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Thursday, April 17, 2014

David Brooks, "When the Circus Descends": Should Common Courtesy Be Part of the Common Core?

In his latest New York Times op-ed entitled "When the Circus Descends" (, David Brooks discusses opposition from both the right and the left to Common Core education standards. Brooks writes:

"On the right, the market-share-obsessed talk-radio crowd claims that the Common Core standards represent a federal takeover of the schools. This is clearly false. This was a state-led effort, and localities preserve their control over what exactly is taught and how it is taught. Glenn Beck claims that Common Core represents 'leftist indoctrination' of the young. On Fox, Elisabeth Hasselbeck cited a curriculum item that supposedly taught students that Abraham Lincoln’s religion was 'liberal.' But, as the education analyst Michael J. Petrilli quickly demonstrated, this was some locally generated curriculum that was one of hundreds on a lesson-sharing website and it was promulgated a year before the Common Core standards even existed.

As it’s being attacked by the talk-radio right, the Common Core is being attacked by the interest group left. The general critique from progressives, and increasingly from teachers’ unions, is that the standards are too difficult, that implementation is shambolic and teachers are being forced into some top-down straitjacket that they detest.

It is true that the new standards are more rigorous than the old, and that in some cases students have to perform certain math skills a year earlier than they formerly had to learn them. But that is a feature, not a bug. The point is to get students competitive with their international peers."

Right? Left? Kind of meaningless to me, today.

I am the product of the University of Chicago's required "Common Core" studies, and I recently cleaned the dust off a copy of Thucydides's "The Peloponnesian War," which has accompanied me throughout the years and served as a poignant reminder of my college days. Will I ever return to it? That's the plan, but I also want to teach myself to play the piano sometime before I die. We'll see which, if either, comes first.

Common Core? How about teaching common courtesy? It might be of more value to young people and society in the years to come.

Concern over American students losing ground to international peers? In a December 2013 Telegraph article entitled "OECD education report: Korea’s school system a pressure cooker for children" (, Andrew Salmon wrote from Seoul:

"It has been praised by President Barack Obama and delivered top-five results for South Korea in global literacy and numeracy tests, but among Koreans themselves, the education system is so controversial that hundreds of thousands become educational emigrants.

The regimented by-the-book teaching system leaves nothing to chance.

. . . .

But intense focus on exam scores creates an irony: knowledge is often eschewed in favor of test preparation.

. . . .

Scholastic pressures are so great that suicide is the number-one killer of South Koreans under 40 (compared to traffic accidents in other developed nations), while educational cost burdens are so colossal, they are cited as a factor in the declining national birth rate."

Emulate the South Korean education system? Thanks, but no thanks, even it means a mid-level managerial position at Samsung, LG, Hyundai or Daewoo. I still vote for common courtesy . . . and lower suicide rates.

1 comment:

  1. Since I retired from teaching, I receive chronic but welcomed emails from a good friend who entered teaching late in his life, complaining and condemning Common Core. I also watch So. Korea's Arirang News daily which recently featured an American educator hired to assess and tweak the national way of doing things.

    He reported that what he saw was not so different from American classrooms. In some, lecture-style dominated while, in others, collaborative, student-centered models dominated. He noted that Korean parents were more involved in their kids' education and that it was held as a very high value--something that I don't believe exists with much consistency in America.

    When I went to school, predominantly in the 60's, and early 70's, the "Core" didn't exist as a consolidated body of knowledge, complete with matching textbooks and curriculum-related materials which was promulgated like religious dogma but I will not look back with rose-colored glasses either. I remember wonderful lessons but also dry-as-bones rote learning that seemed meaningless then and does so now.

    I am in favor of some basics that MUST be taught, and "The Core" never struck me as oppressive--at least not at my school nor up until the time I retired in 2011. We followed it at my school but only insofar as it encompassed basic skills taught at an agreed time and exposing kids to agreed-upon reading material which was thought to be what an educated person should be exposed to. Of course, a teacher could add to these basic requirements. I don't doubt we have been on the right track overall. The national direction-whether because of Core, or despite it, was toward the collaborative model, the student-centered model with teacher as facilitator. The fascistic aspects of what some describe of Core Curriculum seems overblown.