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Caleb Jacobo
NationofChange / Op-Ed
Published: Sunday 9 December 2012
Education is meaningless if the student cannot understand the kinds of hearts that drive man.

A Misguided Step in Education Reform

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It is a common enough idea that if there is something wrong with a society, there is something wrong with how that society is thinking; that education is falling short in some aspect, and that reforms must take place. Indeed, states around the country are calling for education reform in light of poor test scores and poverty. I agree with all these sentiments, but what I can't agree with are the new K-12 Common Core State Standards, slowly rolling out across the nation, that will have taken full effect by 2014.

The Common Core Standards require that by the time students are in their senior years, only 30% of their curriculum reading can be Literature. Of course, Common Core insists that the goal of the new standards is to increase the amount of essays, research, and other documents across all subjects, including social studies and math. The standards "define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach," but throughout the 46 states that have already been subjected to the standard, "the burden of teaching the nonfiction texts is falling to English teachers," as Mark Bauerlein, an English professor at Emory University, said in Washington Post's article on the controversy around the standards. This burden on English educators is creating conflict in the classroom, as teachers determine which works of rich literature must go. Not only that, but Common Core’s emphasis on nonfiction is misguided and not backed by any studies suggesting information texts prepare students better for life than complex literary study.

Common Core claims its goal is to prepare students for today's "college and work expectations." If our society were flourishing because of the progressive nature of our colleges and workforce this sentiment may hold water, but preparing students for the standards expected by today's jobs and colleges is the perpetuation of a society that is in its death throws. Not only that, but if we prepare students only for college and work expectations, then we are preparing our youth to rely on established systems to survive, but as we know, in a country controlled by the richest 1% who rely on our perpetuation of conformity to sustain themselves, the established system is broken.

Education is meaningless if the student cannot understand the kinds of hearts that drive man - their inconsistencies, imperfections, doubts, and very often misguidance - that defies dull reports and facts and figures, which may best be understood through the study of subjective literature. Attempting to conform education to agree with times is the opposite if what educators should strive to embody in their students, and I am inclined to agree with Ralph Waldo Emerson in his address to the Phi Beta Kappa society at Cambridge, 1837: "[schools] can only highly serve us … when they aim not to drill, but to create; when they gather from far every ray of various genius ... and, by the concentrated fires, set the hearts of their youth on flame." Teachers must aim to promote creative and progressive thought, but cannot through the drilling of facts and reports, no matter the subject.

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ABOUT Caleb Jacobo

Caleb Jacobo is an independent writer living in Southern California. He runs the New American Scholar Project, an organization focused on making great works of literature accessible for everyone. You can find out more about Caleb at his blog at You can find out more about the New American Scholar Project here

This is the root issue:

This is the root issue: language skills, literacy, communication. The Common Core Standards reveals the reason for our political, social, and educational failures unless it is the purpose of education only to prepare young people for jobs in industry (whatever the pay) and to chase the carrot into an imaginary future. Let's re-examine our cry for "jobs". A job is something we do for money in a fragmented culture that's based on buying stuff. One can be programmed for a job by an educational system that is trying to do the right thing without knowing what the right thing is. Moderate literacy is more dangerous than illiteracy. What does it mean to be literate? We think in the language of our native tongue so we should learn to use the language as a tool and from those who have used it best. Literature, written and spoken, and the word in the mind that expresses the idea, I suggest, always should be the context of any other subject. If the student eventually takes a job, at least he or she will be able to think, make decisions, to be present in life, and realize -self as whole with or without said "job".

Caleb, bravo! - especially

Caleb, bravo! - especially for noting so cogently that trying to conform education to the times (or what seem to be the times) is a basic mistake.

However on other matters in your discussion I do have one question and one difference of perspective.

QUESTION Is the problem really with the Common Core Standards or rather with the way their stated intent is being so cavalierly disregarded by those who claim to be implementing them? COMMENT Based on what you write, I conclude that the standards call for students to master the skills to USE and CREATE non-fiction documents - which is far from the same thing as spending humongous time reading existing texts in such documents, and is even further from the notion that English teachers should spend gobs of time and energy supervising such reading.

DIFFERENCE OF PERSPECTIVE One up-front sentiment that you claim to accept is that if there is something wrong with society or its manner of thinking then education must be falling short in some aspect. I see matters differently. So far as I can see, societal failure doesn't mean that education need be failing at all. Even the best education ('reformed' or un-'reformed') is no guarantee of adequate thinking. Many folks simply can't - or anyhow don't - apply putatively learned thinking skills. While some folks use known facts as inputs to active thought, many others are content to use these facts instead mainly as objects of passive perpetual veneration.

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