Keep Common Core 

The coalition seeking to eradicate Common Core educational standards is way off base.

click to enlarge common_core.jpg

It should be obvious to our legislative minority that when Eagle Forum operatives are suddenly their new best friends, something is rotten in the state of Tennessee. I'm talking about Ron Ramsey and his recent successful campaign using Democrats to help defeat Common Core.

I know they're outnumbered, but Tennessee Democrats are crazy to make common cause with conservatives on this issue, and the fact that they don't understand this is troublesome.

Are Democrats so desperate for a legislative rapprochement that they'll trust partisans who claim that commie pinko liberals are trying to destroy America, one capitalist cornerstone at a time? Or are liberals simply too busy "protecting" the public teaching profession to see that they are instead, helping to destroy it? Anyone who pays the slightest attention knows that America's public schools are not getting the job done and major reform is necessary. Standards are lax in most areas of the country and a significant number of schools are either diploma mills or drop-out factories.

My experience in Memphis City Schools classrooms in the late 1990s taught me that there is virtually no rigor in many public schools that serve the disadvantaged. I taught history to 8th and 12th graders, and there were far too many students who could not pick out key facts in a textbook passage. How did they get that far without being able to read and interpret language at grade level? Colleges of Education and the teaching lobby have much for which they should apologize, as do parents who can't or won't see that few things in life worth having are easy or fun.

The conservative critique is that Common Core is "federal intrusion" into state matters and that local control is optimal. But what this is really about is best seen through Ramsey's quote that our legislature needs to replace Common Core with "Tennessee standards based on Tennessee values."

That, my fellow liberals, is code for teaching creationism as science and stripping history texts of any facts that cast America in a less than flattering light. All this in the service of turning our public schools into religious ones, brick by ideological brick — schools that will then serve Neocon Kool-Aid with lunch.

After that victory, vouchers for Christian schools (their real goal) may not even be necessary if they can use the concept of "Tennessee values" to convert public schools into shadow seminaries.

On the other hand, liberals complain that Common Core's emphasis on testing of facts places too great a burden on educators' energies and prevents them from stimulating creativity. This, too is nonsense. "Teaching to the test" is a tired shibboleth that ignores the fact that effectiveness of curriculum and instruction can only be measured if there is a testing mechanism.

Part of the testing criticism is the baloney about standardized tests not measuring everything a kid knows. Of course, they don't. What tests do? When you took the driving test in your teens, were you asked absolutely everything you would ever need to know about operating a car? If you believe that testing gets in the way of learning, perhaps you'd like to dispense with those tedious licensing exams for attorneys and CPAs, not to mention medical school residents. I mean, how much creativity can there be in the process of learning human anatomy, although I'm guessing that your doctor knowing the difference between the sternum and the sacrum is pretty important.

Memorization and tests are not "creative," but they are the foundation for the much-lauded idea of "higher order thinking skills." Which, in any rational universe, must be preceded by lower order thinking skills, aka facts. The work world, for which we claim to be preparing our children, will not care if they're having fun at their jobs. Employers will impose their own "tests" on employees' knowledge, and there will be no one to intervene and save the workers from failure.

Democrats need to recognize that high standards will produce the ability to read, reflect, and write about "boring facts" and that fun should be a by-product of education, not its goal. Such rigor will then help to inoculate public education against conservative claims that the reason we have so much unemployment is that there is a skills gap. Which is just code for wanting to outsource or mechanize what they can and to pay lousy wages for what they can't.

Wake up, Democrats, and smell the duplicity. Tennessee's future depends on you.

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