7 Quick Takes Friday (3/28/14)

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Ah, the Friday of Spring Break.

It feels rather less like a Friday and more like a “Um, excuse me, Ms. Shea, have you graded those papers yet…?”

I’m working on it, people. I am.

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Over at Crisis Magazine, Anthony Esolen lauds the University of Dallas for its authentic commitment to the Western literary tradition:

Here is what my great and wise professor, Robert Hollander, had to say about the University of Dallas. Let his words ring in your ears, American bishops whom I want so badly to love and to follow in the fight for things both human and divine, and who so often let me down:

“After my first visit to UD in the spring of 2005, I came upon my friend and colleague, Alban Forcione, surely one of the five or fewer greatest scholars of Cervantes alive, [and told him] that we had wasted our lives teaching in the Ivy League and that I had found the place at which we could have spent our careers with better effect.” (Esolen, “On the Academic Hostility to Great Literature”)

As my friend Shelley would say:

ohyeahdespicableme

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But wait…

As much as I agree with the core (get it?) of Esolen’s argument, there are parts I am not so sure about.

Let’s define a few terms first:

The Core (n) – the 60 credit hour sequence of classes taken by all students at the University of Dallas, regardless of major, predominantly in their freshman and sophomore years. Eg: Literary Traditions I-IV, Philosophy of Man, Western Theological Tradition, etc.

The Common Core (n) – “an education initiative in the United States that details what K-12 students should know in English language arts and mathematics at the end of each grade. The initiative is sponsored by the National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) and seeks to establish consistent education standards across the states as well as ensure that students graduating from high school are prepared to enter credit-bearing courses at two- or four-year college programs or enter the workforce” (via Wikipedia)

The Common “Corpse” (n) – Anthony Esolen’s nickname for the Common Core (see above), reflecting his belief (and the belief of many Catholics) that this education initiative undermines not only the Catholic identity of schools, but the very purpose of authentic education itself

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Okay.

Now, in the aforementioned article, Esolen’s chief purpose is not to criticize the Common Core, although he does do this as a way of opening. You can view his much more comprehensive (and, at times, compelling) arguments here:

“How Common Core Devalues Great Literature” at Crisis Magazine

“Common Core’s Substandard Writing Standards” at Crisis Magazine

“Common Core: 21st Century Peonage” at Crisis Magazine

Here are just a few thoughts:

I am a high school English teacher, and last year I was encouraged to implement Common Core Standards in my lesson objectives. Thus, I cannot really speak to ALL the standards, but I am familiar with the grades 9-12 Language Arts standards.

Common-Core

source: politichicks.tv

THE BAD:

1) Common Core has mysteriously descended upon most of the states without any kind of debate or voter input. States’ Rights Advocates are rightly suspicious and annoyed of this top-down Federalizing of education.

2) “Follow the money,” as a wise person recently reminded me. Common Core is largely funded by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. You may draw your own conclusions. Moreover, the biggest reason it was so quickly (and almost universally) adopted is that President Obama offered the states an extra competitive edge in their applications for “Race to the Top” federal grants if they adopted the Common Core Standards by August 2010. Hm.

3) It is true that the Common Core seems to prize “informational texts.” This is especially evident on their “recommended” reading lists and options for teachers. Many people are worried that this is to the exclusion of “literary texts.”

4) Many Catholics object to the content of some of the recommended texts as being inappropriate or indoctrinating students into secular agendas.

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THE GOOD:

1) One reason for the unifying of educational standards is rather practical. Some states have horrible and confusingly-worded standards, period. Or they have such an overwhelming number of standards that teachers look at them, groan, and then move on with their lesson planning either cherry picking a few numbers here and there or ignoring them altogether. The Common Core tries to simplify and streamline the standards so that they are much easier to understand and thus to implement in one’s actual classroom teaching.

2) Another reason for the unifying of educational standards is also practical. In previous decades, when people stayed put and were educated in their home states at least through high school, they could follow a coherent set of standards that (supposedly) guided a coherent curriculum (a particular sequence in Math classes, for example). But recently, since so many people do NOT stay in one state and are often educated in several states over time, there were a lot of issues with different students encountering the same skills over again at a different grade level, or skipping them altogether. Common Core says, “okay. By the end of 6th grade, everybody has to have mastered A, B and C.” So even if they move to a school in a different state, these students will be on the same track.

My conclusion, as of today. (Although I am open to your comments and to learning more. I don’t pretend to have this all figured out.)

1) The Common Core is a tool, that, like all tools, can be used for good or for evil. It may not even be a very good tool, but it is definitely better than some.

2) The “recommended” texts are just that. Recommended. And, as a high school teacher, I can tell you that Educational fads and theories “recommend” all sorts of silly things all the time that a reasonable person can confidently ignore. This is not a good reason to adopt the CC, but it is a good reason to not freak out.

3) Esolen seems to suggest that the Common Core itself is the source of a lot of current and potential problems. But I see it as more a symptom of our flawed notions of education than anything else.

4) Catholic Schools are in a privileged position because we are NOT required to adhere to state or national standards by law. Unfortunately, in order to seem “competitive” it seems a lot of Catholic schools are dumbly nodding their heads and saying “oh yes, we have Common Core too. Don’t worry, your kids will be well-prepared for college just like everybody else.” But this is 1) just marketing and 2) rather beside the point. Catholic Schools have a responsibility to educate the human person from a supernatural perspective that is utterly antithetical to many secular alternatives, not just the Common Core.

5) If anything, the Common Core at least is forcing some Catholic schools to re-examine their identities and the purpose of Catholic Education to begin with–which is a very good thing.

6) With Saint Paul, we can “examine everything carefully” and “hold fast to what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). We don’t have to throw out the baby with the bathwater out of fear and knee-jerk reactions to a complex problem.

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So my “Quick Takes” basically turned into a discussion of the Common Core. Whoops.

Here’s another controversial topic, that I think is explored quite well in this article from the American Spectator: “Hobby Lobby, Your Bedroom, and Your Boss” by Natalie DeMacedo.

A taste:

Outside the Supreme Court some women held signs saying, “Birth control is not my boss’ business.” You are completely correct! So stop asking your boss to pay for it.

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The best piece of advice I have received recently came from a good friend. During a homily at Mass, she said the priest was discussing how overwhelming Lent can be sometimes, especially after the first few weeks when you have failed in your promises and resolutions.

He has some simple words that I have been repeating to myself a lot:

“Pray, and then do the next right thing.”

Which, oftentimes, is to pray again.

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1 Comment

Filed under 7 Quick Takes Friday, Catholicism, Education, Literature

One response to “7 Quick Takes Friday (3/28/14)

  1. rachellerose3

    I appreciate your comments on Common Core. It’s great to hear the thoughts of someone who actually has experience with CC standards. I’ve read some of Esolen’s thoughts on it before. While I think he may have a point, you have a point too. There may be some good stuff in CC that I just haven’t heard. I also see that there may be things about it that I haven’t understood. For example, I didn’t realize the informational texts were suggestions. I’m still wary of the Common Core, the idea that it might be academically weak, and also what it could mean for me as a future teacher, but you’ve certainly opened my eyes to a broader understanding of CC. Thanks for sharing your experience and thoughts!

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