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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Common Core vs. Classical Education

Common Core vs. Classical Education

As a teacher in a school that is adopting the Common Core standards, I was introduced to them rather early and with a decidedly positive bent.  I have also, in preparation for opening (God willing) a classical academy, been learning as much as I can about classical education, not having been educated according to that method myself as a child.

          I am not an expert on either Common Core or classical education, although I expect I could discuss them both with reasonable knowledge and intelligence.  There is plenty to say about them, but what I want to contrast in this article are certain key philosophies underlying both, at least as I understand them.

          Anyone who has been paying attention to the Common Core controversy has heard the complaint that, among other things, Common Core steers away from literary texts, and toward non-fiction, technical texts.  Another complaint has been the supposed lowered expectations for math in the higher grades.

          These things are products of a basic philosophy of education that the Common Core standards put into practice.  It sees education almost exclusively as a means for economic achievement.  The purpose of education, the philosophy says, is to create citizens with the ability to contribute to the economy and provide for themselves financially as adults.

          Therefore, Shakespeare and trigonometry, for most people, are superfluous.  “Why does a truck driver need to know Shakespeare?” I’ve heard it said.  College is the time to specialize.  Those interested in literature will explore it then.  Those who pursue a career with higher level mathematics can master trigonometry; the rest of us need not be bothered with it.

          To be fair, these opinions are not universal among educators, even those promoting the Common Core.  And many districts may choose to go beyond the standards.  Certainly Catholic dioceses will have more freedom to decide how to implement the standards, if they do.

          The philosophy, however, is in stark contrast to that exemplified by classical education.  To a classical educator, education is about much more than economic achievement; it is about human formation.  He believes that there is a certain education that is fitting for all people, necessary for responsible citizenship, and worthy of a child of God.

          The liberal arts, as taught in classical education, should create well-rounded students. A comprehensive education is necessary for all students, regardless of their future profession.  A classical educator would answer the question, “Why does a truck driver need to know Shakespeare?” with, “It may not benefit truck driving to know Shakespeare, but it benefits human persons.” 

          A career is what we do.  But everyone deserves the opportunity to be an educated person.  This is the philosophy behind classical education.  (The addition of Catholicism to classical education completes the program.)

          This is not to say that modern “Common Core” educators are not interested in their students being truly educated people.  But the system in which they are operating, in my opinion, does not encourage it.  Parents have many things to consider when it comes to the education of their children, and the philosophy behind that education is one of the fundamentals.  All parents would do well to learn about the Common Core, inquire as to how their district or their diocese will be implementing it, and prayerfully consider supporting a return to the classical approach to education.


Note:  Though I do not support the Common Core standards, I recognize that Catholic dioceses, with more freedom than public schools, may use what they find profitable from the standards, discard what they find objectionable, and supplement with other beneficial materials.  This post is meant as a reflection, perhaps even a challenge to parents and educators alike, but not as a criticism of any diocese or school district.