An Uncommon Core

Classical Education
“When you break the big laws you do not get freedom. You do not even get anarchy. You get small laws.”
G.K. Chesterton

In his article The Common Core and the Classical Tradition, Classical Education expert Dr. Christopher Perrin uses the quote above to explain how the massive federal curriculum known as the Common Core Standards (CCS) has come to be. The true purpose of education is to cultivate wisdom and virtue by nourishing the soul on truth, beauty, and goodness. When this fundamental “law” is broken, and the purpose of education becomes “train them to get further training” and “train workers for the global economy,” the result is “many, many small laws we call ‘standards’.” In other words, the CCS experiment is the inevitable result when education is founded on forming college students and workers instead of excellent, free human beings.

Of course, classical educators actually agree with the notion that there should be a “core curriculum.” As Dr. Perrin points out, there is “a core of great books, great ideas and great artists that should be studied” and “these great ideas should be the common study and treasure of the entire nation.” But despite its classical name, with its focus on efficiency and technical training, Common Core is anything but classical. Realizing the full potential of human nature (not to mention divine grace) and the acquisition of “wisdom, virtue, and eloquence is almost completely absent from the standards.” The irony, Dr. Perrin predicts, is “CCS will produce less of what it seeks.” The excessive analysis and pursuit of data “turns teachers into technicians” preparing students for tests rather than for life. But it’s when you focus on forming human beings in excellence, students also develop skills. Focus on the skills, and you get neither.

For more information, see this website by the Cardinal Newman Society.

Denise Donohue, Ed.D., and Dan Guernsey, Ed.D. further examined the Disconnect between Common Core’s Literary Approach and Catholic Education’s Pursuit of Truth. The “Close Reading/New Criticism” method used by CC values literature not for “what it teaches us about how to live well” but rather “that it teaches us how to read well.” This formula serves CC’s pragmatic focus on standardized test, college, and career readiness, as its pursuit of truth is limited to the text itself, apart from a student’s background knowledge or even the author’s actual intentions/position. However, the approach to literature used at a Catholic school should “focus on much more than evidence from the text and whose horizons includes much more than college and career.” (Heaven, for example.)

Instead of focusing on “getting the right answers on the Common Core test-inspired questions at the end of any publisher’s provided worksheets,” Catholic classical education looks “deliberately and carefully at the real, rich and wonderful world outside the text.” While a text “may very well brilliantly unveil reality – sometimes with life-changing effect,” it must be read in context. “In combination with reality,” the text “may prove a mighty formative weapon.” Authentic knowledge can be attained only “when the human intellect, informed by the senses, judges things rightly.” Instead, the methodology employed by the CCS “rewards subjectivity and relativity, instead of Truth.”

Donohue and Guernsey’s conclusion is worth quoting at length, as it accurately summarizes our philosophy at Lourdes Classical in response to the modern utilitarian trend in education, with “Common Core” being its most recent manifestation:

``In Catholic schools, we know we are not just producing workers and scholars, we are producing living, breathing, complex, contradictory, eternally destined, unrepeatable and immensely valuable human beings. Our bishops and parishes do not support schools and keep them open to provide better 'career and college readiness'. They keep Catholic schools open to provide the liberation that comes from a thoughtful, loving and free encounter with the living God. Catholic schools exist not for their pragmatic worldly usefulness, but rather to actuate the authentic freedom to which each person is called and to provide skills at apprehending and integrating reality, including that which transcends the text, in all of its fullness and glory.``

Without objective reality, and ultimately without Jesus Christ, the Truth Incarnate, we have no “common core”.