Tag Archives: John Taylor Gatto

Kicking Classics to the Curb

Most of us remember high school English classes as a place where we were first introduced to some of the greatest writers the world has ever known. Our teachers spent long hours taking us back in time through the pages of literature, introducing us to Romeo and Juliet, Antigone, Hamlet, Hester Prynne and also more modern day characters such as Holden Caulfield. We learned from their fatal flaws, experienced their losses and were inspired by their triumphs. Through their stories, though fictional, we came to understand human nature– that people are people, regardless of the time and situation. In many ways, we also gleaned a better understanding of history.

Along with all of the frustrated students, parents and teachers that the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) have been racking up, perhaps other casualties of the standards are the works of Shakespeare, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain and other classic writers. As if wading through the intricacies of a Greek tragedy wasn’t hard enough, Common Core expects English teachers to give up some of that in favor of non-fiction “informational texts”. Imagine a teacher trying to inspire a love of the written word in a room full of high school students with such materials as presidential executive orders or the latest policies being implemented by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Don’t laugh. It’s for real, and it’s part of Common Core. According to their website, reading this type of stuff will help prepare students for the future: “The Common Core asks students to read stories and literature, as well as more complex texts that provide facts and background knowledge in areas such as science and social studies. Students will be challenged and asked questions that push them to refer back to what they’ve read. This stresses critical-thinking, problem-solving, and analytical skills that are required for success in college, career, and life.”

Other well-respected educators disagree saying de-emphasizing classics in favor of non-fiction informational materials is more likely to have the opposite effect on college readiness, particularly for those in low income brackets. Emory University English Professor Mark Bauerlein and University of Arkansas Professor Sandra Stotsky co-wrote the paper How Common Core’s ELA Standards Place College Readiness at Risk. In it, the authors make the case that the achievement gap between lower and higher income students will widen under CCSS: “High-achieving students in academically oriented private and suburban schools will continue to get the rich literary-historical content that promotes critical and analytical thinking, while others will get little more than watered-down training in reading comprehension.”

Another professor, Mary Grabar, says Common Core instructs teachers to “read Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address without emotion and without providing any historical context. Common Core reduces all ‘texts’ to one level: the Gettysburg Address to the EPA’s Recommended Levels of Insulation.”

Wonderful. This will do nothing to inspire a love of reading or history in students of any age. Just what we need in a time when many students heading into college must take remedial English courses as freshmen in order to move into their college-level coursework. Add this fiasco that is Common Core into an educational environment where even college students can’t correctly answer 4th-grade level American history questions, as has been documented by many “man-on-the-street” interviews.

How ironic that states which accepted the Common Core State Standards had to do so in order to compete for Obama’s Race to the Top funds. Just based on the math and English standards, it seems more like a race toward mediocrity. This is all being done to education with lots of money from big corporations (Exxon) and wealthy foundations (The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation)…and it’s nothing new. As John Taylor Gatto pointed out in his book An Underground History of American Education , we’ve been down this road before and the results will be just as bad this time around as they ever were: “The impact of foundation money upon education has been very heavy, tending to promote uniformity in approach and method, tending to induce the educator to become an agent for social change and a propagandist for the development of our society in the direction of some form of collectivism.” [Emphasis mine]

Whenever the elites start throwing money at anything–in this case public education—you can be sure there’s something in it for them.

 

 

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2+2= Whatever

When I wrote last week that the Common Core State Standards were like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow for all good progressives, I based it on what I know from history. The early progressives–elitists from the political realm, the business world and academia—have been trying to re-work public education to suit their own needs for more than 100 years…always under the guise of doing what they do “for the children”.

Common Core has been criticized, not for what it’s doing for children, but for what it’s doing to them…and to parents and teachers. I previously posted the photographer’s picture of her tearful daughter as she worked on her 2nd grade Common Core math homework. I’m certainly no expert on it, but from all I’ve read and listened to, doing math the Common Core way, especially for the youngest students is sort of like taking a road trip from New York to Miami by way of Los Angeles. Eventually, you’ll get where you want to be- with any luck- but not without a lot of wasted time and energy. It appears to be an inefficient way to teach the basics of math with a lot of unnecessary stress added in. Rather than try to explain this wacky math in writing, it’s easier to watch this video by Caleb Bonham. It puts it all in perspective.

Parents are finding it difficult, if not impossible to help their children with their homework, because the “old math” that is logical and makes sense in the real world just doesn’t cut it anymore. The real idea lurking behind Common Core, like so many of the supposedly “progressive” reforms throughout history (things that have been tried and failed) may be this: Mom and Dad don’t know anything; the old ways don’t work. After all, it was progressive darling President Woodrow Wilson who said, “The use of a university is to make young gentlemen as unlike their fathers as possible.”

That point of view, however, isn’t limited to universities. Author and former New York City public school teacher John Taylor Gatto makes this case in his book The Underground History of American Education (2000). Gatto lays out several ideas progressives hold about public education that must be debunked in order for real and positive changes to happen in education. One idea that must go, according to Gatto, is the idea that his family should not be the center of a child’s universe. He writes:
“Children will inevitably grow apart from their parents in belief, and this process must be encouraged by diluting parental influence and disabusing children of the idea their parents are sovereign in mind or morality. That prescription alone has been enough to cripple the American family.”  Gatto wrote those words more than a decade ago—long before Common Core itself existed, but he could clearly see the trend where education was heading even back then.

If CCSS is unnecessarily difficult for the littlest students, it’s criticized for not being rigorous enough in the years leading into college. Where most students begin Algebra in the 8th grade, Common Core postpones it until 9th grade, giving less time for students who may want to pursue STEM careers (those in science, technology, engineering and math) to get in the pre-calculus and calculus courses they need by the time they enter college. University of Arkansas Professor of Education Reform Sandra Stotsky wrote about the Common Core Math Standards for the Pioneer Institute, a non-partisan private organization that is advocating strongly against CCSS. Professor Stotsky says some states may have to lower their math standards in order to align with Common Core. That will hurt high-achieving students who want to pursue STEM careers, and could in the long-term, lead to a lowering of standards on college campuses. She indicates that students who excel in math will be under-served by CCSS because the math standards will only prepare them for entrance into “non-selective” colleges: “Why should their high school mathematics programs ignore those students who might become our future engineers and scientists? This is apparently the grand bargain that over 45 state boards of education bought into without asking engineering and science faculty in their own state’s colleges and universities…”

Like so much that comes with progressivism, the devil is in the details. Remember when Nancy Pelosi said “We have to pass the bill (Obamacare) to find out what’s in it? That scheme spreads the wealth—and the health. Common Core is attempting to redistribute knowledge. So much for the’Rithmetic part of Common Core…wait until you see what they do to Readin’ and Writin’…

Leveling the playing field? Courtesy of The Patriot Post

Leveling the playing field?
Courtesy of The Patriot Post