In the Time of Common Core

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“An education isn’t how much you have committed to memory, or even how much
you know. It’s being able to differentiate between what you do know and what you

~ Anatole France (1844 – 1924)

Eduhonesty: Anatole’s quotation is all about critical thinking. Still, I believe I disagree or at least perceive an irony. People who can’t always differentiate between what they know and don’t know are running many of our educational institutions, often for big bucks. No one doubts these people received an education. Credentials adorn their walls. “Best practices” are cited in their emails. Yet in the end, many of these same people supported No Child Left Behind, including even its requirement for all special education students to be fully at grade level by this year. An education SHOULD be about being able to differentiate between what you know and don’t know, and what you can accomplish and what you can’t. Yet the very people who might draw upon this quotation to support the Common Core are about to launch an academic experiment upon America’s children which will give these students a harder test to pass than the annual test that many had been unable to pass previously. Educational administrators are also changing classroom instruction to promote critical thinking to increase scores on the Common Core test.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: You can’t critically think until you possess a real body of knowledge to sift through and organize. America’s problem may be partly a lack of critical thinking skills, but the sheer lack of understanding and retention of facts ensures that critical thinking that does occur will be shoddy or even fundamentally incoherent. Drilling and worksheets are so out of fashion, put down and despised. Everything is supposed to be designed to entertain students. We aren’t supposed to drill according to many administrators.

Ask a pack of 13 year olds, “What’s six times seven?” I received five different answers yesterday in a class shout-out. The multiplication tables (or math facts as some prefer to call them nowadays) are only the tip of the iceberg. Try asking a group of students a year after they studied the U.S. Civil War, “Who won the Civil War? Those answers are terrifying. While I have been entertained by England’s victory, and happy for George Washington’s amazingly long lifespan, the South’s victory is proof we need to rethink our new approaches to education.

I can only wonder what has gone wrong.