My Problem with the Common Core Standards

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The Common Core Standards' fan club is melting (melting!).  

The most frequent complaints about the Standards are that they're a sign of creeping federal intrusion into education, that they're not as rigorous as proclaimed, and that their implementation will cost a wasteful amount of time and money. 

I sympathize with these and other concerns, but I have a slightly different one when it comes to the Common Core Standards – particularly the English Language Arts standards.

My complaint is that they promote the same lousy way of teaching literature under which students already suffer. Only now, it has the federal government's rubber stamp of approval and state mandates.

For years, students have already had to endure stretching novels that could probably be read in one or two weeks into an entire academic quarter. They have been subjected to evenings of stultifying worksheets on genre, setting, character traits, and plot structure. They have had to sit through hours of tortuous, inane discussion aimed at dissecting all of the non-interesting portions of books.

The Common Core Standards chisel these awful practices into stone. They're the Ten Commandments of bad pedagogy.

What's more, one could argue that the English Language Standards are really a function of the Mathematics Standards. The English Standards advocate a very rigid, calculated way of approaching literature, for which teachers and students apply the same prepackaged axioms to each diverse work of literature that finds its way onto their desks, or iPads. They treat Pride and Prejudice and To Kill a Mockingbird like geometry theorems to be solved.

This is all very sad, because books are the products of authors who have souls that they attempt to communicate through the book. The Common Core Standards, on the other hand, are soul-crushing.

And they won't help students better understand literature. Sure, by the end of their tutelage under the Common Core, high school graduates might be able to differentiate between mystery and science fiction, identify metaphor and irony, and maybe (if they're among the 25% of America's students proficient in writing) they will be able to use examples from the text to support the arguments of their essays.

But they won't be any closer to understanding the ideas that the authors attempted to express. They will not have earned membership in the history of minds who have battled with the complex issues at the center of human existence. They won't be any closer to grasping truth.

Our education system today strives to produce "critical thinkers." But tomorrow's Common Core students won't be "critical thinkers," either. They'll be merely critics, and ineffective ones at that.

In The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis worried that schools were creating a legion of "Men Without Chests" devoid of the sentiments that great literature is supposed to infuse.

The Common Core Standards may be the instrument that removes the last vestiges of American students' chests.

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