Mark Twain said that it’s easier to fool people than it is to convince them that they have been fooled.
Having tried and failed for (going on three) years to persuade Governor Herbert and the State School Board of Utah to withdraw from the Common Core Initiative and its snake oil data mining programs, I agree with Twain.
And I’ve stopped trying to figure out whether people who promote or go along with Common Core are witting villains or not, remembering my dad’s saying, that it doesn’t matter much if someone is a pawn or a knave; the results of their actions or inactions are the same.
Actual villains don’t have claws and fangs to tip us off, like characters in a Disney movie; they don’t even know they’re on team villain, in most cases. Out of ignorance and arrogance, most villains sincerely believe in their paths.
Consider the case of David Coleman, who wrote the Common Core English Language Arts Standards and then snagged the gig of president of the College Board (the group that creates college entrance exams and writes the A.P. standards and tests).
Coleman’s villainy, in my opinion, really boils down to his own blinding pride. As Homeschool Defense Association President Michael Farris smartly said: “I told Mr. Coleman… Just because you have a good idea (homeschooling in my case, Common Core in his case), it doesn’t mean that it is appropriate to force everyone in the country to follow your idea. And that is my central problem with the Common Core and all forms of centralized educational planning.”
It’s strange that Coleman, a non-teacher, a businessman, believed that he held the only vision for what was best for every American child’s education, and also sincerely believed that it was a veddy, veddy good idea to impose it, by unconstitutional means if necessary, on the entire nation.
Just watch the first minute of this video.
He admitted on this film that he went around talking governors into his vision. (It wasn’t the governors who thought of Common Core; it was Coleman. Coleman didn’t realize that governors don’t have constitutional authority to represent voters in creating a national education system.)
But Coleman was so convinced of the superiority of his ideas that he successfully directed their imposition on K-12 schools throughout America, and then successfully altered college entrance exams to match his Common Core. That’s a lot of power in one guy.
That’s a lot of nerve in one guy, too. Where did he get the nerve to defy millions of teachers, years of time-tested tradition, simple logic and all due process? I don’t know.
There have been excellent rebuttals to the David Coleman version of education– don’t know if anyone’s read them: Dr. Thomas Newkirk, of University of New Hampshire, has written “Speaking Back to the Common Core,” one of my favorites. Dr. Terrence Moore’s “The Storykillers” is another.
But recently, in response to Coleman’s completely mis-titled essay, “Cultivating Wonder” two additional educators have spoken up eloquently: Professor Nick Tampio of Fordham University and teacher Peter Greene of Pennsylvania.
The purpose of my post today is to share what they have said.
Tampio’s and Greene’s reviews clarify what’s wrong with Coleman’s Common Core vision: 1) Faulty, narrow assumptions in the actual standards 2) The restrictiveness; in other words, even if the standards weren’t faulty, they are one person’s vision: we’re all stuck with his One True Vision. Nobody else gets a voice.
Professor Nick Tampio writes that Coleman’s Common Core:
1. Places “tight restrictions on what may be thought — or at least what may be expressed to earn teacher approval, high grades and good test scores.”
2. “Expects students to answer questions by merely stringing together key words in the text before them. This does not teach philosophy or thinking; it teaches the practice of rote procedures, conformity and obedience.”
3. Minimally discusses historical context or outside sources that may make material come alive. “For instance, he suggests that teachers ask students, “What word does Lincoln use most often in the address?” rather than, say, discuss the Civil War.”
4. “Discourages students from making connections between ideas, texts or events in the world — in a word, from thinking. Students are not encouraged to construct knowledge and understanding; they must simply be adept at repeating it.”
5. Imposes Coleman’s philosophy of education across all subjects. [Coleman] observes, “ ‘Similar work could be done for texts … in other areas such as social studies, history, science and technical subjects.’ Like a chef’s signature flavor, Coleman’s philosophy of education permeates the myriad programs that the College Board runs.”
6. Copies China’s test-centric system. “U.S. schools have educated many successful intellectuals, artists and inventors. By contrast, the Chinese model of education emphasizes rigorous standards and high-stakes tests, pre-eminently the gaokao college entrance exam. Chinese policymakers rue, however, how this education culture stifles creativity, curiosity and entrepreneurship. The Common Core will lead us to the same trap. Educators should not discard what has made the U.S. a hotbed of innovation and entrepreneurship.”
7. Disrespects student individuality. “In perhaps his most famous public statement, Coleman told a room of educators not to teach students to write personal narratives, because “as you grow up in this world, you realize that people really don’t give a shit about what you feel or what you think.” This statement expresses, albeit more crassly, the same sentiment as his essay on cultivating wonder. He demands that students do what they are told and not offer their own perspectives on things.”
Pennsylvania teacher Peter Greene is likewise more than slightly annoyed at David Coleman.
Greene notes that Coleman is a “man who has singlehandedly tried to redefine what it means to be an educated human being.”
Greene writes, “Some reformsters may pay lip service to the accumulated wisdom of the vast army of professional educators; Coleman never does.” Coleman “is not here to share some ideas and techniques teacher to teacher, but is here to give his superior insights to the nation full old lesser beings who are hopelessly lost and failing.”
“Coleman repeatedly fails to distinguish between his own experience of the text and Universal Truth. This leads him to believe apparently that if he just figured something out about Bernardo, he must be the first person ever to see it, that his own reaction to a line is the universal one, that his path into the text is the only one, and that things that do not matter to him should not matter to anybody. Of all the reformsters, he is the one least likely to ever acknowledge contributions of any other living human being. For someone who famously said that nobody gives a shot about your thoughts and feelings, Coleman is enormously fascinated by and has great fait on his own thoughts and feelings.”
“…Coleman thinks a standardized test is really a great model of life, where there’s always just one correct answer, one correct path, one correct reading, and life is about showing that you have it (or telling other people to have it)… what David Coleman doesn’t know about literature is what David Coleman doesn’t know about being human in the world. Life is not a bubble test. There is a richness and variety in human experience that Coleman simply does not recognize nor allow for.
His view of knowledge, learning, understanding, and experience is cramped and tiny. It’s unfortunate that circumstances have allowed him such unfettered power over the very idea of what an educated person should be. It’s like making a person who sees only black and white the High Minister of National Art.”
Thank you, Nick Tampio and Peter Greene.