Common Core Propaganda v. Learning & Wonder

SchoolroomThere was a boy called Eustace Clarence Scrubb, and he almost deserved it.

…He liked books if they were books of information and had pictures of grain elevators or fat foreign children doing exercises in model schools….

Most of us know what we should expect to find in a dragon’s lair, but, as I said before, Eustace has read only the wrong books. They had a lot to say about exports and imports and governments and drains, but they were weak on dragons. That is why he was so puzzled at the surface on which he was lying. Parts of it were too prickly to be stones and too hard to be thorns, and there seemed to be a great many round, flat things, and it all clinked when he moved.  There was light enough at the cave’s mouth to examine it by. And of course Eustace found it to be what any of us could have told him in advance— treasure….1

I couldn’t help thinking of Eustace’s preferred reading when I read Obamacore: The substitution of propaganda for great literature in our schools at Power Line in December.

Controversy is brewing over new Common Core State Standards in English that call on public schools to emphasize the reading of “information text” instead of fictional literature….

…The government has nothing much against literature, per se. Rather, this initiative is driven in large part by the desire to promote political propaganda in the classroom. The study of literature is being downgraded in the process, but for a good cause. Consider that one of the “informational texts” recommended as a replacement for, say, Great Expectations is “Executive Order 13423: Strength- ening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management.”…

Another Common Core’s non-fiction exemplar is an excerpt from a 2009 New Yorker essay by Atul Gawande on health care. This too is propaganda – an effort to show that Obamacare is wise policy.

In reality the government may have something against literature. Progressives have tried to take us down this road before as Stanley Kurtz notes in Obama and Your Child’s Mind:

There’s a history here. Early in the 20th century, progressive educators eager to transform society pushed to drastically reduce the place of classic literature in the curriculum and put in “socially useful” non-fiction readings instead. The movement culminated in the 1930s, when educators who believed that capitalism was on the way out succeeded in limiting the reading of classic literature and inserting a very left-leaning social studies curriculum in many schools. So while even literature can be taught in politically biased ways, those seeking to politicize the K–12 curriculum have long sought to pare back classic fiction and substitute non-fiction treating contemporary issues.

This is why the Founders kept control of the schools out of federal hands. No one party or force should be able to shape the entire nation’s school curriculum. There lies the way to tyranny….

Apple CorePropaganda isn’t limited to reading. At Missouri Education Watchdog they have a photo of a Scholastic work sheet titled “Distribute the Wealth.” From experience I can tell you that political correctness can be written into math problems.

Power Line cites a Washington Post column Common core sparks war over words. Notice the date—Common Core is advancing rapidly and so many people are not even aware it exists.

The new standards, which are slowly rolling out now and will be in place by 2014, require that nonfiction texts represent 50 percent of reading assignments in elementary schools, and the requirement grows to 70 percent by grade 12.

Grain elevators and drains, no less. Imagination and stories are an important part of a child’s life. Literature—good literature—touches the reality of what it means to be human and presents it to us in fiction.  It entertains us and teaches us. Authors don’t write in a vacuum, and infor- mation and critical thinking can be learned wrapped up in the lives and foolish or wise acts of the characters. The Post quotes educators who take issue with the standards:

Sandra Stotsky, who wrote the outgoing Massachusetts’ pre-K-to-12 standards, which are regarded as among the best in the nation, said the Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction is misguided.

Tackling rich literature is the best way to prepare students for careers and college, said Stotsky, who blames mediocre national reading scores on weak young adult literature popular since the 1960s.

“There is no research base for the claim that informational reading will lead to college preparedness better than complex literary study,” said Stotsky, a professor at the University of Arkansas.

Of the recommended texts listed at the Post, the best, such as Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville are texts that should be taught and discussed in history and government and civics classes—not English. I think primary documents are vital, but I’m very skeptical about which excerpts from de Tocqueville will be used and how. I really don’t expect Common Core guidelines to let Democracy in America speak for itself.

The Post quoted high school English teacher, J. D. Wilson, as saying, “Reading for information makes you knowledgeable — you learn stuff, but reading literature makes you wise,” and described the creative way he handled the standards:

This fall, he has taught “Literature Is Not Data: Against Digital Humanities,” “Shakespeare, a Poet Who Is Still Making Our History” and “Who Killed the Liberal Arts?” They are all essays that emphasize the value of literature.

Homeschool families are notorious for their bookshelves. One reason is to provide good reading for their children. Many times I’ve seen libraries remove good literature from their shelves and replace them with the latest gore, scream or decadent fad. I’ve snapped them up at library used book sales. Reading opens up a world to a child and the kind of world the author invites you to experience matters. I thought this rebuke from Nell Duke at the University of Michigan was amusingly ludicrous:

Historically, elementary schools haven’t given kids much opportunity to read that kind of text. For those kids, reading storybook after storybook about talking animals could be a bit of a turnoff.

Children are fascinated with stories about talking animals. Has Duke never heard of C. S. Lewis’ Narnia Chronicles or Charlotte’s Web or Stuart Little or My Father’s Dragon or the Redwall books? The Wind in the Willows? The Beatrix Potter books? Does he think these books became best-selling children’s classics because children found them boring? Last October The Wall Street Journal published a humorous and serious article by Joe Queenan on My 6,128 Favorite Books. that reminded me of my lifelong love of books. He described the role books can play for children:

…lots of times my three sisters and I had no food, no heat, no television. But we always had books. And books put an end to our misfortune. Because to the poor, books are not diversions. Book are siege weapons.

Common Core substitutes the propaganda of government for learning and wonder. Indoctrination is not the same as education.

Hills Were Higher Then by Paige Carpenter

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Posts on Common Core are currently listed in the right side bar. They are permanently listed in the Common Core subpage that’s found under Family→Children→Education in the heading.
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1C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Harper Collins Publishers, New York NY: 1952, 1980) 3, 87.
Apple Core modified from Apple Stark by Roberta F. Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.
Hills Were Higher Then watercolor © 2012 by Paige Carpenter. Do not post or copy without written permission.

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