Rotten to the Core (Part 2): Readin', Writin' and Deconstructionism
(This is the second part of an ongoing series on federal "Common Core" education standards and the corruption of academic excellence.)
The Washington, D.C., board of education earned widespread mockery this week when it proposed allowing high school students — in the nation's own capital — to skip a basic U.S. government course to graduate. But this is fiddlesticks compared to what the federal government is doing to eliminate American children's core knowledge base in English, language arts and history.
Thanks to the "Common Core" regime, funded with President Obama's stimulus dollars and bolstered by duped Republican governors and business groups, deconstructionism is back in style. Traditional literature is under fire. Moral relativism is increasingly the norm. "Standards" is Orwell-speak for subjectivity and lowest common denominator pedagogy.
Take the Common Core literacy "standards." Please. As literature professors, writers, humanities scholars, secondary educators and parents have warned over the past three years, the new achievement goals actually set American students back by de-emphasizing great literary works for "informational texts." Challenging students to digest and dissect difficult poems and novels is becoming passe. Utilitarianism uber alles.
The Common Core English/language arts criteria call for students to spend only half of their class time studying literature, and only 30 percent of their class time by their junior and senior years in high school.
Under Common Core, classics such as "To Kill a Mockingbird" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" are of no more academic value than the pages of the Federal Register or the Federal Reserve archives — or a pro-Obamacare opinion essay in The New Yorker. Audio and video transcripts, along with "alternative literacies" that are more "relevant" to today's students (pop song lyrics, for example), are on par with Shakespeare.
English professor Mary Grabar describes Common Core training exercises that tell 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." Indeed, in my own research, I found one Common Core "exemplar" on teaching the Gettysburg Address that instructs educators to "refrain from giving background context or substantial instructional guidance at the outset."
Another exercise devised by Common Core promoters features the Gettysburg Address as a word cloud. Yes, a word cloud. Teachers use the jumble of letters, devoid of historical context and truths, to help students chart, decode and "deconstruct" Lincoln's speech.
Deconstructionism, of course, is the faddish leftwing school of thought popularized by French philosopher Jacques Derrida in the 1970s. Writer Robert Locke described the nihilistic movement best: "It is based on the proposition that the apparently real world is in fact a vast social construct and that the way to knowledge lies in taking apart in one's mind this thing society has built. Taken to its logical conclusion, it supposes that there is at the end of the day no actual reality, just a series of appearances stitched together by social constructs into what we all agree to call reality."
Literature and history are all about competing ideological narratives, in other words. One story or "text" is no better than another. Common Core's literature-lite literacy standards are aimed not at increasing "college readiness" or raising academic expectations. Just the opposite. They help pave the way for more creeping political indoctrination under the guise of increasing access to "information."
As University of Arkansas professor Sandra Stotsky, an unrelenting whistleblower who witnessed the Common Core sausage-making process firsthand, concluded: "An English curriculum overloaded with advocacy journalism or with 'informational' articles chosen for their topical and/or political nature should raise serious concerns among parents, school leaders, and policymakers. Common Core's standards not only present a serious threat to state and local education authority, but also put academic quality at risk. Pushing fatally flawed education standards into America's schools is not the way to improve education for America's students."
Bipartisan Common Core defenders claim their standards are merely "recommendations." But the standards, "rubrics" and "exemplars" are tied to tests and textbooks. The textbooks and tests are tied to money and power. Federally funded and federally championed nationalized standards lead inexorably to de facto mandates. Any way you slice it, dice it or word-cloud it, Common Core is a mandate for mediocrity.