combating and reversing the influence of educational progressivism in America’s classrooms, he says.

The second contribution, by Peter J. Wood, explains how the latest effort to fix America’s schools backfired.  It tells the story of an elite group of would-be reformers who devised a brilliant political strategy to transform education across the country without ever facing public scrutiny.  It was a bold -- and initially successful -- ploy.  But by 2013, parents started to notice bizarre changes in their children’s math assignments and teachers started to complain about new requirements that turned familiar documents such as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address into the equivalents of messages from Mars.

Wood is president of the National Association of Scholars.

Politicians who had hastily endorsed the Common Core without really understanding it began to proliferate excuses, according to Wood.  "Give us time," they said, "and we will work out the bugs."  Many of those politicians still don’t get it:  the bizarre aspects of the Common Core aren’t glitches.  They are exactly what the Common Core is about.

The Common Core is, in fact, a radical educational experiment, one which lowers standards while pretending to raise them, Wood writs.  It also chokes off local control of our schools in favor of domination by the federal government and private consortia that are completely unaccountable to the public.  Bankrolled by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, favored by political elites, and supported by true believers on both sides of the political spectrum, the Common Core may look unstoppable.  But as Wood shows, the Common Core is now in deep grassroots trouble.  He explains why and offers a practical way to stop educational steamroller in its destructive path.

Encounter Books is an activity of Encounter for Culture and Education, a nonprofit group that is substantially supported by Milwaukee's Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation, which also supports the Manhattan Institute and NAS.

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