Common Core adopts a bottom-line, pragmatic approach to education. The heart of its philosophy is, as far as we can see, that it is a waste of resources to “over-educate” people. The basic goal of K-12 schools is to provide everyone with a modest skill set; after that, people can specialize in college – if they end up there. Truck-drivers do not need to know Huck Finn. Physicians have no use for the humanities. Only those destined to major in literature need to worry about Ulysses.
Perhaps a truck-driver needs no acquaintance with Paradise Lost to do his or her day’s work. But everyone is better off knowing Shakespeare and Euclidean geometry, and everyone is capable of it. Everyone bears the responsibility of growing in wisdom and grace and in deliberating with fellow-citizens about how we should all live together. A sound education helps each of us to do so.The sad fact is that as standardized testing shifts to focus on the Common Core standards we will surely see educators "teaching to the test". Yet the purpose of primary and secondary education is more than just teaching a specific skill set. We should also be teaching students how to think. Notice I said "how" not "what" to think. One of the best classes my son had in high school was a debate class. The teacher taught students to look deeper than the sound bites. They analyzed speeches by current public officials and graded the strengths of their arguments. They learned to recognize "straw men" arguments and detect logical fallacies.
Every high school student should graduate with a classically liberal (not politically liberal) education. The curriculum should provide a familiarity with math, science, literature, art, rhetoric, economics, history and philosophy. If we dumped all the social indoctrination of sex "education", diversity training, and environmental activism, we would have time to actually educate them.
The dumbing down of our education system has given us a generation of students who think the most important criteria for judging literature is the gender and race of the author. When this parody was published on the US News web site, far too many commenters viewed it as an actual proposal because they were completely unaware of the gold standard of satire, Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal. When teaching about the bones of the skull, I routinely put up a slide that shows a man holding a skull and saying, "Alas, poor Yorick". I am lucky if anyone recognizes it is from Shakespeare and impressed if anyone knows it is from Hamlet. Awe, wonder, and beauty are lost on these students.
I do not see public education recovering its bearings anytime soon. This is not the fault of individual teachers as much as it is the fault of parents, administrators, and teachers' unions. Parents warehouse their children in schools with little concern for what occurs inside. They also fail to instill an expectation and love of learning. Administrators focus on social and political agendas. Unions concern themselves with maximizing money and power with no regard for the education of students. Therefore, it is up to the Catholic schools and the homeschoolers to be the beacon of light in American education. Common Core will do nothing but dim this light.