# The Common CoreSeptember 22, 2013 11:00 AM   Subscribe

The Common Core (Wikipedia) is a state-led effort that established a single set of clear educational standards for kindergarten through 12th grade in English language arts and mathematics that states voluntarily adopt (that is, if they want to keep their funding). In the weeks and months leading up to implementation of the Common Core, some teachers are a little wary. Teachers and community organizers are now left to translate Common Core standards for confused parents, with some myths, rumors, and miscommunications getting in the way. Now, after months of preparing for the shift, some states are dropping out of the Common Core. But why?
posted by SkylitDrawl (44 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

One important thing in a discussion about standards is to separate the standards themselves from their implementation. I actually like the math common core a lot (maybe more on that later,) but I've been in schools where these very different standards are being dropped in without sufficient teacher support and training.

Particularly at the lower grade levels this can be a problem. If you're an elementary teacher with a not-so-good grasp of math to begin with (this is not everybody, of course), these standards are asking you and your students to do some very different things. You may be used to and comfortable with teaching algorithms and methods, but now these new standards are asking you to have students make connections and learn things outside of the traditional order. It's a big change, and it really requires a lot more training in both teaching methods and in mathematics. I'm not sure that all states/districts/schools are providing that kind of training.
posted by Wulfhere at 11:12 AM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

From the last link: In math, the new common standards delay the progression to all-important Algebra I—the gateway to higher math study—by two years.

This is a load of crap. Look at this standard from 6th grade and tell me with a straight face that they're not doing algebra* earlier than before:
Apply the properties of operations to generate equivalent expressions. For example, apply the distributive property to the expression 3 (2 + x) to produce the equivalent expression 6 + 3x; apply the distributive property to the expression 24x + 18y to produce the equivalent expression 6 (4x + 3y); apply properties of operations to y + y + y to produce the equivalent expression 3y.
That's not even getting to the question of why the author thinks that algebra is for some reason "all-important." Math class is about teaching students how to think and reason in quantitave ways, to make connections, and to communicate their reasoning with others. Algebra is a tool in making this happen. So is geometry. So is precalculus. Each discipline unlocks a new set of problems to tackle, but we can practice thinking and reasoning at any level.

One** of the reasons I like math common core so much is that they make explicit this goal. Look at their standards for mathematical practice - the first page in the document! These are the key ideas that supercede the learning of any particular type of calculation or algorithm. I know, and you know, and my students know, that many of them will probably never use algebra ever again. But these "soft" skills are the ones they will use all the time.

* Whatever this week's definition of "algebra" is.

** Another reason CCSS is cool - they have statistics and data analysis everywhere. If there's any math that everyone absolutely needs in the "real world" it's stats. If CCSS gets off the ground we'll eventually have a much more informed and educated populace whoa are able to make better decisions based on data.
posted by Wulfhere at 11:26 AM on September 22, 2013 [16 favorites]

Are you confident Massachusetts doesn't already teach these skills even earlier? Because currently every state has different standards and it's not impossible. I won't pretend to know either way, but if the people whose job it is to know say so, I might give them the benefit of the doubt...
posted by saulgoodman at 11:34 AM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

So, in order to get out from under the last failed educational fad imposed upon them by the Feds, States must now implement the Federal governments completely new, untested system?

Yeah, that's not extortion at all.
posted by madajb at 11:35 AM on September 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

No, the federal government did not create the Common Core, and states are not required to implement it.
posted by Houstonian at 11:59 AM on September 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

This is a load of crap. Look at this standard from 6th grade and tell me with a straight face that they're not doing algebra* earlier than before:

Far far earlier than that even. There is a whole section of the Common Core called Operations and Algebraic Thinking, and that starts in Kinder with decomposing numbers and making 10. 3rd grade is where it really kicks off though, solving for unknowns in multi-step problems and even using the distributive property to solve problems.

That whole strand is all about understanding operations and number patterns gradually so that algebra is just a basic part of how kids think with and about numbers.
posted by Garm at 12:07 PM on September 22, 2013

Now, after months of preparing for the shift, some states are dropping out of the Common Core.

I assume some of this has to do with it getting in the way of testing; when I taught second grade, I followed the DCPS scope and sequence for math. When the DC-CAS (big deal test) came around, there was stuff on there I hadn't taught yet because according to the District I shouldn't have. When there are strands rather than discrete topics being taught, it's even harder to test and the distinctions in terms of what students in different grades should know are harder to judge.

The Common Core has a lot of really good stuff but it's broken up in a completely different way from a lot of traditional American schooling and Wulfhere is absolutely right that there needs to be a ton of training for this. Hell, I AM really good at math and it's still a completely different way of approaching it; it's not related either to how I was taught as a student or how I was taught as a teacher.
posted by Mrs. Pterodactyl at 12:23 PM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Scuttlebutt: In Massachusetts, the sole mathematician on the Common Core review board was also the one who voted against adopting the math standards.

I relate this because when these issues were first raised, the skeptics were being blasted as "Tea Party fanatics" and nobody was investigating the truth of their claims.
posted by shii at 12:27 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

at the root of all of this are some pretty stark differences in the philosophy of teaching (and by extension education.) when you distinguish between standards vs. implementation/training, you sort of assume that a teacher is someone who can, assuming sufficient "training", implement any reasonable curriculum handed down from on high. which over the last 40 years of ideological see-sawing about education, has lent to elementary and secondary education in the US the flavor of revolutionary marxism (despite the otherwise political conservatism of the participants) in the sense that resistance to ideological changes becomes a sort of insubordination against the institutional hiearchy and shifts in ideology are sustained by career-driven enthusiasm. every 5-10 years, the ruling committee changes the official line and suddenly 2 + 2 = 5 (or equivalently requires an experiential data set and statistics)

in short: imposing core standards tends to select for teachers who either don't have strong personal feelings about their teaching material or can suppress those feelings in order to achieve career success.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:46 PM on September 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

It’s been a while since I’ve directly worked with K-12 education, so I just want to make sure I’ve got the Reader’s Digest version correct:

The National Governors Association (NGA) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), organizations made up of representatives from different states, hired a nonprofit company (Student Achievement) to write the Common Core.

In order to be eligible for Race to the Top Federal grants, (which so many districts desperately need) states had to adopt some kind of program of this nature, and Common Core was the most viable one out there.

Whether it’s better or worse that what schools are already using, I can certainly understand how tough it us to change a tire while you’re still driving the car.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 12:57 PM on September 22, 2013

I read this Diane Ravitch article this morning and it pretty much sums up my feelings about the current state of education.

Disclaimer: I am a Math Teacher in NYC. The IA curriculum does not work for my incoming (with weak skills) ninth graders, but the Geometry for older advanced classes seems to work well. If the skills are there, it works, if not, then not. Obviously.
posted by bquarters at 12:57 PM on September 22, 2013

also, the problem with elementary math ed in the US has almost nothing to do with pedagogy and everything to do with the fact that elementary school teachers are often intimidated by basic mathematics: algebra is a very natural generalization of the sort of things people who are comfortable with doing arithmetic naturally do.

having taught algebra to people who have repeatedly failed algebra I can say that their problems almost always start with not being comfortable enough with basic addition and multiplication to be able to do simple problems in their head and being scared of fractions. it's rarely a question of things they don't technically know, but whether they can do things naturally and without fear.

you can't "train" someone who is afraid of basic arithmetic to teach "number sense" to kids. conversely, if you had no common core and just made sure basic mathematics was comfortable for elementary school teachers you would see an big improvement with students success later on in algebra and beyond without implementing any particular curriculum.

but there are billions of dollars of federal money for education "research" to determine a "royal road" for mathematics education.
posted by ennui.bz at 12:58 PM on September 22, 2013 [14 favorites]

their problems almost always start with not being comfortable enough with basic addition and multiplication to be able to do simple problems in their head and being scared of fractions

(So I can favorite it twice)
posted by Elementary Penguin at 1:01 PM on September 22, 2013 [12 favorites]

The ironic thing is that since I learned algebra, messy fractions turn into something I don't care about because I can evaluate them later. If I have to.
posted by Zalzidrax at 1:08 PM on September 22, 2013

Stuff like this doesn't help Common Core gain acceptance, regardless of if it's a valid curriculum or not.
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 1:11 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

It sounds like states should suspend public education for two years so that districts can retrain teachers in the new curriculum.
posted by Nomyte at 1:14 PM on September 22, 2013

I'm slightly insulated from the common core as a music teacher, but its already a big headache for some of my colleagues. The people most frazzled seemed to be social studies teachers who are being asked to align all of their readings to Language Arts standards. I've sat in on some of the training, and the standards don't necessarily seem worse than our old standards (in NJ), but teachers also have whiplash from adopting new methods, curriculum, and standards and the resulting additional paperwork that comes from each.
posted by lownote at 1:25 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

So, umm, after seventy years worth of research, of trying and experts, of committees and curricula; the math and reading skills, and the knowledge of history and geography, of today's students must just be whole orders of magnitude better than the skills students had back in 1943, right? I'm skeptical of the latest program because none of the previous programs seem to have made much obvious headway.
posted by tyllwin at 1:26 PM on September 22, 2013

There's an odd mix of Tea Party, educators and most of all, parents, opposing Common Core. By no means do I mean everyone in each of those categories.

I'm not a teacher and my kid graduated from high school two years ago so I'm not personally involved.

But NY decided to go ahead with the tests before the curriculum had been fully put into use.

The feeling was (aside from the fact that the commissioner has never taught in public schools) that he wanted to force it through to reduce institutional stalling, and he might have been right on that.

But it left parents and kids and teachers, who worry about their jobs linking to performance, pretty freaked out.

Since I'm old enough to be cynical about the latest educational "reforms," I suppose Common Core might be the latest bright idea that fails. But I don't know, because higher standards should be a good thing. And yes, calling it voluntary but then linking its use to federal aid is blackmail. That's the whole con behind Race to the Top.

I go to school board meetings in three districts and the complexity of some of the issues gives me a headache. I don't know how teachers actually spend time teaching and I wonder about the many demands and meetings and reports for individualized learning programs, ESL, NCLB, state tests, national testing, etc., on the system of education.

Here's a question: how do other countries handle some of these issues--language, specialized learning, etc.?
posted by etaoin at 1:30 PM on September 22, 2013

CCSS is really going to take a huge hit when the states finally have to implement the tests that are designed to assess the new standards. Scores are expected to drop dramatically - because it's a completely different type of task for students to do. This page has links to examples for Math and ELA. Even if you're not in teaching, it's worth a look just to see the types of things our young people will be expected to be able to do in the coming years.

Here's a pretty well-reasoned ppt from Zalman Usiskin, a leading math ed researcher. He has some praises and criticisms of the CCSS. Pull quote:
Treat the testing in 2014-15 and future years
as an evaluation of (1) the Common Core Standards idea and (2) the use of an unprecedented number of external tests as the strategy for implementing the idea
as much as an evaluation of students, and recognize that in this endeavor the students and teachers are the guinea pigs.
posted by Wulfhere at 1:53 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

So, umm, after seventy years worth of research, of trying and experts, of committees and curricula; the math and reading skills, and the knowledge of history and geography, of today's students must just be whole orders of magnitude better than the skills students had back in 1943, right?

Writing as a non-teacher but as someone with a professional interest in education: it seems to me that education is highly politicised and very difficult to untangle from ideology. Just your word "better" begs so many questions - more respectful of the teachings of Jesus Christ? Better able to understand issues of privilege and sexism? More likely to go on to higher education? Happier about yourself? Achieving higher scores at standardised tests?

My rough understanding is that curricula with more content (facts) are something the Right wants and the Left thinks are bad. I am unable to cite any real evidence as to whether either position is correct, or indeed meaningful.

It's all very difficult.
posted by alasdair at 2:23 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

That's not even getting to the question of why the author thinks that algebra is for some reason "all-important."

My guess is that the author is thinking in terms of course titles on high school transcripts and how those transcripts translate into college admissions. If you look at this in a shallow way, it sounds like the average high school student won't take Algebra I until 10th or 11th grade, thus making college outside the grasp of most students.

Of course, that's stupid on its face, both because of what you say and because surely the state colleges are going to be aware of state educational standards and adjust their admission requirements accordingly. Since the various directional universities in any given state don't want to suddenly lose their entire student base over a quirk of interpreting transcripts.
posted by Sara C. at 2:30 PM on September 22, 2013

As a future secondary English teacher, from what I know the CC standards, in and of themselves, is a good thing. Schools across the country are teaching the same standards, at least in theory. In practice, the standards are written so vaguely and broadly that teachers and schools have plenty of leeway in creating curriculum. So in that sense it's a win-win: national standards are developed and teachers still have freedom to teach as they want.

Oh, but no. Teachers can't teach as they want because standardized testing. Because of Teaching to the Test. This is the problem, not Common Core. If CC went away tomorrow, schools would still be slave to the corporate interests of testing companies that have--let's face it--bribed politicians and administrators to the point where their expensive tests are part and parcel of education. It didn't use to be that way, and it doesn't need to be that way now.
posted by zardoz at 2:32 PM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

States are under pressure to drop out of Common Core because of morons like Glen Beck claiming that CC is a communist conspiracy, that commie Kenyan Obama wants to force our innocent children to learn liberal socialism. I am not fucking kidding. And yet, despite pressure from Tea Partiers and GOP nutcases, no state has actually dropped out. They are merely dragging their feet.

My job is creating Math tests for Common Core. There is little I can say about the actual tests since that is under a nondisclosure agreement. But the goals are simple. It would be great if schools all used the same basic curriculum, so if a kid that moves from one state to another in the middle of the school year, his prior classwork is in sync, and he can just pick up where he left off without any gaps. The other goal is to insure that kids can do the math AND are able to explain their computations to others. If a kid can do math but is unable to explain the significance of his results, or why the results are correct, he will not be ready to undertake college level math courses where his results require justification.

Since CC is not yet widely implemented, students do not yet have the skills required to pass CC tests. However, educational testing companies (like mine) are also producing "professional development" materials for teachers, to assist them in teaching the necessary skills. Note that CC is not something you can "teach to the test." It is heavy on proofs and logic. If you teach kids proofs and logic sufficient to pass these tests, you are teaching them actual skills. Also some schools are starting to give daily writing assignments even in math classes, to help them understand that verbal skills are needed even when justifying symbolic math.

And if you don't think this CC system is inevitable, it's backed by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Fund. When corporate interests decide their new employees need better math and english skills, to the point where they're willing to fund it, opponents in the GOP and Tea Partiers are going to find they have lost their financial supporter.

If anyone wants to ask me questions, I will answer to the best of my ability (primarily limited by security issues).

Stuff like this doesn't help Common Core gain acceptance, regardless of if it's a valid curriculum or not.

Actually, it helps CC gain acceptance because it makes the opponents look insane.

I don't know what that sample test claims to be representing, but it isn't anything related to CC.
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:34 PM on September 22, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm a mathematician with two small kids, so I guess I should have a strong opinion on the Common Core at least as it involves math, but I have to admit that I find it very hard to be sure what's best.

For what it's worth, the major math societies, including the American Mathematical Society, the Mathematical Association of America, the American Statistical Association, and the Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics (i.e. the major professional societies for, respectively, math professors in research universities, math professors in college, statisticians, and applied mathematicians) issued a joint statement endorsing the Common Core math standards.

Here, Joseph Malkovich praises the inclusion of mathematical modeling in the CCMS.

Sol Garfunkel (whose Ph.D. is from my department, Wisconsin!) a longtime leader in math education, expresses guarded optimism or at least acceptance.
posted by escabeche at 2:36 PM on September 22, 2013

I am very much in favor of national educational standards. Since we can't / won't have Federal standards (mutter ... mutter .. state's rights ... reasons) this corporate-backed and Federally bribed cajoled forced encouraged thing is probably the best we can do.

That's not touching the specifics of the standards. They seem pretty fine to me, but I'm not an educator. The rollout seems a bit rushed, but I also get that delaying sometimes = not happening. California wants a year off from testing to adjust, which seems sensible to me, but makes Arne Duncan mad.

Anecdotally, a lot of veteran teachers both see this as just the latest fad, and a bunch of extra work they're expected to absorb for no extra pay. The second is definitely true, and sucks, the first might well be true, but could be said of any change ever no matter how positive.

As with a lot of current educational debates, I find myself in broad agreement with the aims of the "education reform movement" but highly suspicious of a lot of the leaders of that movement.

Color me guardedly optimistic.
posted by feckless at 3:28 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm completely onboard with the concept of common standards. I just wonder if this doesn't amount to a kind of unfunded or underfunded mandate as implemented, I'll leave it to the educators to judge the standards themselves. I'm also not partial to too much standardized testing, especially with strings attached.
posted by saulgoodman at 3:31 PM on September 22, 2013

My kids' school was going all out common core, then two weeks before school started, they decided they were not ready and backed out, causing total mayhem among the teachers.

I wonder if this is being as poorly planned and implemented at other schools. If it turns out that Common Core is a good idea, it would be a shame for it to fall flat on its face because of poor implementation. Didn't the developers of these standards think of how to prepare schools?
posted by eye of newt at 3:37 PM on September 22, 2013

I just wonder if this doesn't amount to a kind of unfunded or underfunded mandate as implemented

It's federally funded plus tons of grants from private organizations. School systems are already spending money on testing. Just for example, the LA Unified School District just cancelled its existing \$65 Million testing program. They spent that money on Common Core testing and bought an iPad for every student to take the test on. Eventually Common Core will involve ongoing testing.

The main idea is that the standards are funded by a States consortium, plus funding from educational foundations. But schools are already spending money on curriculum. CC means they will spend that same money on a different curriculum. It's all the same cost, since the consortium bears the development cost of the curriculum. This will actually be cheaper in the long run, since each state won't have to develop its own curriculum.

In the past, the entire country's educational curriculum has been based on the two largest textbook buyers: California and Texas. Just to give you an example, probably the most widely used Algebra textbook comes in a regular edition and a California edition. I'm not sure what the difference is in content, but apparently California had specific state curriculum and the texts are customized for their biggest buyer.

But my point is, as California goes, so goes the rest of the country. Texas is out of the game. Their attempts to put creationism in their science textbooks has made them the laughing stock of the country. And Texas Governor Rick Perry signed a bill prohibiting implementation of Common Core within the state. That was a Tea Party/GOP bill. Texas will hold out until they can't hold out any more, and will be the last to implement CC. But the implementation is inevitable.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:51 PM on September 22, 2013

Also some schools are starting to give daily writing assignments even in math classes, to help them understand that verbal skills are needed even when justifying symbolic math.

When I taught university calculus I could tell when they started to emphasize written answers explaining your work in high school because I would get whole clusters of students who would throw in these incoherent little paragraphs along with their formula. As a rule, the less competent the student, the more words they used.

The funny thing is that when I was teaching in germany, the universitat students, who were vastly more competent than their american peers in algebra and calculus, floundered rather badly when forced to do proof based mathematics. The great power of "the calculus" and the analytic geometry beneath it is that it allows you to do useful mathematics without having to delve into scholastic logic... and I say that as someone with a PhD in mathematics. The idea of proof based mathematics in high school has an appeal, but I think is actually misguided intellectually. The revolution in mathematics of the enlightenment wasn't really based on the quasi-formal "proofs" of Euclid.

the inclusion of mathematical modeling in the CCMS.

Which is why the remedial algebra textbook I was given to teach from started out with an introduction to graphing that featured tables of late arrivals from the airline industry under the assumption that plane-spotting is a national obsession in the US. (never mind why we were worrying about graphs when most of the students couldn't add fractions)

And if you don't think this CC system is inevitable, it's backed by the Gates Foundation and the Walton Family Fund. When corporate interests decide their new employees need better math and english skills, to the point where they're willing to fund it, opponents in the GOP and Tea Partiers are going to find they have lost their financial supporter.

Well, if Bill Gates and the Waltons are for it... A population with a better education would realize they are getting fucked by Microsoft and Walmart. The problem with the billionaires who run this country is that they really buy into the notion that their own economic class creates "value" rather than the little people who put things together. The idea that you would "invest" in kids, who create no value for the system, in the hopes that 20 years later along the line they will get some return is completely foreign to the plutocrats. Which is why they are obsessed with testing, performance evaluation, etc. They don't actually believe in education at all, they believe in a perfectly Taylorized society.
posted by ennui.bz at 3:53 PM on September 22, 2013 [6 favorites]

If any one has suggestions for training teachers how to include the common core standards as Individual Education Plan goals for teenagers with severe disabilities, I'd like to hear them. All of the literature I've seen on this is mostly "Here is why the CC standards were changed and here is how it is going to inlcude kids with disabilities." without any actual realistic strategies for implementation.

Here is a standard for high school math:
CCSS.Math.Content.HSF-LE.A.3 Observe using graphs and tables that a quantity increasing exponentially eventually exceeds a quantity increasing linearly, quadratically, or (more generally) as a polynomial function.

Now show me how to do this for a 16 year-old with autism whose communication skills are limited to pointing to a desired object and who can't answer Yes or No questions.
posted by ITravelMontana at 3:58 PM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Yeah, but Florida schools for example have seen huge enrollment drops the last couple if years (to home and virtual schooling)--I've heard 20--30% in the most recent year. Since district funding is per pupil, a lot of districts here are probably hurting right now as these programs are rolling out.
posted by saulgoodman at 4:10 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

tyllwin: "So, umm, after seventy years worth of research, of trying and experts, of committees and curricula; the math and reading skills, and the knowledge of history and geography, of today's students must just be whole orders of magnitude better than the skills students had back in 1943, right? I'm skeptical of the latest program because none of the previous programs seem to have made much obvious headway."

In 1943, schools were racially segregated in much of the country, truancy and drop-out laws were very loose, and schools were not required to educate any student with ANY physical, mental, or medical disability. A childhood case of polio that left you with leg braces could, in many states, completely disallow you from the public school system. In 1975, when the first law guaranteeing access to disabled students was passed, more than 1 million children were simply denied a public education, and a further 3.5 million were given woefully inadequate educational services. Today, EVERY child has a right to a free, appropriate public education.

So, yes, if by "orders of magnitude" you mean "Hugely more numbers of children go through to high school graduation, not just parts of the middle class," then yes. Not until late in the Great Depression did more than 50% of students age 13-17 enroll in high school; and the graduation rate for those students who enrolled was only 50%.

If you only look at wealthy public-school students, the ones who would have been completing high school and going to college 70 years ago, then also, yes, they learn a great deal more in K-12 education than 70 years ago -- more science, and more sophisticated science; a great deal more math; a vastly-expanded canon of literature; history that focuses more on primary source documents. Many of them begin college with at least one year of college credit already completed.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:54 PM on September 22, 2013 [10 favorites]

Now show me how to do this for a 16 year-old with autism whose communication skills are limited to pointing to a desired object and who can't answer Yes or No questions.

How do you do this with the curriculum as it is now?
posted by escabeche at 5:52 PM on September 22, 2013 [8 favorites]

I am very much in favor of national educational standards. Since we can't / won't have Federal standards (mutter ... mutter .. state's rights ... reasons) this corporate-backed and Federally bribed cajoled forced encouraged thing is probably the best we can do.

I think Common Core is a Trojan Horse.

But it's not geeks bearing this particular grift, it's businessmen.

Common Core is a necessary prelude to privatization of public schools, not in the form of mom and pop charters or religious academies, but as vast nationwide chains, which need universal standards in order to be able to implement the efficiencies of centralized administration and control-- which are in turn essential for the generation of (also vast) profits.

You didn't actually think the founders of Wal-Mart were pushing this out of disinterested concern for the greater good, did you?
posted by jamjam at 7:39 PM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

I favorited the comment above not because I necessarily believe it but because it scares the hell out of me, and sadly, I don't have a whole lot of confidence we live in the kind of world where this idea is as paranoid as it should be anymore. This might actually be the end game. It's shockingly plausible.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:26 PM on September 22, 2013

You didn't actually think the founders of Wal-Mart were pushing this out of disinterested concern for the greater good, did you?

The same could have been said (accurately!) about Andrew Carnegie. He built some damn fine libraries, though. I would say don't look a gift Trojan Horse in the mouth, but in this case it's more like look the gift Trojan Horse in the mouth carefully for traps, but don't throw the baby Trojan Horse out with the bathwater.

... that got away from me.
posted by feckless at 9:23 PM on September 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

He left River City the Library building
But he left all the books to her.

Chaucer!
Rabelais!
Balzac!
posted by charlie don't surf at 9:47 PM on September 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Can someone tell me what this is a reference to?

They don't actually believe in education at all, they believe in a perfectly Taylorized society.

Also, since this thread is going to attract the edurati, what is the general perception, if there is one, about Dumbing Us Down? Is this still thought of as radical? Is there reading material that either reinforces these ideas, frames them into a workable model in present-day America, or presents a counterpoint to them? Additional reading recommendations?
posted by legospaceman at 3:31 AM on September 23, 2013

I believe that is a reference to Frederick Taylor, who did the first time-and-motion studies.
posted by charlie don't surf at 5:06 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, since this thread is going to attract the edurati, what is the general perception, if there is one, about Dumbing Us Down?

First note, I say all of the following as a supporter of parents' right to homeschool:

Gatto makes much of the American mythology of rugged autodidactic entrepreneurialism. He mentions the self-education of people like Benjamin Franklin. Here's the problem: nobody is claiming, or has ever claimed, that it is impossible to get an education without formal schooling. But folks like Franklin are giants of history precisely because they were rare. Pointing to the autodidacts to set country-level policy is kind of like pointing to FDR and saying, don't get your kid vaccinated for polio.

I just read the book Cultural Literacy by E.D. Hirsch, which succinctly explains why standardized, formalized education is completely essential to societal functioning -- not by virtue of the merits of the particular curriculum, but because of the benefits which arise from standardization. When people think of standardization, they usually bristle because the idea of testing (and high-stakes testing) goes along with it. But standardization is extremely important in complex urban industrial civilization. People need to be on the same page about certain things in order to communicate, in order for everyone to meaningfully contribute to and participate in society. It's the reason we don't let each state use its own currency.

It's not only about critical thinking as an abstract skill, or one's ability to be scrappy and question things. Those traits are essential, no doubt; but they are toothless, Hirsch argues, without a broad body of background knowledge derived from the cultural heritage of your society. That means knowing what a variable is, knowing who Darwin was and what his ideas were, knowing the key people in the Bible, the Koran, knowing what the Civil Rights movement was, and all kinds of other shared cultural facts, from pop culture to science to US history to world history to literature. It is far, far easier to influence society, to participate in democracy, and to make your personal experience understood to others if you can speak the language of the culture. We all know this intuitively if we visit another country and don't get the references that make up the cultural language of that nation.

Gatto, like many libertarians, resents standardization as mere mechanization. Anything which has to be maintained as consistent from the top down must be bad. But it's really one of those things like herd immunity (to make the vaccination analogy again) -- if you have a bunch of kids who don't get access or exposure to the core body of cultural knowledge, they will likely be permanently disenfranchised in that respect, and that burden is borne by the rest of the community.

Finally, Gatto's beliefs run in the direction of New World Order/Illuminati conspiracies, including the completely insane proposition that the theory of evolution is a form of malevolent brainwashing by the elites.
posted by overeducated_alligator at 8:13 AM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]

I teach elementary and middle school math. My impression of Dumbing us Down is that it's an exercise in bad-finding undertaken by someone who was very good at teaching and loved his job but became disenchanted with it. At one point, John Taylor Gatto tells us not to fault teachers for the way the system is set up because they're not architects of education systems, yet he also wants us to take him seriously as a critic of it in spite of the fact that he himself also lacks expertise in or experience in a position of responsibility over such a thing. He must have been an awesome teacher since he won teacher of the year three years in a row in NYC and state teacher of the year, but that's a very different thing from what it takes to run/design/determine the goals of an education system. From what I remember, the book doesn't cite references.
posted by alphanerd at 9:17 AM on September 23, 2013

"Now show me how to do this for a 16 year-old with autism whose communication skills are limited to pointing to a desired object and who can't answer Yes or No questions.

How do you do this with the curriculum as it is now?"

Basically, the curriculum is ignored and goals are written for what the student needs to learn. We call that, "Putting the *I* (Individual) in the Individual Education Program."

Cynically, I can teach teachers to put the Common Core Standard as a goal and write sub-goals (benchmarks) that address what the student really needs to learn. So the kid can have the goal of factoring binomals or writing a complicated essay but instead instead we will focus on the real goal of using money to make purchases or accurately using a communication program to choose between three choices.

But I don't want to teach teachers to play that bull!@#\$ game.
posted by ITravelMontana at 9:20 PM on September 23, 2013

> Finally, Gatto's beliefs run in the direction of New World Order/Illuminati conspiracies, including the completely insane proposition that the theory of evolution is a form of malevolent brainwashing by the elites.

Seems to me his is more a criticism of Social Darwinism than of Darwinism as such, and more broadly of educational Taylorism, in which Social Darwinism is the (pseudo)science in the "scientific" management of schooling.
posted by one weird trick at 3:22 AM on September 28, 2013

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